Sunday, September 4, 2011

Galloway's Letter

It had been more than seven years when I set foot once again on British soil.

My latest odyssey throughout South East Asia; from the farthest west of the British Raj, in Karachi, to the farthest east, in Rangoon, has embraced the most despairing chapters of my life. Two failed matrimonies, a son who died early on from malaria and a drinking habit unbeaten by futile attempts of abstinence. Not to mention the sun tanned dark skin that has aged me ten years above my original fifty.

After settling in Victory Service Club at Seymour Street, a stone’s throw from Hyde Park, I reckoned endowing my miserable soul a good old English meal at the club’s diner. Downstairs, I admitted myself unannounced into the dining room. Fortunately, Finley, the steward recognized me readily, gave me his formal welcoming smile and ushered me to a free table with a favourable prospect. I had such a vivid memory of one hot August evening, when I treated a new recruit, you, to their signature Beef Wellington dish and mashed potatoes. Honouring that memory, I ordered the dish. Thankfully, it still retains the same savour.

I was appreciating my first glass of Hine Cognac, when one ghoulish Jack Broody jumped across my table, polluting the serenity of the moment. “Ay-up, that’s good ole Galloway”, said the brute and sat down without invitation. Same old shiny baldness and greasy smile, but age has managed to put its mark across his face. He ordered his meal served to my table and engaged in a hearty, old times talk. Ten years ago, I would have kicked his backside, but after the seven-year hiatus in the Indian subcontinent, any familiar face was welcome. I larked over my days in India and Burma, mentioned one or two common acquaintances, lured his interest to some fantastic anecdotes of the east; the luxuries of being fumed under the sun, trenched by the monsoons, while chasing some undecided India youth anarchists. Finally, his turn to jabber came. Your name was first, amongst many, to pop on my tongue.

“How’s Aniston?” I blurted after a sip of brandy. He choked on a pickled cucumber. “Aniston?” he mumbled, “Like Mickey Aniston.” With apprehension looming in his eyes, he coughed spasmodically, congesting his, already, red face into a flare. He borrowed my cognac, to shove off what was supposedly the cause of his choke.

“Yes, Mickey Aniston, my boy, the one I recruited in Egypt,” I said. He nodded knowingly. “Yeah, yeah, tall reddish brown crown of hair, freckled face, and zappy mouth. Sure Henry, I know him.” He paused for a moment, took a gulp of the drink and snapped without looking me in the eyes, “He is on the run.” He put the glass on the table, but still held it between his palms. “Haven’t you heard? It has been two years since the incident. Perhaps, Johnny McMahon could tell you the best of it.” But the hard look in my eyes told him that I wasn’t waiting for any McMahonian storytelling.

He loitered a little, trying to evade the inevitable by asking about my family. “They perished in the disease. Quit stalling Jack. If I ever have a family remaining, then it’s Mickey Aniston.” He poured it all. Slow and painful he told it, but never complete and farthest from the truth; in my eyes, at least. Of course, I’d never believe that, you, the Michael Aniston raised by my hands, to be a defector.

It was me who handpicked you off that regiment in Cairo, remember? And it was me who taught you the tricks of the trade. I raised you boy and I know you. Are you rash at decisions? Of course. Inconsiderate and Vulgar? Sometimes. But a defector to the Commies?! That’s something I couldn’t stomach. He told me that you messed in Lausanne over some Russian defector, called Reiss. But your blunder was horrible enough, that someone up the ladder in Box 850 couldn’t let the matter go unnoticed.

“Some boss up there ribbed open your boy’s history bag. And, oops, what he found. Your boy always messed the Commie stuff; always on the flipping side.”

Broody stopped his emotional dribble for a second, looked in his glass, and then spitted all over. “Even words scattered here and there claim that Mickey was a red boy from the start. Right when you picked him up some inn or bar off the streets in Cairo.” I waved all his bullshit with my arm, but he insisted. “The boy did things for the Russians even when he was under your custody, sipping the first drops of nursery drink.” My face must have changed colours, and my voice gone a tad loud. “And who is the son of the bitch who said such shit”. My voice must have attracted a head or two, and Broody retreated once again behind his defensive hedge. He got up, scribbled a telephone number on a note he kept. “That’s McMahon’s new number. Surely, he knows better.”

Well up the ladder, of evolution, from poor Broody, lies McMahon. Twelve years off the streets, in the offices, have eventually toned off the man’s temper and given him a Lord’s demeanour. He received me in his office over tea. He retold Broody’s shit but in an orderly manner. The bastard recounted as if he was reading from a book.

“The fifth floor people couldn’t tolerate his last disaster. Not because he did it. He didn’t. But coz it happened with him. And it isn’t the first time I mind you though. His entire career was spread on walls like some dirty laundry badly washed. His professionalism seemed botched especially when confronted with communist affairs. His clients got sacked, handled or erased at the eleventh hour. Initially, his production would appear promising, but he manages to screw at the last minute; the Admiralty been his victim in two consecutive counts. A meticulous study of his career opened the eyes of the inquisitors to strong shades of doubt shrouding the boy’s past; his curious involvement in the loss of Sidney Reilly at the Finnish border to the hands of the NKVD, and even earlier in the murder of one Sir Lambert Stanford, a Governor General of Sudan in the twenties. He even...”

I lapsed into the blue for a minute or two. I did not hear the rest of his briefing.
“What do you mean he had something to do with the murder of Sir Lambert Stanford?” He looked puzzled over my excitement, before giving me the conciliatory nod. “Ah, he was under your courtship then, the two of you being the centre of the new covert Cairo office. But hey, the boy is believed to be communist all through, Galloway. Sorry if you missed it, but it’s true all the same,” he said with authority. I challenged him. “What implicates him in the murder of Sir Lambert Stanford? I supervised him in the Cairo office during that period. Being a junior recruit by then, evidently put his actions under my scrutinizing eyes.” McMahon served my protest to the open window.

“A local agent, a Mr. H, perhaps you remember the guy?” I nodded the affirmative. 

“This Mr. H specifically said that agent Spark, your boy’s code name if you can remember, had given him an A over Sir Lambert Stanford, which literally meant to guide his underground group...”

“The Cairene radical ring, he was inserted into.” I was remembering.

“Yes, the Wafdist underground ring... He has confirmed beyond doubt, that Spark give him an A over Sir Lambert Stanford. The letter A, if you remember meant to direct Mr. H to exercise his influence over his country fellows to authorise the murder of a political adversary.”

I escalated my protestation. “The hell he did. The boy received the telegram from the London office which advised him to carry out the command. I saw the damn thing.” His hand stopped me in contempt. “Don’t let your memory trick you old man, and don’t let your love for the boy make you a foolish liar in this age. How could you see the telegram, when you were in Assiut, 200 miles to the south, four days earlier, and for two days to come, at the time the General Stanford was murdered?”

His knock out bunch sent me reeling in defeat. I guess you know why.

You can remember what happened during that rainy week in Cairo, in the early ‘20s. I wish I could dispute McMahon claims and declare that it was not me who submitted to the first telegram, regarding an excursion into Assiut. The telegram was submitted to “Sunshine”, me. But I had to stay pondering upon a chance meeting with that Italian beauty of Jazeera club. Youthful and enthusiastic as ever, you volunteered to take up the assignment, and took the train to Assiut to feed back on some silly intelligence gathering. That left me alone in Cairo, to take the telegram to Spark. Mindful not to betray our arrangement, I contacted Mr. H in your guise and delivered the message. Now they are saying there wasn’t such a telegram.

“Perhaps I wasn’t with Mickey when he got the word, but I definitely knew about it,” I baffled for a while. “Did someone check correctly, sure the telegram was sent by someone in the London Office. Were the archives revised perfectly?” I continued miserably. McMahon sneered, “Why for God’s sake would this goddamn Circus ask for the execution of a British official in Cairo? Are you mad? Out of your freaking senses?”


“Don’t you but me. Quit fighting for your kid. You look awfully disgusting.”

“What happened of him? Aniston.”

“How on Lord’s earth will I know? The bastard smells his own stink somewhere. Some inquisitor from fifth floor met him in Lausanne. The fool interrogated him rather revealingly. Next morning he fled the city. The word of mouth establishes that some agent spotted him in Leningrad.”

I quit the door, but you never quit my mind.

Not two days had passed since my return, and instead of acclimating back to the English way of life, I was straying the streets of London pondering upon your unforeseen predicament. I was hoping for some peaceful years before calling it quits, but eventually have found myself embattled with your culpable destiny. Even though your name never crossed my mind the past seven years in the tropics (except for three or four times during casual conversations at office), I always looked back upon your memory as some of my golden days in service. So when I know of what had befallen a great fellow and friend like you, I couldn’t but summon myself for your help.

Certainly, I’d move on in life, take up my new post in Victoria office, wouldn’t speak in your favour or even mention your name for years to come (because that will shed doubts on my own career as well). I had pledged myself to look onto you, to redeem you, but I had to let things go on its normal course for a while.


When I completed my transition from the Indian Political intelligence office, I was relocated to the reconnaissance division in Mi-6. During the early months of rehabilitation to office status, I let your matter stray off my mind. I keenly established my reputation in the division as a retiring colonel seeking solace in the embrace of frosty London, an old man fulfilling the waning years of his career in the warmth of offices. My patronizing attitudes, specially, towards the young cadres of Victoria Street, gained me a substantial entourage. I always took the morning tea with the proles: the punch of sassy secretaries, and sub-thirty chaps, most important of which were the young chaps in reconnaissance and the archives. With one particular Alan Corrigan, I had a flourishing relationship. I took the chap to dinners at the Victory Service Club and introduced him to some high society. The boy, certainly, knew that such treaties come down the road, but having them early in the career was never an ace to pass. Needless to say, Alan Corrigan was a junior in the archives.

One day, over a lemon tart and vintage tea, in a terrace overlooking Piccadilly square, I patted Corrigan on the shoulder, expressing my definite belief in his prospects. Posing an apologetic face, I asked for a favour.

“Anything for you Mr. Galloway. You just have to ask.”

I asked for the one telegram that was sent from London office on November 16th, 1924, to the newly christened Cairo station that was operating out of sight of the British Military Intelligence.

Little was my surprise to find the telegram missing, my bewilderment arouse, however, upon finding the earlier telegram forwarding me to Assiut. The name of the assigning officer was somehow struck out; as if scratched with a razor or sharp edge.

“What’s that Alan boy?”

“You can’t hope to have a paper live more than fifteen years unscratched. Nonetheless, you cannot blame me for it. I wasn’t the one who stowed it in the first place.”
I scrutinized the document. “It looks tampered to me. What do you think?” He shrugged the responsibility off his shoulders. “Perhaps, you should consult one of the experts in fourth floor,” he said emphatically. “No, I need no fuss about it. Just need someone with good memory, to remember what happened to another telegram that was sent two days later, perhaps by the same source,” I said.

He smiled, “Sure you’d need to sit with Mr. Fremont the senior archivist. The man had a magnificent memory. He needn’t look up a document to tell you who wrote what and what was written in it; just the serial, date and hour. Unfortunately, he skipped two years ago.”

And I had my assumptions on that early retirement of that particular Mr. Fremont.
Upon inquiry, the talented Mr. Fremont took unceremonious leave two weeks into the month of October 1937. That was two weeks after your supposed flee. Now that’s something to ponder over. Over at the Personnel office, I asked for the address of one Mr. Heather Fremont.

After a two minutes walk from Brixton Station, I was at the threshold to Fremont’s apartment house. Number 12 was his place. I buzzed my way in. One Mrs Maggie Frost, supposedly niece of Mr Fremont, received me.

“The old man had a dream to tour the world. He guessed his journey would take five to six years, so left me his place and spared me some rent money. As to his whereabouts, I would not know but for a post card now and then. If you need to tell him something, leave me a note and I try posting it to him, that’s if I lay hands to his address.”

She was overplaying her ineptness, probably a sign of conscious lying. I understood the trick. The man is in the hiding; nonetheless, he left a relative to pose as his mailman, to relay the most important posts.

I told the woman that I belonged to the British Legion; the society of the Great War veterans. I told her I had a check for the man, a King’s loyalty. Nonetheless I can’t give it to her. I could however forward it to a British embassy any place in the world, for him to receive it by himself. Mind it, up to two months from now, I said, beyond which the check cannot be redeemed. I gave her a PO Box number, to forward to her uncle, for future correspondence.


My other major problem was contacting you. How? I had to retort to a familiar recall method, and my hand was forced into using one of those we used together in service, eventually opting for an old obsolete one. Though I had to run the advertisement in an international edition newspaper for more than a month to catch your eyes, thankfully it paid off. However, I’ll restrict our future correspondences to the narrowest limits.


Though I have your address, in the States, for more than three months, I choose not to contact you, expect after having fallen on some hard line. Finally a window of light; today I have received a letter from the anticipated Mr Fremont. Guess what? He is over the same American soil. He mailed me from Clinton County, New York, promising to be in Washington D.C. during the first week of next month, and hopes to find his check in the embassy at the time.

I wish I had continued on the pursuit of your case, but I think that you, on basis of land and distance, are better suited to continue on course. I will be waiting for your mail, telling me of what will happen.

N.B. The photo attached to this letter is of the twenty three year old Fremont, as obtained from the Personnel files. You shouldn’t miss the man, knowing that he has a limp inflicted by a major injury during the Trenches war in France.

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