Me voy acqui!

July 25, 2016


The two weeks we spent in Puerto Vallarta were really memorable. The courses were of high quality and the condition of the fairways were better than some of the greens at home. Our hotel didn’t skimp on catering. It had on-the-premises restaurants; a Japanese facility, one with Italian cuisine, an a la carte French dining room, two beach side bars and a hot dog stand, with hamburgers and ribs as well. Of course, there was also the hotel’s main universal dining room. This restaurant provided three meals of superior standing each day. I love breakfast, and a place with three short order cooks standing by to make a wide range of omelettes, among many other choices, gets my vote every time.

To be fair, we could have stayed in the hotel to drink and be entertained in the evenings after golf but it’ll be no surprise to know that we didn’t.

One night it was decided to sample the local nightlife in downtown P.V.

We made a booking for our party at a night club, and showed up en masse at the appointed hour. As we entered, the establishment’s hostess’s came out of the wings and took each one of us by the arm to conduct us to our table. I should say at this point that having been in similar hostelries in Singapore, Malaya, Hong Kong, Germany, and Belgium to name but a few locations, I was more than a little blasé and this was certainly no novelty for me. Ventures in my youth into these arenas had been disastrous to say the least and were in no way inexpensive. The German girls, for example, used to say, after their third bottle of Sekt, “ Ich liebe alle euch Britische soldaten; so reich, so gross, so stark und so verdammte blöd.”

I knew instinctively that Mexico was going to be no different. I did not intend to enter into the spirit of things in any way. As soon as we were seated the girls slid onto our laps. This was the signal for me to put Plan B into action and try out my Spanish.

“Lo siento, soy homosexual.”

“Que?”

“No me gustan las chicas.”

The girl immediately left my lap and went to sit on Ralph’s, which was vacant. Ralph had not heard what I had said but was pleased that she evidently preferred his much younger thighs to mine.

He joked with her,

“He too old. He my Papa.”

She replied,

“No, ella es tu mama.”

Again, Ralph tried to correct her,

“You no understand. He my Papa”

To which she replied, in excellent American,

“I understand perfectly, darling, your amigo is a fag.”

I admit to being somewhat concerned that Ralph, instead of being shocked, actually looked as though something that had been bothering him for some time had just been cleared up.

A little later I decided to hightail it out of there, fast, spurred on by the sight of the girl with the manager, at the bar, gesticulating in my direction and pushing a curly haired young waiter, face heavily made up, toward my table.

 

Arriba!

July 16, 2016


Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the golfing group chose Puerto Vallarta as that year’s destination. We had previously booked to go to St Kitts & Nevis in the Caribbean but due to a major hotelier purchasing the golf course, converting it to a nine hole in order to extend its buildings and other facilities, we decided to go for an alternative.  Mexico got the vote.

As soon as the three of us arrived, after a 15-hour flight from the U.K., the U.S. contingent, already in their hotel and bevvying on the huge patio area, got Marv to phone and invite us over. We showered quickly and headed down to their place.

The huge open air bar area was packed, mostly with folks from the States and some Canadians. As we entered Gary D. stood up and said in a loud voice, “The Brits are here!”

Everybody, to a man, and I mean everyone, stood and clapped. Even the bar staff joined in. This was, I’m sure everyone remembers, when Tony Blair’s stock was at its highest and he had recently received fourteen standing ovations when he addressed Congress immediately after 9/11. He had also committed Great Britain to the by now ongoing action. All three of us flushed with pleasure and I have to confess it felt good, even if Ralph did grip my arm and said sotto voce, “Do not, I mean do not, let them know what you really fxxxing think of Blair.”

We joined the group and after greetings and hugs started downing Coronas. While catching up on the past year with Marv he noticed I was drinking beer and held up his margarita.

“You should be drinking these,” he said,” Better than that stuff. No hangover.” Up to that time I had never tried one.

“You’re joking! Really?”

“Scout’s honour. I’ve drunk these over the years and the beauty is, besides the great taste, and despite how many, there is absolutely no follow-up hangover. Honest. Are you ready for one?”

Naturally, I was. And did they go down! Really smoothly, in quantity.

Next morning, I felt like Lazarus. I was up, well, I was vertical. I could walk —barely. Every part of me was numb, except my head, which was thrashing and my stomach was a three-witch Macbeth bubbling cauldron complete with toads in swelter’d venom. The inside of my mouth was like the bottom sheet of a baby’s pram —all piss and broken biscuits.

Somehow we got to the course, the Tiger Wood designed El Tigre, and spilled out of the taxi. The rest of the crew were on the first tee. I saw Marv with his back to us and I walked over silently.

Before I could say a word, and without even turning round, he said,

“Ok, so I lied!”

If only Tony Blair could be so forthright.

Taking Off

July 9, 2016


I had always thought that we, as members of the Airborne Brigade, shipped out to Northern Ireland in support of the civil powers, in 1968, but apparently it was in the late summer of 1969 according to Google. So much for memory.
We left Southampton by sea, aboard the Sir Galahad, later achieving renown when she was attacked, set on fire and sunk by Argentinean aircraft in the Falklands war. We had a rough crossing. A staff sergeant circulated with a huge jar of what we were told were sea sickness pills but, as we didn’t relish becoming sea sick, we refused them. Disembarking at Belfast docks we were ferried by coach to a disused civilian aerodrome called Long Kesh. Much later this would become the site for the infamous ‘H’ Blocks of the Maze prison.
For accomodation we were assigned two dilapidated and abandoned semi-detached cottages at the side of the over-grown airfield. We used two canopies from three-ton Bedfords to cover the gaping holes in the roofs. Behind the houses were two barns or byers, the onetime home of long-gone cattle. We cleaned and scrubbed them for use as a recreation room and one of the lads, named Adrian, who was artistic by nature and a gifted painter, decorated the walls with representations of horses’ heads using black and white paint, which was all that was available.
He also did a series of funny caricatures that almost everyone thought captured the spirit, and the vanity, of the person displayed. Needless to say, I thought mine lacked veracity and frankly missed the genuine essence of my personality. For an indeterminable and totally unconnected reason Adrian wound up getting all the rotten clean up jobs around the place for a while.
At the end of the airfield, next to the Maze Racecourse, was the Maze public house which was a popular place for the locals to partake of an aperitif or six prior to dinner. My outstanding memory while at the bar there was, while feeling expansive and full of bonhomie, after several Guinness and a couple of Maundy’s, saying to a little Irishman waiting to be served, “So, what’s all trouble about over here, Paddy?” and he replied, without even looking at me, “Bastards like you calling us Paddy.”
Much of the time we were on the streets of Belfast patrolling the Catholic areas to protect the inhabitants from sectarian violence. At first we were welcome but as time progressed things cooled due to the IRA’s dislike of anything British and passing out the word to deter fraternization. So, distribution of pots of tea and potato scones, handed out at 3 am by little old ladies grateful for our presence, soon ended.
When we were not on duty in deepest darkest Belfast we devised our own entertainment. We had two shotguns and used to shoot rabbits to supplement our dry rations. However, due to duty commitments, we could only do this at night and found that the ideal equipment was a land rover, glaring headlights, a shotgun and the shooter perched on the roof with his feet resting on the bonnet (hood).
Jim the Pig and I used to do this frequently — until the accident.
In explanation, I should say Jim acquired the epithet ‘Pig’ not because of ugliness, he was quite a personable guy, or a slovenly nature, nor because of a brutal temperament but due to his habit of saving all his loose change, for the next binge, in a porcelain piggy bank.
One night we set off, with me at the wheel and James on the roof of the Rover armed with one of the guns. The idea was to belt full speed down the runway, with no lights, then suddenly switch them on to mesmerize the rabbits nibbling at the weeds growing through the tarmac. For some reason I almost missed the patch where the bunnies were usually the most numerous and suddenly applied the brakes. The depression in the canvas above my head suddenly levelled out as Jimmy went airborne and I remember admiring his presence of mind, as in preparation for landing, at approximately twenty feet above my head, he reminded himself by hollering “Safety catch.”


Of my many regrets, one is that I have not been consistent with the upkeep of this blog and posts to it. My most recent one was a couple of months ago but prior to that I had done nothing. The publication of my second novel prompted me to make another attempt at keeping the blog extant.

The manager at the Staffordshire Golf Club, that’s the bar and restaurant, as opposed to the administration of the golf side of things, unintentionally acted as an excellent PR representative on behalf of The Tuzla Run some time ago, by telling a number of the members that I had written a book. This was obviously a surprise to many of them; some didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t believe it, others thought it a poor joke in even worst taste and doubted that I knew someone who could read much less write. Some, however, thankfully (that’s my feeling, not theirs) did buy the book. So, when The Yukon Illusion became available and there was little movement I said jokingly to Ken, the manager,
“You haven’t read my second book yet!” he replied, “Your second book? I haven’t even read the first!”

A friend of mine, who was the first to buy The Tuzla Run, was delighted to tell me that he was responsible for two of the local libraries putting it on their shelves. I was over the moon too, until I discovered that Amazon does not have any arrangement with UK libraries for royalties, unlike libraries in the States. Still, I’m proud that my book is there with other recognized authors’ work although I have a nagging suspicion that the widespread closure of public libraries in the UK might somehow be linked.

Yet another close friend supportively bought a copy of The Yukon Illusion and told me that she would read it as soon as she had completed ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes. Later, she punched another hole in my balloon by telling me that I have been relegated yet again due to the publication of Jojo’s subsequent novel. Still, I justify this by convincing myself that my friend is into delayed gratification — big time.

The last straw was from someone i have known since we were fifteen years old and served in the Army together who promised to read it while he was on a month’s holiday. On his return I couldn’t resist asking if he had read the book. His reply, “Nah, sorry mate, it didn’t rain once.” was not the uplifting response I had expected.

I have returned to a half finished project which was a sequel to The Tuzla Run, foreseeably with some of the same characters. I am enjoying the work and look forward to being one of the first, if not the first, to read the completed book.


The last twelve months has been a period of great loss for me. Death has taken three very dear friends in quick succession. Two lived in the States, Oklahoma and South Carolina, and the third in Wiesbaden, Germany. We were all part of a group that formed when we worked together in Frankfurt at the U.S. Army Contracting Centre; some were U.S. military, some U.S. civilian and some local civilians.

Our shared obsession was golf. It lasted, surprisingly enough, far longer than our preoccupation in those days with wine, women and song — which is not to say that we totally abandoned those delights. It’s just that the sense of achievement from our performance in a good game was often better than our sense of accomplishment in sex — where even a bad one beat mowing the lawn. We never had to ask “Was it good for you?” We never had to fret that our partners might have faked it. We knew when we were good and since that was not very often, and I’m still talking golf here, it was memorable.

And we travelled. Every year we went to a different part of the world to play and over the twenty-five years I have been a member I have played golf, badly, on some of the best courses in the world. Portugal, Ireland, St. Augustine, Mexico, Mallorca, Myrtle Beach, the UK, Hawaii, Germany, & Hilton Head were just a few of the many highlights. An integral part of the pleasure was in seeing each other again and sharing once more the camaraderie that bound us together as brothers.

Larry was one of the founding and senior members from the antediluvian beginning. He was The Chairman or Godfather. He had a rapier wit, caustic and acerbic but never without humour and each remark delivered in such a way that the recipient probably laughed more than the other guys. The last place we were all together was in Costa Rica. He died not long after that trip.

Kurt – you’ve guessed, from Germany – although not in good health got with us in Bavaria. Like Larry and Marv, I’m sure he knew how serious his illness was but, as they did, refused to let it dominate the time he had left. He passed a few months later.

My hero, Marv, who had served as a young Special Forces soldier in Vietnam and again, as a major, in Desert Storm made the long haul to Germany —his last get together — although he too was seriously ill, from pancreatic cancer. He tired easily but was never downhearted. With our wives, we spent a couple of days, on the return from Der Vaterland, in London, where one of our shared highlights was a virtuoso performance of The Jersey Boys. Despite a brave struggle Marv didn’t win the fight, but accepted the inevitable, like the true warrior he had always been, and passed a few months after his return to the States. At this stage of my life, it is improbable that those of us left will be able to get together again but one more time would be special.

All three of friends had a special sense of humour and it’s a wonderful thing. Like beauty, humour is in the eye of the beholder and more than anyone, I know they would have laughed at what happened to me last week, despite their being on the receiving end as I was.

Our current clubhouse hires out its function room for wedding parties, entertainment evenings and funeral wakes. When it does, a partition is drawn across the main room and the players use the bar on the other side. On the course that morning I had talked about my three friends, with anecdotes of what they had been involved in over the years. My preamble would be, “Larry, who passed not so …”, or “Kurt, who died recently, said… “, or  “Marv, he passed on just months ago, told me once. “

Back in the clubhouse, seeing the partition across the room someone asked “Whose funeral is it?” and Ken said,  with shades of one of Larry’s lightning strikes, “Ask Bob, he knows a bunch of dead guys”.

Noch Ein Blog

June 30, 2013


While stationed in Malaya I spent many weekends with my oppos on Singapore Island. Once a month, we would board a Bedford three ton TCV (troop carrying vehicle)on Friday evening after work and head for the fleshpots of Lion Island. However, being severely limited in the amount we had to spend, the nearest we got to flesh was the lamb in the curry at the small Indian restaurant behind Raffles Hotel. Most of our time was spent in the pool of the Brit Club, the Britannia, (entry free), drinking NAAFI beer (cheap)at the pool bar, and retaining enough loose change to buy a “nasi goreng”, wrapped in banana leaf, to eat on the truck going back to base. Even now I can virtually smell the honk those things gave off. But, delicious when drunkenly ravenous.

Occasionally boat trips would be organised, sometimes shared by the families of the married soldiers, for sea jaunts to the myriad of small islands that surrounded Singapore. These outings would take the form of a picnic, the cook house supplying cheese sandwiches like doorsteps and jungle juice strong enough to dissolve leather  for the living-in squaddies, on the sandy beach of one of the islands. I remember, with a singular lack of fondness, one such trip to an island called Hontu.

Image

Dave Walker and Dell Illett, two of my closest mates, were both particularly strong swimmers. Since the only alternative to sitting in the sand, cooking in the sun, was swimming they were in their element. Having only learnt, and not quite mastered, the breast stroke, my choices of activity were decidedly limited.

Image

We disembarked and carried the gear to the beach and before long the kids from the families were building sand castles or splashing each at the edge of the water. After an hour or so, Dave pointed to another island about three to four hundred yards away and suggested swimming over. Dell agreed with alacrity whereas I was slightly more reluctant but on being assured by the two stalwarts that they would swim alongside and be on hand in case I got into difficulties I entered the water with them.

After two hundred yards or so, with the beach in front appearing to recede further with each paddle stroke I made towards it, and choking on ingested salt water, I became more than a little concerned. My minders had apparently forgotten their commitment to my safety. I recollect having had the thought that I should strive to minimise this inclination that people frequently had toward me.

The muscles in my arms and legs ached and burned. Breathing, out of sync, mostly with my mouth and nostrils in the water, I attempted to attract their attention and make my predicament known. They blithely continued with their Australian crawls and ignored my increasingly panicky “glugs” for assistance.

On recollection I feel sure I went under more than the much vaunted three times before the voices started.

Angels?”

Was I that far gone? I couldn’t believe it. They were joyous, happy and carefree. I felt a sense of deep sadness and isolation together with mounting panic. In my desperation they seemed totally oblivious to my plight.

It was only when the little bastards walked past me that I gingerly put my feet down and realised the water was two to three feet in depth all the way across.

I’ve hated military brats ever since.

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Mein Blog

June 22, 2013


 

I have never suffered from modesty, false or genuine; in fact I can’t recall an instance where I ever was diffident. I never found self-praise to be in any way detrimental or damning. So, it’ll come as no shock to anyone who knows me when I say I’m not backward in coming forward in the trumpet blowing stakes.

Take negotiating, for example. No, not those hostage-taking things that are all the rage nowadays but honest (well, maybe not entirely honest) to-goodness negotiations, as in commerce. When I worked for the U.S. Government as a contracting officer (a KO, to use the vernacular) in Germany, I was involved in many high profile transactions. One that comes to mind was the deal with the Italian national broadcasting corporation, RAI, to provide several transmitting stations to facilitate the broadcasting of Armed Forces Network (AFN) TV programming to the troops stationed throughout Italy.

Among others, I dealt with Siemens, virtually on a daily basis, on individual contracts, many with a value of several million dollars. Obviously, there were the usual governmental checks & balances for these processes but it never ceased to amaze me that, as a non U.S. citizen my signature had the power to commit the U.S. to high dollar value contracts despite the fact I did not pay one red cent in tax to the United States.

In negotiations, I considered myself to be a pretty sharp operator and believe the results in the majority of the deliberations justified this opinion. Most of my counter parts across the table would be German, fluent in English of course, but for the thirteen years I dealt with them I gave no indication that I could speak German. This gave me a hidden but valuable edge which I invariably used to good advantage as I was able to understand the asides made by members of their teams in their own tongue. So, for example, when their team leader expressed the opinion that they would be quickly successful and out of there I would give it a couple of seconds then stand up, remove my jacket and cuff-links, roll up my sleeves and loosen my tie and carry on as though nothing had happened.

I used to take a savage delight during the hot summers of having dinner, heavily larded with garlic, the night before and ensuring that the smallest conference room, and table, were booked for the negotiations. Where possible I’d have the visitors facing the windows where the sunlight was at its dazzling best – or worst.

I’d be less than honest if I claimed success every time I entered negotiations. I’ve stated that my successes were mostly big time but when I lost there were also no half measures. One of my worse, toe-curling experiences occurred when I had travelled down from Frankfurt to Stuttgart to negotiate with a retired colonel who had gone to bat for the opposition. To say we disliked each other  would be to put a gloss on the truth. We detested each other with a passion. This worked both for and against each of us on occasion. This was to be singularly my occasion.

I should mention that I had taken to wearing spectacles firmly secured to a chain so that when I removed them they couldn’t be mislaid. So, on the day, I placed my pad, files, etc. in front of me and we began. After two hours it was going nowhere. The discussions were ineffectual; both of us convinced that the other was not open to reason.

There was no flexibility at all and it was obvious that there would be no agreement.

Finally, the Colonel suggested we broke for coffee and perhaps we might have a modicum of success afterwards. We left the conference table and in the next room coffee and  several Danish pastries were laid out. It should be said that I have a sweet tooth and a Danish or three are a delight. I restricted myself to two of the melt-in-your-mouth flaky concoctions and, finishing my coffee, mentally girded my loins to re-join the fray.

We faced each other with grim faces and I put on my glasses to help my steely glare – only to find I was sightless due to the half inch layer of flaky pastry adhering to my lenses.

The Colonel saying “And is that a final decision, Mr McGoo?” before exploding into laughter totally destroyed any semblance of propriety and I showed the white flag.

 

Mirrors

February 8, 2013


When I was in Frankfurt I was employed by a bank that held the personal accounts of all serving U.S. military and their dependants in Europe.
I could not believe my luck when the VP asked if I had any objections to being part of a team he was sending to audit the Hawaiian arm of the organisation. The branch there came under his aegis of operations because it was also the IT centre which processed all transactions of the individual accounts. (Yes, I know, we’re in Frankfurt and the day to day processing is done in Hawaii? Go figure.)
Anyway, I travel to the Islands and check into a self-contained apartment, with kitchen, in the Ilikai in Waikiki which overlooks the Marina. I make arrangements to collect the self-drive and, on the Monday, set out for work. (On the way there I’m listening to the radio and hear the DJ tell, well to me anyway, one of the funniest jokes ever*.)
The other member of the team, JG, is already there. We know each other by sight in Frankfurt but aren’t friends. He’s much younger than I am and rather naive. Here, we get along famously.
At the end of the week JG says he knows of a former female employee from Frankfurt now working on the island. He arranges to meet her Saturday morning and he invites me along for the day. We meet P. at the Maritime Museum and spend some time together as she shows us around the area before going for a coffee in the restaurant. When she is about to leave I suggest a photograph of the two. They agree and stand on the wooden steps outside the restaurant.
Two

The following Friday JG tells me he has to go to the airport as his wife is joining him for a few days. He seems embarrassed and is having difficulty in formulating a question to ask me. Eventually, he tells me his wife is extremely jealous and would I refrain from any mention of the very attractive sweet P. in her presence. Coming as I do from perfidious Albion, an assurance of this nature causes me no sweat and I agree, knowing full well that this promise is already doomed and a racing certainty to be broken.
I meet JG’s wife Griselda and it is plain from JG’s demeanour and behaviour, when in her company, just who is the dominant partner. She is everything he has claimed –intimidating and, to put it mildly, humourless —in other words, presenting me with too good an opening to miss.

Two days later I’m notified from HQ that I’m being sent onto Indianapolis to carry out a survey at a branch there.

It is time to act.
During our time in the hotel we have come to know the barmen pretty well and I ask one of them to give an envelope from me to JG , but only after I’ve gone, and only when Mrs JG is present and in hearing distance he should say,

“Bob left this photograph for you. He said you’d know which one.”

Two months later I met JG back in Frankfurt, unexpectedly happy to see me in the light of what had transpired. He and his wife were parting and the whole thing had been precipitated, a festering relationship brought to a head, by his initial rejection of the envelope, his wife’s insistence that he take it and open it, and his stubborn refusal to touch it, causing her to erupt into a stream of invective and to snatch the envelope from the barman. The print, and its transparent innocence, triggered a tirade and she launched into a litany of his perceived failings, including his timidity, lack of reliability, manliness and value. I could’t help thinking that, as much as JG welcomed the upcoming divorce, it was a pretty extreme outcome, based on the nature of the photograph that I had left for him.
Beach

*It was my birthday yesterday and the guys got together and got me a sweater. Nice gesture, but honestly, I’d rather have had a screamer or a moaner.

A Daisy Chain

November 4, 2012


If you had read my earlier post about ‘Q’ Tip and how he suffered a nervous breakdown before being ‘repatriated’ from Malaya you’ll recall that I didn’t go into too much detail regarding those factors that contributed to his implosion. Those of you with knowledge or experience of these matters, will be aware that, more often than not, people play a major part. The folks who affected ‘Q’ so drastically were his drivers.

The Transport section was an important part of the day- to-day workings of the Depot since it was responsible for collecting the various vehicles, shipped out from the UK to the Far East, that were the bread and butter and life’s blood of the unit. (How’s that for a stomach churning mixed metaphor?)

To say that these guys were characters would be unduly conservative.

Sergeant Jock McClean, rarely sober, was an irascible drunk, who threw his radio, through the window, closed at the time, of his six-storey apartment when the announcer coughed twice during the reading of the news.

There was the crew of the Diamond ‘T’ who had taken hostage the piano and its stool from the NAAFI, loaded it on a low loader trailer, and with one of their number playing ‘Chopsticks’ set off for the fleshpots of Johore Bahru. Driver, vehicle and trailer arrived safely but Liberace, piano and stool had exited somewhere on one of the hairpin bends en route.

The corporal responsible for the fuel pumps, an MOR (Malayan Other Rank) owned his own Kampong, of twenty houses, a Harley Davidson motor cycle and a BMW car, all paid for from an income supplemented with the proceeds of a special arrangement with the suppliers of the vehicle fuels. Each three-compartment tanker would offload two sections only, and the contents of the third was sold on the black market and the money shared. The NCO would simply sign for the full delivery and juggle the books.

With a perverse sense of inverted pride, the drivers even had their own theme song sung to the tune of Lili Marlene.

“Up the Bukit Tima*
90 miles an hour
We are the 221 boys
We Are a fxxxin’ shower
We can’t change up
And we can’t change down
The gearbox is in
But it’s upside down
We are the 221 boys
We are a fxxxin’ shower

Early in the mornin’
When we’re on parade
The Sergeant Major sings us
The Donkey Serenade
Some silly basxxxd
Shouts ‘Right Dress!’
You should have seen
The fxxxin’ mess
We are the 221 boys
We are a ………”

There were several more verses to this but I’m sure you’ve got the drift.

The Bukit Tima was a dual carriageway linking the south of the island to the Causeway, on the north side, which crossed the water separating Singapore from Malaya. A Malaysian customs post was at the far end of the dike. This was the route taken daily by the Depot’s drivers from the collection point, at the Dock Section, back to the vehicle depot. As a matter of protocol, probably to reiterate Malayan sovereignty, the Malays would briefly halt each convoy before waving it through. On one occasion, however, not everything went smoothly.

A convoy, of thirty brand-spanking-new-high-gloss-painted Bedford 3 Ton Trucks, set off from the Dock Section for 221 Base Vehicle Depot, the rear being brought up by Private Baxter. Baxter was a diminutive Glaswegian, known as Poison Dwarf, who had to take a double thickness car seat cushion on every assignment as he was unable to see over the steering wheel without it. The caravan of vehicles was negotiating its way through Singapore city and its many intersections when a Chinese civilian cut in between Baxter’s vehicle and the twenty-ninth. Annoying as this was for Baxter what made it more ire provoking was the interloper’s indicating a turn at the lights but continuing straight ahead. After the third occurrence, they stopped at the next red light. Baxter leapt out of his truck and ran forward. In those days, cars had arm indicators on either side, made of transparent orange plastic, that lit up when activated. Baxter asked the driver if he was going to turn right. The man answered in the negative. Baxter snarled, “Then you won’t need this,” and promptly ripped the offending indicator clear of the bodywork.

Back in his truck, aware that he had lost contact with the other Bedfords and would have to make up the lost distance, he resorted to a heavy foot on the accelerator up several miles of Bukit Tima. His vehicle was doing well over sixty miles an hour when it hurtled around the bend onto the Causeway—and into the tail end of the twenty-ninth idling vehicle. Baxter, before the days of seat belts, was fortunate enough to suffer no injury. However, all twenty-nine drivers, halted in front of him, hopeful of a expedited passage through customs, had not applied their brakes and each clutch was depressed, ready for a smooth takeaway. Twenty-nine 3-Ton trucks shunted, forcibly, into the rear end of the vehicle in front, resulting in the eventual compilation of one of the most convoluted, drawn out accident reports in the annals of 221’s Transportation Section history.

 

Deception

October 10, 2012


DECEPTION

The Warden looked out through the bay window at the wide expanse of woodland park that surrounded Craigie Open Prison. Most of the inmates were in the common room at this time of day and the park was virtually deserted. One or two lonely figures could be seen outside, but it was darkening too quickly to be able to identify them.

“Dr Severin is concerned about Cramer. He’s convinced that the risk of suicide has increased dramatically,” the Warden said. “McCreadie, in the next cell, has complained of being disturbed by rambling one-sided conversations during the night. I’ve also noticed a change in Cramer myself. I don’t want to take any chances. A suicide at this time of year could have an adverse affect on the behaviour of the other inmates.”
“We certainly don’t need that at any time of year,” said the supervisor of uniformed guards turning from the fireplace.
The Warden frowned agreement, returned to the desk, sank wearily into the chair and grunted, “Just increase the surveillance, Murchison, and maybe we will both have a quiet holiday.”

***

Ben Cramer stared pensively at his bloodless hands before raising his gaze to the solitary leaf clinging to the extended finger of the oak branch. It appeared as a small forlorn silhouette against the leaden grey of the sky which, dependent on whether one was optimistic or pessimistic, promised or threatened snow. The minuscule remnant of foliage had survived the ever shortening days of autumn and Ben was about to wager that it would see out the ravages of winter when, for no apparent reason, the leaf suddenly trembled, loosened its hold and spiralled down onto the surface of the darkened green of the lake. Ben sighed.
“Life abandons everything, sooner or later,” he mused. He wondered if the tiny leaf had felt fear and had screamed before it died. Had it possibly died much earlier, remaining on the tree as a fossilized embryo, or did it die when it touched the dank ice-cold water? He knew that death did not always bring fear, or even pain, and that a being could pass over without any great discomfort. The murder four years ago had taught him that much. Two quick deft slashes across sleeping wrists with an open razor had elicited no more than a murmured groan to signify the soul’s silent egress into oblivion. The gore had spouted in great welters from the gashes to form a pool on the bedside rug. At any other time, he could not endure the sight of blood without gut-wrenching dry vomiting, but he had remained as strangely unmoved that night as though he were an impartial observer rather than a participant.
During the past few weeks, however, the scene had recurred in his thoughts with increasing frequency until it appeared several times a day and, try as he might, he could not subdue it. She was right when she had said that they did not communicate, but he had always found it difficult to discuss their differences impartially when the heat of the hurt was still on him. He tried repeatedly to subdue the anger that flooded through him but could neither stem it nor apologize for his actions until he had given expression to the rage. It was as though he were a cauldron of boiling vitriol, which needed venting, or it would explode, splattering everyone and everything in its vicinity with its corrosive bile. It didn’t help when she demanded to know why he had acted stupidly. Many of the things he did in those days he now knew had been puerile, and he had aggravated the situation by his immature inability to concede.

***

Ben knew that when he went to the cell she would be there. It seemed as if she never left it nowadays. He could not always see her but he could feel her presence. When he could see her, she was not as she had been before the murder. He longed to be able to touch her, but knew he could not; she was of a different time, a different dimension. The world in which she existed was as restricted and confined as his, and both appeared unreal. He got to his feet stiffly, turned and limped spectre-like along the grass verge toward the main building, avoiding the gravel walkway. Shuffling noiselessly across the main hall, he wearily climbed the stone stairs to the corridor leading to the cell. Head bowed, he paused and listened briefly at the door, but knew as he did that he would hear nothing. Surprisingly, the cell appeared empty but as he passed through the darkened doorway, his eyes became accustomed to the gloom. He started as he made out the fragile, almost ephemeral, seated figure at the table. He crossed the floor and placed both hands on the back of the chair but she did not raise her head to acknowledge his presence.
Despite his many rages, despite the violence, he was really shy and sensitive. Ben knew that he was a coward at heart and dreaded mental hurt more than any pain. He did not believe that she could physically hurt him, even if she wanted to. However, she had the capacity to torture his feelings and his well-hidden sensitivity with her moods and sulky demeanour. Those periods, where she could sit granite-still and silent for hours at a time, had never happened prior to the acrimonious days leading up to that ghastly Christmas Eve. Until then, she had been so vivacious, and so compulsively energetic, that he had often laughed at her efforts to do too many things.
Naturally, she blamed him for what had happened to change it all, of that he was ruefully sure, but although he knew he had been wrong time and time again, he could not, even now, accept responsibility for what had happened.
Recently, she talked to him more, mostly during the interminable nights, and he would try to answer in a belated but honest attempt to meet her earlier oft-expressed pleas for “communication”. It was obvious despite what had happened that she still loved him, although the passion had justifiably dissipated. He sensed that she too detested this enforced separation. He had no fear of death or of the mysteries of eternity now. He would not hesitate to do whatever it took to be at one with her.

***

“Out on the landing, Cramer!” barked Murchison from the doorway. The two guards ignored his presence and bustled into the cell to search it with the effortless efficiency of constant practice. It lasted less than eight minutes and, as he knew it would, proved fruitless. The search party did not appear to be foiled or frustrated and he guessed they had hoped to find nothing.
“You know what they were looking for?” she asked in a whisper.
“No,” he whispered. She rose and went to the sink where she pointed to one of the wall tiles.
“It’s behind there.” He looked at her quizzically and moved over to stand beside her. When the tile was removed, he remained baffled until he saw the razor blade taped to its interior surface.
“It’s now or never,” she murmured. He nodded acquiescence and took a deep breath.

***

“How could this happen,” the Warden demanded, “a blasted suicide that we had every opportunity to prevent? I thought you searched her cell?”
“We did, Ma’am,” Murchison responded, bowing her head dejectedly, “just minutes before it happened.”
“For Heaven’s sake, surely the way she butchered her husband gave you some indication of what to look for,” the Warden snapped irritably, expecting no reply and receiving none from the chastened woman before her.
“Get the staff back on duty and start a full scale search before any more of the inmates decide to “leave” us!” She turned abruptly from the guard and went to the bay window.
She looked out over the wide expanse of woodland park that surrounded Craigie Open Prison. Most of the inmates would be in the common room at this time of day and the park was virtually deserted. One or two lonely figures could be seen outside, but the falling snow made it difficult to identify them. The Warden gazed unseeing through the wraithlike couple, who were walking towards the gate, hand in hand.

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