‘Made a deal with them!’ I choked.
‘Well, some of us manage to pull it off.’ Miss Penn gently guided my hand back to the bag of socks. Then she confessed, ‘Hard to tell what your friend thinks she’s doing though. She was – she was focused. She didn’t expect to hear her own code name come up in the conversation and it shook her, but she didn’t – you know, she didn’t hint at rescue – I think she’s still dead set on completing her assignment, and has reason to believe she can do it from inside.’ Miss Penn gave me a sideways glance. ‘Do you know what her assignment was?’
‘No,’ I lied.
‘Well,’ Miss Penn said, ‘here’s what she told me. Maybe you can make something of it.’
But I can’t. I don’t know what to do with any of it. It’s like – it must be like palaeontology. Trying to put a dinosaur together based on a few random bones and you don’t even know if they’re all from the same kind of animal.
I’ll write down what Julie’s given us though – perhaps Paul will make sense of it –
1) The building the Gestapo use in Ormaie has got its own generator. Penn was complaining about power cuts, and how annoying it is not to be able to count on electricity when you work in radio, and Julie said, ‘Well, here we make it ourselves.’ How like her to talk as if she’d become one of them. Like the time she took me to see Colonel Blimp and sat there weeping all through the scene where the imprisoned German officers are listening to Mendelssohn.
2) The fuse box is under the grand staircase. Miss Penn didn’t say how our Julie managed to communicate that. Did also mention:
3) It is a known fact that the Nazis have a wireless office across the square from the Gestapo HQ, in the town hall, and according to Julie this must be because there is no regular broadcasting set-up in the Château de Bordeaux building – Penn thinks because the walls are too thick for good reception, but I reckon the generator interferes with the reception more than the walls. This information was passed dead casually. SOE call radio work ‘arthritis’, easy peasy. Can just imagine Julie. Studying her nails. ‘Fortunately I don’t suffer from stiff joints. No one does here. How these Nazis would take advantage!’
4) Penn also found out a lot about the slave-girl secretary. Julie thinks she is about to have a crisis of conscience which we might be able to take advantage of – suggests we watch her and make it easy for her to find a Resistance contact when she’s ready.
It boggles me trying to think how Julie managed to communicate all this with the Gestapo captain listening. Apparently they were speaking English and the slave-girl had to translate for the captain, so either she just didn’t get it or she put up with it, which partly proves Julie’s point. Julie calls her ‘the angel’ – ‘l’ange’ – dead embarrassing if you ask me, no wonder the poor girl keeps mum. It’s masculine too, in French, not just a plain noun like it is in English. It is a direct translation of her surname, Engel, from the German.
Sometimes Julie used to make me jealous – her cleverness, her ease with men, how posh she is – the grouse-shooting and the Swiss school and speaking three languages and being presented to the King in a blue silk ball gown – even her MBE, after she caught those spies, like being knighted, and especially her term at Oxford – and I HATE MYSELF for ever having thought any of it was worth envying.
Now all I can think of is where she is and how much I love her. And I start to cry again.
I dreamed I was flying with Julie. I was taking her home, flying up to Scotland in Dympna’s Puss Moth. We were heading up the coast along the North Sea, the sun hanging low in the west – sky and sea and sand all gold, gold light all around us. No barrage balloons or anything, just empty sky like in peacetime. But it wasn’t peacetime, it was now, late November 1943, with the first snow on the Cheviot Hills in the west.
We were flying low over the long sands at Holy Island, and it was beautiful, but the plane kept trying to climb and I was fighting and fighting to keep it down. Just like the Lysander. Scared and worried and tired all at once, angry at the sky for being so beautiful when we were in danger of crashing. Then Julie, sitting alongside me, said, ‘Let me help.’
In the dream, the Puss Moth had dual controls side by side like a Tipsy, and Julie took hold of her own control column and gently pushed the nose forward, and suddenly we were flying the plane together.
All the pressure was gone. Nothing to be afraid of, nothing to battle against, just the two of us flying together, flying the plane together, side by side in the gold sky.
‘Easy peasy,’ she said, and laughed, and it was.
Oh Julie, wouldn’t I know if you were dead? Wouldn’t I feel it happening, like a jolt of electricity to my heart?
Amélie has just seen an execution at the Château de Bordeaux. Château des Bourreaux is what everybody calls it now – Castle of Butchers. The kids here get Thursday off school instead of Saturday, and Amélie had gone into Ormaie with a couple of her chums to a cheap café they like, which happens to be at the end of the lower lane at the back of the Gestapo building. Amélie and her friends were sitting in the café window and noticed a crowd gathering in the lane – being kids they piled along to see what was going on – turns out those bastards had got a guillotine rigged up in their rear courtyard and were executing people –
The kids saw. They didn’t know what was going on or they’d have never gone to look, Amélie says, but they arrived just as it was happening and they saw it. SAW IT HAPPEN. She has been sobbing her heart out all evening, impossible to comfort her. They saw a girl killed and Amélie recognised her from her school, though the girl had been a few years ahead of Amélie and had already finished – what if it had been Beryl? Or Beryl’s sister? Because that’s what it’s like, schoolmates being guillotined as spies. I didn’t understand before – really didn’t understand. Being a kid and worrying that a bomb might kill you is terrible. But being a kid and worrying that the police might cut your head off is something else entirely. I haven’t words for it. Every fresh broken horror here is something I just DIDN’T UNDERSTAND until I came here.
When I was eight, before the Depression, we had a holiday in Paris – I remember bits of it, we took a boat trip on the Seine, and we saw the Mona Lisa. But the thing I remember most is how Granddad and I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We took the lift up, but we walked the whole way down, and on the way we stopped at the First Stage and we could see Gran standing in the park below, wearing a big new hat she’d bought that morning, and we waved at her – she looked so posh, all alone in the Champ de Mars, that you’d have never known she wasn’t French herself. She took a picture of us and though we were so far away and tiny you can’t see us in the picture, I know we are there. And I remember also there was a shop, way up there on the First Stage, and Granddad bought me a tiny gold Eiffel Tower on a gold chain as a souvenir, and I still have it, back home in Stockport.
It wasn’t so long ago. What is happening to us?
Maman Thibaut has been dosing Amélie with café au lait at the big kitchen table, Mitraillette and I taking turns holding her tight and exchanging horrified glances over her head. She won’t stop talking. I only get every third word or so. Mitraillette whispers a rough translation –
‘Il y en avait une autre – there was another. Il y avaient deux filles – there were two girls – La Cadette et ses amies n’ont rien vu quand on a tué l’autre –’
They didn’t see the second girl executed. It was torment for all of us, dragging this information out of La Cadette. There were two girls brought there together, tied to each other. The second had to stand and watch as they butchered the first – so close, they made her stand so close that Amélie said the blood spattered on her face. Then they closed the gates. Over the courtyard wall Amélie and her friends saw them raising the blade again and that was when they left.
The second girl was Julie. Certain of it. There can’t be another petite blonde in a pullover the colour of autumn leaves being held prisoner in the Ormaie Gestapo HQ. Amélie saw her.
But I don’t believe they killed her either. I just don’t believe it. I keep thinking of those pictures of the pilot. They must have shown Julie those pictures by now, and perhaps she thinks I’m dead. But I’m not. And it’s the same for her, I’m sure of it. It might look like she’s dead, but she’s not. They’ve got a reason to fake her death now, since Georgia Penn talked to her this week and they need to re-establish their – supremacy or whatever, their control over what everybody knows or doesn’t know. That captain/commander must be in trouble – he went behind his superior’s back to let Penn in. Perhaps he’s been told to kill Julie. But I think he’s just as likely been told to stage her death, so she disappears again. Sharing cognac with her and sending her to the guillotine in the same week? I just don’t believe it.
I WANT TO BLOW THAT PLACE APART.
Planes go over almost every night – there are some munitions factories working for the Germans and launch sites here in France that they are desperate to put out of action. They won’t drop a bomb in the middle of Ormaie, not on purpose, for fear of hitting civilians. They have hit the railway junction here and had a go at the factories to the north of the city though I don’t think Ormaie carries on any significant manufacture apart from umbrellas. But the RAF won’t bomb the middle of the city. It’s why Julie was sent here, so we could get at it from the ground. Not many people here know the RAF is trying to avoid hitting them – no one feels safe. The Americans dropped some bombs on Rouen in broad daylight. People panic when they hear the air-raid sirens and dive for shelter just like we did back in the Manchester Blitz. But nothing ever hits the centre of Ormaie.
Sometimes I wish it would – just one great big blast to wipe out the Castle of Butchers. I want that evil place to go up in flames. I want it so badly it hurts. Then I remember that Julie is still inside.
I don’t believe she’s dead, I don’t believe any of their bluff and lies and bullying threats. I don’t believe she’s dead and I WON’T believe she’s dead until I hear the shots MYSELF and see her fall.
Another Nazi Sunday dinner at the Thibauts’, 28 Nov. Had to make myself scarce. Can just imagine La Cadette feeding them our line – ‘Käthe has got an older man! You would not believe how fast she works. It is a friend of Papa’s driver, she met him when we were loading hens a couple of weeks ago. They go out together every Sunday. And some evenings too!’
And Maman, rolling her eyes, ‘It’s not right, not right for such a young girl, he’s twice her age. But what can I do to stop her? She’s not my own – we work her hard and she gets no wages, so I have to give her Sunday afternoons – and she’s of age. I just hope she’s careful, doesn’t get herself in trouble …’