‘What’s your poison?’ the civilian with a penchant for Kipling asked Queenie genially. ‘The water of life? Do I detect a Scottish burr? Any other languages besides German?’
‘Only coffee just now as I’m on duty later, aye you do, et oui, je suis courante en français aussi. My grandmother and my nanny are from Ormaie, near Poitiers. And I can do a fair parody of Aberdeen Doric and tinkers’ cant, but the natives aren’t fooled.’
‘The Doric and tinkers’ cant!’ The poor fellow laughed so hard he had to take off his glasses and give them a wipe with a spotted silk handkerchief. He put them back on and peered at Queenie this time. The lenses made his blue-green irises seem so large they were startling. ‘And – how did you manage to find your way here today, enemy agent mine?’
‘It’s Maddie’s story,’ said the enemy agent generously. ‘And I owe her a whisky.’
So Maddie told, to an appreciative audience, how she had played Watson to her friend’s giddy Sherlock Holmes – of the sabotaged tyre at the entrance to the well-stocked farm, and the assumptions about the dogs and the food and the flowers there. ‘And,’ Maddie finished with a triumphant flourish, ‘the farm woman drew her a map.’
The so-called enemy agent glanced up at Maddie sharply. Squadron Leader Creighton held out his hand, palm up, a demand.
‘I’ve burned it,’ Queenie said in a low voice. ‘I popped it in the fire when we first came in. I won’t tell you which farm, so don’t ask.’
‘I shouldn’t have to go to much trouble to deduce it myself,’ said the short-sighted civilian, ‘based on your friend’s description.’
‘I am an officer.’ Her voice was still dead quiet. ‘I gave the woman a royal ticking off after she’d done it, and I doubt she’ll need another warning. But I never lied to her either, and she might have been more suspicious in the first place if I had. It would be inappropriate to punish anyone – apart from me of course.’
‘I wouldn’t dream of it. I am agog at your initiative.’
The man glanced at the silent Creighton. ‘I do believe your earlier suggestion is spot on,’ he said, and rather randomly quoted what Maddie reckoned was probably a line from Kipling.
‘Only once in a thousand years is a horse born so well fitted for the game as this our colt.’
‘Bear in mind,’ said Creighton soberly, holding the other man’s magnified eyes with his own over the top of his steepled fingers, ‘these two work well together.’
clk/sd & w/op
Bloody Machiavellian English Intelligence Officer playing God.
I never knew his name. Creighton introduced him by an alias the man sometimes uses. At my interview he jokingly identified himself by a number because that’s what the British Empire spies do in Kim (though we don’t; we are told in training that numbers are too dangerous).
I liked him – don’t get me wrong – beautiful eyes behind the dreadful specs, and very lithe and powerful beneath the scholarly tweed. It was wonderful flirting with him, all that razor-edge literary banter, like Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. A battle of wit, and a test too. But he was playing God. I noticed, I knew it and I didn’t care. It was such a thrill to be one of the archangels, the avengers, the chosen few.
Von Linden is about the same age as the intelligence officer who recruited me. Has von Linden an educated wife too? (He wears a ring.) Might von Linden’s wife have been at university with my German tutor?
The sheer stark raving incredible madness of such a very ordinary possibility makes me want to put my head down on this cold table and sob.
Everything is all so wrong.
I have no more paper.
Ormaie 16.XI.43 JB-S
I am lost. I have lost the thread. I was indulging myself in details as if they were wool blankets or alcohol, escaping wholly back into the fire-and-water-filled early days of our friendship. We made a sensational team.
I was so sure she’d landed safely.
It has been four days since I last wrote anything and there is a simple reason why: no paper. When they did not come to get me the first day I suspected, and spent the whole morning sleeping – just like a holiday. The blanket has changed my life. By the end of the second day I was getting very hungry and a bit tired of sitting in absolute pitch-dark. Then those pictures. They’d already shown me the destroyed rear cabin of Maddie’s Lysander, but these were new – enlargements from the pilot’s cockpit.
That was the last peaceful moment of my holiday. Also, they have been questioning that French girl again. I was lying with my nose pressed to the crack underneath the door – I’d been crying, and it is the only place I get any light – and recognised her feet as they dragged her by (she has rather pretty feet, and she is always barefoot).
I would not have slept well after those pictures anyway, but have I said before that my room is attached to the suite they use for interviews, etc.? You would have to be stone deaf to sleep through it even in a feather bed.
The following morning a trio of soldiers clapped me in chains – chains! – and hauled me to a sub-basement where I was sure I was going to be dissected. No, it turned out to be the kitchen – literally the kitchen of this desecrated hotel, which is where they cook up our delicious grey cabbage soup. (They do not bake bread here – when we get bread it is stale ends cast off from somewhere else.) Apparently the charwoman who scrubbed the pots, swept the floors of sawdust and spread down less mouldy sawdust in its place, hauled wood and coal, emptied all the prisoners’ waste buckets and slopped them out, peeled potatoes for the Gestapo officers’ soup (I like to imagine she did these last two jobs without washing her hands in between) – etc. – has been sacked. More accurately she has been arrested and sent to prison – not this one, obviously – because she stole a couple of cabbages. Anyway yesterday and the day before they needed someone else to do all these challenging tasks while they found another drudge to replace her.
Who better suited for such work than an idle Special Operations Flight Officer? The chains were meant as a reminder that I am a prisoner, not an employee. Chiefly a reminder to the cook and his underlings, I think, but the cook was such a foul and filthy beast he would not have noticed if I’d been in drag as the Führer himself, so long as he could fondle my breasts.
And – I let him do it. For food, you might suppose, but no! (Although the old goat did very generously let me feast on the scraps when they’d finished peeling the tatties. I did not have to peel anything myself as they wisely would not give me a knife.) No, just like my soul, I sold my body for paper.
The basement of the Château de Bordeaux is a warren of strangeness. Rather spooky. There are a few rooms (those with freezers and gas ovens) that they probably use for horrible experiments, but mostly these cellars are empty because they are not secure and are generally just too damn dark for productive activity. All the hotel’s catering equipment is still down there – huge coffee urns, copper pans the size of bathtubs, milk cans (empty), empty wine bottles and jam pots stacked everywhere, even a row of dust-covered, greasy blue aprons still hanging in a passageway. There are a number of service lifts, dumb waiters for hauling trays upstairs in addition to the great big one for loading crates and things from the main street, and it was in exploring one of the small ones (with an eye to escaping up it if I could squeeze into it) that I discovered the paper – stacks and stacks of unused recipe cards, shoved in the dumb waiter to get them out of the way.
I thought about Sara Crewe in A Little Princess, pretending she is a prisoner in the Bastille to make her work as a scullery maid more bearable. And you know … I just couldn’t do it. What is the point in pretending I am in the Bastille? I have spent the past two days in chains, underground, slaving for a monster. Ariadne in the maze of the Minotaur? (I wish I’d thought of that earlier.) But I was too busy slaving to pretend much of anything anyway.
So – I got to take the recipe cards away with me in exchange for being groped, and managed to limit the assault by suggesting I was von Linden’s personal Bit of Tartan Fluff and that the Hauptsturmführer would not like it if the cook defiled me.
O Lord! How is one to choose between the Gestapo inquisitor and the prison cook?
Of course I was not allowed to take the paper into my room with me (in case I should tear it into strips and weave it into a rope with which to hang myself, I suppose), so had to wait for a while in the big outer chamber while von Linden was busy with someone else. See me, cowering in the corner in my wrist and leg irons, clutching my armful of blank recipe cards and trying not to notice what they were doing to Jacques’s fingers and toes with bits of hot metal and tongs.
After an exhausting hour or so of this melodrama, v.L. took a break and sauntered over to have a chat with me. I told him in my best Landed Gentry voice of frosty disdain how puny an empire the Third Reich must be if it can’t afford to supply paper to double-crossing informants like myself, and mentioned that the foul beast in the kitchen and his skivvies are all very demoralised about the way the war is going (Italy has collapsed, German cities and factories bombed to bits, everyone expects an Allied invasion within the year – which is after all why Mssrs Jacques and I are here, caught trying to hurry said invasion along).
Von Linden wanted to know if I’d read Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London.
I wish I had not gratified him again by gaping. Oh! I suppose I did let slip that I like Orwell. What was I thinking?
So then we had a genial argument about Orwellian socialism. He (v.L.) disapproves (obviously, as Orwell spent 5 months battling the idiot Fascists in Spain in 1937), and I (who don’t always agree with Orwell either, but for different reasons) said that I didn’t think my experience as a scullion exactly matched Orwell’s, if that was what v.L. was getting at, albeit we may have found ourselves working in similar French hotel basements for similar rates of pay (Orwell’s somewhat higher than mine, as I seem to recall he was given an allowance of a couple of bottles of wine in addition to raw potato peelings). Eventually von Linden took possession of my recipe cards, my chains were removed and I was thrown back into my cell.
It was a very surreal evening.
I dreamed I was back to the beginning and they were starting on me all over again, a side-effect of having to watch them work on someone else. The anticipation of what they will do to you is every bit as sickening in a dream as when it is really going to happen.
That week of interrogation – after they’d starved me in the dark for most of a month, when they finally settled down to the more intricate task of picking information out of me – von Linden did not look at me once. He paced, I remember, but it was as though he were doing a very complicated sum in his head. There were a number of gloved assistants on hand to deal with the mess. He never seemed to tell them what to do; I suppose he must have nodded or pointed. It was like being turned into a technical project. The horror and humiliation of it weren’t in that you were stripped to your underthings and being slowly taken to pieces, but in that nobody seemed to give a damn. They were not doing it for fun; they were not in it for lust or pleasure or revenge; they were not bullying me, the way Engel does; they were not angry with me. Von Linden’s young soldiers were doing their job, as indifferently and accurately as if they were taking apart a wireless set, with von Linden doing his job as their chief engineer, dispassionately directing and testing and cutting off the power supply.