Bill's Diary 1951 (Part 1)
First edition: 2017
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1951
Type: Continuation Books
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1951
Type: Continuation Books
On This Page...
A month of hard graft surely demands a holiday of some kind seeing Pete and I have been on duty up to 18 hours a day with the Uma case. The London operation's almost completed - Matt's wrapping the legal side of it up and it looks like we can be dispensed with. Uma himself has disappeared but his British organisation's in tatters thanks to Scotland Yard and the Hereford Police. Actually pinpointing the kingpin will be a delegated task for someone overseas who's familiar with his business in the Middle East. Only fly in the ointment is that Matt might want one of us to remain on the job seeing we know more than most on the habits of Uma Inc. Tomorrow I'll get off after the four o'clock get-together and trust to luck that our side of it's all finished. Forgot to mention last night (too tired to add the extension) that Pete and Ivy turned on an excellent spread and I've made a note to ring tomorrow and thank them properly. (22.40)
Day of rest ... got up late and found it was time for lunch! Wasn't hungry, so after a chat on the 'phone with Pete, I got together some essentials, checked the flat over and exited round 17:30. Leaving Whitehall behind, I made a leisurely drive west and after stopping for cigarettes in Basingstoke, the High Street was reached by 18:50 and entering The Lynch a few minutes later. Left my stuff in the car and went round to the back door. Pressing my face against the kitchen window made her jump when she turned and saw me smiling at her. Flicking water against the pane she mouthed'
I came in and kissed her before she could remonstrate and then kissed her again before she could start talking. She decided to change the subject.
"Bill, the kids are much better and the doctor thinks they'll be able to get up tomorrow."
I groaned in mock horror.
"Hope they'll go easy on me Allie, seeing I've been on 24 hour duty - literally."
'Don't worry Bill, I'll take them to the village for a few treats to make up for them being confined to bed during the hols. They've been looking so miserable, and there've' been two small incidents.
"Jack and Lucy-Ann fighting?"
"What? You're joking!"
Allie gives as good as she gets and it seems that her kids proper had expressed themselves fairly bluntly on more than one occasion.
"It's obviously the 'flu and their being at a loose end because we both know been growing out of their natural aggressiveness to each other. Mind you one of the incidents began when Philip put a beetle in Dinah's slipper."
"She didn't ...!"
"No. It crawled out before her foot was inserted but she woke the dead with about the loudest scream I've ever heard her make."
"She's a growing girl. Her lungs are becoming more powerful."
"The other incident?"
Dinah injured her hand, but I rubbed some liniment into it and she's surviving."
"How did she hurt it?"
"I heard the slap despite being in the laundry."
"Downstairs too! That must have hurt ... why did she hit Philip?"
"Beetle incident, but Philip feeling she'd over-reacted, hit her back although he didn't need medical treatment."
"Sorting each other out, but you have to admit Allie, they rarely go for each other these days."
"You're right Bill, and things will be getting far more serene now they're getting up. Usually it's the other way round but not with those two ... and you're here of course. They'll be over the moon to see you."
"Are you over the moon to see me?"
"Yes, darling and I want you to tell me every little thing you've been doing when we're in bed."
"Every little thing when we ...?"
"Every little thing you've been doing in London."
"You want to hear all about it, eh?"
"Bill, I want to hear it all ... at least everything that's not classified. How's Pete?"
"Pete's fine and he sends his regards; incidentally, I 'm keeping Mum about our visits to The Windmill.
"Thanks pet. What's Ivy like? Give us a detective's description."
"Late twenties, auburn hair, finely chiseled face - she reminds me a little of Botticelli's Portrait of a Young Woman."
"I know it. What aspects?"
"Oh, nose, forehead, hair."
"Red hair, eh?"
"What else is there to say - except that she makes herself up with lots of lipstick but 'tartishness' is out of the question. She's an expert and that's not surprising seeing she owns a beauty salon."
"Terribly. Pete's lucky with his companions. She kept offering us canapés and bits of pineapple and cheese on toothpicks while at the same time keeping everyone stocked up with drinks. What with her attentiveness and Pete' store of funny stories, the party went like clockwork."
"You'll have to take me to the next one."
"I'll take you."
It's near to heaven being home with Allie and the family - my family. Kissed Allie again and when she said the kids were together doing something or other I left the kitchen and made my way quietly up the stairs. Reaching the landing I heard the sound of scuffling and general activity coming from the boys' room. The radio was blaring out some programme the kids often listen to for a laugh, then suddenly a loud whistling sound rang out, followed by Jack's lively bird yelling for the police. Obviously the kids are on the mend so I didn't think a harmless jape would harm them. I crept down the passage and when Kiki started yelling for the police again I addressed the closed door.
"Police here. Who wants the police? Open up immediately ..." or something to that effect.
Startled silence. Slowly turning the door handle, I thrust my face around to confront four startled children together with Kiki bird who was sitting on Jack's shoulder.
Pandemonium of course.
The kids jumped up as one and gave me an overwhelming welcome before dragging me in. How nice to see them all again after just over a week.
"I got such a fright when I heard your announcement!"
Lucy-Ann escorted me to a bed where I sat down to be studied closely by five pairs of eyes. The children still looked a little wan but some colour was returning to their faces. Kiki flew to my shoulder and made a fuss as is her wont, then Allie appeared to complete the happy picture. I grabbed Lucy-Ann and gave her a hug and then after Dinah had accepted my putting an arm round her, I began fielding a host of questions from Jack & Philip, some of which I wasn't at liberty to answer. Allie suggested we have our meal in the bedroom and disappeared to collect some plates and get an array of goodies from the larder. She'd been baking today which was fortunate and soon my darling wife arrived with a pile of stuff which she set out on the corner desk before we started tucking in with a determination. It was a hilarious supper and after the boys and girls had been given a version of what I'd been doing, we tucked in some more with Kiki joining in 'blowing' her whistle and cackling and making all kinds of silly remarks. Good old Kiki ... she can be annoying to the un-versed but, for us, life would be quite barren without her. A year or so ago Jack told us that a school mate of his with circus connections had introduced Kiki to his papa one sports day and the man had offered Jack £30 for the bird. Most parrot owners would have been tempted with such a princely sum, but not our Jack despite the fact that if I'd put another £15 or so towards it, we could've bought ourselves a new family car.
Exchanged more news, skirting adroitly round my current assignment whenever it came up, but a few things I'd been connected with were reported such as a recent visit to Hortham Colony with its connection the Straffen case. I can vividly remember writing about Lucy-Ann's fearful reaction when she read in the newspaper about the strangling of a nine year old not all that many miles from our own village. Knowing the details first hand I was able to ignore the press speculation and ensure her the chap was in custody where he was being very carefully monitored. That's one advantage of being a police officer - I can dispel Lucy-Ann's (or anyone's) fears more authoritatively than most.
Allie demanded her turn at being hugged so I left the girls and joined her on the other bed after Philip had hurriedly pulled his legs out of the way. Kiki acquired her usual amount of snacks by visiting everyone's shoulder and being handed treats which she accepted very dexterously, transferring them from claws to beak with muted remarks such as "Thanks, thanks, thanks" or "Ta Jack!" even though she might be abstracting a titbit from Dinah. We had to stop her from performing the police-whistle act though because it 's truly deafening. When reprimanded by Jack at one stage, she retired under the bed for a period though goodness knows what she found there to occupy herself with in the comparative darkness.
Sometime after nine the children were about ready to settle down so whilst Allie tucked the boys up I carried Lucy-Ann to her room with Dinah following - I think they were both looking forward to a relaxing kip. 'Goodnights' all round and then a pleasant hour was spent downstairs having a nightcap with my one and only. We'd missed the nine o'clock bulletin but Allie insisted we listen to part of an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury (of all people), before switching over to the 'News at Ten.' (23:20)
Sept. 30th (Sunday)
Doc Wogan called in late this morning and after examining the invalids he announced they were almost up to scratch but a convalescing holiday would be most desirable for their well-being. He made it sound like an order so a decision was made after consultation with Allie and the kids. We mapped out a rough plan that entailed sending the children south for a few days seeing they're old enough to look after themselves; in fact they've survived conditions in the past that might well put 90% of Britain's kids out of action, and seeing Allie needs a break from looking after such demanding patients, we made tentative plans to send them Swanage way - Gwyneth could put them up.
"She's put up with me often enough when I've been on fishing vacations and she's great with children - doesn't stand any nonsense," I told Allie.
Allie asked, "Where exactly is this place? I've heard you talk about it as if it was your second home."
"Kings Road West, opposite St. Mary the Virgin."
"What's she doing there?"
"Don't be irreverent! It's a church in case you didn't catch on! That's the place for them; 10 minutes to the beach, a park nearby, fishing off the pier."
The plan was sealed and I made a note to 'phone the guesthouse and arrange shipment of the children for next Saturday.
Now we could relax and that's exactly what we did although Lucy-Ann, who likes to get organized, went off to 'start packing.' She traipsed upstairs with a case, accompanied by appropriate comments such as,
" ... better hurry Lucy-Ann, we've only got five days."
" ... don't worry, your hairbrush should turn up. You've got a week to search for it L.A."
In earlier times, Jack's sister would have dissolved into tears when kidded but being more mature now, she just looked over her shoulder and grinned - looking very much like her brother.
"Shut up! You know as well as I do that if anything's forgotten, I'll get the blame seeing I look after you all. Kids need looking after." (23.05)
Happened to glance through some school workbooks this morning. Allie had discovered them lying on a shelf in the porch. Before she got the girls to put them back in their bedroom I examined something that Dinah had written for a class project and spied a neat little slogan which I thought was worth remembering:
Today is the Tomorrow you were worrying about Yesterday.
Must ask her if she made it up herself or cribbed the proverb from some textbook because it's a good one. Haven't kept much up to date these last few days because there hasn't been much to record seeing we've been occupied mainly with blissful 'family' affairs. Trips to the village, and a few peaceful periods for the grown-ups when our kids go on exploratory tramps, or to friends' places. Dinah and Lucy-Ann were invited to a party on Tuesday, and on Thursday it was the cinema. The girls went to Father of the Bride and the boys opted for King Solomon's Mines. Took them in the car seeing Allie wanted to get a few things in Basingstoke and after dropping the kids off we parked near the city centre where Allie dragged me off to visit a few shops. After we'd stopped at a cafe for some coffee and cakes we passed an enjoyable hour or two taking in the sights, and as we strolled down Wote Street on our way back to the car, Allie pulled my arm and pointed to a wall near the newly named Haymarket theatre.
"Bill, we'll have to go!"
I followed her gaze and read the large black lettering of a colouful poster:
Last Week but One of the Season
Light Opera and popular Songs
Encore Production Staged and Directed by Bernard Mitchell
Superb Supporting Company Includes
Broderick Gill, Kenneth McKellar, Claude Strudwick
Evening Performances at 8 p.m.
"Bill, he was at our wedding."
I looked at the poster again and went over the names ... one seemed familiar.
"He sang for us; don't you remember?"
I did recall a young and pleasant individual who'd entertained us on the big day.
"That chap's going places yet he was starting up only a year or so ago, surely? Probably making more money than me now."
"He's been in business longer than that," Allie said with a smile.
"Has he now?" I thought for only a moment.
"Allie, it'll be an early birthday treat for you."
She flung her arms around me in her usual appreciative way.
"Bill, we'll go backstage and have a chat with him after the show."
"You maybe, but I doubt if they'll let me through the mob."
"Of course they will - you'll be with me, darling."
"I'll take my police pass just in case!"
"You do that."
Allie looked very happy as we reached the car and set off to pick up the girls whom we spotted studying some glossy pictures pasted all round the foyer walls inside the cinema. Lucy-Ann waved excitedly when she saw us and dragged Dinah away from a picture of Spencer Tracy, saying something that sounded like -
"Too old for you ... "
They emerged into bright sunlight and made for the car. The boys, who'd attended a screening at the hall, were going to a friend's place afterwards and would make their own way home.
Something that occurred today was an incident that could have ended with disastrous consequences had it not been for a timely intervention.
The boys, aware of their school mates toiling away in class, decided to even the odds a little by visiting Church Road to get a perspective on St. Mary's. They've both become quite interested in a class project that involves the history of local buildings and this church seemed an ideal subject for their examination, so off they went with notebooks and an excited parrot flying round their heads. I happened to be in the front garden and saw them catch up to old Laura Aitken who was on her morning walk to the village centre. Kiki took the opportunity to supply her with an entertaining moment and I could just hear her squawking out, "Polly's got a cold. Fetch the doctor," before they moved out of earshot.
About an hour and a half after they'd left, Allie, wanting to brighten up the drawing room, asked the girls if they could pick some chrysanthemums from a bunch she'd spotted nestling in a patch across the road by the stream. Lucy-Ann & Dinah who were at a loose end, took scissors plus a basket from the scullery and strolled across to where the stream ran past, sparkling in the sunlight. When they had picked and trimmed enough flowers, they turned to go back and happened to notice two ugly looking dogs standing nearby watching them. I happened to be glancing out of the window and what I saw made me rush to the door where I could get a better glimpse of the scene. The dogs were threatening both girls with deep growls and every now and again one or the other would lunge towards them. I knew of the animals and had seen them before in the next street where their owner generally had them housed in a closed off section in the back garden. Two terrified girls stepped into the water and made their way towards the other side looking back at the vicious looking beasts who didn't seem to be put off because the stream wasn't all that deep in that particular spot. One of the dogs managed to wade in and get close enough to snap at the basket that Dinah was holding in front as a kind of shield. Lucy-Ann screamed and Dinah put her arm round the girl's shoulders looking desperately towards the house just as I emerged from the side door and ran to the fence with a hoe that I'd grabbed from where it had been left by the gardener.
The dog on the bank was a mastiff and it looked over at me as if he was about to charge but fortunately the fence was in good repair so he turned back to follow his mate who was sniffing at the water and wondering whether he should wade further in. The second dog started barking as if to urge it's mate further in towards the girls who stood there wide-eyed with horror as I yelled at them not to move - the chances were that if they began running the dogs would simply tear after them and attack both. These dogs fitted the description of 'death machines.' I've had experience with canines of this type and what people don't realise is their strength and the almost non-existent chance of putting such dogs out of action. Their whole body is one massive lump of muscle, and they can also move at lightning speed so any attempt to lash out would be futile. As a last resort, if I couldn't threaten them to the extent of frightening the critters away I'd try going for their eyes because there was nothing else that could be considered. Unfortunately I had no revolver and I hadn't even thought of grabbing a knife on the way out.
The second brute pawed tentatively at the water again, eyeing the two girls who were clinging to each other, wondering whether to race away against my advice but utter panic won over and they just stood there. I leapt over the fence and just as I was about to race across the road with the idea of drawing the dogs' attention to myself, two figures appeared, walking down the road towards us. Jack and Philip had finished their church examination and were coming back for a bite to eat no doubt. Catching sight of me, and then spotting the girls being threatened by two vicious-looking dogs, they made their way along the footpath to where I was standing.
A plaintive, almost spooky sound rent the air and Kiki shot up off Jack's shoulder with a squawk. Philip had moved away from Jack to confront the dogs that had immediately turned with their ears pricked up. The one nearest to where the girls were standing hurried out of the water to join his companion. Both stood there looking fixedly at Philip who was approaching them still making the peculiar noise but more quietly now. Jack and I watched with what could only be 'bated breath' as our very own Francis of Assisi motioned to the animals whereby they approached him wagging their tails and then leaping up at him trying to lick his face.
The relief showing on Dinah and Lucy-Ann's faces was a picture as they made their way downstream a little and then climbed on the bank to join Jack and myself. What a sight - two killer dogs prancing round Philip who looked over to us with a comical expression on his face ... he was in his element all right and it was fascinating to observe the control he had over the canines.
"I'll call the pound."
'No!" Philip yelled. "I'll escort them home - we know where they live."
I okayed it and told Jack to go with him knowing he'd be all right. We watched them make their way along to the corner with the dogs almost tripping Philip up as they disappeared into a driveway. I hugged both the girls and with Lucy-Ann clinging to me like a limpet not quite having got over the shock, we went back to the house. Dinah wasn't so bad once she'd realised they were safe once again but Lucy-Ann takes a while to get over the effects of unexpected occurrences. Interesting that, because if any of the others had actually been attacked, I could see her racing to attempt a rescue - that's if the account of her selfless action a few years ago is true, when she thought Philip was being attacked by a wolf. Wolves are more dangerous than pit bulls in my book although two creatures such as the ones we'd just experienced would be pretty high up on any danger scale. The pound must be informed as the owners have committed an offence if my recollection of common law is accurate; he can only be thankful there's no liability for more serious charges.
Allie returned from her shopping expedition to receive a blow-by-blow account of the altercation with a few exaggerations by the boys when they returned home having delivered the animals back to their owner. Lucy-Ann had recovered and joined in enthusiastically with Dinah prompting her so that Allie got both sides of the incident. Allie knew the dog owners' number and a note was made to contact them.
By chance a neighbour who strings for the local newspaper had witnessed the 'rescue' from the head of our road and had passed the human interest incident on, which meant that a reporter and photographer called later in the afternoon to get details of the "extraordinary incident" (their words). The kids were photographed outside by the stream and first person accounts of the 'harrowing tale were recorded for posterity.
Piece in the paper about an 'extraordinary incident' that took place in The Lynch yesterday although Allie and I hadn't seen it until the article was drawn to our attention by Irene. Allie had been meaning to call on her and Ken for ages but the Johns are a busy lot. Jeremy's apparently attending an advanced seminar in line with some school project and his parents were due at a funeral in the afternoon so we made it a morning visit. The kids had disappeared early to join an organized outing to Caversham with several of their friends so we left for Tadley after they'd gone and once our enthusiastic welcome had finished it was decided that as we'd met only six or maybe seven times since Ken's accident, a resolve was made to meet up at least twice a year from now on.
Irene proffered a copy of the Gazette and pointed to a picture of our kids standing by the hedge bordering the Test River tributary. Dinah was smiling broadly at Philip although whether she was simply acknowledging that he was her brother or whether he had cracked a joke, we know not. They looked pretty good and like any parents, Allie and I were happy to see our children in an interesting and newsy light.
These ones did anyway, and the story had to be told of course with our hosts listening avidly.
Oct. 4th (Thurs)
The chap who interviewed our kids a day or two ago has made a suggestion. He's of the opinion that an excellent human interest article could be conjured up if we gave permission for Philip to demonstrate his talent at a zoo with the help of his pal who happens to be an attendant at Regent's Park; the idea being that a lion would be introduced to our Pied Piper - under "extremely controlled conditions" he assured us. Money would change hands and Philip's bank account would profit from the experiment if the go-ahead were given. We're all well aware of Philip's powers but when it comes right down to the nitty-gritty, a few doubts naturally creep in although when the idea was floated, my interest was mainly concerned with the 'control' of such a 'controlled experiment.' Jack was for it. Philip was also for it. Dinah was doubtful and Lucy-Ann greeted the idea with horror, despite her previous experience of Philip's work amongst bears, ferocious dogs and other creatures over the years. Allie was entirely against it (as expected) but in the long run, I think it's good that she felt that way. It saved us all from any doubts we might have had and anyway, Philip has many years ahead of him in which to experiment with his talents. He could join a circus if so desired but personally, Allie and I feel he's destined for greater things connected with the field of animal research, and the same goes for Jack although Philip could always create a sideline interest.
The reporter whose name is Daegan called early this morning. An Irishman with sharp features and a mischievous looking face, he removed his hat to show us a shock of red hair after he'd explained to us that his name means 'black haired!' Having failed with the lion idea he quizzed us and learnt of Jack's extraordinary expertise with birds. Not wanting to leave the proposition completely, he suggested an interview and perhaps a photograph of the boy posing with Snowy. Daegan's an accommodating character and not wishing him to leave our premises with no gain at all, we said the idea might be conceivable seeing Jack's happy about it but it'll have to wait until we return from our pending holiday. It's not as if Snowy is all that fearful of human contact but a few experiments conducted with other not-so-friendly examples of the avian species could perhaps be added to the schedule. Philip suggested that apart from the owl and some warier birds, he could make contact with a few of the more skittish animals such as apes and monkeys.
"Guy!" Dinah prompted.
"He'd be easy but I was thinking of less friendly ones," her brother said. "Still I wouldn't mind having a photograph taken of me with the gorilla."
"We'll put down a hat for donations," said our Jack, " ... and blow the money on a feast for us all." The boys' stomachs play a big part in their lives.
Played tennis with the boys this morning - some local enthusiasts have rigged up a makeshift court in Berrydown Lane and finding the facility unused, we claimed it as our own for an hour or two. This afternoon they all went for a walk in the meadows leaving behind them a damaged half pineapple that Allie was supposed to be serving up for desert later on. Jack, or the perpetrator who left a big hole in our fruit, namely Kiki, might have to be admonished upon their return however Allie cut the offending portion out so we'll guess it's all right. The kids had actually wanted to attend a movie in Basingstoke but Wogan's advised us, rather late, not to let them mix too intimately with the general populace until they're given the absolute 'All Clear' as regards their health. Can only hope their previous visits to the cinema and friends' places haven't caused any problems.
Unexpected telephone call received this afternoon and Allie spent forty-four minutes (I timed the call) talking to Polly. It appears she and Jocelyn are both healthy although her husband visited the doctor last week to obtain advice on blood pressure. The book is apparently selling quite well to a select number of academics, coastline enthusiasts, and (Polly said) the Geological Survey department has also earmarked some copies as well. Jocelyn must be mellowing because Polly actually persuaded him to accompany her on a four-day break to a kind of 'retreat' at St. David's. Allie told me that she was able to get him to go because the venue fulfilled two 'musts' - namely that it was only an hour or so away, and that it was by the sea - Jocelyn has to be somewhere on the coast every day of his life it seems. One of Polly's friends who actually works there had invited them both and they apparently enjoyed themselves. The duo aren't all that holy so, thankfully, the house which is situated on cliffs above St. Non's bay, has no rules requiring guests to attend services despite it's ecclesiastical connections.
Must thank Lucy-Ann again for the extremely attractive diary folder she presented to me as a birthday gift. Reckon it couldn't have cost her under 7/6 so she must have saved and saved for it.
I think she appreciates me!
Change in plans! Round 23:30 the telephone bell rang and woke Allie who woke me. It was Matt.
"Bill, an urgent case has come up and it requires your presence overseas."
Business had to raise its ugly head but if handled right, it looks as if the summery holiday our kids need might eventuate because a rather important assignment has materialized. Matt couldn't stop apologizing about the disruption but when I told him of the current situation, he hesitated, then said guardedly,
"Bill, this could fit in nicely."
"Matt, why me?"
"Because you're the most qualified and ... " he referred to my 'phone call on Monday when I'd contacted the office. "Your children could benefit if you take them with you. They need a holiday, don't they?"
"Oh! You were thinking primarily of the kids' well-being?"
"Well not exactly Bill, but the assignment could be beneficial to both parties."
I wanted time to think about this but Matt insisted politely that I meet him in London. He doesn't request my instant presence without a good reason and seeing that uprooting one's self at a moment's notice has been a good part of life I could take it in my stride. Part of my job.
"OK Matt. I'll be in your office within the hour."
"No!" Matt said. "At my house as soon as poss."
That was it. I said I'd be there and he rang off. Relaying the news to Allie and seeing her disappointed face, I held her close and said we might benefit from the plan alteration. She brightened up when I told her that possibly, we could all go off we together and take a holiday in warmer climes, which would be excellent for the children.
I dressed and Allie saw me down to the kitchen door where I let myself out after kissing her goodbye. Had to go back for the spare key ... and another 'Goodbye' before driving off slowly so as not to wake anyone. A lonely streetlight shone down onto the driveway as I moved out into the road and turned towards Silk Mill Lane. Then, picking up speed, I cruised through the High Street passing the odd shop or two with window displays that shed light onto the footpaths. Thought hard about what might be in store for the Mannerings as I drove past various houses with their sleeping occupants and then the throttle was opened up when I reached the main London route. Soon the speedometer showed 70 mph as farmland and shadowy trees flitted by. There was little traffic around at this time of the morning so I felt quite safe with my illegal speed although it could well have been justified by the urgency that had manifested itself in Matt's call.
"My country needs me," I kidded myself, " ... so there has to some leeway."
Racing past Sunningdale I headed on for West Drayton after filling up somewhere round Egham Hill. Merivale Wood shot by and round the 01:20 mark, White City also. Drove directly to Grove End Road and turning into elegant St. Ann's Terrace, I pulled up outside the Wootons' place and got out. Within half a minute the front door opened and Matt, looking very business-like, beckoned me in.
His greying hair was unbrushed and the creases round his eyes that make him look as if he was perpetually smiling, were more pronounced as he extended a hearty welcome before directing me into his abode. Matt's facial make up creates a picture of an older Rock Hudson.
He hadn't been to bed at all having just come from the office. Puffing at a cigarette, my host led me into his comfortable apartment, directing me to a lounge chair by the fireplace. A Gainsborough print had pride of place above the mantelpiece and I noticed a cylindrical container in the corner containing an umbrella and some walking sticks. Maybe they belong to friends. Matt was casually dressed in a cotton shirt, old red jumper and baggy trousers and he looked as if he had a lot to say so I didn't ask any questions whilst accepting an aperitif handed to me. Settling down into the other chair he faced me.
"Bill. Cast your mind back to the time you were down south sorting out that Eppy Character. Remember him?"
Recalling the case I thought back to when Allie had been taken sick during a voyage with the children near Greece's Aegean Islands. Thrilling times ensued after I joined the party and, as usual, an adventurous incident had taken place. Also remembered Eppy's nephew - a 'rabbit faced boy' according to one or two of our rather outspoken family members. I could also recall being shown a letter from the lad, Lucian, who appears to be following in his father's footsteps - studying ancient architecture, but for legitimate purposes only it appears. Jack and Philip had actually visited him in Petersfield last year and returned with quite glowing reports of how he'd impressed them with his knowledge and had even taken them to view some displays he'd helped set up at the Chichester University. Apparently he's started up an introductory archeology course. Before they'd met up with each other, Lucian was already quite worldly it appears having accompanied his uncle to various digs up and down the length of the Mediterranean so it looks like the interest has stuck. Matt's well informed of the dangerous but lucrative search subsequently conducted in caves we Cunninghams had explored
"I remember. He's still incarcerated, isn't he? Broken out?"
"No, no, he's still inside but Bill, can you think of anyone else similar to Eppy who features in the current crop of shady entrepreneurs being handled by our department?"
I thought briefly and recalled a name.
"Maalouf! That's about the most accurate handle we have but it's probably an alias. Lebanese chap - we think. Most commonly used handle is Uma although Maalouf is the one we use and I think he's shortened his first name; definitely on the list that Pete and I've been working on."
" ... amidst coffee sessions."
I grinned at him. "Yes, but getting the job done, Matt and you know it."
"You bet ... anyway, the radar has searched him out and as you might be aware, his interests and operations definitely are similar to those conducted by Mr. Eppy so the chap Uma, has to be located where the booty is - in archeological digs and sacred places scattered around the hot countries. Currently, we have indications as to where he currently is although the man flits about. Bill, but in line with current intelligence, we'd like you to go south again."
On my way into London I'd been thinking about the children's holiday. The doc had been fairly specific - they could do with a spell in warmer climes and we'd actually played round with the thought of an overseas location if Allie and I could accompany them. Matt's request (or order) was timely. If I had to travel abroad to 'keep an eye on someone,' it could fit in quite well with the current state of affairs.
"Where to, Matt?"
"The moon for all we know, Bill. He turns up all over the place however our spies' latest reports place him somewhere between Jarabulus and Al Bukamal, and that was three days ago. Some of these old places are known by all kinds of names depending on the natives but the cartographers we've consulted have told us the place you'd be dropped is Jarabulus - known by the locals as Barira. You'll go?"
Matt was looking at me as if he thought there might be a change of mind, after all I'm a family man with a wife and three children so the decision was basically mine.
"We try to send unattached persons out to such places as you know," Matt added, " ... but in this case ...!"
I wasn't going to let Matt down by any means and I told him so. The look of relief was profound and he clapped me on the shoulder.
"Thanks Bill, I knew I could rely upon your sense of duty. Incidentally, Dawson's one of the team we sent out earlier."
Ronnie! An assignment in some godforsaken part of the planet would suit him right down to the ground.
"Last I heard of him was when you lot posted him to Sicily."
"Yeah," Matt replied. "Ronnie completed an excellent bout of surveillance there and then he went to Syria. No rest for the wicked."
"Sorry about this Bill but I gather you've realised the urgency of this particular assignment."
"Of course Matt and as it just happens this case it looks as if it will fit quite well into some rather vague plans Allie and I've been considering."
I filled him in further on the children's current position in the health stakes and how I'd been looking forward to some heavy breathing time with Allie. So what if we were with the kids - they'd be well and fit in no time at all and then we'd hardly see them.
Matt said. "If I know that lot, they'll end up mapping the territory then camping all over the place and staying completely out of your hair."
"Maybe, although we'll have to think a little about allowing them to sally forth alone in a foreign country for obvious reasons."
"Agreed, Bill. Now for a few facts regarding your assignment. You'll meet up with one, 'Silvera,' who's our agent in Al Bukamal - he's mentioned in the papers you'll be given seeing there're several aspects of the enquiry we want you to discuss with him. He'll be able to bring you up-to-date as well."
Sounded all right. We discussed a few more points and after another drink, Matt said I might as well stay in the spare room and get off tomorrow. As I didn't feel like making a return journey soon the suggestion was welcomed and Matt escorted me to a guest room furnished with everything a traveller might need including some fresh pyjamas.
"Betty fixed it all up for you as soon as I said you were coming," Matt said with a wink.
Betty, the perfect hostess. Matt left me and within ten minutes after a good wash in the adjoining bathroom I settled into a plush bed that had one of those continental quilts on it. (03.20)