Bill's Diary 1951 (Part 6)
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...
Oct. 20th (Saturday)
We all slept in again, even Kiki and it's not surprising because of yesterday's exhausting schedule. The earliest riser according to Philip was Oola who'd sneaked into where the kids were curled up under the awning, and let himself down very quietly at his master's feet. Philip had woken and noted the time as being just after 07:00. As long as he's somewhere near Philip Oola's happy and quite content just to 'be' with him.
The last to rise was Jack and he only stirred because Kiki bit his ear. He sat up and I watched him rubbing his head, trying to figure out what was causing him pain. We couldn't help laughing heartlessly when he twigged and started scolding his bird, not that it did much good because Kiki just flew up to perch on top of the mast right out of range for any retribution or scolding. Jack couldn't remain angry for long however because it was our last day on the river and England beckoned. We couldn't help smiling most of the time because the atmosphere demanded it.
Tala had been invited to break bread with us and after he'd had a few words with Oola - words that I managed to interpret as instructions on good manners, the young lad was allowed to join us as well. He experienced a moment of recognition when called upon on to give his version of what everyone had undergone when Allie and I had been locked away from the world. When he'd finished Allie heaped praise upon him with everyone joining in. The look of rapture on his face is unforgettable. He sat close as he dared to Philip but was always under Tala's watchful eye because, as far as I could interpret according to whatever creed they follow in these parts, the boy must not be allowed to disgrace himself or his boss in any way. Actually we've all noticed Tala adopting an almost fatherly manner towards the 'son' he'd never had and it was encouraging when he told us that he'll make sure the boy is not left to his own devices; in fact he's already mentioned that he knows one of Oola's relatives, a kindly old man who's apparently returned recently returned from Medina, and we were assured that Oola would be taken to him later in the day. I asked for the address and made a mental note to follow it up via the Commissioner. Oola deserves a better life and must never return to the one he'd led before joining up with us, so a recommendation will be made that his education be funded and it might even pay to contact Saad for advice in searching out one of the better establishments that exist round these parts.
Departure time arrived and it was love and kisses for Oola from Allie and Lucy-Ann whilst Dinah and the boys clapped him on the shoulders and shook hands with Tala - a man who'd risen in our estimation. He takes his duties seriously and appears, deep down, to be of good character despite the outward attitude he'd shown to his subordinate. We took them to the ramp and waved as the two natives departed with quiet dignity - tramping down to the jetty and waving vigorously for a few seconds, before turning and making their way towards the town centre and disappearing into the motley crowd of movie people and locals.
Lucy-Ann was in tears so I informed her that an address had been abstracted from Tala. Not sure whether it was his, or Oola's relative's lodgings but once the authorities have read the report on our activities, they'll follow up the current welfare of our two valued ex-workers.
Everyone cheered up and the slight gloom that had descended suddenly lifted. The girls helped Allie prepare food for an early lunch and we ate on the deck under a cloudless sky. The boys started the boat up at about midday and again we began moving smoothly up the river towards Barira. Birds flew by the boat as if supplying an escort and the trees gracing both shores were green and lush. It was a trip of about four hours and round 14:00 we partook of a light meal - our last in these parts. Reminisced some more and the kids filled us in with yet untold facets of their exploration through underground caves before they'd managed to fool Uma into submission. That snake definitely earned its keep. Allie poured us both an aperitif while Lucy-Ann filled my pipe and produced a lighted match for me.
Warmed by the sun and feeling good we reached Barira as the hands of Dinah's watch reached 16:35. Everyone heaved to, grabbing packed bags and depositing everything in a pile according to my instructions. I gazed down the only street that served this section and noticed a large black Buick parked further down. The ever-cagey British Intelligence stringers are well rehearsed and don't approach anyone in their vehicles until they can determine a person's identity Looking round I noticed a pleasant-faced chap with Spanish features who, after glancing at something he had in his hand strolled over and, walking past me, murmured without moving his lips.
Cagey all right. Didn't catch on for a sec then remembered the briefing back in London.
He grasped my hand warmly and his smile encompassed us all as we were introduced to Ismael. He wore a suit plus wide cravat instead of a tie, and sported dark hair parted on the left, mouth encircling whiskers, and dark peepers.
"I have a car," he gestured to the highly polished Buick further up. "I'll take you to the hotel. Plane arrive at 7.30." He was well versed.
I think all of us were sorry we couldn't stay for our last night at the hotel, however it appeared that HQ needed a rundown of just where things stood in the Uma Operation. There are a lot of ends that need tying up it seems and it was imperative we moved fast. The children weren't so sad however because, as Jack put it,
"The boys at school won't be able to get enough of what we've got to tell them," and Philip added:
"Be great to sleep in our own beds again."
The girls and Allie agreed enthusiastically, especially Lucy-Ann. The primitive life is acceptable but only for a limited period of time.
Taking our suitcases and helped by Ismael who filled his arms with extra items, we walked to the car and stuffed everything into its large boot before availing ourselves of the comfortable interior. Our escort got in and after revving the engine for a few seconds, he set off once all the windows had been wound down. The car turned and went back up the road, past scrub, odd trees and green bushes in lines - many of them groves producing fruit for hard working farmers and their families. Philip asked about the interplay between Ismael and myself at the jetty and as it was now past history I explained that pre-arranged passwords are often used on duty to establish the bona fides of a contact. The children knew about this of course but hadn't cottoned on that a real example had actually been in progress at the jetty. I'd known of Ismael but this was our first contact.
I filled them in.
"For the written record ladies and gentlemen, 'Passport to Pimlico,' is a recent movie and the phrase 'Big Bang' was a simple term thought up by one of our better-known astronomers. Simple!"
"Only happens in books or the movies," Allie commented and to an extent she was right because few of us actually use the system. Allie knew of course but I let the kids puzzle and guess and theorize about the astronomer's surname whilst racing along dusty streets to the hotel where we'd stayed on our first night. Ismael proved very helpful when we arrived by piling all our luggage on to the verandah and then, after saluting us and shaking hands with me, he wheeled the car round and left in a cloud of dust and fumes. Allie and I went up to the desk attendant who, thinking we looked important, immediately summoned . who emerged from a side room to welcome us all back into his house. He was wearing a large yellow flower in the lapel of his carefully pressed suit and his beaming countenance clouded a little when he was told we wouldn't be staying. However, being a genuine, likeable chap he was only too happy to oblige my request pertaining to a wash and brush up prior to our setting off for the coast.
"That is fine," he told us, "... I insist however you have..." he searched for the phrase.
The kids had come in and their endorsement of that remark was all it took for the man to snap his fingers and summon two servants who appeared out of the woodwork. He spoke rapidly to them in his own language and they disappeared to whip up some refreshments for a late snack, then Tariq led us upstairs and pointed to a couple of bathrooms - one at each end of the passage whereby the Cunningham family spent the next hour 'getting up to date' as it were. The boys made an absolute mess of the men's facility and were ordered to clear it up which they did very well indeed. Lucy-Ann, Dinah, and Allie spent some time on their cleanup but it was to be expected - females take all day to titivate themselves properly.
Feeling much refreshed, we all trooped downstairs where the kids, Allie and I were treated to an excellent selection of refreshments in one of the reception rooms next to the restaurant and we were quite taken with the gesture. Allie had told the girls to see if they could scrounge a few basic necessities from the kitchen seeing they'd struck up a kind of flirty relationship with two of the younger chefs there. The working lads were on a six-month stretch as part of a culinary course being undertaken in their hometown of Florence. I think the manager likes us because he stayed with us in the room talking in his expansive way and generally conveying his appreciation of our presence. Jolly nice chap indeed, and I don't for one moment think he was putting on an act despite my deep suspicion that Matt's influence with the Foreign Office may have caused a few coins to be directed into the restaurant's coffers as an attempt to make us comfortable after my (our) dangerous but successful' assignment. The boys helped themselves to a bit of everything while the rest of us stuck generally to the plainer stuff like biscuits and un-iced cakes because some of the Eastern snacks are a bit sweet and 'creamy.' The coffee was superb and Allie poured me three cups in all.
Not sure why I'm including so many details but it might be that I can't see us all heading off for another globe-trot in the very near future; after all, there've been seven quite extraordinary experiences we've endured over the last years - West of Britain (twice), Scotland, Wales, Austria, Aegean Sea, Romania, so could there ever be another? If there has to be, why not just a small matter of intrigue? Next door in that old tumbledown house would be fine, then instead of having to make themselves comfortable in a cave or on some rocky island far out at sea, the kids could nip back to snuggle into their beds each evening.
My love for Allie and the children grows (I hope she reads this section) and now it would be nice to tone life down a little. My contribution to the policing of Britain has been recognised and it might be an idea to get a transfer west so that I wouldn't be constantly haring off to the Big Smoke. Might talk it over with Allie - and the kids.
It wasn't till early evening when I was able to contact Matt and give him a more thorough account of our activities so that he could begin introducing more hard facts into his report. It was a wonder I got through on the primitive looking telephone the hotel produced but once I'd made it known who I was and where I was 'phoning I think the whizz-kids in Dennis's department made sure the call was uninterrupted and reasonably clear. The others were repacking and generally readying for the return trip. It was nice to hear Matt's voice again even though we'd been in touch only yesterday and after giving him a fuller report of our activities he gave due credit before connecting me up with Pete. Big welcome from him. I mentioned how the children had acquired what looks like a priceless bowl that'll end up with the Damascus museum reps in Jarabulus. He was impressed. His interest in artifacts meant I had to describe the item to the nth degree and if I can take a photograph of it I will.
"Funnily enough Pete, I can remember quite clearly talking with the kids when we were on our way to Chaldo ..."
"Abu Sakhair in anyone's language. I was telling them about an extremely valuable bowl I'd seen in the Cairo Museum but little did I know they'd actually find a real live one. It turned up after they'd been on a tumultuous voyage down the Abencha to the Teo Gra ..."
"I've done a weeny bit of homework Pete but I'm going to do my own research into names of various places and we need a little more detail about the area they actually visited but in the for now we have to rely on the kids' rather garbled accounts. Incidentally, they also found a waterfall."
"Waterfall! Waterfall? Them and their waterfalls." Pete yelled into the mouthpiece. "I remember their other one ... somewhere in Austria?"
"Yeah. Remember it well, and we both witnessed it. The kids reckon this other one is almost as big."
"The bowl. Where did they find the bowl," Pete enquired.
"Apparently they were exploring a cavern ..."
"Where were you?"
"Locked up with Allie, but I'll tell you about that later; anyway the artifact was discovered after they'd trekked down into the depths of the earth it seems."
"What a bunch of kids! How about the youngest, was she with them?"
"Pete she might be the youngest and the most timid, but she'll follow them to the ends of the earth, especially if her brother's with them."
"Can't get over it."
"Neither can I but apparently they ended up in an underground passage where they found a room that our friend Uma had on his agenda."
"Kids got in first?"
"They always do, Pete. The bowl was found in a corner I think. Beautiful piece of crockery ... I'd like to put it on the sideboard in the lounge. Real conversation piece."
"You bet!" Pete said with feeling. "Buy it!"
"Yeah sure. Can you forward us the money?"
"I'll look in my wallet. Ah, here we are - seventeen pounds and some coins. That enough?"
"Won't answer that one, Pete," I replied and after chatting a few minutes longer he went away to fetch the particulars required for our trip home. After I'd written down what he fed to me, we rang off. I looked at the notes I had and then hunted down the necessary papers for our exit. Made another call, this time to the shipping company and confirmed our tentative booking arranged from London via an agency in Jarabulus. Everything seemed fine, and the kids could now look forward to a few days of leisure, which they certainly deserve after their extraordinary, and possibly terrifying, period when they were separated from us. We'll fly to Marseille and from there we're booked on a voyage to Southampton.
I rejoined Allie and the children with the excitement growing as time passed by. Kiki became affected by the atmosphere as well and could be heard squawking all kinds of sentences as she flew round the room to the delight of some hotel occupants who were having drinks at the bar.
"Silly Bill ... Pay the Bill ... Pussy's in the well ... Hello Tariq."
We all stared at her.
"Jack must have taught you that," Dinah said, and I thought she was probably right.
"I suggested it to her just after we arrived," Jack told us. "When she came out with it, Tariq's mouth dropped and he seemed quite honoured to be greeted by an English speaking bird."
A little later the same car that had originally brought us here was brought around and we all piled in with our luggage. Instead of Muhammad being in the driver's seat we were introduced to a very dark chap with deep-set features who looked Somalian. He wore glasses that made him look quite learned and his English was legible although he didn't say all that much. He knew how to handle a car though and we fairly whizzed along in the gathering twilight thinking how nice it was to relax and watch the rocky terrain fly past, changing slowly into greener topography. The kids started one of their never-ending games, which turned out to be 'I Spy' and after a while Allie and I were persuaded to join in.
Eventually we reached the customs station and after the kids had insisted the officer actually stamp their passports ("For souvenir?" he grinned at them) we headed off once again, racing along a narrow track towards the airport. Made good time seeing we'd left at 18:30, the small well-lit building came into sight round the 21:00 mark. The driver who's name is (I think) Yaasir, helped get the luggage out and found us a trolley, then after I'd paid him off, he tipped his hat, smiled at us all, and jumped back in the car to race away. Could only recall what I believe his name is by thinking of 'Yes Sir.'
None of us were hungry and after finding seats in the lounge we discussed anything and everything until the announcement came over a tannoy up on the wall, first in Arabic, then in French and another language, and finally in English:
"Good evening. Will passengers for flight 216 to Marseille begin boarding? Please have your pass and identification ready. Thank you."
In less than thirty minutes we were once again settled into an aircraft, as we had been about a week ago - the girls in front of Allie and myself, and the other menfolk behind. Kiki was already causing some merriment as she sat on the edge of Jack's seat and made remarks to the passengers.
"Good Evening. Passages. Passages." She was trying to get the word right but couldn't quite get her beak around it, so she deviated.
"Oh, I say. Eee-oo-ee-oooo!"
One has to admire her memory - I could actually recall her imitating seagulls years ago when we were voyaging across the sea amongst various islands. Jack told her to pipe down, as Kiki was becoming a little excited and he didn't want to upset any of passengers; but he needn't have worried because everyone seemed to be smiling. Another announcement came and once everyone had buckled in, the plane's engines began warming up and blocking anyone from talking - even Kiki! Allie snuggled up to me and I put my arm round her as the 'plane started forward. Dinah was looking intently out of the window and Lucy-Ann was trying to as well ... not very successfully. Looking behind momentarily, I could see the boys doing the same - Jack had the window vantage point (the kids had tossed coins earlier when we were in the car).
It was good to think we'd all be back in the leafy environs of Overton once again and as Jack had observed earlier - 'It'll be great to sleep in our own beds again.' The plane shot up into a dusky sky, banking and presenting a view of twinkling lights far below. Not on the scale of those parts from whence we'd come but the picture was akin to sparkling jewels here and there set in various sections of the desert. Looking past Allie, I noticed a large moon rising over the distant mountain range and that was all I needed. Allie looked up at me with big eyes as if she was about to ask something. I put my arm round her.
"Can't you open the door, idiot?"
"Shut up Kiki!"
"Jack, where's that gum you bought. I feel like chewing."
"Dinah! Move your head!"
"There's nothing to see."
"I want to look at the moon."
"God save the King!"
"Shut up Kiki!"
"Bill, what were you thinking about just then?"
I let go of my dearest, unclasped the seat belt, reached into my briefcase, and extracted a folder.
"Allie, I said kissing her. "That can be answered later."
"Right now I have to update my diary."
In accordance with Mr. Alexander Broughton's decision that any diary references directly related to reported operations may be included, the following passages were submitted and approved:
Oct. 22nd (Monday)
Something happened today that made me think of the 'Organisation.' This morning a senior postal clerk from the Basingstoke office called at our house. He was elderly with a white moustache, wrinkled face and very clear eyes with which he regarded me shrewdly. Introducing himself as Benjamin Sharp he handed over a brown envelope, which I opened in his presence seeing he'd probably scrutinised it already, and found a telegram, which read as follows:
PADDINGTON 17 MAY . 51
63 W2 SH 9AM 171051 + TSO LN
SUBJECT: W.W.CUNNINGHAM / A.R.CUNNINGHAM
REF: FILE#16C-LONDON.MET-WOOTTON / CROFT
AGENT INCARCERATED IN AL SEEBA. AUTHORITY ISSUED BY DIRECTOR GENERAL INTERIOR MINISTRY.
CONTACT WILL BE MADE AT NOON PRIOR TO RESCUE OPERATION. S.Y.P.R.A.
"That's it," repeated the official. "It was transmitted to Abu Sakhair on October 17th but a copy was sent here for delivery to any person staying at your home. The place was empty and no one nearby seemed to know where you were so we thought it best to inform you even if it was late; all telegrams have to be delivered you know."
I thanked him and saw the chap off whilst working overtime in the brain department. ABC? I'd like to know once and for all - and anyway, he himself had mentioned 'An Organisation' on the day Allie and I tied the knot. A telegram actually signed by the Organisation must mean they're coming out of the closet. Went inside and corralled my dear wife who was arranging flowers in the drawing room. After sharing the telegram contents I told her a little about the Organisation. The last time I'd heard it mentioned by Scottie, the general opinion had been that after reaching its height during the war, the vast establishment was now being disbanded. The name placed at the bottom of the telegram confirmed any reality I may have suspected regarding the worldwide confederation. Allie listened with a fascinated look on her face and asked me no end of questions - the majority of which I couldn't answer because my knowledge is still limited. The children were at school although I wasn't ready to discuss anything regarding the subject with them at this stage.
As we've both been invited to dinner at Beatrice and ABC's place next week, I think there'd be no better time to broach the subject. Later in the study I analysed what I could of the rather cryptic message and gathered the Organisation had been about to launch a rescue of Allie and myself in the early afternoon of the 17th but had aborted the operation. How had they known of our whereabouts? Puzzled, I thought some more and came to a very comforting thought; Uma would have eliminated both of us - I'm sure of that so, should such a move have been about to take place, Allie and I would have been spirited away somehow by S.Y.P.R.A. agents and there was no doubt they would have succeeded at that, going on my knowledge of when they carried out a project in the Welsh mountains some years ago.
There had obviously been no need to carry out a rescue operation and that had to be put down to our children arriving with Uma in his 'stricken' condition. Who had been watching them? There had to be someone overseeing any pending operation. Questions, questions. As had happened in Austria, the kids had once again got in front of the worldwide confederation ... unknowingly of course.
I called Allie in and we spent a pleasant session working out how I would introduce the subject into a conversation when we visit ABC next month. Kiki suddenly appeared and flew down to perch on Allie's shoulder whilst uttering interminable parrot talk which meant we had to terminate our conversation seeing the children's voices could be heard as they came in from school. Allie rushed out to prevent the boys and girls from emptying every single item of food out of the larder - she has a bacon and egg pie there for dinner and I'm determined to have at least one piece of it.
Nov. 3rd (Sat)
Interesting day by all means. Beatrice had invited us all to dine and as she and ABC were, for once, residing reasonably near us, we all piled into the car round 15:00 - Kiki as well, but not Pipkin, and headed for Derry Hill. ABC leads an ideal life living as he does in various country houses in order to be available wherever he might be needed despite the fact that life is being taken a little easier these days. He's handier down in the lower part of our fair land than he'd be lounging round in his study at Beatrice's family home in Scotland.
Uneventful journey as it was only about an hour and a half's drive past leafy trees and green paddocks, so we ended up at the estate fresh as daisies. Entered the open gates and moving past the chapel, I took the car round to where the driveway ends. An elderly aide came down to greet us and then Beatrice appeared at the entrance, waving at us all. The children seemed a little shy at first but it wasn't the presence of ABC's distinguished partner of course. I think it was just the awesome surroundings that made them feel a little uneasy. Allie and I were hugged by Beatrice and the children were all greeted so warmly that their sense of unreality immediately fell away - Beatrice's 'Down to Earth' attitude saw to that.
We followed the butler, whose name is Clarence, down a long passage and around into another hall till we came to a large drawing room that looked out onto a sunny section of neatly laid out shrubbery and flowers where a solitary Chinese gardener could be seen digging in one of the larger gardens near the residence. Clarence bowed us in ... he's a pleasant-looking chap, balding and very pink. He must come with the house because ABC's fairly modern-minded and I doubt his own aides would sport a black jacket with white shirt and black tie plus grey jacket, white gloves and fob watch. Studs in his sleeves completed the picture. Seeing us all into comfy chairs, Clarence wheeled round in a very straight-backed manner, took a note handed to him by Beatrice, bowed again and departed. We sat down.
"Yes. He came with the place," Beatrice said from her plush rocking chair, confirming my earlier thought. "He's old school but very nice."
'What was in the note you gave to him?" Lucy-Ann asked politely.
Allie looked at her, quite shocked.
"Lucy-Ann, don't be so nosy."
Beatrice chuckled. "It was just for the kitchen telling them to start the final preparations for dinner ... and you ask whatever you like young girl. An enquiring mind should always be satisfied."
"True," I countered. "But, one can't always satisfy."
"In your case William, that would apply. I can't imagine you supplying too much information about the intimate sections of your everyday work ... but you know what I mean."
It took only a few minutes to pass before the children asked if they could go outside to explore.
"Certainly, if that's all right with your parents," Beatrice said looking across at us. The children were all dressed informally by instruction so we didn't mind at all if they went outside and climbed a few trees or whatever.
"They're explorers by nature," Allie said, and I agreed with her wholeheartedly.
"There's plenty of space to run round in," Beatrice told the children, "But keep clear of the driveways."
They all jumped up, Kiki cackled, and then they were gone - racing down the hallway and out of the open door. We listened to their muffled shouts and then a couple of minutes later, our host arrived to greet us. Andrew had been upstairs deep in conversation with someone on the 'phone. He came right into the room and we shook hands.
"Work never ceases," he told us, looking round at his wife who was smiling at him.
"Afternoon tea finished ages ago and we're having an early dinner," Beatrice informed him.
ABC felt in his pockets and produced the inevitable cigar then after cutting off the tip and lighting it with big puffs, he sat himself down in the largest chair to give us the third degree. We spent a pleasant hour exchanging news and views. Discussed Churchill's return to the House and argued the toss in a friendly manner of course. The Cunningham's aren't very political but we like debating. Allie joined in with some very pertinent remarks - my wife possesses an instinct for producing comments that one needs to mull over before replying. Fortunately she was on my side. Round half past six just as I was finishing a small, rather classified account of the case Pete and I are currently handling, the kids returned from their exploration.
They'd had an enjoyable period acquainting themselves with the layout and Jack related how Kiki had scared the gardener who was stashing tools in a shed near where the cars were parked. Jack told us Kiki has flown to a wall and instructed the chap to wipe his feet. The kids who had been watching from a vantage point had laughed themselves silly when the man looked all around for someone important such as the butler who might have been making a request to him. Then he spotted the children who introduced themselves and made him aware of their amazing bird. The man hadn't actually understood Kiki as his English is poor but he'd certainly received a shock; however, upon explanation he'd laughed out loudly and jabbered away in some "foreign language" (presumably Chinese) before stroking Kiki who'd flown back to Jack's shoulder.
Looks like the bird has made another friend for life because the gardener actually wanted her address so his children could write to her!
Yes ... well!
Dinner was served where we were as it was an informal visit. Beatrice had disappeared to the kitchen but she returned as a table was wheeled in. A couple of maids covered it with a tablecloth and produced linen serviettes for us all. A very ruddy-faced lad dressed in white, carted in platters which the maids helped to set out together with the required utensils and when they'd finished there was a discreet withdrawal and we were left to ourselves. The array of food was varied and I might as well list a few so that if Allie ever runs out of ideas, they'll be down in print: Mulligatawny soup, a range of cold meats with lettuce and tomatoes, plus a potato salad that looked very tempting. Allie went for that with a will whereas the kids as one helped themselves to pieces of the cheese and potato flan.
ABC and Beatrice, always the perfect hosts, made sure the children's appetites were taken well care of and we watched as the youngsters carried loaded plates to some steps that led down from a tall door opened out to give a view of cultivated gardens and trees basking in the late afternoon sun. Someone must have notified the kitchen earlier because Kiki had been supplied with a small bowl of grapes. She was delighted and in between selecting one, she'd fly round cawing. We more sedate 'grown-ups' remained in our seats conversing on a variety of subjects and helping ourselves to the plates of delicacies.
Andrew told us the house is due to be demolished in a few years - apparently it was once a school and had suffered because of it. He's returning to sea but not for another couple of months and I asked him how he weathered the frequent disruption.
"One gets used to it," he replied.
Andrew and his wife had travelled extensively in their earlier days and they still like moving around especially now as all the trimmings are taken care of - unlike what happened years back when expenses and organisational routines had to be taken care of by themselves. I can understand their attitude after a fashion because my own travels have been quite wide-ranging in the line of work and when moving around it's handy to have government assistance.
The kids finished their grub and ran out onto the expanse of grass to do some more exploring. We left them to it - they're responsible individuals. The servants arrived to clear the tea things away and then, the gentlemen and ladies split up. Beatrice and Allie opted to relax and sample coffee whilst ABC led me along the corridor to a side room that was richly panelled in mahogany. Directing me to a chair he opened a glass-fronted cupboard and selected glasses and bottles - whisky for him and brandy for me. The butler appeared like magic but withdrew when Andrew spoke,
"We can snip our own cigars thanks, Clarence."
Seating himself in a tufted leather wingback chair that had to be from the George 4th period, we relaxed after our excellent repast. Slanting rays of sunlight beamed through a small high window as we sat there in silence enjoying the comfort of vintage drink and Cuban cigars. ABC moved round in his chair and seemed about to say something then hesitated. Finally taking another sip of whisky, he said,
"William, is there anything you want to ask me?"
I slopped my brandy because at that very moment I'd been casting around looking for a way to approach a particular subject but ABC's incisive mind had already noted it; he'd read my thoughts.
I looked at him squarely and then took another gulp of brandy.
"Andrew, there actually is something I was wondering about."
"I'm all yours."
Here was the chance at last and plunging into the subject I asked him a question that had been puzzling me for some time, telling him about my suspicions and ideas and personal experiences that involved some outer fringes of the Organisation known in privileged circles as S.Y.P.R.A. Looking at me shrewdly with his creased face and contrasting bright eyes I imagined he was evaluating just how much could be revealed.
"I had a fair idea you would ask me something like that," he said.
I went on. "You probably know that, according to Sir Harold, the children and I, together with a few uninitiated, onlookers actually witnessed something that would be considered a rarity, Andrew."
"Yes, I know about that."
Andrew paused and then went on.
"An incident that occurred in Wales required immediate action from a fairly hidden organisation although I'm aware of course that it's no longer a secret to you William because you were earlier informed of its existence by Sir Harold. S.Y.P.R.A. it is, and I must tell you that it doesn't hold any official slot in the Intelligence communities of government departments. Are you with me?"
"A kind of proxy intelligence and combat unit?"
"Reasonable enough presumption!"
Andrew was choosing his words carefully but he knew me and was aware of any status I held in the hierarchy and also my personal capabilities. I'd been 'let in' officially to the big secret and that's all I really needed for now. I didn't want to pry any further and cause him any awkwardness. The entity existed and that was sufficient knowledge for the present.
ABC puffed at his cigar and actually continued.
"The Organisation, which is a large one, started up during the wars and is unlike any other because it relies on ordinary people who are trusted implicitly. As it has proved to be a highly successful venture, there are plans in store. The present structure is winding down so I'm being reasonably frank while it's possible, William."
I moved around in the chair, took a sip of Brandy, and picked up my cigar again to take in whatever was going to be revealed. Andrew looked over at me and spoke again.
"A reasonable spell of stability is predicted at this particular time but a watchful eye has to be kept on this third planet because man habitually repeats mistakes of the past and in the near, or far, future more disruption will probably occur. It's an ongoing process unfortunately and the only thing that can be done in order that utter calamity be avoided is tight surveillance and covert action."
He then listed some places that were expected to be victims of unrest in the near or far future.
"Cuba, Algeria, Indochina, the continuing Northeast Asian problem, Central Europe, Africa, South America, in fact you were recently connected with a place of future interest, William."
That was an interesting aside.
ABC removed his cigar and looked at it contemplatively before picking up his glass.
"Province of Al-Anbar. Fallujah."
I remembered passing near that city on our way south but couldn't think of any problems starting up in the area. Surely the news sources, scant as they were, would have reported any. I voiced my surprise but then learnt the intelligence sources of my esteemed relative came from data that extended into the next century. Enough said!
"You want me to go on?"
I'd been listening and summarizing my own knowledge of political upheavals that were waiting in line but they were more-or-less confined to our home territory. I realised with a start that he was addressing me.
"No. You don't really have to, Andrew. Looks like the whole world when you think about it."
He puffed out a cloud of smoke and nodded.
"About right, William but these perceived problems don't have to take place. With the right people at the top and sufficient intelligence, such disasters can be avoided in the future."
"Is that a surety?"
"All our studies are positive."
I felt gladdened about that statement - coming as it did from such an informed source.
"So, there's hope, Andrew."
"Yes. There's hope but it may take a few years. Our forecasts have extended to the 21st Century and the Middle Eastern countries could be in the firing line. Incidentally, as it's now approaching disbandment in it's current format, the Organisation has been investigated quite thoroughly and the resultant information destined to be published. Yours Truly has been interviewed."
I glanced at him.
Had Scottie given that name to me or had someone else mentioned it in passing?
"So, you've heard the name. Yes, you're right although it's not publicised all that much and the manuscript will have to undergo a thorough censorship process. I'll keep you informed - how's that?"
That was good news. I was becoming more and more interested in S.Y.P.R.A. and if Andrew said he'd keep me informed, I would be informed. No doubt about that.
"Where are you placed in the hierarchy Andrew," was my final question.
"I'm one of three directors William, but you'll understand I can't reveal who the others are as of now."
"The passage of time will bring changes to the secrecy commitment," he told me, and I left it at that.
Having learnt something interesting for future contemplation it was time talk about other things; a posting several months ago had required ABC to attend an all-important conference in Sweden and then an assignment had come up that necessitated his presence in Tunisia. I thought of Henry, Don, Leo and other well-travelled staff members. Doubt if they'd have a patch on ABC although Bruce might come close, but only because, before joining up, he'd been a travel agent who accompanied adventurous tourists to many out-of-the-way places.
I was happy to end on a positive note. We drank each other's health and after lighting another cigar, ABC escorted me from our comfortable room and we went to join the women-folk who were sitting outside on the steps watching Philip and Jack trying to balance themselves on a stone wall. Jack fell off just as we emerged from the drawing room but fortunately he was unhurt. The boys rushed over with Dinah and Lucy-Ann who'd had been collecting large colourful flowers from a bush near the driveway. Jack was effusing over an aviary he'd discovered next to a small hut in a copse of trees near the property's end.
Removing his cigar, Andrew enquired as to whether or not he'd seen a great auk inside it.
Jack looked at him dumbfounded, as did we all.
"You haven't got one of those!"
"Quite right," said Andrew with a twinkle in his eye.
Who had informed him of that past episode? The kids? Me? Or, did we have to put it down to his astute summations of knowledge gained from unending vigilance. I know that we've been under his protective mantle at various times so I guess he somehow keeps tabs. This afternoon would go down as being an extraordinary and very informative one. In the end I put the 'Great Auk' enquiry down to a family member perhaps mentioning it somewhere along the line. Couldn't be bothered pursuing it at that very moment, but I stored the remark up for future reference.
It was an evening of peace and plenty. Perhaps not 'peace' because the children plus Kiki fortified with an abundance of snacks, were very much into activity. The house contains a maze of passages and rooms stuffed with all kinds of bric-a-brac in one of the wings, and even a ladder leading up to the loft, which was swiftly utilised by our adventurous family members - the younger ones that is. We more staid adults as befitted us, relaxed and listened to the News at Ten on the Light Programme via a radio that could easily have been a product borne of the very latest blueprints produced by Germany's finest technicians; but then, why shouldn't our hosts have the very best seeing ABC of all people needs to be up-to-date with the state of our nation. We only touched on politics, namely the Suez crisis, and Beatrice also informed us of the Argentinian First Lady's hospitalization. More brandy, more whisky, and in the girls' case - cocktails made with Kina Lillet. Gave them both the giggles but it fitted in with the mood; being the driver, I held back a little.
We lasted till just after midnight. The kids, having sated their exploration urges, finished a last card-game and with Kiki protesting for some reason, they were all herded to the front entrance and after many fond goodbyes, we were seen off by Andrew & Beatrice with Clarence hovering in the background. They waved to us from the doorstep as we set off for home with floodlights illuminating the driveway.
Arrived at The Lynch in one piece ... Kiki seemed to be falling asleep on Jack's shoulder but she somehow managed to precede us into the house. (00:50)
Relevant Passage from unclassified extract:
Dec. 21st (Friday)
Philip's young friend arrived yesterday. Only a year to go at her school before she returns to Scotland and then, Philip told us, she'll be starting at St. Andrews. If he wants to join her I wouldn't stand in his way. Much as we'd like him to be down here his, and for that matter, any of the children's impulses should be catered to and Allie's in agreement. The boy seems a little besotted and we think he'll be spending next Easter up at Tassie's place in Glenfinnan. They moved from their tumbledown cottage on Castle Hill shortly after we were up there and with the help of government funds, they managed to purchase a semi detached off one of the tracks near Loch Shiel. Apparently Mrs. Faa couldn't bear to leave the place where she was brought up.
Philip and Tassie make a great pair and have very similar interests, the most favoured of which is going on nature walks in the fields and woods. Their opportunities for close-up studies are immensely enhanced by Philip's rapport with all wildlife although Tassie's is also good. She related to us how a small roe deer had approached them and actually nestled against Philip; when she'd moved towards it the creature had allowed the girl to pat it briefly before scurrying away. This of course adds a great deal of enjoyment to their expeditions and the others tend not to intrude. Anyway, Jack's currently a member of the Basingstoke bird-watching club and their expeditions tend to take place further field in such areas as the New Forest and Solent marshes. Ken and Irene are bringing their Jeremy down for Christmas so Dinah's looking forward to some 'Seasons Greetings.' They're all allowed a friend to stay for the period and I think when they're altogether there's going to be a mass of talky-talk with the inevitable interruptions as each of them relates their version of our recent experiences in the mysterious East
Allie and I will be just her and me ... funny, we never get sick of each other's company.
March 19th (Wednesday)
Day off and when fetching the mail a grubby and rather faded envelope addressed to Philip was amongst it. There were Arabic notations round the perimeter and I showed it to Allie when she came into the drawing room having just returned from a library trip.
"Philip wouldn't mind would he?"
"Bill! How could you even think of such a thing? Surely you can wait until the children get home."
"What'll I do in the meantime?"
"You've got plenty to do."
Taking the library book from her hand and placing it on the table, I put my arms round her and made a proposition.
"Heads we look, tails we don't!"
"What if I don't agree?" she said, gazing at me warily.
"Then I'll have to think of something else to do, won't I?"
I must have had a serious expression on my face because Allie glanced at me and reluctantly agreed. Actually I don't think she was all that reluctant because we were both curious. I tossed a penny and called 'tails.'
It came down 'heads,' so we had to wait. Later in the day Philip opened his communication from foreign parts and exclaimed.
"Well, well, well!"
"Well, what?" asked Jack who was trying to crane his head round Philip to get a look at the contents.
"Well, well, well," Philip repeated.
"WELL! Who's it from, Philip?" the others yelled.
"Never you mind."
The others looked as if they were about to overwhelm him and seize the missive so Philip gave way and turned the single page round for us to view. A frustrated groan arose at the display of pidgin English but it turned out there were only a sentence we couldn't understand. The French is no mystery and if need be, I'll get the Arabic interpreted at the office next visit although I think it's just a salutation. The letter was from none other than young Oola, our little helper that had played his part in last year's Middle East adventure. Transcript (translated purely as written):
Hallo fillp jaq Dina lucy luv for you sool skool lern .
Nazim here. I Oola ' s instructor and can tell you that boy is good student but not take English lesson at moment. Advanced Arabic, arithmetic and trade. Oola hold interest in chaussures. He learn this and already bénévole has appeared who will be guide. Wajih is great uncle to Oola and they together and living well. He be at address on back, please write him. Shukran. As-salamu alaykum.
As anyone could predict, Oola looks as if he'll be receiving letters from all round; someone will interpret them for the young lad. We're all pleased he's starting a new and, hopefully, stable life that should end up a little more productive than his last.
Diary entries were often written up on the following day.
Some have extra information added to them, which would not normally be included in one's diary. The reason for this as explained by Mr. Cunningham, is that he wanted more comprehensive descriptions of circumstances to be recorded should his memoirs eventually be published. To this end, a correspondence course in Creative Writing was undertaken in 1948.
Mr. Cunningham's language course on the Arabic language was rudimentary. His Spanish is better.
A reference made in the entry of October 18th, 1951 refers to one - Joseph Jaruco, or as he was known ... 'Jo-Jo.' There have been statements made to the effect that his remains had been discovered down a shaft on the moors near Crowthorne. Edmund Wilson who is associated with the nearby institution and who's specialty is forensic analysis, has examined all the gathered evidence but a decision has been reserved for the time being due to lack of more advanced methods involving double helix structuring which should be available in the near future. The only information released so far from a forensic anthropologist is that femur bone fragments in the remains are similar to that of Negroid males which goes some way towards establishing an identity.
The name 'Pipkin' (Nov. 3rd, 1951) refers to a spaniel the Mannering children had taken in temporarily when a schoolmate of the boys was abroad with his parents.
Following assignments in Damascus and in the North of Jordan, Det. Ronald Dawson returned to Britain in late December and, together with his recently acquired fiancée (an Intelligence Network associate), visited the Cunninghams at Overton on January 2nd, 1952. They stayed a week prior to their taking on a dual assignment in the Corsica.
John Straffen did manage to escape from custody but only briefly, so Miss Lucy-Ann Cunningham was able to sleep in peace. In fact the chances are she was never informed of the jailbreak.
On February 24th, 1952 a diary entry describes Master Jack Cunningham reporting on his success at teaching 'Kiki,' a parrot he owns, how to enunciate the word 'Jarabulus.' Possessed of an extraordinary vocabulary, the bird is utterly devoted to its owner.
Thanks are due to several agencies that added information to the memoir where one or two gaps existed. The Department of Cornish Studies, helpful in the past, can once again be acknowledged.
The Mannering children have reported on a location that according to older maps is known as 'Teo Gra.' Locals simply refer to it as a 'deep gorge.' To date, three persons are known to have lost their lives in the vicinity.
A village skirting the Euphrates known loosely as 'Cine Town,' has been abandoned by most filmmakers who now consider the Costa del Sol extending to Almeria as their preferred location due to better weather and facilities.
Retrieved "A professor of antiquities, yet unnamed, is being appointed to investigate the rumour that chalices and a paten found in Syria by some British children in October, 1951 have actually been described in an earlier study made by Louis Brehier prior to his passing some days previously. It is already confirmed that Greek inscriptions have been found on two of the articles."
© T. Gustafson