CONFIDENTIAL – WIRE TRANSMITION ONLY - ATTENTION CDR BATEMAN – PASSENGERS ARRIVED – SUCCESFULL – STOP – SOME ENTANGLEMENTS – REQUEST INSTRUCTIONS – STOP
CONFIDENTIAL – WIRE TRANSMITION ONLY – ATTENTION OIC HONG KONG – URGENT RETURN PASSENGERS SYDNEY - STOP
4pm 28 May – Sydney
Mathew stretched himself out in the chair and gave a luxurious yawn. The Shorts Empire Flying boat was much, much more comfortable than the pilot’s seat of a Walrus, or a Grumman Goose for that matter. The aircraft cruised 50% faster than the Walrus, and 30% faster than the Goose. With two pilots, engineer and navigator they could fly long swings with little effort. It was very pleasant to lie back and relax as a passenger, he reached out to hold Mary’s hand, giving it a squeeze and receiving one in return.
Mary had been a ball of energy in Hong Kong, and Singapore. Darwin had been wonderful, they had taken some hours out of their journey to relax while the aircraft was changed. This flight she had been more distant however, staring out the window for most of the trip. Mathew looked at her hand, the nail was bruised black, but somehow he thought that wasn’t the problem. Drew was mending well, smoking cigarettes and ordering a rum every hour, the fastest rate of consumption he could negotiate with the stewardesses. Of the three passengers Mathew was probably the most sore, although the swelling around his nose had subsided before Darwin.
They made a gentle arcing curve over the harbor, a few of the other passengers chatting and pointing out items of interest. They had flown the first too legs with just the three of them, and the joined the normal commercial flight at Darwin with every seat full. Sydney was pulling one of its spectacular winter afternoons, where the clouds blew away, the sun shone and the water glittered a deep blue around the sandstone headlands and beaches within the harbor. The view from the air was interesting, giving a very good appreciation of how the houses clustered around the coastline and inlets, and spreading along the railway lines and valleys away into the distance.
Their speed dropped steadily and they began to descend, flying low over the Royal Sydney Golf Course and banking to the left. The turn was smooth and slow and comfortable, making Mathew feel a little guilty about some of his wild antics in their Walrus. He really wasn’t much of a passenger pilot. Perhaps he should become one? He thought. It was an interesting idea. The aircraft lost altitude steadily, flying west over New South Head Road and then shaking the walls of the harbor side mansions. There was a flash of blue as they crossed into the bay and seconds later the window was filled with flying spray. The landing was very smooth in the big, 40,000 pound aircraft.
They taxied across the bay, a few sailing boats that had been hove too giving way came back to the wind and continued on their way. The western shore of the bay was crowded with moored private yachts, all bouncing on their buoys. Mathew had to imagine the tinkling noise of their halyards; obviously he could hear nothing over the sound of the four Pegasus engines. There was a moment’s delay before they hooked onto the buoy, then the engines ran down and there was silence on board.
A comfortable launch tied on and the staff manned the door to hand the passengers across. It was a short trip to the terminal building, the luggage following quickly after. Mary had availed herself of the shops in Hong Kong and Singapore, and they were back up to three hat boxes, but only two suitcases. Out of the sun the weather was cool; the afternoon breeze carried a definite chill. They boarded a taxi, and were driven the short distance to the Savoy hotel in Double Bay.
They took their room keys and went upstairs. Three rooms had been booked, but Mary asked Mathew to put his cases in her room, a request he was only too willing to oblige.
“Mathew darling, I really must have a shower and go out for an hour or two. Business you understand. But we will meet at seven and go out to dinner. While I have my shower could you be a dear and find me a florist? I want a pink rose for my blouse.”
Mathew was disappointed, but in her present distant mood he thought it would be better to say yes. How he longed to melt that cool reserve and dissolve into her arms once more. Taking up a jacket he left the hotel and walked up the street. It was a busy and fashionable small shopping precinct. He found a florist and completed his errand, the shop girl refused to accept any payment for the short stemmed partially closed flower. She even gave him a beautiful smile as he walked out, Mathew deciding that you really could get something for nothing, sometimes.
Mary was in the shower when he returned, so he took up the new newspaper that had been left on the bed. No mention of the WAFL of course, nor the VFL, but what could you expect from a Sydney paper? Chamberlain, Churchill and Mussolini were all very busy making speeches and denunciations. The Japanese hardly rated a mention he saw, just a short note on some rumors about a place called Nanjing having been proved to be unreliable. Mary came out dressed in her robe, and Mathew folded the paper, he rubbed her shoulders and neck while she brushed her hair. She relaxed into the massage briefly, closing her eyes and letting the tension wash away. Mathew was very hopeful of a change in mood, but she drew into herself just as quickly and shrugged away.
“Sure my love.”
She dressed quickly and left, leaving the flower on the bench Mathew noticed. How odd, but what could you expect from a woman?
Mathew called Drew in his room and they met downstairs. It was the strangest thing, he had searched and rummaged for the Walther before coming downstairs, but it wasn’t anywhere to be found. It had been in the bag in Darwin, and Mathew couldn’t explain what had happened to it. Very odd, and rather bad form to misplace a firearm. They walked off to find a hotel and pass the afternoon quietly. Drinking with ratings was rare enough in the RAN, but not as much of an issue as in the RN. Under present circumstances Mathew decided that it was certainly justified. They were dressed in their civilian clothes from Singapore anyway.
They found a pub on New South Head Road called The Golden Shamrock. It was almost empty apart from a few old men quietly nursing their 7’s for hours. It began to fill quickly however, and by ten past five the bar was full. They were city workers mostly, clerks and business men, a few solicitors in flash suits. All ages were present. The whole scene was completely familiar yet somehow alien to Mathew and Drew. They fell into conversation with a youmg man. The guy was full of some scheme to make money in real estate, raving about a project to finance and build bungalows in a place called Maroubra.
They listened politely, neither particularly keen to invest any money. It didn’t stop the man handing over a pair of business cards though. The conversation surged around to the state of Europe. Their young investor heard someone say something about Czechoslovakia and told them, “what a nonsense ehh, people wanting us to issue a guarantee to that little country, why? Chamberlain is a smart man though; he won’t let them draw us into another bloody war. You wait and see, hell go and meet those fellows and talk sense to them. A man of business is Chamberlain, a good thing too.”
Drew and Mathew shared a look but the young man was oblivious, taking their silence as agreement. Mathew decided to ask him a question, “what about Japan? What do you think they will do?”
This gave the young marketer pause for thought, and he nodded his head, “Yes, shifty fellows those Japanese, they certainly did give it the Russians, Germans too for that matter. Busy in China though, still have to keep an eye on them. Probably not the sort of people you can talk business too.” He then surged off into the crowd, looking for some new pigeons to pluck.
The bell rang and a few hundred arms tipped up at the elbows, five minutes later there was a crush as everyone surged out onto the street. Drew laughed, “bloody six o’clock swill.” It was dark now when they walked the few hundred yards to the hotel. Mathew said goodbye to Drew and went up to the room, waiting for Mary.
Mary came back at a quarter to seven, sporting a new haircut. Her hair was still short but some hairdresser had teased and tamed it into a wavy part. The effect was quite modern but oddly disconcerting, who was this stranger? Come to think of it, was she a stranger? How long had he known her, three weeks? A little less?
“Hello Darling – do you like the hair? That old bob was really getting quite ratty. Just give me a few minutes to dress and we will go out.”
Mathew stood at the window, looking at the passers by, some walking dogs, others walking arm in arm.
“Mathew Darling, could you come in please?”
She was wearing a cotton dress with a deep V over her chest, exposing enough of her shoulders and neck to make Mathew catch his breath. Already she had two huge pearl ear rings in, lipstick, blush and eye shadow. The result was spectacular.
“Dear, I hoped you would help me put on the necklace.”
It was a long double strand of pearls. She didn’t really need any help, while the thing did have a clasp it was long enough to go over her head. Not that Mathew needed a reason not to do it. He took the two ends and stood behind her, lowering the necklace slowly into position, and fastening the clasp with all the care he could summon.
“Did you fasten the clasp properly?”
“Did you hear it click?”
“What a clever dear you are.”
She spun around and held him, and Mathew fought of the feeling that he was trying to hold a whirlwind.
The dinner was wonderful; she was full of energy and completely engaging. They left the restaurant and went to a club, taking the time to dance and chatting to a few groups of people. They left early and returned to the hotel, the evening living up to every expectation.
Mathew woke to the sound of the telephone, he rose and answered it.
“Hello Lieutenant, this is Commander Danforth from Schofields.”
Danforth was the man who had given him this assignment in the first place.
“Look Lieutenant, could you come down and meet me at Garden Island. Its eight O’Clock now, shall we say nine?”
“I am afraid I don’t have a uniform with me Commander.”
“That’s quite alright Lieutenant, come down in your civilian clothes.”
“Could I come down a little latter commander?”
“I am afraid not lieutenant, it’s rather urgent I am afraid.”
Mary woke during the call, or perhaps earlier. She had gotten up during the call and gone into the shower, Mathew waited for her to finish and then took his turn. He shaved carefully and came out. The clock said twenty five to nine, Hell.
“I have laid out your suit darling.”
“Yes, thank you.”
Mathew dressed quickly, wondering what the Commander wanted at such short notice.
He pulled his shoes on and stood up, Mary coming over when he was ready.
‘Sorry my love, but I have to go.”
“I understand Mathew, come here and give me a kiss.”
Mathew kissed her, finding it as enticing as ever but startled by a growing sense of panic he felt, why?
Mathew walked out, and looked back from the door. She was cold again, beautiful yet unapproachable. He turned away and walked out. The clock in the foyer said quarter to nine. The hotel manager walked towards Mathew, but noticed he was in a rush and changed his mind. There was a taxi waiting, and it took him up the hill to kings cross and down to the naval base in five minutes. He told the driver to drive right through the dockyard, telling himself that if it had been three years ago the boat trip would have made him late. There was a cruiser on a mooring out in the harbor, the old Edgecliffe. She obviously had steam up, and they were winching a Walrus onto the catapult aft. Mathew forgot about the cruiser and entered the office building he was looking for at three minutes to nine.
Commander Danforth stepped out and shook his hand.
“Thank you for coming down so quickly, Lieutenant.”
“Ohh, well yes actually. Your promotion came through while you were away, seniority from the first of April. Congratulations”
“Well, thank you sir.”
“I won’t beat around the bush lieutenant. The Edgecliffe is sailing in an hour for an exchange commission in the East Indies Station. Her Walrus pilot has come down with Peritonitis, something is wrong with the crew chief too. I need you to replace him.”
“Sailing in an hour sir?”
“I am afraid I don’t have anything with me sir, no equipment, no uniforms.”
“I shouldn’t worry, we have taken the liberty of laying in everything you might need, and of course you will touch at Fremantle on the way out, I am sure you can re stock there.”
“Sir I am afraid I can’t sir, not just now. There is a delicate matter I have to see to in the next few days.”
“That wont be possible, Lieutenant. You will join the Edgecliffe this morning, that’s an order.”
Mathew looked around the office, feeling trapped. The mounting sense of panic was back but now it had a definite focus.
“In that case sir, you must excuse me, I have to make a quick trip in the Taxi outside. I shall be back within the hour.”
“I am afraid that wont be possible either Lieutenant, you will go aboard the Edgecliffe right now.”
The commander sensed the man was close to snapping.
“There is a package for you aboard the cruiser, waiting. I think you will find it explains everything.”
“A package? Very well sir.”
Mathew walked out of the office and followed a petty officer down to the boat steps. A launch from the Edgecliffe was waiting, with Drew in the stern sheets. The cruiser looked fast and purposeful, though she was at the edge of obsolescence, nothing like that brute the Ashigara. They motored out the 200 yards to the cruiser in silence, boarding over a ladder and noticing that the boat hooked onto the davits right away, ready for hoisting. Mathew was about to walk aft to the wardroom when the officer of the deck approached.
“How do you do, Lieutenant. My name is Harding. The captain has asked you to see him in his sea cabin. If you could follow me?”
Mathew followed the officer forward to the superstructure, hearing the bosuns calls trilling for all hands to take up stations for leaving harbor. Mathew climbed up a level and knocked, opening the cabin door when he heard “come”.
Captain Westerly was pulling on his uniform jacket, obviously preparing to take his ship to sea. Mathew hadn’t served with him before, but knew of him by reputation. He was supposedly good, a little eccentric and severely intolerant of fools. RAN thankfully, Australian sailors seemed to make for a happier ship under Australian officers.
“Ahh lieutenant Walken. I will forgive you your late arrival under the circumstances, but I surely hope that you don’t make a habit of joining the ship in civilian clothes.”
“Yes sir, no sir.”
“It’s a very strange business. I have heard of a pilot coming down with Peritonitis before, but a Pilot and crew chief at the same time? Three days before sailing? It’s no matter. I am sure you and Petty Officer Cuff will make a good job of it.”
“Petty Officer Cuff?”
“Yes, young fellow, tall. I am sure you know him, just promoted.”
“Ahh, yes sir, I know Cuff.”
“I wanted to send your Walrus on in the air and pick it up in Fremantle. I thought it would be better than steaming through the bight with it exposed on the catapult. Strange, they said no, and then they definitively refused my suggestion of folding it down and sending on via rail. I thought that would be the cheapest and best option, but they also said no, odd.
Never mind - I am sure it will work out for the best. That will be all Walken, I have to take the ship to sea now. You’ll find I am an easy man to work for, as long as you keep your mind on the job and give your best. I won’t have any wistful mopers in my wardroom.”
Mathew left the sea cabin and dropped down a deck. He traversed the main deck aft to the wardroom. This Walrus was perched on its catapult right above the door. At least he wouldn’t have far to travel to get to work.
The steward showed Mathew his cabin where he found three cases laid neatly by the bunk. He began unpacking, finding the package right away. It was small, but oddly heavy, covered in brown paper and string. He tore it open, finding a card and the Walther inside.
My Dearest Mathew, it breaks my heart to write this but I know that I must. You know it could never last between us, with my work and your life in the navy. We shared some wonderful times together and some terrible ones too. Let us just treasure our happy memories and go about our lives. Please don’t try and contact me but treasure our memories for ever.
Mathew read the card as if it were a book whose ending he already knew. He put it down quickly and took up the Walther – Mary had the side of the weapon buffed back, and replaced the maker’s inscription with her own. He read it and was surprised, smiling to himself and putting the pistol back in its holster.
There was a knock on the door and a man entered in response to Mathews call.
“Good morning, my name is Taylor, paymaster commander. I was hoping we could go over the inventories of your aviations stocks”
“Certainly sir, let start now.”