Bloody Orkney, Excerpt Three: Kirkwall at Night
Monique had agreed to wait in the hotel lobby for Second Officer Jennings.
Jennings was ten minutes late and looked flustered. 'I'm sorry, ma'am, one of the patrol's destroyers has reported engine trouble off Iceland and we were trying to make arrangements for her to be towed into Reykjavik. I think we've got everything sorted. The new shift can worry about it now.'
'It's not a problem, Sarah. And please, I'd feel more comfortable if you called me Monique. Where are we going?'
'It's not far. We cut up along Bridge Street and Albert Street. They're Kirkwall's main shopping streets, but you'll find the place is quiet now it's properly dark. Did you bring a torch? Good.'
Second Officer Jennings led the way out of the hotel, then past its front before turning right into a narrow street. The cloud was patchy and although the moon provided some illumination, it wasn't much. The streets weren't completely deserted. They passed a few civilians who seemed to be hurrying home and at one point a group of four naval ratings came out of a side street. They'd apparently been drinking and despite the darkness of the blackout, or perhaps because of the anonymity it offered, two of them whistled at the women.
Monique paused, then half turned towards the men. Sarah caught her arm. 'Leave it, Monique. Don't bother.'
It was light enough for Monique to see the extremely young man nearest her look away from her glare, as if embarrassed. She decided Sarah was right. They continued along the street.
'Who is it we are going to see?' asked Monique.
'Second Officer Mary Chalmers. I'll let her tell you her story herself. It's probably enough that you know she's been on Orkney for about eighteen months. She worked initially with the Contraband Control people who were based in the Kirkwall Hotel. When they wound down in May she was posted to a job looking after the unit who manage personnel records and movements at HMS Sparrowhawk, which is what the navy call the Royal Naval Air Station at Hatston, on the west side of the bay.'
'How do you know her?' asked Monique.
'I arrived in Orkney in June. I'd worked previously in the naval dockyard at Portsmouth. Kirkwall was a bit of a culture shock, I can tell you, though as I mentioned, the ready availability of attractive men does help compensate for the incessant wind and the remoteness. When I arrived, I was allocated a shared room in the Wrennery…'
'The Wrennery. It's a hutted encampment that's been built in Buttquoy Park, a little to the south of St Magnus Cathedral. It was built to accommodate WRNS officers and other ranks based in Kirkwall and the surrounding area, including at Scapa and RNAS Hatston. Other ranks have the dubious joy of sleeping in large barrack rooms with closely spaced bunk beds. Junior officers get to share two to a room, which in comparison is real luxury, especially if you get on with your roommate. Anyway, when I arrived, I moved in with Mary, and she's been great. Look, this is the cathedral on our left now. Even in the dark it's impressive. If you get the chance while you are in Orkney, you really should visit. We're passing the west end, and we take a left at the corner ahead of us. We then take the next right.'
'Is that a castle there, on the corner? I've seen it while driving past and wondered.'
'No. The circular tower looks like part of a castle, but I've been told it was built as a palace for a bishop. There are the ruins of another, later, palace hidden in the trees over there. We follow the road that runs between them, Watergate, up past the court and the old police station.'
This part of the walk seemed particularly threatening to Monique, with the darkened road squeezed between stone ruins on one side and railings and overhanging trees on the other. Beyond the court the road opened out and she could make out ahead of them the shapes of wooden huts. The naval guard at the camp gate – a man, Monique noted wryly – studied both their passes in torchlight and then saluted.
'I take it that you don't have many visitors?' Monique asked, as they approached a door in the end of one of the huts.
'No. Men are barred from the Wrennery unless on official business. To be honest, the security isn't oppressive and does give a sense of reassurance. You wouldn't want fools like those we met back there thinking they could come here when the pubs close.'