Thursday, October 28, 2010

Beginning An Old Spy Yarn ... Sheritt A Spy Story


The turn of the century has come and gone. As I write this we are well into 2008, my children have grown and gone off, each having the lives they want for themselves and hopefully getting to do, in some measure, what it was that I got to do. I have extended family that stretches from Australia, through South Africa and across Europe and North America. My business now has nothing to do with my early years during the decade of the 1970’s. Today I am a therapist and help people sort through their life’s conundrums. But when I was young I had a different life, I had a different dream about what I wanted to do and I was fortunate enough to get a chance to lead that life for a space in time.

It was a life where up was down and what you saw was not what was there to be seen. It was very tricky; it was a confined little world; it was very slippery, and could be deadly at times. It was filled with smoke and mirrors and it could have prolonged periods of boredom that could drive you up the wall to the point of distraction and then shift gears suddenly to flood you with a few brief moments of sheer terror so intense that you would wish to hell that you had never ever got yourself in ‘this position’ in the first place. For a young man of my age... mid 20’s, this was the place to be. For those romantics out there it had the combined attraction of being the leading edge in both mystery and mystique.

I was in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Security Service and I got to do what I had dreamt about doing all through my teen years. Ian Fleming’s 007/Bond books intrigued me to no end during my high school years. From Fleming I forged on into all the facets of spy vs. spy. If it came down to a push comes to shove, then either Len Deighton or John le CarrĂ© write the best trade craft.

Reading and daydreaming about the cloak-and-dagger world that they wrote about held my focus through that entire phase of my growing up. It was a world I longed to get into but a world that I had no idea where the entry point was. It was a secret world with a secret entrance. At the time I had no idea that James Bond was modeled after a Canadian from Winnipeg. Sir William Samuel Stephenson, CC, MC, DFC, (January 23, 1897 – January 31, 1989) who was a Canadian soldier, airman, businessman, inventor, spymaster, and the senior representative of British intelligence for the entire western hemisphere during World War II. Stephenson is best-known by his wartime intelligence code name of Intrepid. But I learned.

After I completed basic training with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at “P” Division in Alberta, I was posted to ‘D” Division, and more precisely Winnipeg Sub/Div and the Rural Detachment at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. The detachment had its offices behind the head offices of Chicken Delight on Saskatchewan Avenue. The gentleman, the owner of Chicken Delight Canada, parked his Rolls Royce alongside our Highway Patrol black and white cruisers in the dirt lot at the side of the office. The Rolls had had a moment in the spot light it had once been owned by Gordon Sinclair . There were six of us there on detachment a Sergeant, a stenographer, and four constables; I was junior man on detachment.

It was here when and where I discovered one of the portals into the world of spy vs. spy. It was at the Tasty Bakery right next to the Detachment offices that provided me the opportunity to step across into the world of counter-intelligence.

I came to learn that it was an insidious little world. It operated in plain sight for anyone who cared to notice but most did not; it was a world within a world that loped along in a rather sinister fashion unbeknown to most.

One spring day two fellows turned up at the front counter of our office. They looked like cops, they were in street clothes and maybe not cops at all, but they just had that look about them. I went to see if I could help or be of assistance. One of these guys replied that they wanted to speak to the senior constable. They called him by his Christian name and when Don heard his name he came out of the back room. It was like old home week; these guys were obviously one of the boys. They were invited in and disappeared with Don into the deeper bowels of the detachment. Coffee time came and as usual we all trooped right next door to the Tasty Bakery for coffee and a freshly made Bismarck .

It was here that I overheard that these mysterious visitors were in S & I, Security and Intel for the uninitiated. They worked on the Cuban Desk, whatever the hell that meant, but I was hooked. That coffee and donuts chance encounter started me in a direction that would lead me to a place where I would spend the next decade of my life getting to do what it was that I had always fantasized doing.

I got to catch spies for a living.

Imagine that, getting to live your wildest imagined flights of fancy. There I was, from 1971 through to 1979, right in the middle of the cold war both internationally and within the framework of Canada. I was working on issues that would be discussed on the floor of the House of Commons and doing things that would to some degree shift the direction history would take, sometimes ever so slightly and sometimes on a much larger scale.

It was my grandson who asked me one day, “Papa what did you do way back then?” That got me thinking about all the crazy things we did.

First, he wanted to know more about his papa and all children love to have stories told to them.

Second, I had always wanted to write, but I thought my mild dyslexia would prevent me from doing so. God bless the invention of the computer and spell check.

Third, my actual attempt(s) at writing the all-encompassing Canadian spy novel was a more daunting task than I ever imagined.

My first problem was I could not, for the life of me, get past page three. I just froze up there, the story died on the page with try after try. Then I heard a CBC interview with JK Rowling by Michael Enright. She was pumping one of her Harry Potter novels just before Christmas. She said during the interview with Enright that she was struggling with resolving a character in the midst of either her third or fourth book that was still on the drawing board. It struck me during the course of that interview that she really had no idea exactly where the character was going; she was just writing the story as she heard it in her head. That interview gave me the key. I realized I didn’t need to plan every detail before I wrote it. Over that Xmas period I simply sat down at the computer and wrote a 158-page outline of Sheritt, A Spy Story.

I simply let it flow.

It was a wonderful thing to experience; the secret to writing was not to try too hard.

The story was there to be told. I did not have to invent, although invention was very much a part of the process. All I had to do was to set the spinning wheel spinning. To paraphrase and adapt Nike, “Just Tell It”.

But true to the tradecraft and the traditions of the genre I mixed metaphors, of both whimsy and truth, about people both real and imagined to come to a place of telling, “Papa what did you do way back then?”

I am one of the fortunate souls who got the opportunity to chase after their dreams. There are people I would like to thank.

For those people who go unnamed or name-changed to protect the guilty because they lived and worked it too, on both sides of the multi faceted fence. If you are all still alive it would be amusing to get together and tell war stories about the one that got away. We had a reunion of sorts in Vancouver several years ago. An ad hoc event facilitated by one of the guys in a restaurant on King George Highway I think. I walked in and all that I could see was a group of old men seated at a breakfast table; then it struck me ... I was one of those old guys. I still smile at that one.

For those other people who read and re-read this thing with me. All those Sunday afternoons just going over and over one point after another, chasing down facts, all the stuff that goes into writing this type of book. Tait, Adianne, Alexander, Dixie and for Lynne, Charlene, Jennie and Murray T (who passed recently) who gave me encouragement and for all those who just edited it so they could have a look and see what was happening next, I thank you.

This is the beginning of a set of tales first about a wise old native gentleman, very real... who for whatever reason wove his web through my spy catching days. As this tale unwinds it spreads itself out over several stories told in a series of books. This is the first of what I believe will be six possibly seven books telling the three stories.

I am sure the old gentleman is dead because when I knew him he was well into his 80’s and that was in the mid 1970’s. I also know that a number of the players have passed also ... Old age does that to us all. But the joy that I get out of telling a tale or two is simply uplifting. I’ll let my alter ego, Steve; tell the rest of the tale.

Neil Douglas-Tubb

Victoria BC 2011