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

Sunday, February 14, 2016

One Mumbai Night

Shoes by Jimmy Choo, attitude by Ms Cranky. Macnee could see her mouth moving but he wasn’t listening. The street lights of Bandra reflected in her eyes and on the rain-slicked pavement stretching along Carter Road. She was shouting at him again. Get the hell out of my life was the essence of it. He waited for her to finish then tilted his head towards a doorway guarded by a damp maitre d’ in a Parsi cap. No, she shouted, she didn’t want anything to eat, she wanted him to leave. Raising an eyebrow, he said he had a job to do.

Macnee glanced up. With more than 1,400 police CCTV cameras in Mumbai, a street struggle between a young woman and a grim-faced man would attract attention. Taking her elbow, he led her into the restaurant.

She took the seat with the best view. Banging a black leather handbag on the table, she asked, ‘I suppose I’m paying?’

Macnee didn’t look up from his menu. ‘You’re the one with the money, Ms Chavan. I’m just …’

‘For God’s sake stop calling me “Ms Chavan”. Call me Anika or nothing at all.’

‘Certainly, Ms Chavan.’

Flicking her fingers at the waiter, Anika called for a berry pulao with an aloo cutlet and an ashtray. ‘I’m hungry now.’

‘Then you won’t need a cigarette … plus, you can’t smoke here.’ He went back to the menu and chose the vada pav before lifting his eyes. He could see her studying him – a man desperately in need of a stylist and a few hours more sleep.

‘I imagine you disapprove of me smoking.’

‘I’m not hired to be your nanny.’

‘A nanny would be less interfering than a bodyguard.’

‘And better paid.’ Macnee ordered a half bottle of Semillon for the kutiya. For him, black tea.

‘Trying to get me drunk?’

‘If it makes you more agreeable. Eat up.’

In silence they pushed food around their plates, avoiding each other’s eyes.

The night skies cleared over the sea, the nearby bars began filling with the not-so-idle rich and now the rain was dampening spirits in Andheri East. It was time to go.

Still silent, they walked past open-fronted bars where small groups of fashionable young men glanced at Anika before noticing the tall man one step behind her. The drinkers turned back to their imported beers.

It was 2am. Or so his alarm clock claimed. It felt like he’d slept only a few minutes. He was still dressed. When she’d complained his clothes looked slept in, she was right. There was that sound again. Rolling off the bed, he pulled open the hotel room door and stood blinking in the bright hallway.

Anika was slumped against the wall outside her room. Crouching over her, a man in a black balaclava swung his head around in time to catch a punch above the right eye. It wasn’t enough. The man’s foot twitched, lashed out and caught Macnee behind the knee, sending him down on top of his client. With an apology and a push, Macnee shoved himself clear and came up into a crouch. The attacker fumbled in his jacket, drew out a long curved knife and made criss-cross slashes in the air.

Smiling, Macnee said ‘Get well soon’ in Hindi. ‘Jaldī se ṭhīk ho jāo.’

Confused, the man swung wildly. The knife missed Macnee once, twice, then a third slash ripped his sleeve. It was his good shirt. Cursing, Macnee hit the attacker across the bridge of the nose. A second, final blow sent the man crashing to the skirting board. There was a satisfying crack of skull on wood.

The diamonds were cold to the touch but then so was Anika. Lifting the necklace away from her throat, Macnee pressed his fingertips against her skin. He counted the soft pulse beats. Drugged.

Crouching over the body, Macnee reached under the woman’s arms, pulled her into a sitting position and began dragging her towards the elevator. Her heels gouged parallel trails across the silk carpet.

Rows of grand cars lined the hotel’s underground parking lot. In a fireman’s lift, he carried her past the polished chrome and out a side door into the street. A dirty white van stood where he’d left it. Edging open the rear doors, he rolled her onto a blanket on the back floor.

Her eyes were partly open, her voice groggy. ‘Hello, handsome. Why aren’t you in Mumbai?’

‘Unfortunately, I am.’

‘A good night kiss?’

‘Not on the first date,’ said Macnee. Rohypnol in her hotel room booze was his guess. He’d take her to the suburban safe house then call her father. What was the time in London?

In the driver’s cabin, he ran his fingers under the dashboard searching for the key. Too late. He saw the raised knuckles in the street before he heard the rap on the side window. The policeman’s cap was flecked with rain drops. The face beneath it was wet, shining and unsmiling.

‘… license’ was all Macnee heard as he slid down the window. He handed over a local driver’s license giving his name as ‘Jeffrey Smart’ with a Juhu address.

The beat policeman passed it back to a second constable.

‘What are you doing?’ came the demand.

‘Taking out the trash,’ said Macnee. Neither constable appeared convinced.

The first was about to speak again when the yee-yaw of a police siren sawed through the night. Two-way radios clipped to the policemen’s belts began to crackle. As the constables turned away, Macnee’s license was flipped unceremoniously through the window. Holding their holsters to their hips, they jogged up the street.

For a few seconds Macnee watched their retreating backs then sucked in a lungful of humid air. For the second time that night he wished he hadn’t given up smoking. At least tobacco had given his life some constancy – as a social prop, a post-coital substitute for conversation and, more than once, a small reward for escaping alive.

He found the van’s key and fired up the engine. A final check of the driver’s side wing mirror. It disintegrated in a shower of glass as the thrown knife tore the mirror from its mountings. The attacker was standing a few metres away, legs braced apart. He was bleeding heavily. The bastard’s indestructible, Macnee thought. Slamming the van into gear, he jabbed the accelerator. The tyres slipped, then gripped on the slick roadway, and finally slipped again – throwing up neon-reflected showers from the street puddles. The man was now running, shouting. Macnee heard a thud at the rear of the van. He’s jumped on the back.

The tyres found traction and the van shot forward. Macnee pulled the steering wheel left then hard right. The van fishtailed. There was a scream and a crash of plate glass. Jamming on the brakes, Macnee looked across the road. The attacker’s legs were projecting from a shattered shop window.

The rear vision mirror revealed Anika still asleep. Shrugging his shoulders to loosen them, Macnee pointed the van towards the East. It was going to be a long night.

# # #

Copyright  2016 GREG FLYNN

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Play In One Act

Dramatis Personae 
David – a performer
Angie – David’s wife
Jim – a photographer


Curtain up. A reception room in the wing of an Edwardian mansion. The room is as cluttered as a bedsit. Angie is seated in a leather chair reading New Musical Express. David, dressed in a floral-patterned dress and high boots, enters Stage Right, navigates his way past an ironing board and assorted distressed furniture to reach a tall mirror.

DAVID (addresses his reflection): I’m thinking of going commando.

ANGIE (still looking at the NME): Keep your knickers on, David. It’s only a newspaper photo shoot.

DAVID: I meant I’m thinking of something in a camouflage pattern. What would the effect be?

ANGIE: Plausibly lesbian.

DAVID: And currently?

ANGIE (looks up briefly): My grandmother’s chaise lounge.

DAVID: So, I should butch it up? Head-to-toe black, perhaps.

ANGIE: If you want to resemble a Greek widow scaling fish.

DAVID: You’d prefer me in trousers. Say it, Angie. You want something more traditionally masculine.

ANGIE: Now that you ment …

DAVID (cuts her off): How bourgeois. You know I’m non-binary.

ANGIE: That’s not the description they use about you down at The Dog & Trumpet.

DAVID: Barflies. They don’t recognise gender fluidity.


DAVID: Are you …?

ANGIE: It’s the first fluid thing that came to mind. It flows then (pause) hardens.

DAVID (turns sideways): I can see myself as (adopting Cockney accent) well ‘ard.

ANGIE: If only I saw that more often.

She rises, crosses to David, takes his shoulders and spins him back to face the mirror.

ANGIE: Perhaps it’s the length. Too long.

DAVID (picks up the hem and raises it over his thighs): Micro-mini? Very London high fashion. Very Anoushka and Veruschka.

ANGIE: Let’s try for very Queen Mother. A sensible hemline, just below the knees with stockings held up by tight elastic.

DAVID: A little too Sainsbury’s shopper for me. The Daily Mirror is coming. I need to sparkle.

ANGIE: For a national red-top?

DAVID: Sssshhh. He could be here any second.

ANGIE: Nonsense.

Off stage sound effect: Knock, knock.


The set revolves to reveal a garden. David faces the audience. He practices several poses. Angie and the photographer enter Stage Left.

ANGIE: David Bowie, this is Jim James from the Daily Mirror.

Hands shake, heads nod.

JIM (gestures): Let’s use the house as a backdrop.

DAVID: Will it distract from me?

JIM: Nothing will distract from that dress. It makes you look …

DAVID: Sexually agnostic?

JIM: I was about to say like a …

ANGIE: Coffee, anyone?

Heads shake. The shoot proceeds. The photographer crouches, aims. David poses.

DAVID: Look at me and tell me what you see.

JIM: My grandmother’s chaise lounge.

DAVID: (A sigh) Jim, you strike me as a man of the world.

JIM (pats the long lens of his camera): This gives me instant access to people with outlandish talent.

DAVID: Really?

JIM: Yesterday I photographed a woman who makes dolls out of wooden clothes pegs.

DAVID: Fame of sorts, I suppose.

JIM (pulls a pen and notebook from his coat pocket): Fame, indeed. Which reminds me, Dave. Just for the pic caption. What is it that you do?

Curtain down. Theatre lighting drops.

ANGIE (disembodied voice offstage): Will it be curtains for David?

JIM (disembodied voice): One day.

DAVID (disembodied voice): Never.

Story Copyright © 2016 GREG FLYNN
Image Copyright © 1971 Daily Mirror

[Please note: the above script is pure fiction.]