Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Curse of The Green Fairy

A Play in One Act (with apologies to Agatha Christie)

HERCULE POIROT – a famous Belgian detective
LORD RAGLAN – a bully
LADY RAGLAN – a snob
DICKIE TODD – a bounder
DUCHESS OF BASKERVILLE – a wealthy widow
JAMES THE BUTLER – a servant

The dining room of a grand castle in the Home Counties. The décor is early 1930s. LORD and LADY RAGLAN, DICKIE TODD and THE DUCHESS are seated at a dining table dressed in tuxedos (the men that is, not the table nor the women) while the ladies wear ravishing gowns. They have just finished their candle-lit dinner.

LORD R         (Reaches for a bottle on the table.)
                        Snifter of vintage absinthe, anyone?

LADY R          Not after last time, darling.

LORD R         You’re such a bore, dahhhhling. Right-o, let’s be responsible. I’ll ring for James to bring some coke.

(LORD R rings a bell. Enter immediately: JAMES THE BUTLER.)

LORD R         Lazy blighter. What took you so long?

BUTLER        Begging your pardon, me Lord, but some jumped-up little Froggy busybody by the name of Hercules Poy-rot is here to see you. He insists …

(Enter Poirot, brushing past the butler.)

POIROT         Premièrement, I am Belgian and, deuxièmement, it is pronounced      er-KYOOL pwa-ROH.

DICKIE           By Jove! You’re the famous detective!

POIROT         Précisément. And you are Dickie Todd, the Wimbledon tennis champion and ladies’ man.

DICKIE           I say, Poirot, that’s a rum accusation!

POIROT         Merely an observation. I noticed the washing instructions tag of the Duchess’s silk lingerie protruding above your belt. You and she obviously dressed in a hurry after your pre-dinner assignation.

DICKIE           (Glancing down.)
I thought this underwear was a tad tight in the family jewels department.

DUCHESS    Look here, you ghastly little Bulgarian!

POIROT         Belgian. And, as you British say: keep your knickers on. Or, in your case, Duchess, perhaps not. Your affair with Monsieur Todd is hardly a secret. Even your late husband knew of it when he hired me.

DUCHESS    Tommy rot! He’d never hire a fruity foreigner.

POIROT         He feared for his life, correctly as it turned out. He was stabbed, beaten, garrotted, poisoned and shot.

LORD R         Dash it, man. It could’ve been suicide.

POIROT         (Tap side of forehead with forefinger) My little grey cells say: “Non.”

(POIROT strolls to a large painting on the wall: a naked woman standing on a sunlit terrace is painted demurely from the rear.)

POIROT         Ah, Lady Raglan, I would recognise you 

LADY R          Flattery will …

POIROT         I was referring to the fact you were painted on the terrace of your pied-à-terre in Antibes where you regularly met the Duke of Baskerville for a bit of, how you say, humpty dumpty.

DICKIE           Speak English: it’s “rumpy pumpy”.

POIROT         And who better to correct me? A man who has not only slept, if that is the euphemism, with the Duchess but also with Lady Raglan …

BUTLER        (Clears throat.)
Ahem …

POIROT         And, bien sûr, with the butler. The butler who, as Lady Raglan discovered, was also a paramour of the Duke of Baskerville.

LORD R         (Glares at LADY RAGLAN.)
Both James and you were bonking Baskerville? I’d expect it of a manservant and now you can’t be trusted either!

POIROT         A family trait, non, Lord Raglan? It was you 
                      who convinced my client …

DICKIE           Who was your client, again? I’m getting a bit lost.

POIROT         The Duke of Baskerville – Lord Raglan’s business partner in a South African gold mine. Just last month, Lord Raglan convinced the Duke to sign an agreement that, if one of them died, the other would take full control of the mine.

LADY R          (Looks at her watch.)
                        Time’s up, Poy-rot. James, show him the door.

POIROT         (Holds up a finger.)
Une minute. First I must summarise, then name the culprit. (Pause) Who had a motive? Everyone. Lord Raglan was greedy, Lady Raglan was humiliated by her lover the Duke’s affair with her butler, and the Duchess wanted her husband out of the way so she could marry Dickie. Dickie simply wanted the Duchess’s money. Meanwhile, the butler knew that the Duke had left him a generous endowment in a will.

LORD R         If we all had a motive. Who was the murderer?

POIROT         All of you. It was on a night such as tonight. With one exception. There was a fifth guest: the Duke of Baskerville. You gathered. You ate. You argued. You drank absinthe – the pre-War variety made with hallucinogenic wormwood. A drink that, justement, has been banned for more than 15 years! Even the butler had a swig while carrying it up from the cellar. Driven momentarily mad by The Green Fairy as it was known, you killed the Duke as a group. You will all hang for the crime.

DUCHESS    Personally, I’m not a great fan of capital punishment. So, you can wipe that smug smile off your Balkan …

POIROT         Belgian.

DUCHESS    … face. If we’re all guilty, that means you are alone in this castle with cold blooded killers – and that’s not just because of the lack of decent heating.

POIROT         Planning is everything. The castle is surrounded by police. I only have to blow on a whistle to summon them.

(POIROT pats his pockets. He can’t find the whistle.)

BUTLER        (Clears throat. Holds up whistle.)
Ahem … I believe you dropped this when you brushed past me.

(The butler steps towards Poirot. The other characters menacingly push back their chairs.)

POIROT       Mon Dieu, I perceive a petit flaw in my 

                                      CURTAIN FALLS

                                                                                                            Copyright 2017 GREG FLYNN

Thursday, September 14, 2017


There’s a bear in there and a wiretap as well. The cursor hovered over the replay button before Lenny Vance clicked. Nothing of interest. The sound of a man coming through an apartment door with a squeaky hinge, throwing a bag on a squeakier bed, flushing a toilet. A man alone.

Taking a green pen from a neat, multi-coloured row on a flip-up table attached to the inside of his van, Vance made an all-clear note on a clipboard’s sheaf of paper. Carefully folding the top leaf of paper over, he held it in place with an elastic band. There was something comforting about the analogue process, unlike the cool, impersonal digital recording equipment. His laptop’s screen threw a pale glow onto Vance’s face, the clipboard and Marvin the Rat who sat on the table edge, rubbing his front paws over his snout. There was a distinct possibility that somewhere in the Police Department Technical Surveillance Unit’s regulations, pet rats were banned from government vehicles. Vance hadn’t bothered to check. He also hadn’t sought permission to take a pee against a nearby tree. If the target in the bugged apartment could seek relief, so could his eavesdropper. He liked the 17th Century term for someone who stood under the rain-protecting eaves of a house, against the wall, away from the “drop” of water in order to listen to those inside. Better than his nickname at the station: Lenny the Lurker.

Breaking the tip off a KitKat wafer, he placed it under Marvin’s nose. The pair sat quietly munching, both watching the digital audio waveforms flickering up, down and across the screen as the target clattered in his kitchen before switching on a TV crime series. Noise activated software cut out the dead air when no one made a sound. When the software switched off, so did he.

One week earlier, he’d slipped Marvin back into his cage with an apple core, taken a canvas bag bearing a cable TV company’s logo, and broken into the target’s apartment. A few quality pieces of furniture competed for space with a bachelor’s flotsam – discarded gym gear, a trail bike with a puncture, three empty wine bottles. Vance needed an object that was least likely to be moved. In one corner, a slightly shabby teddy bear had been converted into a side light. Cutting the bear’s lower seam, Vance switched on a thumb nail sized microphone and inserted it into the stuffing. “Next time I’ll buy you dinner first.” He patted the bear’s head and closed the door softly.

Tonight, the audio waveforms only quivered in excitement when the higher pitch of a TV advertisement interrupted the program. Then knock, knock. Two sharp jumps on the laptop screen. The apartment door squeaked open.

“It’s late,” the target said.

“I’ve got a watch,” said the visitor.

Vance narrowed his eyes, moving closer to the screen as if it was a window. He thought he knew that voice. The door squeaked shut. Were they both in the room? Vance regretted not planting a camera.

Something broke. Too heavy for glass. Ceramic. The target groaned. “What did you do that for?” There was sound of sweeping, with shards of pottery being collected and spilled into a garbage bin.

“I’ll keep breaking things ‘til I find the money,” said the visitor.

“The shipment only arrived at the hospital this morning. We need 24 hours to see if they spot the drugs are counterfeit. Once they start dispensing them we’re clear. You’ll get your money.”

“No time to wait. You have two minutes. I’m booked on the 10am flight to Honkers.”

Vance’s head snapped up. That pretentious, ex-pat term for Hong Kong. The only person who ever used it without irony was his brother. He had recognised the voice. James.

The target’s own voice became strained. “Put that away.”

“One minute.”

“Let’s be reason…”

Vance had heard enough silencers to identify the metallic spitting sound. A thud. One body down. Then the sound of furniture being overturned. James was ransacking the apartment. Next the bear hit something very hard or vice versa. Vance hovered the cursor over the recording button. It would take him seconds to erase the file. A technical hitch, he’d explain. Blame it on the bear. He’d confront James as he came out of the apartment. Demand answers.

Rising on his hind legs, Marvin sniffed the air. That’s all I need, thought Vance. A rat with a conscience. The counterfeit drugs at the hospital were the catch. If I hit “delete” on the audio and I say I didn’t hear what the men said, then how would I know about the drugs?

The apartment door squeaked shut. No, he couldn’t face James now. He needed time to think. He was a senior constable in rank only. He’d never arrested anyone and he’d lost his police issue handcuffs soon after graduation. A car’s engine kicked in and the vehicle pulled away. Vance’s hand hit the release on the sliding side door. Too late, all he could see were tail lights.

Vance slid the door shut. Another problem. Which hospital? How many might die while he dithered. Marvin sniffed the air again. “Some plan,” said Vance aloud. Did rats understand irony? “So … I’m meant to throw them off the scent.” Reaching for the police two-way radio resting by the laptop, he called it in – all the details except his brother’s current address. The address he gave was a year out of date.

The sky was brightening as Vance parked outside the suburban bungalow. There were lights in the kitchen windows and a newspaper on the front lawn. Walking up the driveway, he rehearsed his demands. Say which hospital, say which drugs, say who else was involved and he’d give James six hours’ head start. That’s if the real police didn’t get here sooner. A pair of headlights like searchlights silhouetted him. He froze, breathed deeply and turned.

James was clambering out of a taxi, dragging a roll-on suitcase. “What’s wrong?” he called.

The taxi reversed, leaving them standing metres apart. Vance approached, hands clenching and unclenching. “Change of heart, you callous prick? Murder a man, peddle fake drugs, and now you’ve come back with a guilty conscience?”

“Are you mad? Murder? When?’

“Last night.”

“Jesus, man, I just got off an overnight flight from Honkers. I’ve been working there all week. Check it out. Are you playing copper at last?”

So, thought Vance, it wasn’t James’ voice. Let’s see. I’ve provided false and misleading information to my colleagues, I’ve attempted to pervert the course of justice, I’ve left patients at an unknown hospital in danger, I’ve allowed a murderer to escape, and I’ve destroyed my relationship with my brother.

“On the bright side,” said James, throwing his arm over Vance’s shoulders and guiding him to the front door. “You’re here in time for breakfast.”

# # #
Copyright 2017 GREG FLYNN

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pirates of the Eastern Suburbs

Nosing through the fog, the brigantine Royal Pickle barely left a wake. The Jolly Roger on her stern gave a desultory flap then hung limp. Standing beside the helmsman, Captain Greybeard lowered his spyglass, sighed and reached for a tankard of recently pillaged naval rum. It was as cold as Mrs Greybeard’s farewell kiss. When we finally reach Bermuda I’ll plunder a little something for her, he decided. Or maybe not. He recalled the last thing he picked up there was treated with mercury.

He pushed the spyglass back against his good eye. “Still nothing, Toby.”

The helmsman stopped buffing his nails. “Not unless you count fog, Cap’n.”

How long had their ship been sailing the Western Atlantic? Greybeard checked his log. Six days ago, they had slipped from heavy rain and churning swells into the silent calm of a pea-souper worthy of Limehouse in winter.

In theory, the ship should be almost within cannon range of Bermuda’s main town, St George’s. Instead, his map plotting showed their course formed a triangle. An omen? Surely not.

He felt a puff of wind on his scarred cheek. Perhaps it was time to stop shaving with a dagger blade.

“Land, ho!” The shout from the crow’s nest roused the card-playing crew. Seconds before the fo’c’sle was bare, now it was crowded with men jostling to see what lay ahead.

Fumbling for his flintlock pistol, Greybeard shouted: “Avast ye scurvy dogs!”

Toby whispered in the Captain’s ear: “Could you be a little more specific?”

A click signalled a cocked pistol.

“However,” Toby added quickly, “we get the gist.”

The unfurling mainsail picked up the freshening wind, propelling the Royal Pickle towards the dark land.

The wind brought rain. By nightfall, Greybeard could barely make out the cliffs on either side of the harbour entrance. He didn’t recall them being that high. Drenched, blinded in one eye by the rain and in the other by a decade-old sword slash, he gave the order to drop anchor. Heartened by the thought of a dawn attack, he went below to sleep.

Hours later, Greybeard sensed he was not alone. He was right. The Quartermaster’s face hovered inches from his own.

“We’re doomed!” wailed the Quartermaster.

Greybeard swung his legs out of bed, vowing on the next voyage to shanghai a crew with a more positive attitude.

The sky was a pale grey. Blinking in the morning light, Greybeard climbed to the poop deck.

Doomed, indeed. Instead of St George’s familiar harbour, Greybeard faced an alien landscape. Strangely shaped buildings, some seemingly made of glass, others the size of castles, packed the shoreline. Around the Royal Pickle, dozens of small sailing craft swung at anchor.

Turning to his slack-jawed crew, Greybeard drew his cutlass. “Not St George’s, I’ll grant you, but there’s booty to be had. Come, follow me into the mouth of Hell. Let the bravest of the brave step forward.”

As one, the crew took a step backwards.

Greybeard rolled his eye. “Toby will shame you with his lion-like courage. What sayeth our hero?”


Within minutes, the still sleepy Toby had been dragged from his hammock and paraded before the crew. Greybeard clapped a hand on Toby’s shoulder. “Thank you for volunteering. Adventure awaits.”

Sighing for a light breakfast, Toby pulled wearily on the tender’s oars. Greybeard sat astern, pipe lit.

The bow struck a narrow beach with a soft crunch and both men clambered out, hands resting on their sword hilts. The first line of houses edged the beach. A rain-slicked road ran off to the right. Toby grasped Greybeard’s sleeve. “I could’ve sworn I saw a carriage moving without horses.”

“Get a grip, lad.”

Toby clung tighter to the sleeve.

“Not of me.” Shaking himself free, Greybeard strode towards the nearest house where two men stood on a balcony, the younger stabbing a tablet with his index finger while the other spoke loudly and slowly: “Headline: ‘Heaven Can Wait, This Is Paradise Now!’ … no, no, too morbid … Headline: ‘Your Friends Will Look Like the Losers They Are.’ Body copy: Heavenly harbourfront home at an eye-watering price. As you sip your Aquavit cocktail, you’ll hear the jingling of nearby yacht riggings and the grinding of your jealous friends’ teeth. Gold standard …

“Ahoy!” Greybeard stood on the beach, hands on hips. “What call you this place?”

“Double Bay,” replied the older man.


“Postcode 2028. Far more fashionable. Speaking of which, I love your fancy dress.”

Toby smoothed his tunic and adjusted his tricorne hat. “Oh, it’s just a little …”

Greybeard stiffened. “Dress? You picaroon!” Cutlass between his teeth, he heaved himself over a low garden wall and rushed the house.

It took Toby several minutes to find the garden gate and then the stairs to the balcony. Sword raised, he tiptoed forward.

Greybeard was stretched out on a lounging chair, a glass of coloured liquid to his lips. “Toby, you must try this. They call it a Mojito. The rum is Caribbean even if this strange land isn’t.”

The older man on the balcony flung an arm across Toby’s shoulders, swept him forward and pushed a mint leaf-topped drink into his shaking hand. “We’re Caveat & Emptor, real estate agents to Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs gentry. I’m Caveat. Your Captain was just explaining there’re chests of gold aboard your ship. Think of us as family.”

“And,” interrupted Emptor, “you think this is 1717.”

Greybeard handed his empty glass to Emptor for a refill. “These lubbers claim it’s 2017 and that we entered something called the Bermuda Triangle’s time and spice wrap.”

“Space warp,” corrected Emptor.

“Nevertheless,” said Caveat, with the urgency of a man sensing the conversation drifting away from a sale, “you’ve got a lucky face, Captain. This house could be just the haven you and your … err … your life partner have dreamt of. I have a suggestion: a get-to-know-the-suburb stroll.”

With slimline suits buttoned and trailing clouds of Givenchy Gentleman, the agents strutted through Double Bay while the pirates, unkempt kit smelling of damp wool and stale rum, scampered behind.

The group paused in Knox Street to admire the passing activewear-clad posteriors. Greybeard rested his own buttocks on the bonnet of a parked Maserati. Leaning forward, Caveat flicked a silver Dunhill lighter over the Captain’s pipe bowl. “Well?”

Greybeard took a puff then smiled. “I do like a port where tattooed women have puffy lips larger than rolled blankets.”

Presto! A contract for the harbourfront mansion materialised in Caveat’s hand. A pen appeared in Emptor’s.

Greybeard tapped his pipe out on the Maserati’s fender. “I’m not buying, I’m selling. I can see a wonderful future for Toby and me in your business.”

The contract and pen evaporated. Adjusting his Paul Keating signature range silk tie, Caveat turned away. Greybeard caught his elbow. “Wait, partner! Here’s our radical new approach: we tell potential buyers a fake low anticipated sale price then when we’ve whipped up plenty of interest, we sell for the much higher real price.”

Caveat slapped his own forehead. “A brilliant concept. Who else would’ve thought of that? But is it legal?”

The pirate began refilling his pipe. “Hopefully not.”

# # #

Copyright 2017 GREG FLYNN

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Cool War

The two men stood staring at the bench. Thirty years had not been kind to the bench or to them. Rot had set in, the wooden slats slumped, the iron legs twisted. Faux Banksy graffiti on the high wall behind the bench was partly hidden by leafless saplings.

Nikolaev nudged Archer’s shoulder. “Instead, I buy you coffee.”

Shoulders back military-style, they followed a path through a grim Bernauer Straße park to an almost empty café on Strelitzer. Both ordered black coffee. Both ignored it when it arrived.

Archer kept picturing the Berlin Wall as he remembered it. Designed to create fear and despair, it had succeeded. Only scraps of the Wall remained, like memories of meetings with Nikolaev on that bench. Archer had heard the Russian now spent dull days in Moscow’s Sledstvennyi Komitet, the equivalent of America’s FBI, flipping through unsolved murder cases as cold as the office building. In the 1980s, Nikolaev and Archer had been stationed on either side of the Wall. A rising investigator with the Russian police, the Militsiya, Nikolaev had been posted to East Berlin to teach new techniques in tracking criminals. “Torturing bad guys’ families for information on fugitives was, as you say, old learning.”

“Old school,” Archer had replied. In his late 20s, ambitious, Archer had been on secondment from the London Metropolitan Police to the British military. Berlin had been his idea. In London he was just another member of the Gangs Squad, prowling sink estates, nicking teenage crims. To get ahead in the Met, he needed to be in Homicide Command. Twice he had been rejected. The British Military Police and multiple bodies in deadly, divided Berlin would boost his career, or so he hoped.

That was then. Now he crisscrossed Europe as a security adviser to wealthy clients: “Don’t travel with real jewellery. Pack the paste.” Best hotels, best restaurants and invoices that were always paid. Archer hated the life.

Hunching forward, he moved the coffee cup to the side. “Are you going to give me a clue what this is about?’

“Once we shared clues. Today too.”

Archer nodded. They had colluded on murder cases, a Cold War crime in itself. If discovered, Nikolaev would not have made it to the steps of a Moscow-bound aircraft to face trial. His colleagues would have shot him where he stood. Archer would have found himself demoted to tucking parking tickets under windscreen wipers along the Embankment.

Instead, with Nikolaev’s Militsiya badge and his ability to move back and forwards across the East-West border, they met in secret in Bernauer Straße and traded information. Killers who thought they could escape justice by slipping over, under or around the Wall would be collared and bundled back home to a court or firing squad. Then: two years of real successes. Now: what seemed to Archer like 30 years of a life filled with something that only resembled success.

Nikolaev’s left hand twitched. A magician’s trick to distract a watcher’s eye. His right hand slid forward and Archer felt a strip of paper being forced into his palm. He closed his fingers, slipping the paper into his trouser pocket.

Looking down at the cool coffee, Nikolaev wondered aloud about the café’s rules on smoking. Archer shook his head.

“The happy days are gone,” said Nikolaev.

Archer raised an eyebrow.

Nikolaev mirrored the gesture. “If not happy, what is the word, satisfying? On the paper are a name, an address and a date. Do you know our offices on Bauman Street near the Kremlin? No? I am sort of a murder historian there. I take an old file. I sit. I look. I search for new ways to track down the bad guys.”


“Boring. Well, usually boring.”

Archer was tempted to reach into his pocket. “Whose name is on the paper?”

Lifting the coffee cup, Nikolaev held it just high enough to cover his mouth from sight. “I’ll tell you a name that is not there: Sir James Montague.” The cup came down. “Interested?”

“I’m no longer a cop.”

“You are far too well dressed these days to be one. Rich clients, rich picklings.”


“Exactly.” Leaning across the table, Nikolaev ran his thumb and forefinger down the lapel of Archer’s Savile Row overcoat. “No one will even think you are a policeman.”  

“But you are. Do your superiors know you’re here, talking to me?”

Nikolaev’s shoulders rose and fell. Archer could not tell if it was a shrug or a prelude to a sigh.

“Potentially,” said Nikolaev. He spoke softly, quickly. A week ago he had been sorting Sledstvennyi Komitet files, each relating to Jack the Ripper-style murders in West and East Berlin in the winter of 1988. Six prostitutes, six days apart, in locations forming the Roman numeral “VI” on the city map. The two men already knew the details. “666, the Devil’s number,” Archer had said to Nikolaev as they sat on that bench after the sixth body had been found on the Western side of the Wall. “How theatrical,” the Russian had said, looking pleased with both the prospect of an unpredictable case and his use of the word. “For you to be involved, the suspect must be in the British Army.”

He was wrong. Archer’s person of interest was someone who thought himself untouchable. Someone with a pedigree: Sir James Montague, a grandee of the diplomatic corps based in the concrete box-like British embassy in Bonn. Over the years, whenever Archer thought about Montague, he pictured the man as still glossy, still aloof, still beyond reach.

Perhaps no longer. According to a December ‘88 note in fading typewriting in a file Nikolaev had unearthed, Montague had been suspected by East German investigators of being, in the words of the normally unflappable Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper: “Der Metzger von Berlin” (The Butcher of Berlin). The note stated flatly that the Englishman was possibly a serial killer but definitely a spy for the Russians.

Nikolaev looked pleased. “The file also contained a witness’ name.”

“The name on the paper?” asked Archer.

Nikolaev nodded. “She saw him commit the sixth murder.”


“She was 17. The daughter of the Madam who ran the brothel where the murder took place.”

“And you want me to track her down?”

“No, Mr Archer. I want you to take her to dinner. The date is on the paper. Come, we will walk and talk.’

The pair stepped out into the damp street. On the nearest corner, a car sat facing the café. Archer titled his head back, squinting, trying to make out the two shapes in the front seats.

This time Nikolaev’s shoulders did shrug. “Predictable. My colleagues have alerted the locals. No matter. This is a new beginning of a beautiful friendship.” He touched Archer’s arm to steer him away from the car.

“Are you armed?” Archer asked.

“No. Why would I need a gun?”

Archer knew it was not Nikolaev’s first lie. But he wanted Montague – alive or dead. Preferably the former so Archer could personally make him the latter.

# # #

Copyright 2017 GREG FLYNN

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Damn Busters

RAF Clandestine’s Briefing Room smelt of two day old socks, stale tobacco and Fruity Frogmore’s 4711 Cologne. Expectant faces turned upwards as Wing Commander Binky Beaumont stepped onto the podium while waving a hand to hush the assembled airmen. He jammed a pipe between his teeth.

“Grentulmum, quot peese,” he said.

“Speak up, Skipper,” shouted Beaumont’s flight engineer, Klink The Collaborator. Beaumont often wondered how Klink earnt his nickname. Aside from the Luftwaffe flying jacket Klink insisted on wearing and his habit of heel-clicking when being addressed by a superior officer, he was as normal as the rest of the crew. Beaumont gazed admiringly at his men. Dear old Bumpy Ryder the bombardier was, as usual, in the front row. Bumpy hadn’t let his two glass eyes – the result of catching flak during a heavy water factory raid – warm his sangfroid. He’d say: “Accuracy isn’t everything,” as his bombs cascaded down through the clouds.

Next to Bumpy was Rear Gunner Clive “Annie Oakley” Silverton, so called not for his deadly aim but the denim skirt he wore into battle. On the right sat Roger “Wrong Way” Talbot, a nervy navigator with a penchant for reading his maps upside down.

Pulling the pipe from his teeth, Beaumont repeated: “Gentlemen, quiet please.” With a telescopic pointer, he tapped a large wall map behind him. “This is our target - the Bratwurst Dam, Germany.”

“That’s Sevenoaks, Kent,” sighed Talbot.

“Well spotted, Wrong Way.” Guiltily, Beaumont tapped a more easterly spot. “I meant here-ish. In a few hours, we’re going to give Fritz a bit of gyp.”

Silverton lifted his skirt hem an inch. “We’ll also give Jerry what for. Damn Krauts, Boche, Huns …”

Beaumont held up a silencing hand. “We get the picture, Annie.”

He paused. At the back of the room, the youngest crew member, “Jail Bait” Bingham, took the opportunity to flick a Zippo lighter over the bowl of his pipe. He sucked a stream of naked flame up the pipe stem, sending him backwards off his chair.

“Next time, tobacco in first,” advised Beaumont.

“Right you are again, Skipper,” the lad called back.

That’s how I like my men, thought Beaumont, mustard-keen and toadying. Swinging his pointer, he slapped the tip against a mounted illustration of the RAF’s newest weapon, the Brick Bomb. Developed for use against dams, the concept was simple. Drop the oblong-shaped bomb at just the right speed, height, angle and distance from the dam’s retaining wall, and it would skip like a thrown stone over the water before detonating against its target. There’d been minor teething problems. “Sinks like a brick every time,” Klink had said on their last practice run. “Have the scientists thought of making the bomb another shape?”

“Don’t be impertinent,” Beaumont had snapped. “This bomb was created by the finest British minds.”

"Jawohl. Zat ist the problem,” Klink had muttered.

Beaumont had stroked his chin, a difficult feat given he’d been wearing an oxygen mask strapped across the face of his leather flying helmet. Hmmm. There might be something in Klink’s remark.

Beaumont had reported Klink’s comment to the authorities. Here was the result. With an upward stroke, Beaumont flipped over the Brick Bomb drawing to reveal a second illustration, this time of a flat, oval-shaped device. “Let me present Mark Two of the Brick Bomb – the Discus Bomb. Some of our boys are taking it for a spin right now. To maintain secrecy, it’ll be an elegant, low charge explosion. In a few minutes, the bomb will be tested on an empty barn on the shores of nearby Lake Duck.”

On cue, the drone of an Avro Lancaster bomber filled the room.

“Do you think we’ll hear the blast?” asked Bumpy Ryder. “Because I might have trouble seeing …”

The Briefing Room windows blew out as shockwaves from the exploding Discus Bomb surged across the countryside.

Flicking shards of broken glass off his epaulettes, Beaumont strode to the nearest window and shouted in the direction of the vaporised barn: “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”

Still smouldering – both from his temper and a burning piece of window frame in his hair – Beaumont left the room, his faithful black Labrador beside him. As they headed for the airfield, Beaumont patted the dog. “Let’s take a shufti at the undercart before we get the green. What do you say to that, Ni …” A klaxon horn blast drowned him out.

In the darkness, Beaumont could just about make out the row of Lancasters on the tarmac. Inspection completed, he clambered aboard with his dog in his arms. Beaumont encouraged his crew to bring a pet along for the ride. It made the long flights to and from blowing the bejesus out of sleeping German cities more family-like.

Klink was already in the flight engineer’s seat, his large Bundesadler eagle perched on his shoulder. Beaumont hesitated. Allowing pets on board was one thing, but this eagle was studying his throat. Perhaps he’d raise the matter another time.

After the routine checklist, Beaumont pushed the aircraft’s throttle controls forward. He glanced down at his dog. “This is it. Chocks away, eh, Ni …” The roar of the four Merlin engines smothered his voice.

Almost wing tip to wing tip, the three bombers in the first wave of attack aircraft swept low, the light of a full moon throwing their shadows on French fields and villages.

“At this height, we’re invisible to radar and the Luftwaffe will never catch us,” said Beaumont.

Klink said nothing. His eagle cocked its head and admired Beaumont’s Adam’s Apple.

Crossing over the German border, the low-flying Lancasters hit heavy anti-aircraft fire and the tops of several clothes washing lines. “I suggest we take these crates up another 20 feet,” said Klink. “And shut the side window.”

Beaumont nodded. A pair of large ladies’ bloomers was entangled around his head. Freeing himself, he looked out at the ack-ack explosive rounds stitching the night sky: “Amazing. It’s as if they knew we were coming.”

Klink said nothing.

The rear gunner’s voice crackled in the crews’ headsets. “Bandits! Twelve o’clock high!”

Wrong Way looked up from his cramped navigation desk. “Where’s that?” The answer came from above as a sweep of tracer bullets perforated the fuselage.

Taking evasive action, Beaumont flung the heavy bomber sideways. In the rear of the aircraft, the contents of the Elsan chemical toilet shifted menacingly.

Wrong Way pressed his radio button: “Bratwurst dam dead ahead.” He hoped.

Like birds of prey, the three bombers swooped down towards the dam with Beaumont’s aircraft in the lead, its bomb bay doors open. Holding a moistened fingertip high, Bumpy Ryder shouted: “Close enough. Discus Bomb away.”

In the valley below the dam, Jerry and Fritz Hun – two elderly bachelor brothers sharing the old family cottage – were reading The Bible before breakfast.

Mein Gott, this Noah was prophetic,” said Jerry. “He knew a flood was coming before the first drop of rain.”

Glücklicherweise,” replied Fritz.  “We are safe from flooding here. It is so peaceful.”

High above them, Bumpy’s bouncing bomb skipped towards its target.

# # #

Copyright 2016 GREG FLYNN

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Actor

Never trust an actor’s agent. Drake still put too much faith in his. A simple request: find me a part that gets me out from behind this sowing machine. Podge, his agent, blamed Drake’s title: Costume Designer. No more than a glorified dressmaker. An uppity backstage seamster with greasepaint ambitions.

“You’re typecast,” Podge had said. “Sadly, not as an actor.”

Drake had stood in the wings too often to be overawed by those chosen for the spotlight. He had the talent, now he needed that acting trope: A Big Break.

One sigh and one phone call later, Podge had found this opportunity: the stage lights hanging on a high batten snapped on, focusing on each actor, the hard golden glare revealing their every flaw.

Off to one side of Drake, he could see other men sitting on high stools, perhaps four of them – he didn’t have time to count. The director’s voice came out of the gloom of the stalls. “Throw those scripts away.”

Bundles of paper fluttered to the floor. Drake held his script tightly. It gave him a sense of security.

“I said throw the bloody thing away.” Pause. “If you want the role.”

Drake did. The script slid onto the stage.

More barked instructions. Starting from the left, the actors delivered their lines. As each finished, a spotlight switched off, leaving darkness where they’d sat. Did a vaudevillian crook come from the wings, hauling them away? Drake knew he was about to find out.

A switch was flicked, a light died and the actor nearest to Drake disappeared.

It was his turn.

Drake had never liked Samuel Beckett and, as the dead Irish playwright’s words tumbled towards the stage apron, it became obvious Beckett didn’t like him either.

Rehearsing in his flat that morning, the accent Drake adopted held the sing song charm of Kerry. Alone in the spotlight, the brogue spluttered and died. No repertory audience would be waiting for Drake. His agent would get 12% of sod all.

“We’ll call you,” came the voice. “If you’ve made the cut.”

A callback? Unlikely. His spotlight was switched off and Drake exited Stage Right.

As he weaved between ladders and scenery, he sensed someone was close behind: low breathing, the smell of mint. Turning, he saw two stagehands hefting furniture, moving away. Not them.

In the laneway alongside the theatre, a voice near his shoulder said: “I thought you were quite good.”

The man was neat, too neat. A brocade waistcoat, careful hair and a peppermint pastille being worked behind moist lips. “No, really,” the stranger added.

Drake repeated the “really” as a query. He could picture the man at a bathroom mirror, swiftly working his hair with two silver-backed brushes.

A business card with a font size so discrete that Drake needed to squint stated that Gerry Hopkins ran a talent agency with an office in Foubert’s Place. Trying to hand back the card, Drake said he already had an agent.

“Obviously not one that knows anything about the right casting,” said Hopkins, waving away the card.

At least, thought Drake, we agree on one thing. A tug on his sleeve made him stop walking away.

“Think about it, John.” The name was given an edge, a decibel or two higher than the rest. Five foot five of impeccable grooming drifted back to the stage door.

Dropping Drake’s name was a signal: this wasn’t the end of it.

The Tube carriage was filling with office workers leaving early to join the evening rush of others also attempting to beat that same stampede: the corporate walking dead with lifeless eyes but healthy bank accounts. Drake forced himself to accept he was envious.

The Tube map he was staring at came back into focus.

“John.” He said his name aloud, mimicking Hopkins’ tone. Two men to his right pretended not to react, but he could see them edging into the crush of other passengers, pressing against less manic strangers.

Hopkins couldn’t have been sitting in the theatre’s dark stalls. The way he’d immediately followed Drake through the back stage clutter and out into the laneway meant he’d been literally behind the scenes. Why had he tucked himself discreetly out of view? Had he been studying what passed for talent under the spotlights or had he been waiting just for Drake? Every actor has a dose of paranoia. Always ready to distrust a rival’s smile, to believe compliments mask critiques, to see competition from everyone – whether the director’s boyfriend or the night cleaner at the stage door.

Reaching into his jacket pocket, he drew out Hopkins’ card. The fading scent of something posh floated up. Drake had one cologne bottle with a single splash remaining. He was saving it for the right date. Hope is the last thing that dies in man, he recited to himself, smiling at nearby passengers. More shuffling away, then a collective relief as the doors opened with a hiss and a squeak and Drake stepped out.

He needed a drink. Instead, he forced himself to search out an Americano. The coffee was as bitter as the barista serving it.

Taking out his mobile phone, Drake toyed with it before tucking it away. No, he’d surprise Podge. Don’t telegraph your punches, Podge was fond of saying. Catch people off guard. Tonight would be Podge’s turn.

The iridescent blue lights of emergency vehicles always transform the familiar. One moment, an unprepossessing strip of Gloucester Road terraced houses calmly awaited nightfall. The next, blue lights flashed and compact police cars in DayGlo colours parked at angles near the kerb. An ambulance jutted into traffic, slowing down curious drivers. Barrier tape strung between plastic bollards warned: “Police Line Do Not Cross”. The Plod – three plainclothes detectives, Drake guessed – ignored the tape’s command, instead lifting the plastic strip to stoop under it.

From the far side of the road, he watched, waiting to see which door the two men and the woman entered. Perhaps it wouldn’t be Podge’s.

At a trot, three abreast, they went up the front steps of Podge’s house, pausing long enough to allow the female detective to enter first. Chivalry or acknowledging who was boss?

The door stayed open, the hard light of the naked bulb dangling from the hallway ceiling revealing silhouettes of darkened faces talking. Everyone was talking.

Pushed back curtains allowed the audience in the street a chance to guess aloud what the players inside were staring at, their heads bowed towards the out-of-sight floor. The consensus: a body. Podge’s body.

Centre stage amongst the players, the female detective looked up as a man in a hooded white crime scene suit came into view. He handed her a plastic bag. As she held it towards the ceiling light, something metallic in the bag gleamed. 

Podge had been difficult and mercenary – hardly unique traits in show business.  But he was loyal, up to a point. Drake felt obliged to find his killer.

Drake smelt mint, then heard low breathing. Asthmatic or threatening, he couldn’t tell. The neat little man who’d ambushed him outside the theatre was at Drake’s elbow, whispering: “Appears you need a new agent, John.”
# # #

Copyright  2016 GREG FLYNN