Hello. Artemis Prattebourne here. I became the third Earl Of Prattebourne in 1943. My uncle was killed, leading his regiment onto Sicily as we were beginning to turn things around.
Me? Came through the whole shooting match without a scratch. Joined up with the Royal Air Force in '45, sent for pilot training in South Africa.
Then the war ended, and I chose to be paid off where I was.
I'd learned to fly by then, and rather than go back to Prattebourne Manor, I left it as it was, a military hospital for American airmen still recovering.
The yanks paid me good money to use the place, so there I was in 1946, in the bush near Bloemfontain, with a surplus Piper Cub I'd bought for five pounds and a crate of Webster's Cream Mild. I was running medics out into the country for subsistence and drinks, generally spending the morning delivering the doctors and their supplies, sometimes flying patients back to the town so that they could be properly looked after.
In the afternoons I''d go up to the best flyers bar there was, at least when the school had been open.
Shirley's Pub was in a corner by the railway station and opposite the post office. She left it to her native help to run and almost never showed her face. At least, I'd never seen her. Just Henry, the barman with the deepest black skin and the slowest, whitest smile.
He knew what I wanted without asking, and when I would pull up in the doctor's old Jeep, he'd have a frosty Castle lager, brought up specially, waiting for me.
One day, as I was sitting quietly, nursing my beer, and Henry was wiping the counter by way of swiping a fly away from the taps, there were footsteps from upstairs.
Henry looked up at the ceiling.
"Better look busy baas. That'll be Shirley, coming to do the books."
he smiled and put a few of the empties back on the bar.
Then he poured me another cold one, just as Shirley entered.
"That'll be half a Crown baas."
I reached into my pocket for the money. I sensed the footsteps stop. I looked around.
Shirley was a tall, blonde, blue-eyed woman, very, very beautiful, and she was looking at me with narrowed eyes.
She paused long enough to take in the scene. Just as our eyes met, she turned to Henry.
"Henry Gabon, you don't fool me for a minute. Get those empties off the bar."
He laughed. She smiled. Then she turned at the end of the bar and looked at me questioningly.
"You a flyer?"
"Am I a flyer?"I smiled.
"Well, are you?"
"Stayed on after the school shut."
"Still live at the camp?"
"No. It's shut. I stay with Doc Ellis. Sometimes."
"You don't look clean enough to live with the Ellises."
"Sometimes. Others, I'm under the wing, or else sleeping in the hangar by the runway."
She wasn't llistening. She was examining the ledger.
"Henry, when did we run out of Rum. And Whiskey. Gosh Henry, why didn't you say?"
"I did ma'am, but you were...busy."
"Busy looking for Rog.... for the baas."
She looked suddenly distant. Just for a fleeting instant, the shadow of grief crossed her face. She brushed it away like a strand of hair.
Like I said, some had a good war. And some hadn't. A lot of people, in fact.
I moved closer, and said, quietly, "I can get you a couple of crates of Whiskey and Rum. When do you want them?"
"There's the town committee dance tonight. Nobody could get them by eight."
"Shirley? Consider it done."
Why I cared, I don't know, but this was peacetime, and things would get better. But only if we made them better.