“Type Tammy-May Trevallion into social media,” I instructed Rose who was in charge of the keyboard at our computer terminal in the underground communications room at the British High Commission, at the better end of Napier Road, Tanglin, Singapore.
The pair of us were baffled by page after page of on-screen text. Fortunately, the Americans had an all-singing all-dancing graphical interface which would make life much easier for anybody who doesn’t have a double first in ancient Greek poetry from St Swot’s College, Oxfordbridge. Fortuitously, I had an old American contact, the aforementioned Tammy, previously and co-incidentally up to her armpits in Operation Swaling.
But, no luck. Knowing where married American ladies like to put their maiden names I suggested, “Try Tammy-May Trevallion hyphen.”
Wondering if she’d come over all formal (and even more Catholic) in early middle age, my next suggestion was, “Thomasina-Mary Trevallion hyphen.”
And there she was. Perhaps not surprisingly, apparently the only one in the world, never mind within 100 miles of Newark, New Jersey.
“Waitressing?” Myself and Rose exclaimed simultaneously as Tammy’s confession to planet social media scrolled up the screen.
And look at those lovely children, or rather young adults. As well as hyphenating the maiden name, American ladies of a certain generation were also in the habit of marrying early and having their children young. In this case, more or less after stepping off the plane and back into Uncle Sam’s arms after a bit of an adventure, all those years ago, in Morocco. I looked around hoping for a row of clocks. Disappointed, I interrogated Rose instead.
“What time is it in,” I squinted at the small print on the screen, “the Poughkeepsie Happy Pancake Parlour?”
“About noon,” Rose calculated.
“Send her a message. Message reads, ‘Boo. Exclamation mark. M-S-G me back and that’s an order, signed AWS. Full stop. Re, colon, Old Tangiers class of ’84, mini-reunion’. Message ends.”
As soon as Rose had clicked the ‘send’ button, she looked me straight in the eye while putting a finger across her lips as if in warning. Then, she pointed upwards. Sure enough, the sound of heavy, shuffling feet could be heard on the corridor above. Too slow and laboured to be Nicole and Lotus Flower, one immediately thought of the North Korean Secret Service and the lumbering hulk of their Mr Hong Gildong, the bodyguard to the scarlet assassin, Miss Kim Jo Long. Had they spotted our Mercedes outside? Blown the main doors? Were they creeping along the corridor with four Uzis between the pair of them? Or worse still, armed with Mr Hong’s razor wire concealing thirty-two jewel decapitation watch? Or it might be the odious, oily and overweight, Sir Julian Minsk, purveyor of lost boys, and his lanky underling Mr Nicolaas Clogg? Having established an alibi by being seen at the High Commissioner’s bash at Eden Hall, had they crept away, their Glocks retrieved from a hollowed-out raintree? Were they prowling the corridors, aware that we were onto them?
The footsteps stopped worryingly close to the hatch that led down to this coms room. Rose darkened the computer screen by flicking it onto ‘sleep’. Like a cat, I leapt to the light switches and turned them off one by one as silently as a could. Sure enough, and with some difficulty, the hatch above us was being raised, accompanied by an ominous tinny metallic noise, as if ammunition clips were being attached or firing bolts being pulled into position.
By the time the laboured footsteps, sure enough two pairs, were making their way down the steel steps and into our bunker, myself and Rose were very cosily wrapped around each other, in total darkness, under the desk of a computer terminal carrell.
“Mr Worth-Saying,” Rose whispered. “Your gun?”
“I don’t have one, it’s in storage.”
“Take mine,” she reached into her cleavage and pulled out a pocket pistol, presumably holstered just beneath her bosom. She tried to press it into my palm. It felt like a Smith and Wesson subcompact copy, knocked out in a shed in Cambodia, smuggled across the causeway at Johor in a bag of rice, adapted for the Singapore Security Department, the ISD, whilst being nice and deniable.
“That’s your job,” I insisted, determined to avoid the blame for the forthcoming bloodbath, which would probably involve ourselves being maimed by a badly adapted S&W knock-off blowing up in our faces as soon as its trigger was pulled.
“No, Mr Worth-Saying, it’s yours, ” Rose insisted. “You have diplomatic immunity, I don’t.”
Nearby, there was a horrible metal on tile sound as if something was being rolled towards us.
“Grenade”, I whispered as loudly as I could to Rose, while burying my face in one arm and using the other to protect Rose by holding her even more tightly.
“It’s a tin of beer,” she whispered back.
“Masters of concealment, damn the North Korean Secret Service,” I sobbed.
The grenade began to make a hissing noise.
“Gas, Gas, Gas,” I whispered to Rose, while trying to urinate.
It did smell of beer. The bastards.
“If we can smell it, we’re already dead,” I confided to Rose.
One of our assailants cursed. Rose continued to press the gun into my palm, whilst insisting that we were self-evidently still alive.
“Take the gun, Mr Worth-Saying.”
Reluctantly, I unwrapped myself from her and took the weapon. I held it in one palm and supported it with the other. Prone, arms outstretched, and in the darkness, I pointed it towards where I thought the light switches were. As soon as the lights went on, I’d take one shot towards them and one shot slightly to the left, hopefully hitting, or at least scattering, the two assailants before they’d even seen us.
However, my plan was interrupted by a ‘ping’ from the computer terminal that myself and Rose had been working on. Its screen sprang to life, casting a very faint light which revealed a partial outline of two very oddly overburdened, weighed down figures, one of whom leaned towards the screen and read out an incoming message.
“Wazaaaaa, asterisk, gfaw, asterisk comma dude, surprised to hear from you after all these years, phone me back, heart-shaped flame, another heart, followed by a big long cell-phone number. Tammy. Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss.’ And switch the damned lights on somebody, I’m going to drop the rest of the booty.”
The voice was Lotus’s. It was Nicole who, despite balancing a tray full of sandwiches and snacks, switched on the lights. As she did so, she couldn’t help but notice myself and Rose tucked under a desk, just above Queen Victoria’s Sino-London Cable Company’s Empire connecting lightning-fast cable (occasionally misused to juggle the world’s stock prices, for modest return). An observation which led her to remark,
“You’ve been out of my sight for ten minutes, darling, try to keep your hands off the maid, and please don’t point a gun at my little baby bump, especially when I’ve just raided the kitchen for you.” Nicole had also observed something else, “Rose, you’re wearing my jewellery.”
She ended the conversation with a phrase calculated to send a shiver down the spine of domestics and husbands alike, “We’ll discuss all of this later.”
I picked myself up and brushed myself down, coughing in embarrassment, and referring to my wife by her favourite affectation, suggesting her a lady of status who shopped,
“We thought you were the North Korean Secret Service, Tai Tai, or Sir Julian Minsk.”
“We’ll all be as fat as Sir Julian when we’ve finished this lot,” observed Lotus.
The girls had used Mr Lee’s access all areas card to liberate an awful lot from the canteen and kitchen. It was very welcome, we hadn’t eaten that evening having been called away from the High Commissioner’s bash while the buffet tables were still heavy.
Their light pilfering had included the gift shop. Yes, there was a gift shop at the High Commission, where, in better times, a collection of locally shot and stuffed endangered wildlife might have resided. At least it had allowed for the packing of Union Jack satchels, carrier bags and backpacks with more scran.
We gathered four stools around our terminal and began the feast. I was having a beer and a ham sandwich while pretended to be nonchalant about the in-coming message,
“No need to phone back, maybe it’s a better idea just to plod our way through the text? Anyway, cell-phones won’t work underground.”
Too late, Rose was typing on hers.
“Wazaaaaa,” was the response from the other end, Rose having helpfully turned on a loudspeaker.
“Waitressing?” I replied, trying to take control of the conversation. “I don’t suppose you can still get your favourite ally into Uncle Sam’s user-friendly find-out-anything database?”
“Of course I can,” replied Tammy in an instantly familiar preppy voice, still, two decades on, bouncing with can-do optimism. “I can do anything, and the waitressing’s just a front for our old occupation. Dropping bugs into diplomats alimentary canals, radioactive coffee, nano-particle ice cream, secret filming, that kind of thing. Lolz. Dude.”
Self evidently, she had acquired a dreadful habit of saying out loud what she would have otherwise typed as a text message, and ending every sentence with, ‘dude’. Lolz? Things were better in the old days; dog and bone Bakelite phones in Old Tangiers, stormwater lapping around one’s toes in cheap hostels while rats ran along telephone wires.
“Hold on a minute? Diplomats in Poughkeepsie? Really?”
“Der, crying laughter face, dude, Poughkeepsie Place and 1st Avenue, UN Diplomatic Quarter, New York City. All the crooks and despots gotta drink and grab a doughnut. Hahahahahahaha, dude.” God, she was irritating. I preferred her when she was double-crossing Her Majesty by spying on Great Britain plc while supposedly being on our side.
“And the find-out-anything database has a name,” she continued. “It’s called ‘i’ or E-Y-E or capital I, eye icon. Scratching the chin. Smiley face. Dude.”
“Log me into Eye, then, pronto.”
“No chance. Eye roll. It’s a trade, first you gotta tell me something. You ready, dude?”
To be continued…..
© Always Worth Saying 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file