In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Dawn was gently etching her first silver brushstrokes on the dark canvas of night as Sam walked along the wooden jetty, his footsteps mingling with the soft lapping of the water against the hulls of the boats. He glanced at the sky. The weather forecast on the TV had predicted a very hot day, with offshore winds. “Could be perfect mate,” he said aloud. He came to his boat, Chardonnay, moving sensuously against her moorings, the securing rope pulling at the mooring point.
“G’day, sweetheart; what do you think, a good day for it?” He stopped for a few seconds to admire the sleek, elegant but functional lines of his 45 foot yacht. She was a beauty, from her polished wood deck to her six foot keel. “Can we do it? Should we do it?” Sam jumped lightly onto the deck, the movement making the vessel dip skittishly. He fumbled with his keys and opened the hatch door leading to the cabin, ducking his head without even knowing he had done so. He put the kettle on and sat down while it boiled.
Sam scratched his unshaven chin, his fingers rasping against the greying bristles. People had called him Sailor Sam for so long that he reckoned it was time to grow a beard, like a real salt. Especially now, this was perhaps the time to start, or he would never do it. The kettle whistled its shrill advice that it had achieved its purpose and Sam got up and made a coffee. He looked around the cabin, as familiar as his own lounge room, maybe more so. He sipped the scalding coffee and went through the inventory, an exercise he had performed countless times before, and with the same result.
It was all there, the latest navigation equipment; a radio that could talk to anywhere in the bloody world, maps of the world’s oceans and sea, a few books, food and drink for months and even rolls and rolls of toilet paper. Next to one of the two single bunks were three photographs; one of Margaret, taken about five years back, on the deck of Chardonnay. She was wearing oilskins and smiling. And there were Colin and Fiona when they were in their teens. All that seemed a long time ago. Fiona was now a doctor in Sydney and Colin off doing something or other which Sam didn’t understand in the City of London. “Bedding a lot of Pommie girls if I’m any judge, the randy little bastard.”
The third photo was black and white, cracked in places and faded. It showed a man in uniform, looking straight at the camera and smiling. He wore Air Force uniform, with a half brevet on his left breast. AG was the insignia and a medal ribbon nestled underneath. Sam turned it over and read for the millionth time the message his father had written; ‘To Eleanor, my love, and Sam, my dear son, with all my love, Dolly.” Flt Sgt Oliver Gray, Royal Australian Air Force, DFM, the father Sam had never known. He had gone to England in 1942, leaving a pregnant wife, and had never come home. He had been called ‘Olly’ in Australia but in England that quickly became Dolly’, as in the First World War song, ‘Goodbye, Dolly Gray’. And Dolly Gray said ‘goodbye’ in November 1944 over Düsseldorf, when his Lancaster went down in flames. He had completed 58 missions, almost unheard of in Bomber Command.
“What would you do, Dad?” Sam thought he knew what Dolly would have done.
He looked at his watch; about thirty minutes till the tide was right; thirty minutes to make up his mind.
It had all seemed so settled at one time. Sam had never really enjoyed working for the Department of Defence. It had seemed a good option when the Air Force turned him down in 1960 because of defective hearing. No, ‘enjoyed’ was not the right word. He had never felt fulfilled, sending young men off to fight old men’s wars. Vietnam, two Gulf wars, East Timor and Afghanistan. He knew his work was important, but. There was always a but. Chardonnay had been his release, his safety valve. He had thrown his energies and his frustrations into the boat. Then retirement, and the plans he had for so long nurtured could be realised.
It didn’t happen. First there was his diabetes, then Fiona’s first baby, and then the operation for prostate cancer. He had managed the diabetes and overcome the cancer. The plans were rolled out again. Well they were until a couple of weeks ago, on his sixty fifth birthday. Fiona had come down from Sydney. She was pregnant again. Margaret would never shift now. Fiona trapped him in the kitchen. “I hope you won’t do anything silly,”
Sam laughed and kissed his daughter. “Me, old Safety Sam, don’t be daft. You know me, a devout coward.” He didn’t think that she believed him; he didn’t believe himself.
Sam looked at his watch again and heaved himself to his feet. The tide would be full now. “What would you do, Dad?” He knew what Dolly would have done; he would have seized life by the throat and shaken it to buggery, as he had in 1942. Sam went outside onto the deck and announced to the blameless Australian morning, “I’ve had enough. Things are changing around here. I’ll do the bloody thing on my own.”
Sam Gray slipped Chardonnay’s ropes and under power took her out into Port Phillip Bay. The voyage spread out before him; the Heads, the Gippsland coast, north to New South Wales. He could get a crew in Sydney; there were always restless young blokes looking for adventure. And then across the Tasman to Kiwiland. After that, who knows? Tahiti was a possibility, California, the Panama Canal and England. He’d stay with Colin, and perhaps, you never know, the pair of them could visit Dolly’s grave in Germany.
Written by BM
In Service of the Queen, Comrade
David Millar, glanced at his watch, sighed, stretched and got up from his desk. “Dinner time, old boy,” he said aloud. He gathered up his paperwork and placed it into the security cabinet, which he locked carefully. He looked round the office for a final time as he donned his overcoat. All seemed secure, so he switched off the light and locked the door. At the front door of the embassy he stopped, fumbling in his coat pocket, searching for his piece of paper. “Good evening, Sergeant Harrison. I have borrowed some tools and the carpenter has given me a chitty.”
“I’d better have a look, Captain, security, you know. Will you open the briefcase, please, sir?” The Military Policeman stared quizzically at the small collection of tools, a hammer, some screwdrivers and a large wrench. “Planning a little DIY at your hotel, sir?”
Millar smiled weakly. “Well, something like that. You know how difficult it is to get the Ruskis to do anything.” He closed the case and moved towards the door.
“Do you want a car, sir”
“No, thanks, sarge, too bloody easy to identify, those buggers. I could use the walk.”
“Very good, sir.” Harrison saluted. It was not a pukka military salute, but a casual acknowledgement that he and Millar were two brothers in arms, among a bunch of civilian plonkers. “Good night, sir.”
“Good night, Bill.” Captain Millar stepped out into the Maurice Thorez Embankment, stared briefly at the brooding menace of the Kremlin, on the other side of the grey waters of the Moskva River, jammed his shapka firmly on his head and turned right. He looked over his shoulder at the splendid 18th Century facade of the British Embassy, the official residence of His or Her Britannic Majesty’s ambassador to Russia since the Tsar’s day. “Careful, my boy, you’re amongst the enemy now.”
Security, Harrison had said. Well, Millar knew all about that, didn’t he? He had suffered a full week of briefings from MI6 before taking up his Military Attaché’s appointment. Bunch of tossers, they were. What did they know about it? His own Regiment, The Royal Green Jackets, had served under Wellington in the Peninsula and at Waterloo, and a lot of other bloody places since. He then reflected that the Duke had also created the modern Military Police, his ‘Bloody Provost’, and, on further reflection, a Military Intelligence unit, as well; Arty’s famous Gallopers.
The snow fell gently, melting on his face. The locals said the winter of 85/6 would be mild, but it was bloody cold enough for David Millar. The Volgas and Ladas drifted by, ghostlike in the grey swirling light. Not even a Zil to excite his imagination as to who the VIP passenger in the back seat might be. He crossed the bridge over the Moskva and walked past the onion domed St Basil’s, his boots crunching crisply on the freshly fallen snow. He glanced at the others scurrying past and wondered if he looked like a Muscovite in his heavy coat and shapka. Probably not.
Red Square was almost deserted and away to his left the red stars on the Kremlin walls glowed distantly, watching over the mausoleum of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The snow became heavier and he regretted his decision to leave the car. He couldn’t even see the Gom department store on the right hand side of Red Square. He turned right, past Marshal Zhukov’s statue. Poor bastard, thought Millar, Uncle Joe sorted you out once the War was won, didn’t he? The Hotel Metropole glowed its welcome through the gloom. Even in the muck and discomfort of a winter’s evening in Moscow he admired the beautifully restored hotel, where part of Doctor Zhivago had been filmed. He stamped his way to the bar, shaking off the snow as he went.
“Piva, proscha.” He thought that was right. The barman brought him a beer. “God bless Mr Gorbachev,” he said aloud.
A breathtaking lovely girl was suddenly at his elbow. “I’ll drink to that.”
My God, but she was a stunning creature, an olive face framed by shining brown hair, and eyes of liquid brown in which a man could drown. Her off the shoulder dress was a deep red and would have cost the average Russian woman perhaps three years wages. “Can I buy you a drink?” he asked, dazzled.
“Thank you.” She spoke in Russian to the barman who brought her something pink in a cocktail glass.
Careful, Davey boy, remember the honey trap, his brain warned him, even as other parts of his body gave a different message. She is probably a major in the KGB, although he had never met a major anywhere else in the world with breasts like those.
“You are English?” It was a statement rather than a question.
“I’m afraid so. Does it show?”
“I’m called Natasha, but my friends call me Asha. What is your name?”
“David.” He hoped to God that Maggie and the boys did arrive from Britain in ten days as was planned. This was more than flesh and blood can stand.
“What do you do, David?”
“I am in sales, wool”, he lied, .at the same time thinking ‘and I know what you are selling, babushka, and it ain’t wool.’
“Would you like company for the evening?”
“Love it” he lied, “but my wife will be arriving soon.” In certain circles ten days could be construed as soon.
She smiled, and raised her glass. “Have a nice evening, then, and thanks for the drink.” She wandered away, a shimmering vision in red and he exhaled.
David was still lost in those eyes when he got got to his bedroom, on the first floor just above the restaurant. Dinner had been OK, but now he had a job to do. He emptied the contents of his briefcase on the bed and then methodically began to check the entire room for electronic bugs. He unscrewed all the light fitting and power points, dismantled the telephone and had the back cover off the television. Nothing! There must be at least one bug somewhere; MI6 had said so. He removed all the paintings from the walls and inspected the rears. Still nothing.
David stood for a few moments staring around the room. Ah! The loose floorboard. He rolled back the huge rug and there it was, a very loose board which he prised up. He felt with his hand the length of the room and, yes, there was, something in the centre of the room. It was metal and apparently octagonal. Bastards! He placed the wrench and turned to the left. Whatever it was moved easily, at first, and he strained hard to free it again. It took him several minutes of hard work to get it moving again. At that moment there was a knock at his bedroom door. David stood stock-still, unable at first to move or think. The hot sweat which his exertions had caused, seemed suddenly ice cold water on his skin. Finally he croaked “Yes” in a voice he did not recognise.
A Russian voice, speaking in broken English replied. “Mr Millar, it is Sergi, the Assistant Manager. There is a problem with your room. May I come in?”
David squeaked his response. “No, I am just going to have a shower. Please come back in fifteen minutes. OK?”
There was a disgruntled “Da” and David breathed a huge sigh of relief. Quickly he replaced everything he had disturbed, ran the shower, switched on the TV and tossed back the bed covers. He looked around his bedroom in a quickly rising panic. Already he could envisage the British Ambassador being called up to the Kremlin to get a dressing down. The offending captain would be dispatched in the wink of an eye back to UK, and a major’s crowns would never adorn David Millar’s shoulders.
Then he saw the tools he had borrowed spread out on the rug. “Christ Almighty!” The offending items were quickly gathered up and dumped in the bottom of the wardrobe.
He ran his head under the shower, put on a dressing gown and was busily drying his hair when Sergi returned. A man who seemed to be some kind of workman accompanied him. This man was carrying what looked like a tool bag.
“Mr Millar, we are sorry to disturb you, but was noticed that there is a water leak into the restaurant, below your room. We need to check the water pipes underneath your floorboards. All right?”
David mumbled something, nodded, and prayed.
They did so with David watching closely. He didn’t want the bastards sticking a bug down there, not under his eyes.
Written by BM