‘I wonder if there are Japanese queers,’ George Crossett thought as he went into the Seaview Road toilet block. An ammoniac smell greeted him, its familiarity in his nostrils as keen as the apprehension over the last week with the threat of a Japanese invasion of New Zealand. He wondered briefly if Japanese queers would solicit in the same way as Allied servicemen did, but the thought was too traitorous, too revolting; a bandy-legged Jap who would smell of fish and salt. There was nothing in his imagination that allowed for a Jap to be attractive enough to have sex with. Uniform, power, masculinity; all his usual associations of lust had nothing in common with the enemy.

George did up his fly and surveyed that taboo world where men like him gathered: the empty toilets, the grey walls, the row of cubicles, the broken sink, and the flickering light bulb. Queers, poofs, Nancies; this was their venue and where he felt secure. But it wasn’t always that way. He remembered the young man who had spat in his face, and the pimply youth who had demanded fifteen pounds. The ideal of security congealed and went sour in his head just as the concept of humanity had in the minds of those New Plymouth people who had heard what the Japs did to women and children.

He left the dank toilets and entered the bright sunlit world. A fleecy cloud, odd in its aloneness, hovered in the distance. He crossed the shingle road and sauntered down to the gun emplacements that had just been concreted into permanence on the side of the hill overlooking the glinting Tasman Sea.

Out there were Japanese submarines, no doubt spying on him at this moment. He laughed at the thought that they would be the only people who were watching him cruising in his lunch hour, alone on the high cliff overlooking New Plymouth, a windswept port on the west coast of an island at the bottom of the South Pacific. New Plymouth, so remote, always so secure, suddenly taken by the shoulders and shaken by an awareness that war was about to blast its cosiness. He stood for a moment or two with his eyes closed, seeing himself repulsing the enemy, dead men littered about him, having to fight with all the glorious valour that he’d heard about from the ageing men who had fought at the Somme and Gallipoli: George Crossett battling the Japanese in his home town in 1942, a machine-gun gripped in his hands; the fight, the blood, the heroism.

‘Goodness!’ he exclaimed as an approaching American serviceman disturbed his reverie.

‘Great day,’ the man said, laughing. ‘Surprise you, did I?’

‘I…’ George mumbled. He dropped his cap and as he bent to retrieve it, the other man scooped it up, touching George’s hand. They looked at each other in a half-crouching position, their faces close enough that had they puckered for a kiss, their lips would have brushed.

‘The bunker’s handy,’ the American said, straightening himself and brushing his uniform. With a mixture of magnetism and physical pressure, he led George into the gun emplacement’s dark opening, which smelled of fresh concrete and new secrets.

‘But…’ George uttered. Pinned against the wall as he was, he found the courage to dismiss danger at the prospect of sex with a uniformed American. It was like being in the toilets. When you got to a certain stage in the proceedings, the fact of danger made the hurry all the more exciting. He undid his trousers, fumbling first with his belt and then with his buttons, and then smiling with the sweet relief of his trousers falling. The American took a step back, excited by the sight of a man undressing. George turned, his heart bumping madly, so that the American could enter him all the more quickly, with rehearsed military efficiency.

‘Nice ass,’ the American said. He didn’t pull down his trousers but stood there staring, so George turned to see what was happening. For a moment he thought it was a set-up, that the man was about to flash a military card and put him under arrest for soliciting. But the man smiled, in his eyes a sweetness that George could hardly fathom.

‘Kiss me,’ the American said. ‘I’ve never been kissed by a Kiwi.’

George wasn’t used to tenderness from strangers. For a second or two he was transfixed.

‘Come on,’ the American urged. ‘Just a kiss.’

They embraced, kissed and clung to each other.

‘You have beautiful lips,’ the American said. ‘I didn’t know that Kiwi men could be so passionate.’

Suddenly they heard footsteps coming up the path and the sound of voices, several men talking in an animated tone as they approached the gun emplacement. George hadn’t pulled up his trousers. He looked with terror at his companion.

‘This’ll be the first to go into operation,’ a thick voice said.

‘The Japs’ll bomb it. They’re not stupid.’

‘As soon as it’s dry, we’ll camouflage.’

‘How much room is there?’

A shadow appeared across the aperture where the guns would be placed, and under which the two men were crouching. George looked up and his eyes met those of Captain Smart. The two men stared at each other for several tortuous seconds, and George would remember forever the surprise, amusement and loathing in Smart’s expression.

‘The Americans reckon on four placements for each…’ a very proper British voice said. Captain Smart retreated but then reappeared at the doorway, his back blocking what light entered through that small aperture. ‘This concrete’s still wet, gentlemen. The bastards mixed in too much water. Now let’s have a look down there at number two position.’

The party of men moved away, the crunching gravel sounding in George’s ears as the tintinnabulous effects of fear. He was just about to whisper, ‘They’ve gone,’ when the shadow again moved across the dim light in the gun emplacement, and Smart’s voice hissed, ‘You bastards move it as soon as you hear me whistle. Up the back way, through the gorse, so that you don’t bump into the hierarchy parked outside the toilets.’

George felt frozen. The American’s face was taut with apprehension.

‘Be aware,’ Smart snarled, ‘that you’ll pay for this, you filthy bastards.’ This time there was no surprise or amusement in his eyes, only loathing.

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