Thursday, January 27, 2011

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Sixty: water boy

(Click here for our previous episode; go here to return to the dimly-remembered beginning of our epic.)

Never fear, our author Larry Winchester will eventually remember to return to his lead characters (currently partaking of a Native American peyote ceremony), but now he turns the mighty Panavision camera of his prose to a character last seen poking dubiously around in Dick’s old office in the basement of the Pentagon...


Ladies and gentlemen, we give you:



Captain Alexis J. Pym, Q Section, US Navy, the only passenger in a C-130 high above the clouds en route to New Mexico, leafed through Dick Ridpath’s dossier, feeling for a clue, a hint, some meaning. He knew the dossier by heart (having pretty much assembled it himself) but he pored through the pages anyway. For four years he had followed Dick’s movements, all the time searching for some pattern.

In Ridpath’s first few months back on civvy street he had evinced little interest in pursuing any particular career. He shared a shabby loft in Greenwich Village with an artist friend. He underwent analysis with Dr. Theodor Reik and acupuncture with a certain Dr. Xu. He took up the Chinese discipline of chi kung. He spent a lot of time with the MacNamara girl, frequenting jazz clubs and going to foreign films. He accepted occasional job offers which utilized some of his unusual skills; these offers came unsolicited and by way of relationships he had forged in his naval career. In May of ‘65 he helped coordinate a successful Filipino raid on a pirate base in the Sulu sea. That summer he set up an internal security system for the Sandoz company in Switzerland, and in September of that year he ferreted out a double agent from the ranks of MI6 in less than two weeks.

Then he married Daphne MacNamara and the at least somewhat predictable pattern of the dashingly efficient agent-for-hire had broken up. Ridpath made it known to anyone who contacted him that he was simply no longer interested in any sort of military or intelligence work.

Thenceforth there was no pattern, not unless a laughably absurd series of commercial misadventures and near disasters could be called a pattern. Not unless the lack of a pattern could be called a pattern.


Pym had not actually seen Dick in person since that week he had spent interrogating him, well, say it, torturing him, back in February 1965.

He had always secretly admired Dick, had even perhaps had a sort of schoolboy crush on him (although Pym was no faggot, God damn it...)

Pym had been warming the bench in his capacity as water boy when Dick scored that winning touchdown in the 1950 Army/Navy game, and that had pretty much been the story of Pym’s subsequent career. He had jockeyed a desk in san Diego while Dick was oh-so-nonchalantly winning the Navy Cross in Korea. And after Dick transferred from the UDTs to Naval Intelligence, Pym had begged him to get him into intelligence also, and Dick had done this favor for Pym, but Dick was always the field operator while Pym was the one who got to edit his reports. And it had been the same when Pym followed Dick like a faithful dog into the newly-formed Q Section...


Q Section had never actually “officially’ existed. It had come into being out of the turbid mists of the Cold War and the McCarthy era, and its civilian and military personnel were nominally employed by the fictitious entity known as the “Naval Office of Comparative Statistics”. Pym wasn’t quite sure where the phrase “Q Section” came from. Was it Q for Quigley, Admiral Quigley, the founding Chief? So one might think, but then again Admiral Quigley had a framed sampler on his office wall which read “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Pym had looked the phrase up and it meant “Who shall keep watch over the guardians?”

Supposedly the section had been okayed by President Eisenhower during one of his famous golf games with Admiral Quigley. Apparently the admiral and the ex-general (who had been friends since the invasion of North Africa in 1942) were not entirely happy with the CIA’s hegemony over American intelligence, and so the CIA was not informed of Q Section’s existence. Of course if the CIA boys had had any real intelligence they might have thought it a little odd that a man of Dick Ridpath’s calibre had been transferred from the field section of the Office of Naval Intelligence to an obscure statistical department. But that was the CIA for you. They were always requesting Dick’s services anyway, since so many of their own agents were such incompetent blunderers. Little did they know that Dick’s status as an occasional special agent for the CIA enabled him to keep the Admiral informed on all the latest CIA skullduggery, and this information influenced to some extent Q Section’s own investigations and operations.

Q Section’s offices were a maze of former broom closets and storage rooms in a sub-basement of the Pentagon and were known to everyone in Q Section only as “the warren”. On Pym’s first day Dick had taken him around and very nicely introduced him to everyone, and then Pym hadn’t even seen him again for almost six months.

That pattern was set. He had had to stay in that cramped little windowless warren while Dick got to spend a year in a dojo in Yokohama, another year in a monastery in the Himalayas. Dick was the one who got sent to Easter Island, to Cuba, to Haiti. He was the one who got to take LSD with Cary Grant and mescaline with Aldous Huxley. He was the one who got to be “special consultant” on that frogman movie with Robert Mitchum and Rock Hudson and Diana Dors. Always Ridpath who was being sent out on some mysterious operation that only the Admiral and Dick knew the details of.

And when Dick got back from a mission the old Admiral always took him to lunch at the Colony or the Shoreham, and according to warren scuttlebutt, to a rather exclusive bordello in Georgetown which catered only to the absolute highest echelons of military and government service.

The old Admiral had never once taken Pym to lunch. (It was true that the Admiral had once, upon returning from the Philadelphia Naval base, offered Pym half of a day-old hoagie; Pym had accepted the sandwich but had never quite decided if this offer was a feather in his cap or an insult.)

And who could ever forget the day when Dick was invited to make up a fourth at golf (along with the Admiral and Dick’s future father-in-law Mike “Mac” MacNamara) with none other than President Eisenhower? Not only that but Dick had won the round (and, reportedly, ten bucks from the president).



(To be continued. An Arthur Rank Production.)

4 comments:

Old 333 said...

Fun stuff. thanks, dan.

Dan Leo said...

Yer welcome, Triple Three!

kathleenmaher said...

Love the spies spying on spies; hate to think of Dick being tortured.
Turbid: I had to look it up--great word. I've liked the Helen Shapiro songs you've posted before but this was the best. Pym and the half-eaten hoagie: ha.

Dan Leo said...

As usual, Kathleen, Larry endeavours to give satisfaction!