Bill's Diary 1950 (Part 4)
First edition: 2014
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1950
Type: Continuation Books
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1950
Type: Continuation Books
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Slept in then made a late morning start on planning out a scheme of action for whenever I had to station myself overseas. Staff contact numbers, clothing, equipment and the rest. Called into the local library to learn a few facts about the kind of country that would spawn prince Aloysius Gramondie. Looks like a breakaway state but no doubt I'll be fed with all the information needed in the next few days. Relaxed later on and enjoyed having a couple of days with no urgent matters to attend. Went over to the canteen for an evening meal and found Mike there. He's up-to-date with the Tauri affair seeing he's the boss of his department and after a discussion we discussed Bitter Rice which he'd seen as well. Stimulating conversation and we parted just after 20:00. Went back to the flat and made a cuppa, listened to the news, and read Saturday's paper. Two interesting items – the Herefordshire Chief Constable has reported that two out of 123 police applicants didn't know who the current Prime Minister is, and Brumas, the zoo's baby polar bear, is making a big hit (22:11)
April 11th (Tuesday)
Called into Bow Street, collected a pile of stuff that had just come in, and took it back to the apartment where I spent the day poring over details of pending cases, contacts that had to be hunted down, and other information that needed to be organized and filed according to priorities. Made a few phone calls to staff who, being aware of my current status, willingly spent fifteen minutes or so of their time to fill me in on certain aspects that their intimate knowledge afforded them. Later in the afternoon a knock on my door produced none other than Bob Reid from Mansfield. Sherwood Bob! He's down for the seminar in order to learn 'new knowledge,' which will be imparted to all the police forces round Nottingham and I couldn't think of a better rep for them to send down. If selection for a junket relied on memory alone, then he'd qualify. He'd heard I was here so I invited him in and we spent the afternoon and early evening exchanging news, talking about old times when he'd been down here before, and laughing over the latest jokes from both sides. Later he went out to get a couple of bottles whilst I mucked around in the kitchen trying to produce a meal for us both. Found some spuds and a whole pineapple of all things so the culinary side was well represented with a helping of fruit on the side of each plate that went along well with the potato, canned spam, peas and accompanying drinks. Listened to the radio, argued and generally had a good time until he had to leave round 20:30. Bob needed an early night ... and so did I. (21.20)
Up with the larks and ready to start on an investigation that would probably rely for results on my forced removal from Her Majesty's territory and not wanting to waste any time at all, I was at the Yard by 08:00 waiting for Matt to show himself. He arrived within the half hour and after a little preparation and small talk, we went along to Communications and entered the smaller side area which always seems more stuffed with technical apparatus than the main room but that's obviously because of it's dimensions. We were there by five to and just before the hour, Scottie appeared with his faithful servant. Dennis had been called in and also Ken, the Communications department head. The delicacy of proceedings had been preserved by the absence of anyone not directly connected with the case but extra personnel would still be available by wire. We all took chairs that formed a semicircle in front of a bank of transmitters and receivers manned by the two technicians. Dennis was handling the bulk whilst next to him, Ken was fiddling with knobs and various controls that monitored overseas radio frequencies.
"Bill, you've notified the college?" Scottie asked looking at me.
I nodded. "Done!"
Matt's secretary entered carrying a stenographer's notepad and she was directed to a chair. Stu leafed through various papers and after making sure they were all in perfect order, Sir Harold started the proceedings.
"Gentlemen, this shouldn't be a long session – it's just to establish, officially, a plan of action as regards the situation in the country of Tauri-Hessia which is of particular importance to us at the present moment. Directly when we finish, a report will be typed up and couriered to all those concerned.
Big Guns indeed but I could see the reason. We've been making diplomatic motions towards the country for a few years and although we were allowing them concessions, all work on both sides could be in jeopardy if the prince isn't located ... and found in Good Condition. I forced myself not to think of our four kids because it wasn't pleasant even to consider them as being in any danger. That could wait, so I listened to Scottie as he stated a few more facts before addressing me.
"Bill, you need to be in Tauri-Hessia. You're the one most qualified and I don't have to spell out why. Are you all right with that?"
There were nods of agreement from the assembled personnel and I also acknowledged the statement. If I hadn't have been selected I probably would have asked to accompany whoever was going, or even taken time off to fly out there myself if need be.
"I'm fine with that Harry."
Scottie indicated, and consoles began humming while Dennis consulted a list placed on the bench by Ken. Overhead tannoys allowed the assembled group to hear what was being said. Dennis read a list of numbers into his mike and disembodied voices rattled off more numbers, then –
"Colonial Office, Rangoon. Come in"
Linda was scribbling away furiously and Stu was writing things on his clipboard.
Scottie looked over at Matt and I.
"We've got an interpreter, and a good one."
The speaker rattled. "Need to arrange transport."
"Dawson? OK, I'll get back. The Americans may be able to help. Over and out."
"We'll go north," said Dennis. He flicked a few switches and a voice came up.
More switch flicking and codes, then Dennis asked about a request made in the last day or so. He was transferred and a few minutes passed before a voice could be heard.
Dennis relayed more figures and asking for information on flights out of the Northern sector on April 8th round the time the children must have departed. Making a few notes, he turned to us giving the thumbs down sign because all flights were legit but Henry's voice came on again with more info. Being the astute guy he is, somehow he'd managed to get hold of EUCOM!
Mutterings of approval came from us all ... The United States European Command was a difficult organization to tap at the best of times but Henry has contacts. We all knew that. Like to have had a word or two with him but this was Business and there was no time for idle chat. EUCOM had reported no flights within the date and time mentioned, save one - a lone aircraft had passed over Equihen-Plage, Senlecques, Mazinghem, Seclin, Mons, Pronsfeld, Densborn, and Meisburg. It had gone off the air, and then renewed contact over Wuschheim before disappearing again, but the anticipated route had simply been plotted from the map. The plane was last heard from when it made contact with the air authority at Bratislava before deviating from the normal route and disappearing altogether. Henry finished with –
"The official report ended with Highly Irregular."
"Thanks Henry," Dennis said. "Any chance of transport from Rangoon for one."
We listened while Henry spoke to a person off mike then we heard him telling Dennis he'd get back.
Scottie took the mike
"Great Henry. You're a credit to the unit."
He handed the mike back to Dennis.
"Over and Out!"
Good for Henry, I'm sure he'll benefit from Scottie's praise. Sir Harold can be very generous to his former associates.
Ken, who was wearing his headphones, handed a note to Matt who read it out.
"Marine Registry has details of a private yacht that was moored at Folkestone on the night of April 8th. It pulled anchor around the 02:40 mark and headed southeast. A check has been made ... this was the only craft leaving the main search area within the timeline and it was legit."
"O.K. One aircraft and one boat. Has to be the plane."
We all agreed. Scottie consulted Stu who began flipping through a file in his highly efficient manner. Matt and I watched with interest as he paused and then resumed and paused again. Finally he selected a page and informed us that The Admiralty was our next port of call.
"That particular department is handling our contact with Tauri-Hessia."
"Why?" Matt enquired.
Stu took his specs off and started polishing them. "Not sure ... I think it's due to the revamp and, seeing the only overseas royalty we're currently dealing with is in Tauri, they've taken it on temporarily. We need to go through them now because of the Torquinel disappearance."
"Dennis it's part of the prince's name," I said.
"Why do they have to have to complicate things; how many names has he got?"
"Only four," said Stu looking at his ledger.
"Good God ... I knew him only as Prince Aloysius Gramondie."
"Yes it is, isn't it? Looks like a name or two was missing from the Teletype sheet they sent to me."
"That's right, blame it on someone else," I said smiling, although I knew very well that the machine often plays up and fails to print all the words entered into it.
Ken called out.
"R.A.F. have cleared all aircraft under their auspices."
"Thank Ken." said Scottie. "That's the lot," he said turning to Matt. "We got Henry onto them as well although it isn't all that necessary."
"It never pays to let anything remain unchecked," Stu said in his 'official' voice. "I can recall a couple of years back ..." but the speakers suddenly came to life again and interrupted him.
Ken spoke into his microphone.
"May I have the deputy attaché for Tauri-Hessia?"
A request snapped out.
Stu looked up from his clipboard.
"Lloyd, Courtenay ... if you wouldn't mind."
"Of course not."
Dennis took off his headphones and exited the room via a door that led into the main passage.
Matt's secretary noted down Dennis's exit in shorthand and the word 'Lloyd' that had been directed at her then, nursing her notepad, she got up and followed Dennis into the small study next door.
"Any other non clearances?" Stu said looking at his sheet of instructions. "Wootton, Cunningham?"
"Don't be so stuffy," said Scottie nudging him. "You know darned well they're OK."
"Alright Harry, just following recommended protocol."
"You'll be following protocol at your own funeral," said Scottie making us all smile, even Stu. Stu's old school, but definitely useful when organizational problems raise their heads.
"I can't see how your names got onto the list Matt and Bill. Sorry about that."
Stu doesn't like errors but it wasn't really his fault seeing he quoting from an inaccurate list.
At a nod from Scottie, Ken pressed a switch to start recording in place of the steno, and then spoke softly into the mike.
"Invalid! Who's that?"
"Turner. Kenneth Turner from the Yard's Communication Branch."
The voice at the other end sounded impatient and it sounded familiar.
"Turner! You have the wrong password."
Matt went over and spoke into the mike over Ken's shoulder.
"Hallo, this is Wootton. Who am I speaking to?"
"Webb! Egerton Webb. You'll need a password to get any further. Code please."
Matt looked resignedly at Scottie and myself. Stu was leafing rapidly through various papers, as is his wont.
Scottie made an impatient gesture.
"Give it to him again,"
"Sorry, wrong coding. I must close."
"Here give it to me," said Stu going over and almost snatching the mike from Matt's hand. He sat down in another chair and spoke firmly.
"O'Neil here. What's going on? We need the Tauri-Hessian attaché immediately, please get us a line to him."
There was a pause in the conversation and I suddenly remembered I had spoken with this chap before - a few years ago when I'd rung the Admiralty about something. My recall was that he'd been pretty uncooperative back then, but of course I hadn't been in possession of a password.
Webb's robotic voice spoke again.
"You seem to be deliberately avoiding procedure and as you're based at Scotland Yard, I may have to report your failing to Sir Harold Scott."
"He's here. Would you like to speak to him?"
Webb's 'Oh" had a flustered sound to it.
Scottie gestured desperately towards Stu indicating that he didn't want to be involved in any argument.
"You handle him," he whispered.
Webb spoke, with slightly less abrasiveness.
"No, it's all right. I ... I didn't realize he was there."
Stu spoke. "You've been given the password, it's approved by myself, what more do you want?"
"It's the wrong one."
Scottie, Matt and myself glanced at each other in amusement. Don't ever say the word 'wrong' when Stu's involved.
"Wrong? Wrong? You're wrong!" Stu snapped. "What's up man? Who's handling your security?"
Webb is definitely an employee of ritual. I remember him pausing a lot and rustling forms and opening drawers when I myself had encountered his brand of customer relations and sure enough, we heard exactly that coming through the speaker before he deigned to speak again. There was a certain Je ne sais quoi at having this public servant taken down a peg or two.
"I apologize profusely. The pass was changed earlier than usual as you are probably aware, and someone had neglected to supply it. I'll initiate an investigation and once again, I'm very sorry. I'll put you through immediately."
I had a feeling someone in the Ministry was going to be made very remorseful for the mix-up because a man such as Webb doesn't like to be humiliated. I went over to the door and admitted Dennis and Linda who seated themselves once again to resume their part in the gathering. Linda commenced her scribbling and Dennis, after settling himself down and donning headphones, turned off the recorder.
Stu offered me a smoke, despite the fact that I'm cutting down and had left mine back at the flat but I felt like indulging. Matt took one also and Scottie lit up one of his cigars. A ringing note sounded and we finally had our man. Scottie took the mike and a protracted conversation followed between him and the Tauri representative's deputy who was stationed there. It didn't come over the speaker but basically it would have been a rundown on what had happened so far that had any connection with the prince's disappearance and also summaries of naval, air force, and MI5 or SIS intelligence where applicable. I heard snatches of conversation that told me Scottie was speaking about other things as well - "Royal protocol ... Britain ... Invitations sent on advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. During the visit, Head of state will meet the British Prime Minister & Government ministers ... Visits and Ceremonies via Dept. of Internal ... blah, blah, blah!"
Henry's report was mentioned and I was called over to don headphones and pass on the information I'd gained concerning Ley's Wood. The attaché or whoever he was had a heavy accent and I could only just make out what he said. He thanked me warmly when I finished and let Scottie take over again. My contribution plus the info that has been posted via EUCOM seems to have settled the matter.
Scottie finished, and giving the mike back to Dennis, he addressed us.
"The Prince Aloysius, together with Bill's children - Philip, Jack, Dinah, and Lucy-Ann Mannering, are considered to have been abducted and are believed to be in the breakaway State of Tauri-Hessia. The prince's disappearance is to be played down until we know where he is and what's taking place. Incidentally ..."
His tone became conspiratorial -
" ... the Right Honourable Clement Attlee is to be kept informed!"
Understood I suppose, seeing a Royal House is involved. Scottie ended by discussing the subject of assistance: Two officers would be sent to conduct a private investigation so as not to attract more attention than was necessary. It appeared the Tauri man agreed it was a good idea. Their Customs people would facilitate entry by being instructed to tone down any inspection. Didn't know whether we'd need weaponry but at least there'd be little scrutiny should any protection be required. With assurances there'd be a full report passed on to the king, the speakers went dead. Dennis had turned them off and with his headphones on he was already back to work talking to various agencies while Linda finished her writing and then at a nod from Matt, she exited and headed for her office to type up the details of our session.
Scottie shook my hand and left me to Matt with a parting remark that contained sincerity.
"Bill, you're our man. Arrange things with Matt and get off with our blessing and if anyone can get the result we want, I'm confident it'll be you."
A praiseworthy utterance. I thanked Scottie and assured him and Stu that I'd do my darnedest best.
"I know you will." Scottie winked at me and left to attend whatever function he was due at, or else as a Man of Leisure these days, he was probably off to the estate to indulge in his passion for fishing.
Matt and I called into the canteen to obtain coffee and sandwiches then carried them to his office and plonked ourselves down in easy chairs to discuss the next steps that needed to be taken.
"When's tea rationing going to end?" Matt asked?
"Haven't the faintest!"
Taking things in importance, the next on the list was my schedule. I would leave for Tauri-Hessia together with Ronald Dawson who would handle the dialects. I was familiar with the name but that was all because he spent a lot of time out of the country. I'd be registered with the British Consul and any information gained was to be passed on to the secretary who was based at the Diplomatic Centre. Matt gave me various addresses and while I sipped tea and ate sandwiches he rang Pete and asked him to track down his mate Blackler. Round 15:00 George actually rang through and I got him to break an appointment (" ... not urgent old chap") and arranged a visit for tomorrow. He's staying in town so that's handy.
Just as I put down the receiver, the 'phone rang again. It was Henry. Matt handed the receiver to me and I was able to have a few words with him. He'd managed to arrange passage for Dawson on a MATS plane that was detouring to Rangoon and flying on to London.
"Don't ask me how I managed that, Bill!"
More back-scratching no doubt between our lot and the ATC - the Yanks' Military Air Transport Service is another difficult nut to crack, but not for Henry, it seems. I thanked him and after we'd exchanged a few fragments of news, I hung up. Matt put down his cup and leaned back in the chair.
"Things are pretty well arranged," he said. "Dennis says there are no suitable aircraft at Blackbushe so you're booked on a standard flight out of Southampton and we've decided it wouldn't be wise for you to call at your house. You'll understand why so I won't go into it."
I knew all right. There was a chance our property would be under surveillance. We argued back and forth about the roles suitable for a couple of investigators and settled on that of native purveyors of wares because it meant we could move around unobtrusively. With that settled Matt and I chewed over a few minor aspects and with the details all fixed up I left, taking some information for later perusal, and went back to the apartment. After a lot of reading and thinking about the kids I rang Allie and reported what had gone on so far. She sounded happy that plans were being implemented and it was quite surprising for both of us to realize how confident we felt that things would turn out all right. The kids' previous triumphs somehow gave us a degree of faith that we both seem to have developed over about the same period of time. Listened to the news and made it an early night. (20.55)
After a hurried breakfast I started gathering together anything else that might be needed on the trip. Included a torch and even a sheath knife with the vague idea that my current status might allow an easy ride through customs. After 08:00 I left briefly to search out a newsagent where I got the paper, some cigs, box of matches, and even a 4oz vacuum pack tin of Four Square tobaccos on approval. Sounds good. Purchased a few other items before returning to the flat and then, just before 10:00 after I'd finished packing things up, the doorbell rang and I admitted the flamboyant figure of George who was nursing a bag, which he set down with a groan.
"I carry too much around with me Bill, but at least I'm never wanting for anything be it a particular brand of greasepaint or a silk cravat. How are you my friend?"
It was nice to see George again with his friendly manner and animated personality. After we'd had a nip of whisky to celebrate whatever we felt like celebrating, he got down to work and when I'd been examined from all angles, the bag was opened and he set about extracting pictures and a bundle of rather garish clothing.
"Received a call from your boss so I'm all geared up and I've also got your mate's vital statistics - that's two trampish looking characters, right?"
He rummaged in his bag, which was sitting on the couch and produced samples of cloth that he placed one by one against my shoulder. Steering me to a window with a rather bleak view of cramped buildings, steps, a green patch, a tree, and an old seat, he calculated colours and grades and goodness knows what else.
"Need the natural light," George muttered. He returned the material to his bag and brought out small jars and brushes then rolled up my sleeve and proceeded to dab my arm with tinctures.
"Pea-souper this evening I reckon!"
I agreed with him because the signs were there.
"We're out of London so there's not much to worry about," George said, "... although I have to visit the Big Smoke more often than I want to."
"Yes. I'm lucky in that respect as well, but right now duty calls us both."
George nodded and after making some notes, looking closely at my face, and standing back for an overall appraisal, he put his stuff back into the bag.
"A whisky between friends!" I suggested.
He offered me a cigar and after toasting with a clink of glasses, he brought me up to date with various items of interest he had missed out during our first drink, then took a long pull at his cigar looking very confident.
"I'll fix you up as good as, if not better, than any lad in his teens."
"Am I missing something?"
He laughed. "Not really. It's just that at the end of last year my considerable talents ..."
I butted in. "Considerable talents? Actually, I'd agree but have you the grace to blush?"
"All right. someone has to say it ... I need a little praise now and again," he said finishing his whisky.
I poured him a second drink in case he needed warming up. It was accepted with alacrity.
"Go on about your considerable talents."
"Yeah ... December last. I was engaged by some of your lot over in Maidenhead and got to talking with one of the lads who said there was a make-up whiz in his teens whose talents are used to our department's advantage. Know about it?"
Bucks! Once again - J.J's territory, and I did have some hazy knowledge of what George was on about, but it's one of those things I've never pursued. Life in London and Hampshire is full enough as it is and I rarely communicate with the constabulary over in that area. Must follow it up one day.
"I've heard something like that," I said to George, "But only rumours ... so they'll have to be dispelled, won't they?"
I was also on my second whisky and it was pleasant to spend time hobnobbing. George has always got some interesting snippets to discuss and I, in turn, let him in on a few 'state secrets.' We finished our session and George picked up his bag.
"Dawson's slightly smaller than you but that's no worry so it's all 'Go.' You'll wear a curly wig and a moustache - I'll prepare kits for you both and forward them to Matt's office in plenty of time, and I know you already have some experience at making up. Your mate's all right in that department as well so you won't have to help out all that much."
I saw him to the door and with a friendly wave he was gone. Visited Bow Street in the afternoon to clear out my pigeonhole and attend to urgent matters. Weather cleared up and thankfully the pea-souper didn't eventuate so later in the evening I went for a stroll to The Embankment and walked along towards Whitehall Gardens to watch the lights and listen to the hooting from the traffic on Old Man Thames. I sat on a bench under a wrought-iron streetlight and started up a conversation with an elderly man wearing a monocle who had stopped for a rest and wanted to tell someone about his time with the Harbour Board. He imparted an interesting insight into the workings of the organization and said that, like me, he often sits and watches the activity coursing along the great waterway.
"It's the atmosphere," he said with a contended look on his face, and I had to agree.
Walked up Tothill St and Broadway drinking in the sights and sounds with the thought that in a day or so I'd, once again, be flying off on a rescue mission to a country quite culturally removed from this one. Rang Allie when I got back to the flat and told her where things stood. It was nice to hear her voice and be able to reassure her that things were in motion. She said the Ellis's have invited her to spend a few nights with them and she's taken it up rather than travel to the Johns's over in Tadley. She rang Irene this morning and had received an invite from her but, as Allie explained, my trip to Tauri-Hessia should take only a few days and the hope is that our holiday can simply continue once the children are back. She made it sound as if the kids were just visiting friends and I liked that because there was a positive feeling about it.
"Positivity! That's what we need," I said and after giving each other a mental hug, we hung up. (22:20)
Visited Bow Street this morning and said 'Goodbye' to the lads although I was not yet sure when I'd be going seeing the transport has been held up off and on. Next, I was off to the Yard where I spent the next couple of hours being re-briefed on Tauri history, customs, safe addresses, and the like. Matt was there and Pete dropped in to add his support and to hand me a few items of interest he'd garnered from a file that dealt with an assignment once pursued in a neighbouring country to Tauri-Hessia.
"It all helps," he said and I agreed. I was also handed a contact print taken from a department file.
"Your Companion-to-Be," Matt said with a grin and I pocketed it after a quick glance at the portrait of an unsmiling but pleasant looking face. Flipping through Pete's file I spotted one or two hints regarding police procedures in Gussy's neck of the woods and resolved to read them carefully. Passed over Allie's temporary address and number. Communications rang through with a message from Henry - MATS transport has collected Dawson from Burma and he's now on his way to Yateley. That set the seal on 'when' and I was glad - I'll collect him from there tomorrow.
There were handshakes all round and encouraging pats on the back as the confab broke up and my next stop was lunch in the canteen with Pete. We then went back to his office for some papers and also a parcel that had arrived by courier - compliments of George Blackler. Called into the travel department for my documents and other stuff that had been sent along from the agency. Pete checked them and wished me luck once again as we parted in the passage.
"Go to it Bill and I can only wish I was accompanying you."
"I'd like that Pete. Have you met Ronald?"
He hadn't but said the reports on my selected companion were good.
"Bit of a linguist, able to take care of himself, and familiar with many historic aspects of the area you're visiting," he told me. "So he'll be useful. Bye, Bill."
I bid him 'Goodbye' and made my way down to the street and back to the flat after stopping at the store for a few consumables. Wanted a good sleep this evening so I'd made no appointments. Bob's gone back to Nottingham so there was no disturbance from that side. It was good being able to relax and organize things before setting off. (20:40)
April 15th (Saturday)
Didn't rise till after ten - the strain of the last few days must have caught up. Left the radio on all night and mainly dozed listening to the crackle after the station shut down. Couldn't be bothered to switch off, and when programming resumed at 06:30 the news came on and it included an item we were all waiting for - the king of Tauri-Hessia has disappeared! This had been figured already, so now we had to get off smartly. B.E.A. has announced a record exodus of Easter holidaymakers but there are no worries in that department - we have tickets. Half-listened to a selection from Ian Stewart's orchestra, and then got up feeling ready for action.
Rang Allie but realizing she must be at the farm I got in touch with the Ellis's and Zachary answered. He told me the 'girls' were shopping in Much Wenlock. I told him to give Allie my love and after he'd said there was no mail or any other contact as far as his former guests were concerned, I filled him in with a few facts from my end. I was quite sure there'd be no mail or anything at all arriving for the Tatiosa woman or her companion who was presumably Count Paritolen because people like them cover their tracks well. He wished me luck as we finished our conversation. Packed up anything that wasn't already packed, notified the concierge my room I was leaving, left an unopened can of spam, in the communal kitchen downstairs, put a soft drink in my bag, wiped down the benches and kitchen cupboard, left the bed linen folded, wrote up the diary, and decamped. (12:40)
Drove out of the garage into fairly dense traffic at about 13:00 and headed straight for the West via Chiswick and Brentford, speeding whenever possible and making good time. Reached Yateley round 14:15 and soon was driving into the secure section of the airport at Blackbushe. Went through the rituals that confront anyone who enters non-public areas and just before 15:00 I walked into the passenger area that overlooked the runway where an enormous MATS plane stood. A C-124 Globemaster if I wasn't mistaken and, seeing airport staff moving away from it, the realization was that it must have been here for a time so I turned to survey the people who were mainly in uniform, moving about the terminal - some dragging baggage behind them.
I was fairly sure of my man, although I fished the picture out to check. A character was leaning against one of the columns studying something he held in his hand. My mugshot probably. At about five foot eight or nine, he had fairly short light hair with the same coloured eyebrows, and a clean-cut ruddy complexion. He was what could be described as short and stocky with a benign look about him. I wandered over to where he stood and waited for him to tear his eyes from the photo which was of me ...
"... and very handsome I am."
He looked up with a start and a broad smile came over his face when he recognized my countenance.
He put his hand out and we shook.
"Call me Bill."
"I'm Dawson. Ronnie Dawson, and I've heard of you."
"I've heard of you as well."
"No, what I mean is I'd heard of the legendary 'Bill Smugs' and his activities long before I was briefed on the current assignment. I was looking forward to our meeting seeing you're on my list of people I'd like to have a gab session with."
I didn't look on myself as a 'legend,' but I thanked Ronnie for his appraisal. He picked up his valise and we walked through the terminal door into the parking area.
I was curious. "What have you heard about me that would create a legend?"
'Oh, just talk amongst the fellows and I've seen news clippings. Weren't you involved in some high level spy plot a few years back?"
"I was, but others were involved," I said leading him to where my car was parked. We got in after he'd stowed his bag, then with a roar of the engine we moved forward past a line of automobiles, out onto the Flats, and down London Road with the intention of bypassing Basingstoke.
I seem to be lucky with the various characters foisted upon me and it was holding up. Ronnie's what one would call a Regular Guy with a ready wit. We exchanged information about ourselves as the villages passed by and once when we stopped to get an ice-cream he practically wooed the girl who served us by making her laugh so much she dropped one on the floor. Ronnie told her not to worry and just to cram it back on the cone. He bought Fry's Chocolate and cigarettes before we were once again on our way. I would dearly loved to have dropped by the farm and seen Allie but with time and circumstances ruling that luxury out, we sped on through the Winchester Road route and on towards Eastleigh. Ronnie told me he's based in Chelmsford but flies all over the place on missions that need the services of an interpreter. I asked him how many languages he knew and was told five, with smatterings of another four or so.
"At a very early stage in my life I found languages easy to pick up," he told me.
That beside the fact his mother is French and his father was versed in Italian, German and Icelandic. He'd picked up the rudiments of Tauri-Hessian when staying in those parts as a teen, and his propensity for the Burmese and Indian dialects had brought him his last assignment.
"I had to make sense from screeds of Burmese text intermingled with French," he told me. " ... and about Tauri-Hessia. You won't have to worry all that much Bill. Many of the Hessians speak English even if it's only pidgin."
That was good news. At 16:40 we reached the airport and after taking out the luggage and storing the car, we made our way into the main concourse and walked over to the board where flights were displayed. Checking the tickets showed us we had a couple of hours to kill so the obvious place for two fellows who are getting to know each other, was the bar. We ensconced ourselves in a cubicle at the back near a window that looked out onto rows of trees and got to talking. Ronnie was drinking brandy and I made do with a Johnny Walker whilst listening to some of his experiences in various cities when on assignments. Ronnie's been around but I sensed he was after information on some of the more bizarre places I'd found myself in. He became very interested in the kids and their roles when I related a few anecdotes and I think he found it hard to take on the idea that our children had not only survived alien surroundings more than once, but had also come out on top ... with my help.
"I'd read excerpts and also learnt a bit from colleagues who'd seen the file," he told me. "But coming direct from the horses mouth it sounds far more believable ... I'd thought that some reports had been made up or exaggerated."
"Nope, everything's fact," I said.
"They sound great kids and I'm hoping to meet them after they've come up trumps with this little affair."
That made me think - "What if?" but I couldn't bring myself to believe they were in any harm. There was no reason why they should be and Ronnie seemed to be taking it for granted, 'They'll come up trumps!' That was a confident approach and my own knowledge told me the children have always met a challenge with determination and common sense.
"Good thinking, Ronnie and thanks. For a moment my confidence had wavered."
Ronnie clapped me on the back. "They sound like the best kids in Britain."
I thought for a moment.
"No, not the best kids in Britain."
He looked at me comically.
"Best kids in the world and I'm proud to share them, Ronnie."
He understood that and we ordered a third round before going into a discussion about various other things including, upon his request, more information about cases especially those involving my adventures with the children and he also asked about the 'peculiar affair' concerning the capture of housebreakers on the day of my marriage to Allie. There was plenty to talk about and after our fourth round, we decided on a quick snack in the restaurant before setting off ... it was 18:45. Neither of us were all that hungry but as we'd imbibed it was agreed a quick meal would see us right so we both had a half portion of the Macaroni Mexicana fortified with a side dish of club sandwiches. Went for a wash and brush-up and then on our way to the boarding area, Ronnie received a shock.
I seized hold of a very attractive young lady and kissed her passionately.
"Hey Bill, what's up," Ronnie asked as I kept hugging the female and then suddenly stepping back.
"Allie! What on earth ...?"
"Bill!" she cried. "I thought I'd arrived too late and didn't even notice you walking past. I came on impulse ... someone 'phoned from your office and asked if I'd like to see you off. Would I? I was at the farm and they arranged for someone from the Much Wenlock station house to pick me up and act as chauffeur. He's waiting in the park to drive me back.
This was just what I wanted before flying off ... to see my Princess Allie just once more.
I introduced her.
"Ronnie, this is my impulsive wife."
They shook hands and an instant liking for each other was established.
"Impulsive!" said Ronnie winking at Allie and turning towards me. "What about you? Reminded me of that photo taken in New York - sailor kissing a girl. Remember, it was in 'Life' mag?"
I was familiar with the picture.
Allie laughed. "I remember seeing that about four or five years ago - Eisenstadt wasn't it?"
"Yes, Alf Eisenstadt. He photographed that G.I. with a passer-by and you two brought it to life," Ronnie said making an 'O' with his finger and thumb.
Allie looked very happy as she accompanied us to the boarding entrance. She seemed utterly confident we'd find the children and sort things out. Her positive attitude made me confident too. Gave her a hug and another kiss and then she watched as we walked through the portal and made our way towards the checkout area. Looking back I saw a wave and then she was gone in the descending dusk. Ronnie and I followed the other passengers out onto the tarmac and up the ramp into a comfortable Lockheed Constellation where we were directed to seats near the front. I had the window and Ronnie was quite happy to take the aisle because he was looking forward to an hour or so shuteye.
"Been burning the candle at both ends," he said, with his good-natured grin.
We settled ourselves in and explored whatever had to be explored before sitting back to relax while the rest of the crowd trooped in. It was only a fifteen-minute wait until the cabin door was closed and the 'All Clear' was given. The plane started moving slowly towards the runway. Ronnie had already drifted off and I couldn't blame him from what he'd told me of his recent schedule. Takeoffs have a certain drama about them so I relaxed and sat looking out of the window to retain a suitable impression should I feel like recording it in the Diary. I watched as we followed a black edged yellow line that ran past a row of aeroplanes all facing the terminal. An airport employee was wheeling a boarding ramp towards a hangar and a fuel truck sat next to one of the planes. The airport buildings passed slowly by and we rolled between high lampposts that shed light down although it wasn't yet fully dark. A 'plane in the distance was flashing its wing lights as we rolled past a couple of empty buses looking lonely in the expanse. The aircraft with flashing lights was at the end of an adjoining runway where we turned right and kept to a curved path with a painted notice on it - 'RWY AHEAD'.
A couple of lit up notices were sitting on a grassed area but I couldn't read them. We approached the runway where the other plane with its lights flashing could be seen - it was about to take off. Looked like a busy night as it passed across our line of sight from right to left and next moment it rose into the darkening sky. Our aircraft had slowed down and stopped. Passengers and hostesses were all buckled in with much chattering in the ranks and the occasional whine from an overhead speaker. I kept watching. We were on a runway that crossed the one, which had been used, by the other 'plane. Suddenly headlights lit up the ground in front ... the engines started roaring and raising their pitch as we surged towards three rows of flares that formed an arrow where they met. Over white bars that resembled a pedestrian crossing, and across a large '23,' we headed straight for the centre of the arrow at a fast pace before suddenly tilting upwards and leaving the safety and security of Britain to track down four (plus one) extremely adventurous children in an unfamiliar land that hinted strongly of Transylvanian intrigue.
Leaving the airport way behind us the 'plane entered a sky full of strata as we flew above Southampton where lines of cars could be seen moving along roads far below and a tall chimney belching out thick smoke could be seen to the left. A little further on we suddenly shot through the cloud cover and with the plane on an angle a vast 'snowfield' lay before us - according to Allie, that's how Dinah had described clouds after I once took the kids up in a plane. Far in the distance where the 'snowfield' met the sky there was a long line of red with pastel blue above and looking more to the right, a small orange circle of sun showed itself. I thought of Allie and wished she were here with me - I was thinking so hard that a clear image of her face appeared on the horizon all lit up by the sun's rays. Starting suddenly, I almost woke Ronnie by digging an elbow into his side. Must have fallen into a doze and begun dreaming - as Kiki would say, "What a pity," because I would like to have continued it. We were still floating at a right angle across the field of clouds when I fell asleep.
Next thing I remember was Ronnie shaking my shoulder and telling me it was 23:05 and we had to change planes. Feeling better after a few hours kip, we followed a gaggle of passengers out of the plane and down to a more primitive looking building with large photographs of important looking men placed round the walls - presumably political figures. We waited and looked carefully at the various groups thinning out and making for the exit after their papers were cleared. I spotted him first - a rather secretive looking individual who was carefully appraising each passenger as they walked past him. He looked in his fifties, was wearing an expensive suit, had short silvery hair, a dark moustache and fairly thick eyebrows. As we made our way toward the door he came nearer to where we were and spoke, almost to himself.
"Is the slender-billed curlew in Tara?"
"Doubt it. Doubt it. Doubt it!" I murmured looking over towards the counter.
Recognition was established, and the man came up to introduce himself as Mark Haines from Foreign Affairs and Trade while Ronnie looked on with amusement at the byplay.
"Never seen that before, except in the movies."
"Bit cloak-and-dagger but I had to follow the rules," Haines told us with a slightly apologetic look. "Even though you both matched your photographs, one can never be too sure."
That was true and his sticking to the rules showed us that Haines was a dedicated operator. He's been here since the quarrel amongst various factions flared up in Tauri and his role is that of a liaison officer. We all shook hands and went with him to a side room that afforded some privacy. He had to get from us a rough idea of how we were going to approach the task of locating the prince and I told him that our personas would be of 'peasant persuasion.' I told him that what we needed in the way of props was being handled directly between his office and the Consulate in Tauri-Hessia.
"Fine. Handle it as you see fit." He pushed over a folder of material that we had to 'guard with our life.' He actually said that but, looking at him, I noticed a twinkle in his eyes.
"Just look after them," he said with a note in his voice that meant 'make sure you do!'
I turned to Ronnie and he shrugged his shoulders.
"We'll guard the papers with our lives. How's that?"
Haines laughed and told us he didn't meant to be so conspiratorial but the folder was of highest value and that was why they'd decided to have us deliver it.
"You won't be searched on arrival," he assured us and then the meeting was at an end. He had to get away and said we had time to grab a coffee before boarding the second flight and, wishing us all the very best, he disappeared into a side room near the door.