But I didn’t tell her – I didn’t have the heart to tell her. She didn’t seem to know it was Julie – of course Katharina Habicht would have kept her real identity hidden to avoid compromising anyone. I suppose I should have said something. But I just couldn’t do it.
Now I am in tears again.
Have heard a car pull up so they may be sending for me soon, but I want to finish telling about getting out of France – which will probably also make me cry – what’s new.
Even started off blubbing just listening to the radio message that let us know they were going to pick me up that night: ‘After a while, all children tell the truth’ – in French it’s ‘Assez bientôt, tousles enfants disent la vérité.’ I am sure they stuck the word ‘vérité’ in there on purpose, but they couldn’t have known it would make me think of the last page Julie wrote – I have told the truth, over and over.
The whole routine is so familiar now, like a recurring dream. Dark field, flashing lights, Lysander wings against the moon. Except it gets colder each time. No mud this time, despite last week’s rain – ground’s all frozen solid. Dead smooth landing, the plane didn’t go round even once – I like to think this is partly down to my excellent field selection – made the trade-off of goods and passengers in just under 15 minutes. That’s how it should be done.
My Jamaican rear gunner had already climbed on board and I had one hand on the ladder to follow him up when the pilot yelled down at me, ‘OI, KITTYHAWK! YOU GOING TO FLY US OUT OF HERE?’
Who else but Jamie Beaufort-Stuart – just – who else?
‘Come on, swap seats with me,’ he shouted. ‘You flew yourself here, you can fly yourself home.’
Can’t believe he made the offer and I can’t believe I took him up on it – all so wrong. Should have been retested after the crash-landing, at least.
‘But you didn’t want me to fly OUT in the first place!’ I bawled.
‘I was worried about you being in France, not worried about your flying! Bad enough one of you was going without losing you BOTH. Anyway if we get fired on you’re better at crash-landings than I am –’
‘COURT MARTIAL, they’ll court-martial both of us –’
‘What TOSH, you’re a CIVILIAN! You’ve not been in danger of court martial since you left the WAAFs in 1941. The worst the ATA can do is dismiss you, and they’ll do that anyway if they’re going to do it. COME UP!’
The engine was idling. He had the parking brake on and there was just about room for us to change places once he’d hopped up on to the edge of the cockpit – didn’t even have to adjust the seat as we are exactly the same height. He gave me his flying helmet.
I couldn’t bear it. I told him.
‘I killed her. I shot her.’
‘It was me. I shot Julie.’
For a moment it seemed like there was nothing else that mattered or had any meaning in the whole world. All there was in the world was me in the pilot’s seat of that Lysander and Jamie perched on the edge of the cockpit with his hand on the sliding canopy, no noise but the idle roar of the engine, no light anywhere but the three small runway flares and the moon glinting against the dials. Finally Jamie asked a brief question.
‘Did you mean to?’
‘Yes. She asked me to – I couldn’t – couldn’t let her down.’
After another long Lysander moment, Jamie said abruptly, ‘Now don’t start weeping, Kittyhawk! Court martial or not, you have to fly the plane now because I don’t trust myself quite, not after that confession.’ He managed to unwedge himself from the edge of the cockpit and swung lightly from the wing strut to the access ladder at the back. I watched him climb into the rear cockpit and after a moment heard him introducing himself to my Jamaican friend.
FLY THE PLANE, MADDIE
I slid the canopy shut and began to run through the familiar pre-flight checks.
Then just as I started to put power on, this hand on my shoulder.
Just like that – nothing said. He just put his hand through the bulkhead, exactly as she’d done, and squeezed my shoulder. He has very strong fingers.
And he kept his hand there the whole way home, even when he was reading the map and giving me headings.
So I am not flying alone now after all.
I am running out of paper. This notebook of Etienne’s is nearly full. I have an idea what to do with all of it though.
With that in mind I don’t think I’ll put down the Machiavellian Intelligence Officer’s name. Didn’t Julie say he introduced himself with a number at her interview? He introduced himself as himself this afternoon. Awkward to write about it without using a name though. John Balliol, perhaps, that’s a good ironic name, the miserable Scottish king William Wallace lost his life defending. Sir John Balliol. I’m getting good at this. Perhaps I should join the Special Operations Executive after all.
Oh, Maddie-lass, NOT IN A MILLION YEARS.
My interview with Sir John Balliol had to be in the debriefing room – I suppose they do briefings there as well as debriefings, but that’s what everybody calls it. It had to be there, didn’t it, because it had to be done properly. Sergeant Silvey took me down. I know Silvey is soft on me, he always has been, and I think he is broken-hearted over Julie, but he was dead stiff and formal escorting me to my interview – awkward, you know? He didn’t like to be doing it. He didn’t like it that I was locked in either. Argued about it with the squadron leader. Doesn’t matter – it’s all down to protocol in the end, and the bottom line is that I shouldn’t have taken that plane to France in the first place.
So I got marched down to the debriefing room under guard, and as I walked in I was suddenly shamefully aware of what a ragamuffin I am always – like a Glaswegian evacuee! – still wearing the French photographer’s wife’s climbing trousers and Etienne Thibaut’s threadbare jacket and Jamie’s boots, the same clothes I’ve been wearing for the past week and a good deal of the past two months, and by the way, the same clothes that I was wearing when I blew the Ormaie city centre to blazes. No feminine wiles to fall back on – I stepped into the whitewashed stone room with my heart going berserk against my ribs like a detonating engine. The room was exactly as it had been the first time he met me there nearly two years ago – two hard chairs pulled close to the electric fire, pot of tea under a cosy on the desk. It didn’t smell like the interrogation room in Ormaie, but it was impossible not to think of it.
‘I’m afraid this may take some time,’ Balliol said apologetically, holding out his hand to me. ‘I trust you managed to get some sleep last night?’
He didn’t have his specs on. That must be what caught me out – he just looked like anybody. Then the way he offered his hand to me. I was instantly in Ormaie again, in the cobbled street with the new key and the old plans in my pocket and my heart full of hatred and bloody-mindedness – and I shook his hand and answered through my teeth, ‘Ja, mein Hauptsturmführer.’
He looked quite startled and I am sure I went red as a tomato. OH MADDIE WHAT A WAY TO BEGIN.
‘Sorry – sorry!’ I gasped. ‘Je suis désolée –’ Unbelievable, I am still trying to speak French to people.
‘Not quite out of the trenches yet, are we?’ he remarked softly. With light fingertips against my back he guided me to one of the chairs. ‘Tea, Silvey,’ he directed, and Sergeant Silvey quietly served up and let himself out.
Balliol’s glasses were lying on the desk. He put them on and perched against the edge of the desk holding his teacup in its saucer, and his hands were so steady I had to put my own cup on the floor – couldn’t have bone china rattling in my lap while he stood there pinning me down with those huge magnified eyes. Crikey – Julie quite fancied him. Can’t imagine why. He scares me to death.
‘What are you afraid of, Maddie?’ he asked quietly. None of this ‘Flight Officer Beaufort-Stuart’ nonsense.
I am not going to say it again. There is no one else I need say it to. This was the last time –
‘I killed Julie. Verity, I mean. I shot her myself.’
He put his own cup down on the desk with a clatter and stared at me. ‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I’m afraid of being tried for murder.’
I looked away from him, at the drain in the floor. This was the place where the German spy tried to strangle Eva Seiler. I shivered, actually shivered, when I realised that. I have never seen such hideous bruises in my entire life, not before or since. Julie was tortured in this room.
When I looked back at Balliol he was still leaning against the desk, his shoulders slumped, spectacles pushed back on his head, pinching his nose between his fingers as though he had a migraine.
‘I’m afraid of hanging,’ I added miserably.
‘Great Scott, girl,’ he snapped, and jammed the specs back down over his eyes. ‘You’ll have to tell me what happened. I confess you have – startled me, but as I’m not wearing my judge’s wig at the moment, let’s have it.’
‘They were transporting her in a bus full of prisoners to one of their concentration camps and we tried to stop it –’
He interrupted plaintively, ‘Must it be the murder first? Go back a bit.’ He peered at me with an anxious frown. ‘Mea culpa, forgive me. Unfortunate choice of words. You didn’t say it was murder, did you? Only you’re worried others might see it that way … Possibly a mistake, or an accident. Well, out with it, my child. Start from the beginning, when you landed in France.’
I told him everything – well, almost everything. There is one thing I didn’t tell him about, and that is this big stack of paper I have been humping around in my flight bag – everything Julie’s written, everything I’ve written, all her scraps of hotel stationery and sheet music and my Pilot’s Notes and Etienne’s exercise book – I didn’t tell him there’s a written record.
I’m amazed at what a smooth liar I’ve become. Or, not a liar exactly – I didn’t lie to him. The story I gave him isn’t like a pullover full of holes, dropped stitches that will easily unravel when you start to poke at them. More like – slip one, knit one, pass slipped stitch over. Between Penn and Engel there was enough information that I didn’t need to mention I’d got Julie’s written confession up in my bedroom. Because I’m jolly well not turning it over to some filing clerk in London. It is mine.
And my own notes – well, I need them so I can make a proper report for the Accident Committee.
It did take a long time, the telling. Sgt Silvey brought us another pot of tea and then another. At the end Balliol assured me quietly, ‘You won’t hang.’
‘But I’m responsible.’
‘No more than I.’ He looked away. ‘Tortured and sent off to be used as a lab specimen – dear God. That lovely, clever girl. I may as well – I am wretched. No, you’ll not hang.’