Sydney in the mid 90s.
As an investigator somewhere in the Commonwealth Public Service, Phil Danté was accustomed to fantastical telephone calls ranging from informants to the various intelligence and law enforcement organisations he liaised and worked with as well as his demanding superiors. The informative, the improbable. the impossible and the inane...today would be the incredible.
'Mr. Danté, my name is James Browne. I'm briefly visiting Sydney from Hong Kong and I hope I can meet you as soon as possible, either for tea or lunch. I'm not trying to sell you anything, I wish to discuss a matter with you of great importance and discretion. I don't wish to explain any more until I see you. I'm staying at the InterContinental Hotel which I believe is not too far from your office; will the foyer be a suitable place to meet, sir?'
Perhaps it was because the caller pronounced his name correctly, maybe it was his polite but masculine upper class English accent, possibly it was because the nearby InterContinental was a safe, pleasant and respectable place to meet; perchance he was merely curious about the Mystery Man from Hong Kong...
'Lunchtime today is fine...How will I know you, Mr. Browne?'
'I'm wearing a Royal Marines tie and blazer.'
'I haven't seen one of those since ANZAC Day; I'll be looking forward to seeing you at...is "High Noon" all right for you?'
'That's perfect, sir. I'll be sitting in the InterContinental foyer.'
A bootneck. Was he one of his former mercenary commander Hellfire Hugh Williams' mob? Or had they come across each other when he worked for a Private Investigation and Security Service in Hongers? His name wasn't familiar...
Both men wore parachute wings on their lapel.
'You don't need the blazer and tie, Mr. Browne, you're fit and your haircut and shoes pass inspection. What can I do for you?'
He leapt up and replied ecstatically, 'You're quite fit as well, sir!'
Browne was in his early twenties and perfectly fit the image of being on active service as a perfectly fit junior officer. He had a firm handshake, and though he looked happy, he appeared to be continually startled.
Phil had the strangest feeling, a feeling that he couldn't place. Perhaps it was Browne's physical appearance that seemed to mirror his own so long ago...There was a quality black attaché case by his side. He beckoned Phil to sit in the quality comfy chair facing him.
'Mr. Danté, thank you very much for coming. I know your work is important, and I haven't explained why I needed to see you. Before we start, would you like a drink?'
He thought Browne seemed well disciplined, but he appeared to be disguising his being nervous; perhaps the young man's disquietude was giving him his uneasy feeling?
'I'm at the office, so no alcohol during working hours. In the good old days everyone had a liquid lunch. Once women came on board, they became tipsy over one small drink, so we run a dry ship...perhaps a soda water with lime juice.'
Browne signalled a waiter.
The mid-40s Phil faced the younger man with the peculiar feeling inside of him growing stronger and stranger.
His internal unease grew, and it wasn't merely the tidy Mr. Browne's pauses for effect...
'My full name is James Phillip Patterson-Browne...'
Phil had the same time distortion as he had when he did static line parachute jumps; the three seconds between his leaving the aircraft and when his parachute opened lasted a lifetime...
The waiter arrived.
'I think I'd better have a Pusser's Rum, and the hell with the office if you're...'
Mr. Browne signalled 'two' with his fingers and the waiter departed.
'Yes, Mr. Danté, I'm your son from an assignation you had with my mother in Venice.'
'Thank God it's not April Fool's Day, and you look like you're an officer and a gentleman...How on Earth...'
'I had no idea that my father wasn't my biological father. My parents were both schoolteachers, but unlike them I always had an interest in the military from as long as I can remember. It was when we were watching news film on television of your failed coup operation in the eighties that made us laugh watching the person hanging on the barrel of the government tank swinging him around, then when you marched your men to the government general to surrender, my mother gave a cry and dropped the drink from her hand. We had no idea what happened, she was in fine health and wouldn't say what made her do that. It was only following my father's death after I was commissioned that my mother showed me a scrapbook she had made of the operation and filled me in about you.'
'We have a lot to talk about...Mr.-'
'I'd be honoured if you called me "J.P.", sir.'
J.P. produced a photo album from the attaché case and handed it to him. Phil paged through the photos of J.P. growing to manhood and the Royal Marines. There was also the woman he knew as Miss Patterson, with the first photo in the album being of him and her together with her school group that she brought to the budget hotel he was staying at in Venice. The two had had an immediate witty rapport, to his surprise she entered his room with a pass key in the early hours of the morning and...
'I'd love to look at this, but I'd take all day.'
'You can keep that for the rest of your life, sir.'
The waiter brought their drinks, J.P. paid him.
'Thank you very much, J.P.; do you mind if I see your military identification?'
Phil was just as curious to see Bootneck ID as well as seeing some proof of something he instinctively knew to be true; viewing the item made it less phantastical.
'How did you find me and how long are you in Australia for?'
'I'm on my way back to Hong Kong where I'm posted on detached service. I fly back tomorrow, as I didn't know if you would see me. I engaged an Australian Private Investigator who apparently had some fine contacts with your government.'
'How's your mother, J.P.?'
'Very well, thank you, sir. She sends her warmest regards.'
Something so surprising and momentous in his life sounded like a greeting card.
'Let me ring my office to say that I'll be having the rest of the day off on leave, and we'll have some lunch.'
Was it too early for him to call him Dad?
'It's just as well you're flying out tomorrow, J.P.. I don't know what effect that you would have on my wife or daughter, but I do want to introduce you some day, and Hong Kong isn't all that far away.'
The afternoon passed, then the evening, as the two men swapped stories on their lives. J.P. answered all his questions and questioned Phil on his life history and his military misadventures. They spoke as soldiers did, turning their CV into hilarious anecdotes until Phil snapped,
'Why the hell are we swapping war-ies like a couple of when-wes on ANZAC Day? You're my bloody son!'
The pair hugged each other.
* * *
Phil explained his late arrival at home due to some unexpected confidential work, which truly did happen in his current occupation.
How would he break the news to his wife Fran and Grandmama, his live in mother-in-law who when they were at work, was nurse and nanny to their daughter Mish, short for Micheline? This wasn't a job for Superman, but the original Micheline, his maiden Aunt who was his lifelong best friend and confidant. When she arrived to stay in Sydney after her O.A.S. service made her persona non grata at best, an assassination target with the clandestine authorities in France métropolitaine et outre-mer at worst, the pair were immediately taken with each other.
Tatie Micheline was a frequent visitor on weekends and some evenings where they would all play board or card games and converse, not merely talk, together. All of them got along like the best of friends and Mish seemed to be growing as close to Tatie as Phil had. Tatie didn't have to say things; he could see it in her eyes and sense it, like she could about his later military experiences around the world. Each of them could perceive when the other wanted or needed an embrace or an understanding person to talk to; he had the feeling that he was also her true confidant and best friend. He believed that Francesca had confided her own true background to her, as she was just as close to her.
'You have nothing to be ashamed of mon cher; this petite affaire occurred long before you met Francesca. You behaved well to your amoureuse as well; you tried to find her, but you failed. I am surprised of the result of your rendez-vous galant; as you, a man of the world, have always taken...précautions raisonnables...'
'Yes, I am a man of French letters, but as I told you, she unexpectedly came into my room, and my feelings for her took over without thinking.'
'Then you were in love.'
'Is she your age?'
'That's a funny thing. Her students thought I was ten years older than I was, maybe she did as well, James said she's older than me.'
'That proves she knew what she was doing.'
'I've no doubt...but I'm now wondering whether it was just a matter of love, or if she deliberately wanted to...breed...before she married her older husband.'
'C'est extrêmement possible.'
He prepared his next question to her. After working in the extreme hospitality industry to pay off the debts her family didn't know they had following her father's death, Francesca returned to fanatical Roman Catholicism and brought their daughter up in that way. She told him when things were at their darkest in those days her belief in God and her hope of finding the goodness of at least one person in the world kept her going to support her mother in the only well paying way that she could.
Phil believed Francesca was extremely broadminded until after their marriage where the feeling tapered off; it vanished without a trace after the birth of their daughter.
'...how do I tell my family?'
She pensively sipped her tea. Though she was French, she prided herself on her English customs and would, whenever possible, pause for tea in France, Indochina or French North Africa, in the same manner that she performed traditions françaises in Australia.
She took another sip and continued,
'As you once said, "What they don't know won't hurt them." Now, may I be candide with you on a sensitive matter, mon cher?'
'You always have been, Tatie.'
'Your wife is Italian, her mother is Italian as well...une femme Italienne can be a...reine du drame.'
'Yes, I've two drama queens in the house and they're no doubt teaching their little wiles to Mish, so sometimes it's tag team emotions. Women only marry so they have someone to blame.'
'Women marry because they desire une famille stable! You have nothing to gain and everything to lose by revealing this matter at this time. Your wife is as emotionally attached to you as you are to her, and if she thought that there was any other woman in your life, even if it was long before you met her and especially that now there is a demi-frère biologique to Mish, you will have drames san fin. Do not tell her unless it is the last resort...Please...'
'Tatie, you have always thought I was stupide and naive...'
'...but I can't bring myself to have a secret from my wife.'
'Mon merveilleux cher, a couple who really love each other keep secrets from each other because they love each other.'
The Old Flame
Two days later at his office he answered his telephone...there was the unmistakable sound of an international call; he instinctively knew who was calling...
'James told me about your meeting going off so well.'
'He's a fine young man. You must be so proud of him, I am...Isn't it rather late there?'
'It's past one a.m., but I can't sleep...I'm having a cup of tea...'
'So am I! Thank you for the photo album. I'll always treasure it.'
'A picture is worth a thousand words as our Chinese friends would say.'
'Now I can always see James grow up with you right behind him to guide him...I tried to find you when I went to England. I was a private detective there as you thought I was when we first met in Venice. I contacted Sherborne and they said that you were no longer there, you were on your sabbatical...and they didn't know when or if you were coming back. I wondered if they told me that to get rid of me so I stopped my pursuit.'
'No, it was true. I was surprised when I fell pregnant; Gerald still wished to marry me, he couldn't give me children. I thought you had ended up in the French Foreign Legion, and even if I knew where you were, I wouldn't think it proper to see you..."Proper"...I've based my entire life on that word...'
'That's the word that made your Sherborne Commando and I look up to you. You were always braver than I was as well...'
'I find that hard to believe...'
Would it be 'proper' of him to reminisce to her on her entering his room in the wee hours of the morning with a pass key where she wildly made love to him?
'James said he told you about our seeing you surren-coming in second place on the television. You were impressively marching your soldiers like you marched my girls in Venice and I nearly fainted...I'm glad you didn't come to me. Like Errol Flynn you would've fought for me with your sword in your hand and carried me off over your shoulder, though I've gained a bit of weight since then...'
'James gave me your address, I've just written you a letter and posted you a photo of myself with my wife and daughter, and my Aunt the schoolteacher who reminds me of you.'
'Thank you...I knew you were a gentleman when I first met you. You stood up to respectfully speak to me and called me "Ma'am". I had my opinion confirmed by your behaviour with one of my wayward girls.'
They both laughed.
'Clarissa knew where she was going; it was an honour to chaperone her Venetian Holiday and make some of her dreams come true then take her back to the fold, still in mint condition. I'm so glad you understood and believed that.'
'She's a teacher herself now, and she has lovely but adventurous daughters.'
They laughed again.
'Have you told your wife about James?'
His pause before answering travelled all the way to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and told her all she needed to know...
'My wife's Italian, though she's South African born and bred, so that makes her more..."professional Italian" then the easy going Italians we met when we were there. She's very conservative and set in her ways; she can go off like a hand grenade. We met just before I went on the operation. She wrote to me every day, and when I came back we married each other...'
Her silence encouraged him to carry on,
'When I was in Vietnam and elsewhere and things go hot, I'd tell myself I had nothing to live for; that and the desire to not look bad in front of my men let me override my common sense and self-preservation instinct.'
'Now you finally have something worthwhile you dare not risk? You're very proper in your own way as well; you just won't admit it.'
'You've always seen through me, Pat, from the word go...'
What could he say except the truth?
'I loved you then and I love you now, but I love my wife. Maybe it's best we're a world apart, but if our son gives me enough warning when he returns, I'll break it to her and introduce them. I couldn't have had a finer son and he couldn't have had a finer mother. I was surprised at James' middle name...'
'I insisted on that. Gerald only knew that the name was from a long gone friend of the family, which you have been...'
'Thank you, Ma'am.'
She warmly laughed, but she paused before replying,
'I'm on the verge or remarrying. Nigel is about as exciting as Gerald was, both of them ...academics...You had more excitement then the both of them together in one of your quips and the way you moved when they dressed you up in that waiter's uniform as if you were bottled in Bond.'
'Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, as the girls sang.'
'Anyway, Nigel was friends with Gerald and I don't think he'd understand our true relationship and James' real father. As I'm now a headmistress...'
She felt his heart sink...
'May we exchange correspondence?'
'I'd be honoured, Pat.'
'Your destiny wasn't in England, it was in Africa, and now you're back in Australia.'
'I used to work my way around the world, now my work has the world come around to me.'
She laughed, 'I would never imagine you to be a public servant.'
'Neither does the public service.'
'James informed me that you told him you're well looked after...we both married late...'
'Then the time flew by....'
'La Agrodolce Vita...I'll never forget Venice...'
'I never will either...You're still in my heart, Pat.'
'You'll always be in mine as well...au revoir, my love,.'
'Au revoir, Pat.'
She rang off.
He finally realised that he never knew her first name...
Author Notes: I'm just back from my annual autumn holiday in Tasmania and my batteries are recharged!