The cinema of my dreams – Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 45

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on the back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Chasing leads, maybe


“Silly question, what were you doing in the hotel with this ‘operative’?”

Yes, it sounded odd the moment I said it, and, if it was the other way around, I’d be thinking the same.

“We joined forces, thinking we were in danger, at the time, not knowing that she was working with Dobbin.  I discovered that later, by chance.  She doesn’t know I know.”

“And she’ll be waiting at the hotel?”

“Dobbin wants the USB.  She believes we’re collaborating, after telling me she works for MI5, on a different mission involving O’Connell.  She had apparently been undercover as a fellow resident at the block where O’Connell had a flat, and a cat.  The cat, of course, had no idea his owner was a secret agent.  The flat was sparsely furnished and didn’t look lived in, so it may have been a safe house.”

“Wheels within wheels.”

“That’s the nature of the job.  Lies, lies, and more lies, nothing is as it seems, and trust no one.”

“Including you?”

“Including me, but keep an open mind, and try not to shoot me.  I’m as all at sea as you are.  And, just to be clear, I’m not sure I believe Quigley that the information is lost.  People like him, and especially his contact, if he was a journalist, tend to have two copies, just in case.  And the explosion might have killed the messenger, but not the information.  Lesson number one, anything is possible, nothing is impossible, and the truth, it really is stranger than fiction.”

“Great.”

A half-hour later I’d parked the car in a parking lot near Charing Cross station.  The plan, if it could be called that, was for me to go back to the room, and for Jennifer to remain in the foyer, and wait.  If anything went wrong she was to leave and wait for a call.  For all intents and purposes, no one knew of her, except perhaps for Severin and Maury, but I wasn’t expecting them to be lurking in the hotel foyer, waiting for me.

As for Dobbin, that was a different story.  It would depend on how impatient he was in getting information on the whereabouts of the USB, and whether he trusted Jan to find out.

I’d soon find out.

The elevator had three others in it, all of who had disembarked floors below mine.   As the last stepped out and the doors closed, it allayed fears of being attacked before I reached the room.

As the doors closed behind me, the silence of the hallway was working on my nerves, until a few steps towards my room I could hear the hissing of an air conditioning intake, and suddenly the starting up of a vacuum cleaner back in the direction I’d just come.

 A cleaner or….

Remember the training for going into confined spaces…

The room was at the end of the passage, a corner room, with two exits after exiting the front door.  I thought about knocking, but, it was my room too, so I used the key and went in.

Lying tied up on the bed was a very dead Maury, three shots to the heart.

And, over the sound of my heart beating very loudly, I could hear the sound of people out in the corridor, followed by pounding on the door.

Then, “Police.”

A second or two after that the door crashed open and six men came into the room, brandishing weapons and shouting for me to get on the floor and show my hands or I would be shot,”

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

The cinema of my dreams – Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 44

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on the back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Chasing leads, maybe


I leaned back in the chair and shuddered.  It was not so much the cold as the stark realization before me, well, before all of us really.

The USB was gone.

But it was going to be impossible to convince any or all of Severin, Maury, and Nobbin.  Or for that matter Monica.  None of them were going to believe the explosion in the café was a deliberate act.  

But it did raise a question.

“How did whoever placed the bomb in the café know you and your contact were going to be there, and, for that matter, that either of you might have the USB?”

O’Connell seemed lost in thought.  After prodding him, I asked the question again.  His hesitation seemed to suggest that what he’d told me might be a lie, or a half-truth because the more I thought about it, the more implausible it sounded.  The other side of that was, what did he have to gain by lying?  Of no doubt, there was more to this story.

“There are more people involved in this than what you know.  Dobbin had me looking into a biological laboratory, one that was reportedly doing research on cures for various coronaviruses, like SARS.  The thing is, they had a store of nasties they were using as candidates for finding cures.

“The laboratory had been getting funding from the military so that to me meant they’d been working on weaponizing one of those nasty viruses, but there had been containment breach leading to a review, and they lost their funding.

“That, in turn, leads to the head of the company seeking funding from elsewhere, and that it was going to be an overseas government institution, one which they claimed commercial confidence so the donor could not be released.  Of course, our intelligence services went into a spin, thinking the worst, that it was either Russia or the Chinese, or some other rogue regime, and if they got their hands on those candidates, well, you can imagine the paranoia.

“There was also the problem of hacking, where various countries and/or individuals are looking for information to use for their own benefit, or to sell to the highest bidder.  That as far as I can tell is what happened here; it was not a case of external hacking, this was internal by one of the staff, downloading sensitive information onto the USB and smuggling it out.

“As soon as the breach was discovered, it triggered an internal review, which had a member of the military on the panel, and it concluded it was one of three ex-employees.  Dobbin gave me the three names, and I tracked them down.  One of the three had stolen the data, but far from stealing it to sell to the highest bidder, he had stolen it to pass on to a newspaper reporter, the person I was going to see.

“He could see the information was not the sort to be disseminated to the general public and wanted it returned.  I was going to get it.

“So, in answer to your question, it was possible that someone else had done the same as I had after I had visited each of the three, and decided to deal with the problem decisively.  But it would have required planning and an organization with infinite resources to pull it off.  Top of my list is the owners of the laboratory, simply because, they were not interested in getting the copy back, and the fact they didn’t want to have any witnesses, which meant the reporter and had to be silenced.”

“And the person who stole the information?”

“Burned to death in a house fire.  The fire department concluded it was a gas leak.”

“Helped by a person or persons unknown.”

“Given the distribution list of that final report, unless Dobbin has been moonlighting as an assassin, there’s only one other name on the list.”

No need to say it out loud.  That left one question, and probably a hundred others that wouldn’t get answers.

“What’s it to do with Severin and Maury?”

“That’s not their names.  Severin is really David Westcott, and Maury is Bernie Salvin.  Both used to be in the security detail at the company about three years ago when several biological entities were being researched, both of whom were assigned by the military to keep an eye on their investment.

“When the accident occurred, they were reassigned, but I suspect, at the time, they knew exactly what had happened, and what is involved.  It’s not a leap to come to the conclusion they had a shift in allegiance and may have helped the person who stole the information because there was no way the person who stole it had the knowledge to get it out.

“It was not something he would tell me.  That, he said, if he told me, would sign his death warrant.”

Which it did.  Was the original thief killed before or after the explosion?

“Do we Assume Severin is the man in charge?”

“No.  They’re basically blunt instruments, giving orders, and doing what they’re told.  We all are, to a certain extent.  This operation had someone else, someone far more clever, and connected.”

“But they did create a whole unit and train them in an existing facility without anyone knowing.”

“Is that you they told you?  And you believed them?  Nothing goes on in that place with an official sanction.  No.  Your operation was created on the books, but on the quiet so if anything went wrong, they could disavow any knowledge of it.  It went south and what happened?”

“They disavowed any knowledge of it.”

“And kept you on, only reassigned?”

“Those of us who survived, yes.”

“Then I suggest you watch your back and keep all of them at arm’s length.  You’ll only be useful until the USB is found, so you have to keep them believing it’s missing.”

“We’re not going to be able to do that forever.”

“No.  Which makes it imperative we find out who Severin and Maury’s bosses are and chop of the head.”

All while pretending he was dead.  Easier said than done.


© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 50

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on the back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Chasing leads, maybe


Just because you have a security card with your name on it doesn’t mean you are cleared.  Yesterday, maybe, but today?  Anything can happen in 24 hours, much like the political landscape.

When I walked in the front entrance and up to the scanning gate, I was just another employee coming into work.  I ran my card through the scanning device, and the light turned red.

It failed.

In the time it took for me to scan it a second time, a security guard had arrived from the front desk, and a soldier, armed and ready was standing behind me.

I didn’t doubt for one minute he would shoot me if I tried to run.

“What seems to be the problem?”  The security guard was polite but firm.

“My card that scanned the last time and worked, doesn’t seem to work now.”

I could read his expression, ‘you just got fired, and are trying to get back in.”

“Let me try.”

I gave him the card, he looked at it, no doubt to see if there was any damage, then tried it.”

“Have you any other means of identification?”

Now, here’s the thing.  This was the office full of spies and support staff all of whom could be using assumed names, different guises, or just plain secretive with their private information.  Luckily I had a driver’s license with the name on the card, but not much else.

I thought about telling him about the place he was guarding, but I doubted he would listen.

He looked at both, then handed back the license. 

“Come with me over to the counter and we’ll see if we can sort this out.”

It was not a request, nor was I unaccompanied.  I now had a soldier permanently attached to me.

When we all arrived at the desk, he joined another guard behind.

“Who is your immediate superior?”

It was a toss-up between Dobbin and Monica.  Since Dobbin spent a lot of time in his car or appeared to, I said it was Monica.

I watched him search slowly through the phone list until he found her number, then called her.

He had his back to me when they spoke, but it wasn’t for long; after a minute, perhaps two, he replaced the receiver and turned back.

“Ms. Shrive will be down in about five minutes.”  He pointed to a row of chairs against the wall, remnants from the last world war.  “If you would like to wait over there, sir.”

He didn’t hand back my card.

The wait was more like a half-hour, but I had become engrossed in an old copy of Country Life, and an article that made me consider retiring to the country in an old thatch cottage beside a babbling brook somewhere in the Cotswolds.

Until I read the price. 

The arrival of Monica came at a fortuitous moment.  Coming to the desk.

“Nnn, I was hoping you would drop by sooner rather than later.”

“My card doesn’t work.”

“Oh, that’s because we revoked it.”  She held out another in her hand.  “We’ve replaced it with one with better access, or as we say jokingly, you’ve moved up in the pay grade scale.”

I took the card and went to put it in my pocket.

“You need to register your presence, so I’m afraid you’ll have to go out and come back in again.”

I did as she asked, this time greeted by the friendly green light.  The soldier seemed disappointed that I was not free of his attention.  The security guard on the desk had alt=ready forgotten I existed.

“Come.”

I followed Monica to the antiquated elevator, we stepped in, closed the door and she pressed a button for the third and fourth floors.  It seemed creakier than usual this time.

“I’m assuming you have come in to use the computer resources?”

“Yes.”

“Good thing then we upgraded your access level.”

“And is there someone who manages access to CCTV footage?”

“Yes.  Same floor, four.  Her name is Amelia Enders.  Tell her what you need, and she’ll find it.  I assume it will have something to do with the surveillance exercise of yours.”

How could she guess, or had she been already investigating?”

“Come and see me when you’re finished.  I live on the third floor.  Literally.”

The elevator stopped on the third floor with a creak and a thump.

A smile and she headed off down the passage.

If I wasn’t mistaken, she had that cat who ate the canary look, and it worried me.

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

You learn something new every day (1)

And it’s not necessarily something that might be good. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think, but in a strange sort of way it put a few things into perspective.

My brother and I have been delving into the family history, or at least my brother is throwing everything at it, and I’m along for the ride.

I did have a trove of stuff that we found when cleaning out my parent’s house when they moved into aged care, and at the time I didn’t think much of it. It was more about getting them settled than figuring out what was kept.

Now, four or so years later, and having finally received an interim output of the family tree, it’s not so much the forebears that interested me, as it was my parents.

It seems that our looking at our immediate family’s potted lives is like walking through a minefield, riddled with contradictions, rumors, and anecdotal evidence that doesn’t, for the moment, have any hard evidence to back it up. Or at least some have, but that’s not the interesting part.

So, picture this. The extent of my knowledge of my immediate family was that my father is Australian, his mother English, and I’m a second-generation Australian with an English grandparent. It doesn’t sound much, but not so long ago I could have applied for and got an English passport and had dual nationality. Unfortunately, that cannot happen anymore, you have to be one or the other.

My mother’s mother was of English descent and her husband of German descent. It was understood that my grandfather on this side died not long after I was born, though for a long time we were never told how. Only recently it came to light that he had committed suicide, and my brother has a copy of the suicide note he wrote. Morbid, eh? It turns out he thought he had cancer, but didn’t and mistakenly ended his life thinking he might have been a burden on my grandmother.

But now we started digging, getting dates of birth, easy, dates of death, easy, marriage certificates, and parents’ names for this limited dip into history, relatively simple.

But the story, the real aspects of genealogy, is where they went to school, their first job, what the did in the war, that fascinating the story of their lives at different times, that’s where I’m more interested. My brother has the facts, I want to give them a story entwining those facts.

Something that adds some flesh to the story is letters.

Another recent addition to the pile of family documents are the letters between my mother and father before they were married, and the fact my mother had another boyfriend, something we never knew until the great clean up. I have those letters, or some of them too.

Those letters, from him, unfortunately, we don’t have hers, are fascinating, as are those from my father. There is no indication of why there was a breakup with the first boyfriend, but I did learn that my father had gone to an introduction agent by the name of Mrs. J Phillips who gave him her name. What factors had led him down this path?

It was, to me, very Dolly Levi-ish.

I discovered my father worked as a projectionist at the Snowy River hydro-electric project after the war., around 1948. He had spoken of showing pictures at the Athenaeum Theatre in Flinders Street, and the King’s Theatre in Melbourne, but not exactly when, which accounted for his amazing knowledge of Hollywood movie stars. It was, however, as much as he had shared for a long time.

I also discovered that he was in Perth, Western Australia immediately after the war, and then went overseas to England by ship 13th August 1947, arriving in London on 12th September, and stayed at Middlesex with relatives.

Ok, now it gets a little weird because when in Bedfordshire he became engaged to an English girl that he had (apparently) known for 10 years. How this came to pass is still a mystery awaiting an answer. The wedding was supposed to be on 21st December 1947 but never happened, because the marriage was forbidden by her parents because they did not want their daughter to move to Australia, and equally forbidden by his parents because she was Catholic.

Yes. Religion was a breaking point in those days because he was a protestant. He returned, perhaps heartbroken, a year after he left, in April 1948.

I found that for a period of two years there would be enough speculative material to fuel a very lively account of their lives, and particularly his.

My mother, by the way, spent the war years attending Dandenong High School, a steam train ride down from Pakenham to Dandenong. After that, she gained employment in Melbourne, and spend the weekdays at a Ladies Boarding House called Chalmers Hall, in Parliament Place, and going home to Pakenham on the weekends. From a note or two, it seems she was something of a ‘wild’ child who craved doing something with her evenings other than ‘staying in’, with references to her going out with her friends.

My father confessed that he was the family’s black sheep, that he didn’t get along with any of the family, and which was why he was never home and always traveling. He wrote, in one letter of October 1948, that when he got into an argument he got mad and walked out on them, and came back when calm had returned. I assume that meant it might take days, weeks, or even months for the dist to settle.

There were disputes with my father with both his brothers and his parents over marrying my mother, and there were problems between my mother and her parents, to the extent they might not attend the wedding. For a few months of tense silence, there might not have been a wedding at all, but eventually, this happened at Trinity Church, Camberwell, on the 28th of June, 1949.

Wow! It shows that illusions of what might have been their happy day turning out to be moments of high dudgeon. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.

I still have no idea what split her and the original boyfriend, a man she’d known since she was 14, and was from her hometown area, Pakenham. It might have been something she said because there are indications on one of two draft letters that she was prone to speaking her mind, and had a temper which would not have helped in using discretion. I’m guessing a few years of war would make a man lose interest in a high minded, and perhaps a sharp-tongued woman. I suspect we’ll never know.

She is now 93 and has Alzheimer’s and dementia, and unlikely to remember back then.

Similarly, my father is 97 and I doubt sitting down with him would elicit much on the way of a sensible discussion. He was always irascible at best and oddly suffers from PTSD from his war service if that’s still possible. Over the years he was never prone to sharing his past life, except in snippets, and that, some of it was about the war. I guess war did terrible things to the participants back them

And, as for his war service, we have the physical documentation of where and when, but only a potted history of his own account of his service. But even that is a story and a half in itself.

More on that later.

Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 49

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on the back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Chasing leads, maybe


Needing to know more about Severin, aka David Westcott trumped talking to Jan.  As it stood, it was difficult to know where her allegiances lay, with Dobbin, her handler, or someone else.

I hailed a cab and headed back to the office.  I wanted to spend some time on the computer, hoping I had enough clearance to poke around in the departmental records, in particular personnel.

Just as the taxi dropped me outside the anonymous sandstone building, my phone rang.  I doubt it would be Severin again.

“Where are you?”

Jan.

“I do actually have a life, despite what you or Dobbin might think.  I’m not sure I really want to have anything to do with you after what I saw you people do to Maury.  Aside from the fact that you told me he had found the tracker and disposed of it.  Once you start telling lies, there’s no going back.”

“I had nothing to do with that.”

“You were holding him for the interrogation squad.  That makes you complicit.  It also makes me very wary about what Dobbin will do to me if he thinks I know anything, which I don’t.”

“As far as I’m aware, all we have to do is find O’Connell.”

“And what?  Torture him too if he doesn’t fess up?  I know he doesn’t have it.  I had him under surveillance the whole time.  I frisked him after he was shot.  What do you know that I don’t?”

“No more than you.”

“Not if you’re suggesting that he’s alive.”  This was an interesting conversation, especially after O’Connell himself told me that Dobbin’s cleaners had come and rescued him, which meant Dobbin definitely knew he was still alive.

The question was, how many lies was she going to tell me.

“You know where O’Connell had his real residence.  When were you going to share that piece in information?”

Silence, then, “How?”

“I saw you there.”

“But…”

I knew what she was going to say, when was I going to share.  When I came back, not intending to find a dead body in the hotel room.

“Had you been in the room when I got back, we were going to have a frank conversation about who you’re working for, but I’ve just had that conversation with Dobbin himself.  No doubt he called you right after he dropped me off.

“He’s not happy.”

“Then that’s on him not trusting people.  You want to have a good hard look at what your options are when we next meet.  I’ll admit I haven’t been doing this very long, but one thing I have learned, is not to trust anyone.

“I suggest we meet up later tonight.  Bear in mind that it will be in an open space for obvious reasons, and quite frankly, I’m not sure how Dobbin thinks this collaboration is going to work.  I’ll text you the place and time.”

It might have been a little unfair to take my concerns about Dobbin out on her.  I’m not sure what I had expected would happen when I took this job on, certainly, the instructors had emphasized that being an agent was very dangerous to our health and that we could, ultimately, trust no one, even those closest to us.  Our world by its very nature was one of mistrust, lies, and deceit, that we would eventually not know who we really were and be doing things we never thought we could.

O’Connell was in the same situation, most likely because people were trying to kill him.  It was a small detail that stuck in the back of my mind.

If Severin and Maury wanted O’Connell alive, and that definitely was the end result of the surveillance operation, to allow the drop then to corral him, why would they have sanctioned his execution in the alley?

In fact, how could they know he would end up in that alley.

The only conclusion I could come up with, Dobbin had put a tracker on him, one that he didn’t know about, and also had surveillance on O’Connell.  It made sense because I was sure there were people in that area that didn’t look like they belonged.

So, a tracker on the USB was being tacked by an unidentified as yet party who no doubt wanted the information themselves, not Severin, and not Dobbin.

I shrugged.  I’m sure there would be more questions before the day was out.

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 50

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on the back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Chasing leads, maybe


Just because you have a security card with your name on it doesn’t mean you are cleared.  Yesterday, maybe, but today?  Anything can happen in 24 hours, much like the political landscape.

When I walked in the front entrance and up to the scanning gate, I was just another employee coming into work.  I ran my card through the scanning device, and the light turned red.

It failed.

In the time it took for me to scan it a second time, a security guard had arrived from the front desk, and a soldier, armed and ready was standing behind me.

I didn’t doubt for one minute he would shoot me if I tried to run.

“What seems to be the problem?”  The security guard was polite but firm.

“My card that scanned the last time and worked, doesn’t seem to work now.”

I could read his expression, ‘you just got fired, and are trying to get back in.”

“Let me try.”

I gave him the card, he looked at it, no doubt to see if there was any damage, then tried it.”

“Have you any other means of identification?”

Now, here’s the thing.  This was the office full of spies and support staff all of whom could be using assumed names, different guises, or just plain secretive with their private information.  Luckily I had a driver’s license with the name on the card, but not much else.

I thought about telling him about the place he was guarding, but I doubted he would listen.

He looked at both, then handed back the license. 

“Come with me over to the counter and we’ll see if we can sort this out.”

It was not a request, nor was I unaccompanied.  I now had a soldier permanently attached to me.

When we all arrived at the desk, he joined another guard behind.

“Who is your immediate superior?”

It was a toss-up between Dobbin and Monica.  Since Dobbin spent a lot of time in his car or appeared to, I said it was Monica.

I watched him search slowly through the phone list until he found her number, then called her.

He had his back to me when they spoke, but it wasn’t for long; after a minute, perhaps two, he replaced the receiver and turned back.

“Ms. Shrive will be down in about five minutes.”  He pointed to a row of chairs against the wall, remnants from the last world war.  “If you would like to wait over there, sir.”

He didn’t hand back my card.

The wait was more like a half-hour, but I had become engrossed in an old copy of Country Life, and an article that made me consider retiring to the country in an old thatch cottage beside a babbling brook somewhere in the Cotswolds.

Until I read the price. 

The arrival of Monica came at a fortuitous moment.  Coming to the desk.

“Nnn, I was hoping you would drop by sooner rather than later.”

“My card doesn’t work.”

“Oh, that’s because we revoked it.”  She held out another in her hand.  “We’ve replaced it with one with better access, or as we say jokingly, you’ve moved up in the pay grade scale.”

I took the card and went to put it in my pocket.

“You need to register your presence, so I’m afraid you’ll have to go out and come back in again.”

I did as she asked, this time greeted by the friendly green light.  The soldier seemed disappointed that I was not free of his attention.  The security guard on the desk had alt=ready forgotten I existed.

“Come.”

I followed Monica to the antiquated elevator, we stepped in, closed the door and she pressed a button for the third and fourth floors.  It seemed creakier than usual this time.

“I’m assuming you have come in to use the computer resources?”

“Yes.”

“Good thing then we upgraded your access level.”

“And is there someone who manages access to CCTV footage?”

“Yes.  Same floor, four.  Her name is Amelia Enders.  Tell her what you need, and she’ll find it.  I assume it will have something to do with the surveillance exercise of yours.”

How could she guess, or had she been already investigating?”

“Come and see me when you’re finished.  I live on the third floor.  Literally.”

The elevator stopped on the third floor with a creak and a thump.

A smile and she headed off down the passage.

If I wasn’t mistaken, she had that cat who ate the canary look, and it worried me.

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

You learn something new every day (1)

And it’s not necessarily something that might be good. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think, but in a strange sort of way it put a few things into perspective.

My brother and I have been delving into the family history, or at least my brother is throwing everything at it, and I’m along for the ride.

I did have a trove of stuff that we found when cleaning out my parent’s house when they moved into aged care, and at the time I didn’t think much of it. It was more about getting them settled than figuring out what was kept.

Now, four or so years later, and having finally received an interim output of the family tree, it’s not so much the forebears that interested me, as it was my parents.

It seems that our looking at our immediate family’s potted lives is like walking through a minefield, riddled with contradictions, rumors, and anecdotal evidence that doesn’t, for the moment, have any hard evidence to back it up. Or at least some have, but that’s not the interesting part.

So, picture this. The extent of my knowledge of my immediate family was that my father is Australian, his mother English, and I’m a second-generation Australian with an English grandparent. It doesn’t sound much, but not so long ago I could have applied for and got an English passport and had dual nationality. Unfortunately, that cannot happen anymore, you have to be one or the other.

My mother’s mother was of English descent and her husband of German descent. It was understood that my grandfather on this side died not long after I was born, though for a long time we were never told how. Only recently it came to light that he had committed suicide, and my brother has a copy of the suicide note he wrote. Morbid, eh? It turns out he thought he had cancer, but didn’t and mistakenly ended his life thinking he might have been a burden on my grandmother.

But now we started digging, getting dates of birth, easy, dates of death, easy, marriage certificates, and parents’ names for this limited dip into history, relatively simple.

But the story, the real aspects of genealogy, is where they went to school, their first job, what the did in the war, that fascinating the story of their lives at different times, that’s where I’m more interested. My brother has the facts, I want to give them a story entwining those facts.

Something that adds some flesh to the story is letters.

Another recent addition to the pile of family documents are the letters between my mother and father before they were married, and the fact my mother had another boyfriend, something we never knew until the great clean up. I have those letters, or some of them too.

Those letters, from him, unfortunately, we don’t have hers, are fascinating, as are those from my father. There is no indication of why there was a breakup with the first boyfriend, but I did learn that my father had gone to an introduction agent by the name of Mrs. J Phillips who gave him her name. What factors had led him down this path?

It was, to me, very Dolly Levi-ish.

I discovered my father worked as a projectionist at the Snowy River hydro-electric project after the war., around 1948. He had spoken of showing pictures at the Athenaeum Theatre in Flinders Street, and the King’s Theatre in Melbourne, but not exactly when, which accounted for his amazing knowledge of Hollywood movie stars. It was, however, as much as he had shared for a long time.

I also discovered that he was in Perth, Western Australia immediately after the war, and then went overseas to England by ship 13th August 1947, arriving in London on 12th September, and stayed at Middlesex with relatives.

Ok, now it gets a little weird because when in Bedfordshire he became engaged to an English girl that he had (apparently) known for 10 years. How this came to pass is still a mystery awaiting an answer. The wedding was supposed to be on 21st December 1947 but never happened, because the marriage was forbidden by her parents because they did not want their daughter to move to Australia, and equally forbidden by his parents because she was Catholic.

Yes. Religion was a breaking point in those days because he was a protestant. He returned, perhaps heartbroken, a year after he left, in April 1948.

I found that for a period of two years there would be enough speculative material to fuel a very lively account of their lives, and particularly his.

My mother, by the way, spent the war years attending Dandenong High School, a steam train ride down from Pakenham to Dandenong. After that, she gained employment in Melbourne, and spend the weekdays at a Ladies Boarding House called Chalmers Hall, in Parliament Place, and going home to Pakenham on the weekends. From a note or two, it seems she was something of a ‘wild’ child who craved doing something with her evenings other than ‘staying in’, with references to her going out with her friends.

My father confessed that he was the family’s black sheep, that he didn’t get along with any of the family, and which was why he was never home and always traveling. He wrote, in one letter of October 1948, that when he got into an argument he got mad and walked out on them, and came back when calm had returned. I assume that meant it might take days, weeks, or even months for the dist to settle.

There were disputes with my father with both his brothers and his parents over marrying my mother, and there were problems between my mother and her parents, to the extent they might not attend the wedding. For a few months of tense silence, there might not have been a wedding at all, but eventually, this happened at Trinity Church, Camberwell, on the 28th of June, 1949.

Wow! It shows that illusions of what might have been their happy day turning out to be moments of high dudgeon. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.

I still have no idea what split her and the original boyfriend, a man she’d known since she was 14, and was from her hometown area, Pakenham. It might have been something she said because there are indications on one of two draft letters that she was prone to speaking her mind, and had a temper which would not have helped in using discretion. I’m guessing a few years of war would make a man lose interest in a high minded, and perhaps a sharp-tongued woman. I suspect we’ll never know.

She is now 93 and has Alzheimer’s and dementia, and unlikely to remember back then.

Similarly, my father is 97 and I doubt sitting down with him would elicit much on the way of a sensible discussion. He was always irascible at best and oddly suffers from PTSD from his war service if that’s still possible. Over the years he was never prone to sharing his past life, except in snippets, and that, some of it was about the war. I guess war did terrible things to the participants back them

And, as for his war service, we have the physical documentation of where and when, but only a potted history of his own account of his service. But even that is a story and a half in itself.

More on that later.

Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 49

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on the back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Chasing leads, maybe


Needing to know more about Severin, aka David Westcott trumped talking to Jan.  As it stood, it was difficult to know where her allegiances lay, with Dobbin, her handler, or someone else.

I hailed a cab and headed back to the office.  I wanted to spend some time on the computer, hoping I had enough clearance to poke around in the departmental records, in particular personnel.

Just as the taxi dropped me outside the anonymous sandstone building, my phone rang.  I doubt it would be Severin again.

“Where are you?”

Jan.

“I do actually have a life, despite what you or Dobbin might think.  I’m not sure I really want to have anything to do with you after what I saw you people do to Maury.  Aside from the fact that you told me he had found the tracker and disposed of it.  Once you start telling lies, there’s no going back.”

“I had nothing to do with that.”

“You were holding him for the interrogation squad.  That makes you complicit.  It also makes me very wary about what Dobbin will do to me if he thinks I know anything, which I don’t.”

“As far as I’m aware, all we have to do is find O’Connell.”

“And what?  Torture him too if he doesn’t fess up?  I know he doesn’t have it.  I had him under surveillance the whole time.  I frisked him after he was shot.  What do you know that I don’t?”

“No more than you.”

“Not if you’re suggesting that he’s alive.”  This was an interesting conversation, especially after O’Connell himself told me that Dobbin’s cleaners had come and rescued him, which meant Dobbin definitely knew he was still alive.

The question was, how many lies was she going to tell me.

“You know where O’Connell had his real residence.  When were you going to share that piece in information?”

Silence, then, “How?”

“I saw you there.”

“But…”

I knew what she was going to say, when was I going to share.  When I came back, not intending to find a dead body in the hotel room.

“Had you been in the room when I got back, we were going to have a frank conversation about who you’re working for, but I’ve just had that conversation with Dobbin himself.  No doubt he called you right after he dropped me off.

“He’s not happy.”

“Then that’s on him not trusting people.  You want to have a good hard look at what your options are when we next meet.  I’ll admit I haven’t been doing this very long, but one thing I have learned, is not to trust anyone.

“I suggest we meet up later tonight.  Bear in mind that it will be in an open space for obvious reasons, and quite frankly, I’m not sure how Dobbin thinks this collaboration is going to work.  I’ll text you the place and time.”

It might have been a little unfair to take my concerns about Dobbin out on her.  I’m not sure what I had expected would happen when I took this job on, certainly, the instructors had emphasized that being an agent was very dangerous to our health and that we could, ultimately, trust no one, even those closest to us.  Our world by its very nature was one of mistrust, lies, and deceit, that we would eventually not know who we really were and be doing things we never thought we could.

O’Connell was in the same situation, most likely because people were trying to kill him.  It was a small detail that stuck in the back of my mind.

If Severin and Maury wanted O’Connell alive, and that definitely was the end result of the surveillance operation, to allow the drop then to corral him, why would they have sanctioned his execution in the alley?

In fact, how could they know he would end up in that alley.

The only conclusion I could come up with, Dobbin had put a tracker on him, one that he didn’t know about, and also had surveillance on O’Connell.  It made sense because I was sure there were people in that area that didn’t look like they belonged.

So, a tracker on the USB was being tacked by an unidentified as yet party who no doubt wanted the information themselves, not Severin, and not Dobbin.

I shrugged.  I’m sure there would be more questions before the day was out.

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 48

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on the back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Chasing leads, maybe


“You haven’t been truthful with me, have you?” 

That was Dobbin’s opening shot once we were in the car and out in traffic.  It was as if he was worried someone would be listening in on our conversation.

“Says the spider to the fly.  Isn’t it the nature of this business not to play all your cards at once?”

“You’ve been in this business all of five minutes.  You don’t get the right to play cards.”

“I’m still alive, no thanks to anyone but my own skill.”

I could see the disdain in his expression, and the annoyance in his eyes.  Perhaps he was a man used to getting his own way.  I was expecting a retort, but he said nothing.

“How many different organizations do you work for, or is it none, and you just have fake IDs to get you in the door?”

“Need to know.  Have you found O’Connell yet?”

“He’s dead.  I saw him killed in an alley.  I’m sure Maury and Severin had him shot, no coincidence they turned up just after he hit the ground.  I searched the body, there was nothing on it.  Before he was shot, he told me to speak to you.  I did.  Anything else I’m doing is for my own protection.  Assigning Jan to befriend me, then play me would have been a good plan if I hadn’t found out.  I know she found O’Connell’s other residence, but I’m willing to bet she found as much as I did nothing.  Your people do that to Maury?”

“In a manner of speaking.  He wasn’t going to talk, and we couldn’t let him back on the street.”

“And knowing that I would go back to the hotel, what were you hoping for, that I would get arrested for his murder?”

“We were hoping you would glean information from her handler, or the police.  Seems both are either tight-lipped, or they know nothing.  Her handler is an incompetent fool.”

“Where is she?”

“Waiting for you at her apartment.  I want the pair of you to find O’Connell.  He either has the information, or he knows where it is.  They found the charred remains of a body in the cafe where the explosion was, a freelance reporter, who, according to his editor, had the story of the century.  No other details, though.”

“That either means military or industrial secrets.  Why would the reporter want to meet with O’Connell?”

“That’s not your concern.”

“Well, you’re wrong if you think O’Connell had the USB.  He didn’t get inside the cafe before it blew up, I know, I was there, and witness the whole event.  You know the drill, he goes past, checking to see if the target is in place, then makes sure the location is clear, then goes back and facilitates the handover.  He only just got past the front when the bomb went off.  I’m sure you’ve seen the CCTV footage.”

Yes, his expression told me he had.

“So how do you come to the conclusion he still has it?”

Never cite logical arguments to a man who lives in a fantasy world.

“Law of averages tells me there is a copy, and O’Connell would have made sure there was a backup plan, and location.”

It then struck me, after having talked to O’Connell, and knowing Dobbin knew O’Connell was still alive because he had rescued him from the alley and Severin’s cleaners.  It was not just a matter of getting him to admit it, and the fact O’Connell had done a runner on him.

“You seem convinced O’Connell is still alive.”

He glared at me.  Truth or dare?

“Because he is.  The trouble is, he’s gone to ground and I can’t raise him.  He was supposed to wait a few days in a safe place while we hunted down Severin and Maury.  We had one, but not the other.  I doubt he’ll surface before he gets word that Severin has been neutralized.  Every hour that information is still out there, is the chance it will fall into the wrong hands, so we need him and the information found.”

“You think he’s gone rogue.”

“I don’t think anything.

The car stopped outside O’Connell’s apartment block.

“Place nice with Jan, and find him and the information.

I got out of the car and watched it rejoin the traffic.

Before heading to the front entrance, my phone rang.  Odd, because only two people knew my number, and it was neither of those two.

Curiosity overcame reluctance to answer.  “Yes.”

“I’m texting a meeting point.  Be there at six.”  The line went dead before I could say anything.  Four hours.

No doubting the voice.  Severin.  And he sounded scared.

I wondered if he knew what had happened to his partner in crime.

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 46

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on the back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Chasing leads, maybe


It was all over in the blink of an eye.  The swat team had secured the scene, zip ties, and shoved me into a corner with two burly men standing over me, guns ready in case I tried to escape.

Before the next wave, I had time to consider what just happened.  Obviously, Dobbin or Jan had set the scene.  She lied about being able to track Maury, they found him, brought him back to the room, tortured him, and then killed him.  The few seconds I had to look at the body showed signs of intense interrogation.

A side benefit was to stitch me up for the crime.  The fact the police were at the door a minute after I’d arrived meant they had been waiting for me to come back.  That pointed to Jan as the informant.

But to what end.  If they considered I was the only one who could find the USB, why let me get caught by the police.

Jennifer would be safe.  She had been in the foyer a full ten minutes before I arrived, and was sitting in a corner when I passed her.  If they knew she was involved, she would have been missing.  Hopefully, she would have seen the swat team arrive, and leave.

A few minutes after the swat leader spoke into his two-way radio, a middle-aged woman and a young man in his late 20’s arrived, the woman first, the young man behind her.  A Detective Chief Inspect, or Superintendent, and Detect Sergeant.  He was too well dressed to be a constable,.  One old, one new.

The young man spoke to the swat leader, the woman surveyed the scene, looked at the body, then at me, shaking her head slightly.

I tried to look anonymous if not invisible.  The fact they had found no ID on me would not count well for my situation, or so I had been told.  Nor was the fact I preferred not to speak.

Never volunteer information.

A nod from her and the two swat guards took several steps back.  She pulled a chair over from the side of the bed, and once three feet away, sat down.

“I’m told you are refusing to answer any questions.”

“Refusing to answer and simply not talking is not the same thing.”

“You do speak.”

“When appropriate.”

“What are you doing here?”

“This is my room, along with a young lady, who as you can see, is not here.  That much you should have gleaned from the front desk.”

She pulled a card out of her pocket.  “Alan, and Alice Jones.  Not your real names I suspect., nor very original.  Do you know who the man on the bed is?”

“He told me his name is Maury, not sure of his first name, but that wasn’t his real name.  His other name was Bernie Salvin, but that might also be a fake.  He was one of two men who were in charge of my training.”

“For what?”

“I suspect it might be above your pay grade.”

If she was shocked at that statement she didn’t show it.  In fact, I would not be surprised if she had suspected it was likely it had to do with the clandestine security services.  Torture victims were not an everyday occurrence, or at least I hoped for her sake they weren’t.

She gave a slight sigh.  “And who do you work for?”

“There’s the rub.  I have no idea.  I’ve just been caught in the middle of a bloody awful mess.”

The second rule is always to tell the truth, or as close to it as possible so you don’t have to try and remember a web of lies, and trip yourself up at later interviews.  And keep it simple.

“So, no one I should be calling to verify who you are?”

“No.  Not unless you can revive the man on the bed.  I’m only new, been on the job after training for about a week.  I was part of a team running a surveillance exercise when a shop exploded and the target disappeared.  I’ve been trying to find out what happened.”

Her expression whanged, telling me she was familiar with the event.

“Do you find out anything?”

“Only that the would be a body in the shop, a journalist, that was trying to hand over some sensitive information.   I have no idea what it was, or who he was.  The target, whom I suspected was there for the handover, is now also dead. So, quite literally, two dead ends.  Do I look like someone who could do that to a man?”  I nodded in the direction of the body.

“You’d be surprised who was capable of what.  Do you have a real name?”

“I do, but I won’t be telling you.  You have my work name, that’s as much as I can volunteer.”

“A few days in a dank hole might change that.”

“A few days in a dank hole would be like a holiday compared to the week I’m currently having.”

She smiled, or I thought it was a smile.  “I daresay you might.”

There was a loud noise and some yelling coming from outside the door.  A man burst into the room, two constables in his wake.

A man I didn’t recognize.

She stood.  “Who are you?”

“Richards, MI5.”  He showed her a card, which she glanced at.  She’d no doubt seen them before.

“We’ll be taking over from here.”

“This person?”  She nodded her head in my direction.

“Leave him.  We’ll take care of him.”

“Johnson, Jacobs, let’s leave the room to them.  We’re done here.  Places to be, gentlemen.”  She nodded in my direction.  “Good luck, you’re going to need it.”

© Charles Heath 2020-2022