. . . something odd and unwelcome happened . . . I withdrew
my hand in a quick, impetuous movement . . .
His name was Patrick Gallagher. I met him in my mid-20s more than 50 years ago, when I was alone in Cyprus, on ten days leave from my regiment in Egypt. The hotel was perched on a cliff outside Boghaz, a dozen miles up the east coast from Famagusta. It had only a few spartan bedrooms, a small, barely patronized restaurant and a lounge that was open to a big stone terrace with a view of the Mediterranean. I’d had a late dinner and sat reading in the lounge in a deep wicker chair. It was dusk, and the proprietor had lit the lamps. There was nobody else staying in the hotel that early in the season.
Gallagher walked in and nodded to me in silent acknowledgment. He was a tall, bony man, with sad deep eyes, thinning red hair and a slight stoop. The manager seemed to know him well, and they conversed in Greek. He ordered a cognac and took a seat across the room. I had no doubt he was English; his khaki drill pants, suede desert boots, service style shirt and an Ascot made this obvious. Besides, he was carrying a copy of the Manchester Guardian Weekly.
Far from home, I’d have welcomed a chat with a fellow Brit, or with anyone, for that matter, but he seemed absorbed by his newspaper. I returned to my book and was thinking of going to bed when he looked up and spoke.
“What are you reading?”
I closed the book and held the cover up to him.
“Evelyn Waugh. ‘Men at Arms,’ It’s only just come out.”
“Like it?” he asked.
“So did I,” he said. “I’d guess you’re a military man yourself.”
He came over and held out his hand.
It turned out that he was a retired army colonel. After World War II he’d settled in Cyprus, where he’d served in the Intelligence Corps ten years earlier. He was on the board of Cyprus Airways and one or two other local companies.
I guessed he was in his mid-fifties, which would have made me twenty-four, and a mere lieutenant at the time, thirty years his junior. He was widely read and had interesting views, but an attentive listener. At that age, with few profound opinions about anything, I was interested in books and writers, and flattered when he asked what I thought about this and that. We found we were both Catholics, and he talked interestingly about Waugh, Greene, Joyce, Wilde and others who’d been influenced in widely different ways by Catholicism. He seemed to have a special affection for Wilde, and often quoted him.
We talked for an hour or two, quickly becoming open and intimate in that way that can happen when two expatriates meet, isolated from their own world. Although our ages were different, we found we had much in common. We’d both graduated from Sandhurst, Britain’s only military academy, shared the same tastes in the arts, and political affiliations.
During the evening he showed deep concern about a recent upsurge in terrorist action in Cyprus. It was April, 1955, and Archbishop Makarios was pressing for enosis, union with Greece. Several British-owned properties had been burned down, and bombs had exploded in bars and clubs in Nicosia, killing British soldiers. There were rumors that George Grivas, the Greek partisan who’d harassed the Nazis in occupied Greece, was already training guerillas in the Troodos Mountains.
Before we went home, after a couple of drinks for the road, he shook my hand.
“When are you going back to Egypt?”
I told him I had just two more days.
“Oh, right,” he said. “You must come and have dinner with me before you go. What are you doing tomorrow night?”
I apologized, explaining that I’d met a girl in Famagusta. Tomorrow would be my last chance to see her, since she’d be unavoidably away in Beirut on my last day.
He laughed, uneasily, I thought. “You’re a fast worker. Is she beautiful?”
I said she was indeed beautiful, and felt myself blushing.
“She’s pretty special,” I said. “Her name’s Carmina. Her mother’s Venezuelan and her father’s American.”
“And you’re in love?”
I shrugged, unable to express myself.
“Well, you know how it is.”
“Yes,” he said. “I know how it is.”
We arranged to meet for dinner on my last evening on the island. Before he went home, he drew a map showing how to get to his house, which was somewhere in the hills behind the hotel.
I forgot Gallagher for all of the next day, driving in my rented car to Famagusta to see Carmina. We sailed alone down the coast in her father’s boat, swam in sea as clear as tap-water, and lay together in the warm spring sun in a deserted, sandy bay near Cape Greco. Later we found a taverna where they broiled fresh red mullet on charcoal, and served jugs of retsina from oak casks. By the time I returned to the hotel next morning I was utterly entranced by Carmina. I began to feel the wrench of leaving her in Cyprus, little knowing that, in only a few months, my battalion would be sent to the island for two whole years.
The next day alone at the hotel passed slowly. I swam, read my book, did some packing to save time the next morning, and had a leisurely lunch. With Carmina away in Beirut, I began to look forward to the company of Patrick, my new friend.
Around six that evening I drove to his home, along a rocky winding road about a mile from the sea. A handsome single-story house, with sky-blue shuttered windows and a long balustraded porch, it stood on a slope carpeted with blood-red anemones, brought out by the spring rains. A few spindly pines stood around the house to give it shade in the arid Cyprus summer.
Gallagher sat on the porch waiting for me. A brindle bull terrier crouched on the floor at his feet, and growled as I came up the steps. Gallagher rose to meet me and shook my hand warmly, bending to pat the dog.
“This is Hannibal. He’s quite harmless. Too bloody harmless, under the circumstances -- I expect you’ve heard the news.”
“No,” I said. “What’s happened?”
On the table in front of him was a bottle of wine in a cooler, and two glasses. He filled my glass and topped-up his own, offering me a chair.
“They’ve shot a Brit in Ayios Elias. A retired Army man, like me.”
“How far away is that?”
Gallagher thumbed over his shoulder. “Three miles back there. No distance at all.”
“What are you going to do?”
“There’s not a lot I can do.”
Then, as though deliberately changing the subject, he added “Let me show you around the place.”
The house was much bigger than it seemed from outside. The furniture was mostly locally-made, but elegant. There were several fine eighteenth century English paintings and some good porcelain pieces in the big living and dining rooms, in both of which were tall book-cases filled to the ceiling.
Something odd and unwelcome happened while we toured the house. We were standing in his bedroom, looking out at the sea, when he slipped his hand into mine and squeezed it. He went on talking about the house as though nothing had happened. I withdrew my hand with a quick, impetuous movement, and stepped away from him. Suddenly confused, he muttered something that I took to be an apology.
“It’s . . . it’s a beautiful house.” I said after a few moments.
“It is, isn’t it?” he said. “Too damned beautiful for me to run away and leave to these savages.”
The atmosphere was chilly for the next few minutes, and at dinner I noted he’d set our places at opposite ends of his long dining room table. He served a simple local meal: dolma, vine leaves stuffed with rice, mint and minced lamb; aphelia, a casserole of tender pork with red wine and coriander seeds, and a dessert of fresh fruit. He spoke disdainfully about Cyprus’s own wines, and we drank a light red Bordeaux.
He was much less talkative now than he’d been two evenings ago. Was he shamed by my unspoken rejection of his approach before dinner, or disturbed by the news of fresh violence on his doorstep? I searched in my mind for a topic that might revive the conversation.
“You’re a sitting duck out here,” I said, “You need to do something to make this place safer.”
Gallagher was decanting a bottle of port.
“I’ve been thinking about that, naturally,” he said, pausing to pour the wine. “The nights worry me most. The bastards could get right up to the house without my hearing them. You’re more up-to-date with these things than I am. Any ideas?”
We talked about reinforcing the doors, barring the windows, and setting-up a radio link with the village police station. We even discussed the possibility of his abandoning the house and moving into a better-protected building in Nicosia or Famagusta. He was cool about all these things, especially any suggestion that he should, as he put it, “run away from the enemy.”
“I’d settle for a basic early warning system,” he said, “something that’d make Hannibal bark and wake me up. How could we do that?”
I had an idea, though basic it was.
“Do you have a workshop here?” I asked.
He led me to a shed at back of the house, where we emptied a little pile of nails, nuts and bolts from a collection of old coffee cans onto a workbench. Then we punched holes in the empty cans and put just two or three pebbles in each, stringing them between the trees. The theory behind this Rube Goldberg contraption was that, if anyone were to approach the house in the dark, the loose pebbles would rattle in the cans, waking the dog.
We talked and joked as we worked, our mutual discomfort and tension forgotten. Back in the house we toasted our ingenuity with port. When we parted that night he thanked me at the door. His handshake was firm and brisk. He promised he’d write when I was back in Egypt.
* * *
Gallagher never wrote. Almost three months later, the situation in Cyprus had become so serious that my battalion was sent into action there. For the first few months, armed only with shields and batons, we found ourselves face-to-face with rioters in the narrow streets of Nicosia. The crisis was escalating; every few days an Army truck was blown-up and its occupants killed on the lonely roads out to the Troodos Mountains, or the asbestos mines in Morphou. Much worse was to come as the Greek Cypriot population rallied behind Archbishop Makarios and his campaign for union with Greece.
I didn’t seek out Gallagher. On the rare occasions when I had a few hours off duty I spent them with Carmina. But late one night in October I heard news of him by the most remarkable and unlikely means. I was attached to the staff of COSDO, the office of the Chief of Staff and Director of Operations. Sitting in a trailer, my colleagues and I were collecting and acting on reports of incidents that came in by radio and telephone from Army units and police stations all over the Island.
That night, amid the babble of voices and the buzzing and ringing on the lines in that smoke-filled vehicle, I heard Gallagher’s name. The message was indistinct, coming and going over the ether. But it described, in detached, matter-of-fact detail, his murder by men with shotguns at the house outside Boghaz. There was mention of a dog, and a “home-made warning device made out of tin cans.”
But there was a revealing postscript in The Times of Cyprus two days later. A brief report claimed that Gallagher’s death had not been a political crime, but a “domestic” one. It alleged that “unidentified assailants” had killed him, “in revenge for his alleged abuse of young men and boys in and around the village of Boghaz.”
* * *