Interview with William Cryer
Interview with William Cryer
The choice of location for her interview with the ex-Foreign Office representative was a difficult one. Eventually he had suggested the Lyons Tea Rooms located in the heart of the shopping district if the Compound.
She was not particularly concerned for her own reputation. She had been in far more compromising positions than afternoon tea with a single gentleman in a public place.
He was seated at the table and stood as she approached. Tall but not excessively so; considerate in manner as he assisted her into her seat; and authoritative without bluster as he caught the attention of the waitress so they could give their order.
“Kind of you to see me, Mr Cryer,” she said as she extracted her notebook and pencil—so much more reliable than a pen.
He sat back comfortably into the seat. “I’m not sure I understand why you want to talk to me, Miss Churchill,” he said as the waitress arranged their cups and the teapot on the table, then brought over a selection of cakes.
“You can’t beat a proper cup of tea, can you?” she said. “And so hard to come by in the colonies.”
He waited for her to make the first selection, and she took the Battenburg. It was not an idle choice. The way his eyes followed the cake assured her that her information had been correct, his young lady liked Battenburg. He selected a macaroon.
“I understand that Lyons maintains their own dairy herd in the vicinity,” she said into the silence.
He glanced out of the window and down two floors to the street. “One might think we were in some English city,” he said, “save for the people.”
She looked. The masses passing to and fro consisted perhaps one quarter Europeans, the rest were Sinhalese, Indian, Chinese, African and who knew what else. The Compound was more cosmopolitan than any other part of the empire.
“You were of quite modest birth.”
“My parents were commoners if that’s what you mean?” Which was a comment about her own rather more exalted birth—though not as exalted as people thought. Her father was the fourth son. He might have been a “Lord” but his title was not hereditary. And her mother was an American, which had never gone down well.
“You chose not to go into the family business?”
“I have an older brother,” he said, it was clear his heart was not in this, but then neither was hers. “He can take care of the brewing business without me.”
“Educated at Manchester Grammar School,” she said looking at her notes. “Open to all regardless of background.”
“If you’re clever enough,” he said. “My parents paid the full fees, since they were able.”
“Then you went to the Victoria University in Manchester and studied Philosophy.”
“I am no scientist, Miss Churchill,” he paused, “and this is not news.”
She turned the page in her notepad, hiding her research notes and presenting a blank page. “You are quite right, Mr Cryer. From university you joined the Foreign Office and were posted here. All set for a long and successful career.”
He did not answer but instead took a sip from his tea cup, eyeing her over its white and blue pattern.
“On a return trip from London, you met Maliha Anderson and, within a year, you resigned your position.”
He gave her a measured look. “Can I refer you to my earlier comment?”
She smiled. “I do not think the simple matter of employment is covered by the Official Secrets Act.”
“I prefer to stay on the right side of the law.”
“And then, almost immediately, you disappeared completely,” she said, “turning up unexpectedly, months later, in your fiancée’s home town.” He took a sip of tea and said nothing. “Coincident with British military manoeuvres in the French-owned territory.”
“I didn’t see that in any newspaper,” he said.
“My sources are reliable, Mr Cryer.”
He was infuriating, without even the slightest betraying flicker in his eyes. This was not the man she thought she was meeting, all the reports said he was quite malleable—certainly Miss Anderson had him wrapped around her little finger.
“Are you in love with Maliha Anderson, Valentine?”
He almost dropped the macaroon. She was glad that piece of information was accurate, at least.
“My friends call me Bill,” he said. “Only one person calls me that. And, with respect, I do not count you as one of the former and you most certainly are not the latter. And since you ask, yes, I have loved her since we first met. Why would we be engaged otherwise?”
“And you do not mind that her maid is hijra?”
She had been hoping for either shock or outrage—she had certainly been shocked when she found out—but he expressed only self-possessed indifference. She persisted. “Your wife-to-be has a man as her personal maid.”
“I find Amita to have excellent taste and to be very efficient. She is an excellent maid and, as it happens, she saved my life on one occasion,” he said plainly. “I find your line of questioning confusing, Miss Churchill. Are we talking about my career, my intended, or her maid? What is it you really want?”
She opened her bag and removed a folded sheet of paper. She held it out to him. He brushed the crumbs from his fingers and took it. He unfolded it and looked at the picture. She studied his face, looking for a sign. Did he pause slightly overlong?
“What is this?” he said as he dropped the drawing on the side of the table. The curious oblong construction that might have been mistaken for a very large railway coach, except it lacked for wheels.
“You’ve seen one,” she said. “Don’t lie, I saw it in your face.”
He frowned. “I believe this interview is at an end.”
Winifred closed her eyes and forced herself to calm. She looked at him. “My apologies, Mr Cryer. I’m afraid I misspoke.”
He settled back into the chair. “Is this important to you?”
She smiled. “I believe you could say that. Every investigating journalist has their pet project. I suppose this is mine. There have been sightings of this flying vessel from time to time. I have been looking for its origin.”
He picked up the sheet once more and looked at it. Then he refolded it and handed it back. “I’m sorry, Miss Churchill, I can’t help you.”
“I need to know what you know.” She knew she sounded pathetic, pleading almost.
He pulled out his pocketwatch, flipped it open and studied it for a moment. “I have to go.”
He hesitated, waiting for her to stand so that he could, but she remained firmly seated. He sighed. “Miss Churchill. I honestly recommend that this is something you do not pursue. Find a different pet project.”
Then he stood, gathered up his coat and walked away.