The Ghost of Timor – Ch.10 – Stay

I don’t care what people may say, I know everybody lies
I’m not trying to hurt my love, I’m only trying to get by.”

Chris Issak

I remember the events of that day as if they only happened yesterday. I never had to write them down until this moment as the whole episode has stayed with me for the last 20 years.

The day started out as so many had in past few months. I awoke in the darkness of my little electronic cave to the muffled sounds of vehicle’s engines rumbling to life and occasional shouting by some overzealous non-commissioned officer.

As per my routine, once I had brewed a coffee and made myself presentable, I poked my head out the door on the pretext of letting some fresh air into my office but really to check for any gifts that had been left for me in the wee hours of the previous night. As luck would have it there was another oddly shaped package wrapped up in sandbag on the stoop.

I nodded and exchanged small talk with any passers-by who happened to make eye contact and acknowledged their good-natured jibes of “Spook,” “Spooky” or even “Spookster.” It is very Australian thing to shorten people’s surnames as a sign of affection, but you know that the moment you have really found a place in their hearts is when they give you a nickname.

Once I’d completed my usually pleasantries, I collected my gift and headed back inside to examine it. Again, it was a present from my secret arms supplier. This time he had left me a shoulder holster for a pistol. I assumed that it was for me to hold the SIG that he had left earlier but I thought that I should still try it in to see if it fit. I returned to the back end of my cave and retrieved the pistol from where I had hidden it. I didn’t want anyone even remotely accidentally stumbling across this highly illegal item, so I had buried it in the bottom of a padlocked pelican case which itself was on the bottom of a stack of empty yet identical cases. I reasoned that if I had to get to it quickly, I would be able to throw the other cases to the ground in a heartbeat but that no one else would have reason to go rummaging around in a stack of locked cases and stumble across it by accident.

I found that the pistol fit snugly into the holster and, as I had never used one before, decided to try it of for size. With a little adjusting I was able to get it to fit me, but it still felt odd having it on. I should have put it away immediately but when you have a shoulder holstered pistol on for the first time in your life there is only one thing to do. Take it out for a test draw.

I was well versed enough in weapons safety, having had it drummed into me for 10 years whilst I was in the army, that I wasn’t about to stupidly shoot myself in the foot while I was playing around with an illegal firearm in a highly classified secret government facility. I made sure that the SIG was unloaded, twice, before I started to do my best silent Dirty Harry impersonation. The first few tries were difficult, and I was glad that I had unloaded it as I was sure that I had accidentally squeezed the trigger on at least two occasions.

But I finally got the hang of it and thought that if I was suddenly accosted by an unarmed umbrella stand in the next 24 hours that I would have a 50-50 chance of outdrawing it. But so focused had I become on my practice that I failed to hear the door to my vault opening or the quiet voice calling out my name from the doorway. It was stupid of me to take such a risk, but I had reasoned that at that hour of the day no one was about to come calling and even less likely to intrude on my secret residence at the back of my vault.

So I was mortified when I heard a female voice behind me and do her deepest Homer Simpson impersonation and sing, “Mr Plow, that’s my name. My name again is Mr Plow!”

I spun around immediately to see Sally standing before me with her biggest shit-eating grin on her face. I was dumbstruck, not knowing which crime I should attempt to deny first, the security breach or the possession of an illegal firearm. I was so panicked that my mouth was just about to start working before my brain had had a chance to think when Sally struck first.

“You know, I had a dream about this exact situation last night,” she said matter-of-factly. “But in my dream you weren’t wearing any pants!”  

I know it sounds ridiculous to say now that didn’t immediately pick up on that come-on comment, but I didn’t. First, I was in a state of apoplexy, having just been caught holding a firearm and failing to secure a classified facility. Second, I was so used to Sally’s tongue in-cheek manner that I could hardly tell the difference of when she was joking and when she was not. And last, Sally was married. Only fairly recently too. She would occasionally mention her husband in conversion-he was in the navy-but never in the blushing bride tones that you might expect from one newly betrothed. He just seemed to be there, somewhere, in her life.

After starring like a deer in the headlights for what seemed like an eternity I was suddenly struck by inspiration and blurted the only thing I could think of to defuse this situation I found myself in. Having been raised in an age when television and film were easily available but still not saturating the entire fabric of society as it does today, I could readily quote many films and tv that I had watched on repeat ad nauseam. Channelling my best Billy Connolly impersonation, I used his line on how he might explain being caught masturbating.

“I was, er, just counting my willies!”

Sally looked at me in disbelief for a second as she went red in the face. I was half expecting her to explode when she burst out laughing. She laughed so hard that tears were rolling down her cheeks and she seemed to be having trouble breathing. About ten seconds later she was down on all fours and moments after that she was holding her stomach and rolling on the floor in pain. I fared no better, a good belly ache is quite infectious, and was soon in the same state, laughing at the laugh more than at the actual joke.

We were rolling about on the floor laughing for the better part of ten minutes before we finally regained our composure. As she got to her feet Sally told me that the reason she had come in in the first place was to see if she could borrow my terminal that evening to send a few emails. She had all the correct clearances, so I was okay with her jumping on to the computer to do whatever she wanted. The bonus being that as it was her official log on, I wouldn’t have to monitor her the whole time.

Keeping up my improvised Scottish accent from earlier I replied, “Aye lassie.”

“Say that again, ” she said.

“Aye lassie.”

Sally rolled her eyes in mock ecstasy and smiled, “I just came over all a quiver at your accent.” She picked up her backpack from the floor and turned to face me. “Never do it again.”

She smiled as she turned and with that she was gone.

It wasn’t till after dark that she returned. I had just finished eating in the mess and was walking back to my container kept company by the usual crowd and passers-by chanting their all too familiar refrain of, “Spooky,” as I encountered them. If it upset me I daren’t say anything lest I cop it 100 times worse.

When I arrived back Sally was waiting by the door chatting to another member of the task-force. I could never tell if she knew all the people she was talking to-the ADF was a small organisation-or if she was just being friendly. Sally made friends very easily. I gave her and her companion a smile and let her know that she was welcome to come in when she was ready, her companion signaling his acknowledgement with a sly, “Spooks.”

I opened up my office one last time that evening to see if there were any official messages for me action or any unofficial ones that I had to deliver. There were a couple of messages to print off so I did that and packaged them up in the usual sealed envelopes for delivery in the morning. I had just finished the last one when Sally came in. We had a quick chat about our days and then I logged off the computer so that she could set about her business.

“I wont be long,” she said. “Don’t go to sleep yet though. I’ve bought a little surprise for after.”

“Does this little surprise require ice?” I asked, hoping for the best.

“Yes, yes it does.”

I left her alone to her emails, which was strictly against the rules, but knew that she couldn’t do anything bad even if she had wanted to as all the secret stuff was securely locked up and I held the key. I wondered over to the mess and picked up some ice from the newly imported ice machine and a 12 pack of coke-colas. I made the right choice because the first thing that confronted me upon opening the door was a bottle of Sally’s drink of choice; Southern Comfort.

“How are you going?” I inquired, eager to get at the drink.

“I’m just in a chat with John. He’s out on one of the ships offshore. He’s so bored. After that I have to send one more message and then we can chat.”

I took the liberty of making us both a drink while she chatted to her husband. I clearly didn’t mix it to suit her taste because she took one large sip and grabbed the bottle and topped up the Southern again.

“What kind of cheap date do you think I am?” She teased indignantly. “I’m a lady!” And with that she burped as loudly as she could. She giggled at her own joke and drink came out of her nose which only made her laugh more.

I topped up my own drink and settled down into a chair and started reading the next chapter in my book of Flashman. I had discovered the Flashman novels a month earlier and had read the first four already. I was just marking the page of Flashman in the Great Game when Sally stopped typing and announced that she was finished.

We started chatting and before we realised it we had finished half the bottle. We were a little tipsy but, due to the caffeine, both wide awake and not the least bit sleepy. That of course only spurred us on to more talking and drinking and before we knew it was well past midnight.

We did have things that we had to do in the morning, Sally especially has she was a serving member of the military, so we knew that we couldn’t keep on drinking until the dawn. But like all adults, we had both turned up to work drunk and hung over before so we knew that we could soldier on if worse came to worse. Still it was time to stop. I was about to pull my shoes on and get ready to escort Sally home when she put her hand on my arm and said, “Do you mind if I sleep here tonight?”

I was a little drunk and I could never quite tell when she was making a joke. Added to that was the fact that Sally was very married and had just spent the better part of the night in a chat channel with her husband who was in warship some miles off the Timor coast at that very minute. So the ball didn’t drop for me immediately and I said of course she could. I began to think about pulling out my spare camp bed and setting it up in the other room so that I could sleep.

I rummaged around for minute trying to sort myself out but when I turned around Sally had disappeared. I was confused so called out to her.

“I’m in here,” she said from my bedroom, “but I have a problem.”

Wondering if a spider had made its way inside again or there weren’t enough sheets for two beds I pulled back the curtain and entered the room to immediately see what she was talking about.

“I hope you don’t mind,” she said standing before me, “but I didn’t bring my pyjamas.”

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