Thank you for continuing to read GAMES AT DEAUVILLE. I'm glad you're enjoying it.
I hold the copyright and no portion of this manuscript may be published in any medium other than at Nifty without my express and written permission. With the US Congress pretending to be a medieval religious Prince's court (and jury and executioner), it's best that only those over 18 in the US, 16 in the civilised world read this novel.
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Molloy sipped tea in his father's study and tried to ignore the fact that he was going to drive halfway across England in the hours ahead of him.
He owed it to Robbie to ensure that the man's home was protected. That was justification enough for him to go to Bellingham Hall and to stay until the Navy had its lads in place on Friday. He would only be gone from Easthampton-Mares for two days. And Robbie's son had taken well to being moved.
The old Earl seemed smitten with young Willi. And little Cecil doted on the German boy's every act. The boy was well protected here.
It was that Dagold Jorsten and Miss Alice who were in danger - if there was danger. They were still at Bellingham Hall and in the centre of that damned radio message of last Saturday. Jorsten was.
There hadn't been a direct threat against the farm in it. But it was definitely better to be safe than sorry. Only the damned Navy wouldn't get anyone out to Petersholme's place before Friday. So, he was driving to Bellingham Hall and staying there for the next two days.
"It'll be a quiet couple of days, at least," he mumbled to himself. Besides, he could always ogle that Jorsten lad, he told himself and smiled at the thought.
The German had been the first man to have caught his attention that way since he became involved with Alan Dudding.
Alan provided him with everything he needed or wanted from another man. But Max Molloy refused to believe that it hurt anything if his imagination created fantasies that didn't exist and would never be allowed to exist. Alan would never know of those dreams because Max wasn't about to tell him.
He would dream of what he and Dagold Jorsten could do together while he was a proper guest with Alice Adshead under Robbie's roof. And he would sleep alone.
His cup was drained and he stood, wishing that the Navy or MI-5 had been able to put at least one man at Bellingham Hall immediately. He started for the door.
It was that damnable radio message that would have him drive across country - Jerry must be laughing in his sleeve at the havoc he'd caused with the implied threat to both the farm and to Petersholme.
"Petersholme!" Molloy groaned as he stopped in mid-stride. His friend was in as much danger as his home and family could be.
He turned and walked to his father's study and the telephone there. He bit at the chapped skin on his lower lip as he waited for the operator to place him through to Chartwell. He prayed that he wasn't too late. When the butler came on, he asked for Winston Churchill and identified himself.
After another long wait, the Tory backbencher spoke into the phone.
"Sir, there are naval officers with Petersholme in Deauville, aren't there?" he asked, ignoring the pleasantries.
He frowned as Churchill told him that the fliers were staying in Paris until Petersholme was through with his mission. Molloy began to rub his temple with his index finger. He told Churchill about the radio message from somewhere near Bellingham Hall that had been intercepted and he was on his way there to remain until the Navy could get men out to protect it on Friday.
He listened as Churchill cursed. "Sir," he said as the other paused to breathe, "if there is really any danger, it's as likely aimed at Petersholme as at his family."
The pause at the other end of the conversation grew. Finally, Churchill said: "I'll get word to our embassy in Paris as soon as I've rung off with you. Those boys who flew Petersholme over there will be out at Reynaud's house by evening."
"I hope that'll be soon enough, Mr. Churchill," he mumbled numbly. He pulled on his coat and started for his car, fear icy fingers closing over his heart.
* * *
"Bellingham is a pretty little place, Herr Hauptscharführer," James Crooksall said as they began to enter the village. The silence in the car the past hour had been maddening - even preparing a body for burial wasn't as nerve-wracking as driving Horst Müller from Coventry to meet David Rice. When he was preparing a body, at least it didn't breath heavily.
"I'll remember to visit it after England is a part of the new Europe," he answered.
Crooksall was glad that he would soon be rid of the Waffen-SS sergeant. The man was as warm as he imagined a snake would be. Cold-blooded and mean, that had been Horst Müller's reputation even when Crooksall had trained in Germany. But he was known to be efficient.
The mission that night required cold-blooded meanness, however. And efficiency. Otherwise, the last thing James Crooksall would feel was the rope of the hangman's noose tightening around his neck as the floor fell from under his feet.
It was a job for Hauptscharführer Horst Müller, all right. Crooksall wanted to live to see the new, national socialist England that was coming; he wanted to be a part of building it.
He spotted the ramshackle, open shed beside the road in front of them and slowed the car. Crooksall pulled to the side of the road in front of the shed. "We're here," he announced brightly as he turned the car off.
Müller's hand on his arm stopped him from opening the door and he looked towards the German. "This village smith speaks no German, yes?" Crooksall nodded. "And he knows I speak no English?" Again, Crooksall nodded.
"Good!" Müller said. "It will be a pleasure to hear myself think again."
Crooksall felt his ears burn at the insult but said nothing.
"And you'll return this evening?" The Englishman nodded again. "Good. He will leave me in peace then and, tonight, you'll give him his instructions-"
"To take us out to Bellingham Hall and introduce us to the farmhands who're helping us there?"
"And to wait where we can find him easily - he'll have to bring us back to your car after we complete this mission."
"I'll be back as soon as we've buried our last body, Herr Hauptscharführer - it won't be much before eight-"
"Twenty hundred hours."
Müller nodded his understanding. "You'll bring chloroform with you tonight, Crooksall."
"Chloroform, Herr Hauptscharführer?"
"I don't feel like listening to or holding onto a screaming brat, Crooksall. I think that it is best that the Graf's son sleeps until we are safely on the undersea boat and on our way back to Germany."
The German opened his door and stepped out onto the roadway. "Come, Crooksall," he grumbled. "It is time that you introduce me to the village blacksmith so that you can be on your way."
* * *
Neville had dressed quietly and left the cottage before Clive could awaken. Three hours later, his stomach growled constantly to remind him that he had missed breakfast.
Neville, however, was not paying attention to his stomach. Clive occupied his thoughts - and what his friend had tried to get him to do. He couldn't shake the memories as he loaded hay onto the wagon, not as he drove out to the far pastures, and not as he began to fork it out to feed his Lordship's cattle.
His mate was all ready to do it to him. Bugger him and make him queer. His best mate in the world. He'd even said that he did it to him before - when he was sleeping off a drunk. Taken advantage of him, Clive had. Like some loose woman.
Clive had to be pulling his leg.
Or maybe he wasn't at that. Neville knew well enough that Clive would still his dick into anything - at least, he'd always said he would, given the chance. Clive well could have done the nasty to him. But he wasn't about to think about that. He'd just make damned sure he never got pissed around Clive again.
Clive sat just inside the tractor shed - he could see out through the cracks in the door but no-one could see him. The farm manager was a real arse about what he called slackers. If he saw a lad taking even a moment for himself, he always had something nasty for him to do.
Clive wondered if the man had ever been young and alive. He doubted it. From the way he'd heard it, the bastard had been running the estate for the Petersholmes since before his present Lordship was born.
He shivered. The cold had a way of working its way into a lad, it did.
He wished he had Neville in the shed with him. The queer could warm him up good. He rubbed his crutch though the corduroy of his trousers.
It wouldn't take much to talk him into it. Last night, he could see Nevie wavering. He'd just need a little more coaxing - maybe even a jaw to the lip. Yeah, old Nevie was a jessie boy, all right. And he'd know it himself soon enough.
Clive laughed. Well, now that he knew what Nevie was, there was no reason that he had to go without any more. They said that a hard dick had no conscience and Clive guessed that was so. His didn't. It didn't matter to his manhood whether it was a bum or a cunt that it was being stuck into. It'd take what it could get.
And it now had Nevie. Or it would right after Clive had coaxed into taking that last step and dropping his trousers like a good queer.
Only, neither one of them dared to let any of the lads on the farm know that Nevie liked dick. That'd have the queer kicked off the estate fast enough, and Clive would be back to having only his hand with which to relieve himself.
No, Nevie was only going to be a nancy boy when he was in bed - with Clive. At least, he was until Clive found himself a girl and got married. Then, the queer could let his secret out and everybody in the world could know about him for all Clive cared.
He considered pulling it out and wanking but decided that it was definitely too cold for that. He'd have a frozen prick for his efforts.
His thoughts turned to the coming evening. David Rice was bringing that Hun out to the farm. A real Nazi, the man was supposed to be - some kind of combination policeman and army. The way Rice had talked about this SS thing the man was in, it sounded like the Hun could take on a whole company of gurkhas by himself. He was supposed to be a real superman.
Clive didn't really believe it, of course. There were no supermen; those existed just in those cartoon magazines from America that he'd seen once in Coventry. And he'd learnt that David Rice tended to exaggerate what he did know. He was just the village blacksmith, after all. Clive was willing to wager that David didn't know much more about the world than he himself did.
But the man did have money. Ten quid for just showing two blokes around the farm. Yeah, he had money - and spent it freely. Even if it was Hun money he was spending.
He wondered what time Rice would bring the Hun around. He'd even volunteer to nab the brat for another fiver.
* * *
He placed the chicken leg back on his plate and looked at Neville across the table. "Yeah?"
"Last night-" Neville picked at his food, pushing it around on the plate but not putting it in his mouth.
"Don't make yourself sick over it, Nevie," he said and cut a bite from the potato. "I always wondered if you might be queer. Last night you were right on the lip of proving it for both of us."
The forkful of boiled potato stopped inches from Clive's mouth as he studied his friend. "Nevie, I'm not going to tell a soul about you. And we're going to have many a night where we make each other feel good, mate." He chuckled and pushed the potato into his mouth. "Until some lass comes along and manages to hogtie me so her brothers can carry me to the altar, you've got free rein of my best feature," he continued, speaking around the food in his mouth.
"But I don't want to be queer, Clive."
"Why not? As long as it's only the two of us who knows, I mean? You'll like it, Nevie. I'll make you feel real good."
Neville continued to push his food around on his plate. He didn't look up to meet Clive's gaze.
Clive swallowed and picked up his drumstick. "So, it's all right that we help each other out - us both liking it like we do."
"But I don't like it, Clive," Neville mumbled, looking down at his food. "You did do it me when I was pissed, didn't you?"
Clive dropped the piece of chicken back on his plate and stared at his friend.
Neville looked up then, meeting the other man's gaze.
Clive sat back in his chair. Nevie was being more difficult that he'd imagined. He understood instinctively that, if he told the man to shut up, he'd lose what he was planning would be his nightly pleasure.
"Nevie, lad, you're probably not even queer at all, you know?"
"No. It's probably just a phase. Like little kids playing army - they grow out of that just as you'll grow out of this. In the meantime, though, there ain't no reason we shouldn't both enjoy it."
"And if I don't grow out of it, mate?"
"Then, you'll just have to get married like any other lad. Only, we'll continue to be mates and we can get together to do things-"
"With a wife and kids, Clive?"
"Why not, lad? Did your da take your ma - or you - to the pub when he went out with his mates? Did mine? Bloody hell, Nevie, you get married to get a son, not to become some - some hermit."
Neville retreated back to pushing his food around the plate and Clive picked up his drumstick.
"You're expecting me to get into the bed naked tonight then?" Neville asked as Clive pushed his chair back from the table. "And you're expecting to bugger me?"
"Not tonight, mate. That Hun's coming for me to show them how to get to the brat."
"Clive," Neville groaned, "you aren't really going to do something with those men, are you?"
He picked up his plate and stepped to the rubbish bin. "Of course I am, Nevie. It's only right that Hun brat be with his ma and they capture that criminal his Lordship is protecting. It's even better that David Rice is paying me to guide them up to the house."
"Clive, if those Huns are right, let them take their case to the police! We've got justice in this country."
"Ain't his Lordship the judge for these parts? He sure acted like he was when we were brought up before him this summer - all because we was going to give that queer Yank mate of his some fun. You know what he's going to decide, don't you?"
"But it ain't right, Clive," Neville said, even as both of them knew he was backing down. "This smacks of kidnapping."
"Lord Petersholme just ain't letting those Huns get to the kid - or that criminal up in the house." He scrapped his plate and took it to the sink. "He's a nobleman, you know - he's got more rights than a normal body."
"What're you going to do with David tonight?" Neville asked, resigning himself to Clive doing whatever it was that he'd decided to do. With him helping his mate do it, like he always did.
"Just show him and this Hun how to get up to the house - the Hun's translator too." He turned back to Neville, his face a smile. "And maybe make another fiver - or more - if they want some help getting that brat and criminal away. Maybe we can both make a fiver each out of this. A week's wages for doing nothing - it beats forking hay all day out there in the cold for sure."
"No-one's going to get hurt, are they?"
Clive stared back at Neville in surprise. "Why should they, mate? The Hun will arrest the criminal, put him in chains, and pick up the brat. That's pretty simple, ain't it?"
"What about the old lady, his Lordship's aunt?"
"What's she going to do? The Hun and his translator both will have guns with them. That'll keep her quiet whilst they do their business."
Miss Murray opened the door Wednesday afternoon and stood back as Max Molloy entered the great hall of Bellingham Hall. "Welcome, m'Lord," she said as her gaze took in the bag in Max's hand. "So, you've decided to stay with us after all?"
"Only until Friday," Max answered. "We'll have some marines here by then."
"Only Cook and myself know that the young master left with you, Lord Molloy," she told him. "And we live here in the house, so it's not had a chance to get down to the cottages."
"That's wise, Miss Murray," Max told her as he followed her to the living room.
"I'll fetch Miss Alice, sir." Her gaze returned to his bag. "And take your things up to your room."
"Lord Molloy! It's nice to see you again," Alice Adshead greeted him as she entered the living room. Behind her, Miss Murray pulled the doors closed. "How's Willi taking his visit?"
Molloy chuckled. "My boy has taken to him, Miss Alice, like William is some hero who can do no wrong."
"And Willi?" she asked as she sat. "Is he behaving himself?"
"Very much so." He sat across from her. "In fact, he's accepted the protector role with vigour."
"That's good then, my Lord," she nodded. "There will be another generation of Molloy and Petersholme working together then."
"Miss Murray mentioned that you've managed to keep his departure from the Hall quiet-"
"Very much so." She scrowled. "Not even the kitchen staff knows. Fortunately, young Mr. Jorsten has been quite willing to eat the boy's share of cottage pie."
"I suspect that lad's not eating right now that he doesn't have someone fixing dinner for him." Molloy felt his stomach lurch but managed to smile, he hoped, endearingly. He remembered Petersholme's many complaints about his aunt's cottage pie over the years. "Hopefully, my arrival will be an occasion for Bellingham Hall to celebrate."
"I had planned on roast chicken tonight," she said, "with potatoes, of course. I'll have Cook add another chicken."
"That will be fine," he said as he pushed himself from the chair. "There weren't any problems last night, were there?" he asked as he began to pace.
"Very quiet, actually."
"We've learnt that this Monsieur Reynaud Robbie's supposed to report to is tied up in Paris until Friday. Which, of course, means they won't be home until the weekend now."
"I thought Mr. Churchill told Robert that he would meet his man Monday and then could come home," Alice Adshead said.
"We suspect that Nazi sympathisers in one of Blum's coalition partners have managed to hold things up. And that's held Robbie's party in Deauville."
Alice studied Max Molloy closely. She said nothing but her eyes betrayed her concern.
"We think that they'll try something in the next two days - before the weekend."
"Is Robert protected there in France, my Lord?" she finally asked.
"He is. He's got two officers of the French army there with him as well as a number of Reynaud's farmhands." He frowned. "Before I left Easthampton-Mares this morning, I called Mr. Churchill. He's sent some of our people to the minister's place as well."
"Royal Navy. Having come to know Mr. Churchill, I suspect MI-5 will be sniffing around Monsieur Reynaud's château as well."
"So, Robert and Elizabeth are protected?" He nodded. "And Barry as well?"
Again, he nodded.
"I see. That leaves us here then."
"Like sitting ducks," Molloy hissed, expressing the emotions building in him since he'd left this house the day before. "At least, until we have Marines in place - Friday."
Alice nodded. "I had wondered about that."
She sat up straighter and her gaze held Molloy. "Well, we have you, Jorsten, and myself. And we have a veritable armoury here in the Hall. We'll handle them if they come in these next two days, my Lord."
"It might be wise to bring in your manager, Miss Alice."
"No. We won't disrupt the farm any more than we have to."
"Lord Molloy, Robert's man will be available if we need reinforcements for any reason. So will the men of this farm; to a man, they're committed to their Lord. But they are committed because he ensures that they're employed and housed well enough for their needs - and because he makes very few demands on them, other than their employment.
"Petersholme must be seen as sufficient of itself, my Lord, in addition to being a considerate employer. That's the creed three generations of Baron Petersholme have held to; for reason, I might add - there is grave danger to the very social underpinnings of our way of life here, otherwise."
"You're a wise woman, Miss Alice," Molloy told her, giving voice to his admiration for her grasp of reality. "Those are the very traits that keep England's aristocrats credible in the twentieth century."
"And Petersholme will remain credible, my Lord."
A knock at the door interrupted them. Molloy looked askantly at her and Alice sniffed. "That'll be Miss Murray with our tea."
"I have concerns, Lord Molloy," Dagold Jorsten said to the Englishman as they sat in the study with their coffees after dinner.
"They are?" Max asked.
"Firstly, I must ask - have you found out if the Gräfin von Kys survived the fire at Schloß Kys?"
"She survived. MI-5 has her presently being attached to the Waffen-SS, carrying a rank comparable to lieutenant colonel."
"A Obersturmbannführerin," Jorsten groaned, nodding as he assimilated the information.
"What does that mean - exactly?"
Jorsten looked blankly at him.
"I mean, what exactly does her survival and transfer to the military arm of state security have to do with a possible attack on Bellingham Hall?"
"Not just Lord Petersholme's estate, but on his life as well," the young German answered.
"She is insane, my Lord. She had my brother shot because he had not married her. She had a much better marriage - to Graf Janus. It was a marriage that elevated her and her unborn child to the highest levels of the old Prussian aristocracy. But she hated my brother and, when she was in a position to do, had him tried on a trumped-up charge of rape in a People's Court. The night that Jani - Graf Janus - died, she said she'd watched him put before the firing squad."
Max shuddered. Jorsten's words had the ring of truth about them; they fleshed out the bare bones of the story that Petersholme had given him. He could not imagine a woman - no, he corrected himself, a creature - as demented as this Gisele von Kys appeared to be.
"She now has a position of authority, my Lord," Jorsten continued. "She can seek what she thinks of as revenge outside the borders of the German Reich."
"And she'd have spies watching Petersholme here?"
"They would be Sicherheitsdienst, not Waffen-SS. But it does not matter. She would know about them. Their reports would get back to her immediately. She would see to it."
"So she could watch Lord Petersholme. So she could find a way and a time to strike at him for preventing her from killing me and for almost killing her - and for taking the Graf's son."
"You think that his going to France offered an opportunity to get at you then?"
Jorsten shrugged. "She hates my family because my brother wouldn't marry her. Then, I was her husband's lover. And she wants Wilhelm-"
"Why? If she had your brother executed because she became pregnant with the child-?"
Jorsten chuckled. "She is insane, my Lord. On one hand, the kleiner Graf is the symbol of her loss of honour; on the other, he is the heir to von Kys and her connection to the new Germany. She wants him in Germany - to show him as a breeder would show a horse. He is her pride."
"So, you believe that there will be an attack here?"
"Of course there will be, Lord Molloy. I still live, and she believes that Willi is here. She probably sent Jani's Hauptscharführer to England ..." A small smile split his thin lips. "Yes, she would send him. He knows us both and he is completely dedicated to the Party."
"Horst Müller. He was Graf von Kys'-" He paused, searching for the correct word in English. "Sergeant Major?" He looked to Molloy for confirmation. "The non-commissioned officer who ensures that everything runs smoothly in an operation?"
"That sounds right, Dagold. But why - or how - would he become involved?"
"He's Waffen-SS himself and you said that the Gräfin is now as well. She could have him assigned to her for this mission."
"Does he speak English?"
"No. But that wouldn't stop him. He's an old fighter, follows orders, and has no fear. He would be perfect to come after us, secluded as we are during the holiday."
Molloy pursed his lips. "Who would she send after Petersholme then? This man sounds like the perfect assassin."
"She would go herself, of course."
Molloy's eyes widened as he tried to imagine a woman shooting a man. "Why?"
"She is a proud woman, my Lord. Her pride is overwhelming. And she is not especially rational."
"I still don't see-"
"He prevented her from exacting her revenge on me, he shot her, and he took the kleiner Graf. Each of those actions would be a direct insult to her. She would demand to hold the gun that killed him. As a Waffen-SS Obersturmbannführerin, her demand would be honoured."
"Unfortunately, Petersholme won't be able to leave France until the weekend. We'll have Royal Marines to the farm by Friday-"
Jorsten smiled and pressed his fingers together over his lap. "And, until then, you are here to help protect us, yes?"
"Are you a marksman with a pistol, my Lord?"
"A pistol? I thought that I'd take a shotgun to bed-"
"That's but one or two shots - and you would need to reload the firing chamber each time. A revolver carries six shots and you have only to pull the trigger; a machine pistol like my Luger has nine shots. You have a better chance at wounding your target with either - before he can wound you." He shrugged. "Or kill you."
Molloy nodded. "I'll take a pistol with me then."
"You and I will need to stand watch tonight, my Lord - and tomorrow night as well - until these English Marines are in place here."
The young German's suggestion sounded good and Molloy wished that he'd thought of it. He wasn't comfortable with this military sort of thinking and it probably showed far more than he'd have liked. He didn't like the images that quickly flooded his mind and, as quickly, disappeared. The whole household could so easily have been killed in their beds. "I'll take first watch," he said. "But I don't think that we should disturb Miss Alice with this detail."
"We'll also need to relocate our sleeping arrangements to one wing of the house," Jorsten said.
"Whatever for?" Molloy growled without thinking.
"Hauptscharführer Müller would like nothing better than to kill us one by one - without any of us ever awakening." He shrugged even as his gaze never left Molloy's face. "You, Fraü Alice, and myself should have adjoining apartments, my Lord - one's with locks on the doors. When the attack comes, the extra moment we can give ourselves can mean life or death for us."
"That sounds like a sound idea, Jorsten," Molloy told him. "But, we'll have to work this out with Miss Alice - all except the standing guard - you understand?"
* * *
"Drive your car behind the shed here," Rice told Crooksall as he left the bellows and started towards the man, pointing to the nearly over-grown dirt track that ran along the side of the building.
Moments later, James Crooksall stepped from the side of the shed carrying a bag. "You're dressed like a bloody undertaker, mate," Rice said as the other man reached him.
Crooksall stopped and met the smith gaze. "I am an undertaker, comrade. And I've just left my third funeral of the day. Is there someplace where I can change?"
Rice stepped quickly back, instinctively making a warding sign.
"Don't worry," Crooksall laughed mirthlessly. "I didn't bring the man on the white horse with me tonight - at least, not for us. He rides for this useless anachronism from England's medieval past and his friends."
"You mean his Lordship?" Rice asked carefully as he hadn't understood the other man's expression.
"If the other team has followed its orders, Lord Petersholme is already dead. Now, we just have to follow ours and execute this German criminal in addition to returning the child to his mother." As he spoke, he moved closer to the entrance of the shed and glanced inside. "May I change inside, comrade? I'll freeze my bollocks if I got out of this costume out here."
Rice led him through the shed and opened the door to the house. "In here. You can tell that kraut that it's time to go as well."
Rice snorted. "If somebody in the village did want a smithing job this close to Christmas, I didn't want him meeting up with this man Müller now did I?"
Crooksall sat across from the Hauptscharführer in the back of Rice's van as they left the village. From the front, they could hear the clop of the horse's hooves as they struck the cobblestone of the high street and Rice muttering nonsense to the animal.
"You'll need to tell that man to hide his wagon when we reach our destination," Müller said.
"Will he come with us then?"
The Hauptscharführer's look of scorn embarrassed Crooksall. "Someone must lead us to these cottages and point us to the one that is our destination, comrade," he said softly. "Your man Rice appears to be the only one of us able to do that."
Crooksall didn't risk making more of a fool of himself by answering. He nodded and hoped that the faint light from outside didn't show how red his face was. He was glad that the sun had already begun to set.
"He'll stay behind once we have our guide to the manor. He can stop any one who would follow us." Müller chuckled. "He is big but dumb - it's all that he's good for."
"The farmhand who's to lead us, he's a bit slow as well," Crooksall blurted. "Our rural people are, it seems."
"The clodhoppers are in every country, comrade, even in the Fatherland."
Crooksall nodded and relaxed slightly at the other man's agreement.
"Once we are inside the manor, can you find the sleeping quarters, comrade?" Müller asked.
"I've never set foot in Bellingham Hall, Hauptscharführer, but we performed a funeral service for a gentlewoman last year. The aristocracy here in England tend to duplicate each other's houses."
"So, you will be able to find both the boy and the criminal?"
"I think so."
"Good!" Müller leaned back against the side of the van. "Do we have any idea how many people we'll need to contend with?"
"How many people there will be inside the manor! Think, damn it! Your life and mine depends on it."
"His Lordship is out of the country-" Crooksall answered nervously. "My instructions said that he'd taken his ward and his American house guest with him."
"The Baron is dead by now."
Crooksall smiled. "And the others too?"
"The others with him are meaningless. They pose no threat to the new order."
"Here, there'll only be the old woman, the boy, and that criminal we have orders to execute."
"And the servants?"
"I don't know - but they'll be on the top floor. We should be in and out before they even know we're there."
"Would that it be so," Müller hissed. "But don't count on it."
Horst Müller looked towards the front of the van and sighed. "Have you arranged the escape route for the brat and me, comrade?" he asked finally.
Crooksall breathed a sigh of relief at the new direction of the conversation. Getting the damned German out of England had been something he could arrange for. "There will be a total of three motorcars, Hauptscharführer, between Coventry and the coast. Your drivers know the route and the rendezvous points. They only know that you are taking a rescued German child back to his mother."
"And not one of these men speak German, I assume?"
"No, Hauptscharführer. That would have been too much to arrange. As it is, each man knows the geography of his part of the route well. There won't be any problems getting you to the Channel."
"It makes no difference." Müller shrugged. "I do not have to have a person with whom I can have an intelligent conversation. I'll be in a u-boat with other Germans soon enough if these men simply follow their orders. And the Willi von Kys will safely be on his way back to his mother."
He looked back at the front of the van. "Please, comrade, remember to find out who is in this house from your farmboy. I do not like surprises, yes?" He reached into his coat pocket and clutched something.
Crooksall saw what it was as the German pulled out a dagger and recognised it as the service dagger of the Waffen-SS. In his mind, he could see the eagle on the hilt, its talons gripping a wreath containing a swastika inside it.
Müller said nothing, watching intently as he moved the cutting edge of the dagger across the skirt of his coat. He smiled, his teeth showing, in the near darkness.
Crooksall assumed that the Hauptscharführer had found the blade to be sharp enough. He closed his eyes and wished he was not afraid.
Crooksall felt the van slow and opened his eyes. He looked over at Müller, surprised that he had fallen asleep and even more surprised that he had.
At first glance, the German looked to be asleep, curled in on himself as he sat. Outside of the van, Rice began to apply the brakes. At the first squeal of wood meeting wood, Müller sat straight up, his dagger moving horizontally in front of his face. "It's all right, Hauptscharführer. We've got to where we're going is all."
Rice opened the door in the back of the van and they silently began to follow him through knee-high drifts of snow.
"It's bloody cold!" Crooksall grumbled to the other two as he trudged up yet another hill. "How much further?"
Before Crooksall knew it was happening, Müller had pulled his dagger from his pocket and had its blade at the Englishman's throat. "Shut up, little man!" he growled low. "This is a mission that demands all of the surprise we can have on our side. This whining only alerts anyone listening to our approach."
Crooksall stared down his nose at the part of the blade between his chin and the Hauptscharführer's gloved hand against the hilt. He glanced over to Rice who was watching impassively. He nodded and felt relief flood over him as the point of the dagger left his adam's apple.
Müller looked to Rice and whispered to Crooksall: "Tell him to lead on, comrade. We don't have all night."
* * *
Rice pushed open the door of the cottage and stepped inside. Crooksall and then Müller followed him. Neville looked sharply around from the sink at the sound of the door opening. His jaw opened in surprise at seeing the three men walk in. Clive stood up from the table and nodded to them.
"About time you got here," Clive said, speaking to Rice.
"I don't like this at all," Neville said as he moved alongside his friend.
Müller looked out at the night a last time and, seeing no-one moving, shut the door. "This hovel is worst than I expected," he said to Crooksall as he crossed the room and came to a stop in front of the two farmhands. "And these dogs don't look smart enough to find a rabbit."
"These two lads are Clive and Neville, comrades," Rice said. "Clive here is going to lead you to the house."
Crooksall translated and Müller studied the blond youth closely. "If he can find his way to the toilet, we'll be lucky," he mumbled and swung back to face Crooksall. "Tell the smith that he is to kill the other one when we've gone. Wait until we're out the door and find an excuse to call him to you."
Müller shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Never leave a witness, comrade."
Crooksall nodded and turned away from the others to hide the blush that had his ears burning. He would never be as happy as when he had put the Hun on his way.
"Now," Müller continued, "give them some pretty talk to make them think that I've given you instructions on how to keep their heads out of a noose." His lips turned into a frown. "Then, we must be going. We're running out of time."
"This other one - he's to die too?"
"Of course, comrade. But at the manor, once we are inside. Give them your speech and let's get going."
"Pettigrew," I said as I entered the study and saw him standing with his back to me, gazing out the window.
He about faced instantly, already at attention when he faced me.
I fought against the smile that threatened at the corners of my lips. I concentrated on looking him up and down. He was in uniform, and I suspected that it was the same one that he'd worn on our flight over. It also looked to have been worn since Monday. There was also a bit of stubble on his chin. "It would appear that you weren't prepared to come to my aid when the call came," I said in a neutral tone.
He flushed. From the collar of his uniform blouse to his hairline. "Sir!" he began, sounding like a first week cadet facing his commanding officer, "the First Sea Lord himself-"
"Stanhope? He personally called you out of a lady's boudoir?" I asked, guessing at where a randy young lad would most likely be, if he had several days of leisure available.
He looked ready to start trembling.
"Pettigrew, relax and have a seat, man," I grinned, relenting. "We're countrymen and, I hope, friends." My grin disappeared instantly as I realised why he was here. "John, I need you to help protect Elizabeth - and I certainly don't wear my morals on my sleeve like a certain member of the Lords we both know."
If anything, Pettigrew reddened even deeper at the reference to the Earl of Lancashire. But he did relax.
"I assume that you weren't given time to pack a change of clothes?"
He looked down at his hands and nodded.
"I promise that I won't mention that aspect of our current situation the next time I see your father," I told him, unable to stifle the goad.
A laugh from behind me caught me unaware. It caused Pettigrew to pause as he moved towards the chair closest to the window. He took a deep breath and sat down. I turned to face the man who'd laughed.
"Lord Petersholme, please forgive our young sub-lieutenant his appearance," the man said as my gaze reached him. I was facing the most nondescript man I'd ever seen. I did not doubt for a moment that I would never be able to describe him adequately, even on pain of death. "I walked into that boudoir you mentioned and pulled our randy young gentleman out of the lady's bed and threatened to shoot him in the head if he weren't dressed within ten seconds." He grinned. "He made it too, except for a few buttons."
Pettigrew groaned behind me.
"You are?" I asked the man.
"Dunham, my Lord. Brigadier Dunham of His Majesty's Service. It is to His Majesty's advantage that I was never here and that we never met. If you will, let's keep me away from the sub-lieutenant's visit to Deauville."
"He's MI-5, Petersholme," Pettigrew mumbled from behind me.
"Mr. Churchill personally telephoned me this morning, my Lord. It seemed that the situation here was important enough that I should lose a bit of the cover that I've managed to acquire." He glanced beyond me in Pettigrew's direction before returning his gaze to me.
I nodded and turned to face the sub-lieutenant. "Look, John." I smiled. "Go up to my apartment, the one I'm sharing with Barry - the American from the flight over. There's a bathroom there and you should be able to wear Barry's clothes. Freshen up and come back down when you're finished."
"Will you be safe?" he asked as he stood.
"I don't plan on going outside for a while. And Elizabeth is with Barry."
"How is he, sir?"
"He took a bullet in the shoulder. The doctor said it was a fairly clean wound - his clavicle was broken with the shoulder blade broken as well, but the artery wasn't nicked. He gave him a dose of morphine."
"The poor man." John Pettigrew grimaced as he started towards the door. "I won't disturb him, sir."
Brigadier Dunham closed and locked the door behind the sub-lieutenant. He turned back to me. "If you will, my Lord, I'd like to hear what happened this morning," he said. It was obvious to both of us that he had taken complete control of our interview.
I recounted everything that had happened that morning from my first cup of tea to the shots that had brought Barry down and killed the French major. The nondescript man from MI-5 had me revisiting almost every moment, poking and prodding. I was almost to the point of wondering if he wanted the details of my visit to the toilet, he was so bloody thorough.
He frowned finally. "Our French friend was two-timing us as well as his own country then," he grumbled.
My eyebrows rose, seeking my hairline. "What?"
"Major Urnazy. He was a double agent."
I felt pasty. My face must have been the colour of stone. "He was one of ours?" I managed.
"Not exactly. We caught him in an awkward moment several years ago. Rather than let us tell the French about him, he decided to work for us as well as the Germans."
I laughed. "Every Frenchman in the world wants it known that he's a cocksman in bed, Dunham. How did catching him in a delicate moment threaten him?"
The brigadier smiled back at me. "No Frenchman wants his country to know that he likes to be buggered by young lads, my Lord."
"Oh-" My ears burnt suddenly.
"We knew he worked for the Sicherheitsdienst but he confirmed it when we caught him in that compromised position. It was his orders from Berlin that we were interested in - not how he took his pleasures."
"Did he inform you about the attack on us then?" I asked, giving voice to the sense of awareness growing in me.
"He did, my Lord." He sighed. "In an indirect way."
"He what?" I felt weak. "You let them nearly kill Barry?"
"I said 'in an indirect way', Lord Petersholme." He looked towards the fire. "His messages held no urgency. It was decided that we could wait until closer to the weekend to move."
"Barry was shot!" I growled. "He almost died out there this morning - because you decided that you could wait until closer to the weekend?"
"Urnazy was a consummate actor, Lord Petersholme," Dunham said without a trace of emotion. "He also was apparently completely married to the Nazi cause. We didn't know."
"Bloody hell with not knowing!" I growled as I jumped up.
"Sir, we now have to ensure that you and your party remain safe until Minister Reynaud can get away from Paris and meet you."
I looked up at the ceiling and mentally counted to ten. It didn't help.
"This was a Waffen-SS operation from what we've been able to piece together," the man said with a shrug.
"Piece together? You had a man in on the attack-"
"Urnazy wasn't exactly forthcoming." The man smiled. "In fact he had us misdirected completely. And, of course, he's dead now."
"Lovely. So, why do you assume that it was Waffen-SS then?"
He shrugged. "Because if it had been an Sicherheitsdienst operation, you would have been dead, my Lord."
I groaned. "Why do I feel like a fox that's just been let out of its cage and now hears the hounds baying in the distance?" I demanded, not expecting an answer.
"I'll be here tonight and I'll get with the chap from the Sûretè who's here and work out a plan to protect you and your party for the rest of your stay." He bowed slightly and reached for the door. "I know all of this has been most trying for you - especially your-" he paused for the barest instant, "your friend being wounded like this. Thank you for allowing me to have some of your time, Lord Petersholme."
I watched him leave the room with the sure knowledge that the nature of my relationship with Barry was now known in London. Fear of what that would mean was a lump in my throat that refused to be dislodged, regardless of the number of times I swallowed.
* * *
John Pettigrew slipped quietly into the bedroom. The American was lying bare-chested in the bed, the right side of his chest bandaged from his neck to the bottom of his ribcage and extended down his arm to his elbow. The sub-lieutenant thought that he looked pale but peaceful. Elizabeth, sitting beside the bed, had heard the door open and was looking at him as he entered the room.
"I was pulled out of Paris rather quickly this morning, Miss Elizabeth," he told her quietly and felt his face flush. "Without so much as a change of clothes I have to admit. His Lordship suggested that I could wear some of Mr. Alexander's-"
Elizabeth nodded and pointed to the chest-of-drawers between the windows. "I suppose he's unpacked and placed his things there, Sub-lieutenant."
"How is he?" he asked as he crossed the room.
"Dead to the world - oh!" she yelped and her eyes opened wide in surprise as she realised what she'd said.
John smiled and moved to stand beside her. "Right - he'll be that through the night. His Lordship said that he was given morphine."
He caught a whiff of himself, the odour of stale sweat and even staler sex. He stepped back from her then, his ears again flaming. "I'm a mess. I guess that I'd better get those clothes and find the bathroom."
She smiled up at him.
"It's a pleasure to see you again, Miss Elizabeth." He stepped quickly to the chest-of-drawers. "Perhaps we'll have a chance to chat later?"
In the bathtub, John scrubbed his chest furiously with the flannel. It wasn't that he was ashamed of having spent the last two nights in a woman's bed. In fact, it would add another conquest to his reputation amongst the lads in his squadron, once it had got around.
Lancashire's youngest son would definitely not be thought of as a poofter. And he wasn't ashamed that Petersholme knew about it, either. It established him as a man in the his Lordship's eyes.
His scrubbing moved to one arm and, then, the other. No, it wasn't having been found out that bothered him.
It was the way that he'd been gathered up. His clothes thrown to him as he sat up in the woman's bed. Hurried out of her flat without even a moment to clean their sex off of him.
He was bloody angry with himself for having left his Lordship's party in the haphazard care of that damned French captain! That he'd had to be rousted out of a woman's bed to come to their aid because the Frenchman hadn't been able to. And that he'd let the Yank nearly get himself killed while he was dallying in Paris.
He'd let a lovely lady down. He'd let a confidant of Churchill's and the First Sea Lord down - and the man had nearly been killed for it. He'd trusted a Frenchman to assume his own responsibility. It was his fault alone that the damned American had been shot.
Even if that never found its way into his Navy dossier, he'd still know it. That was enough. Whilst he'd shown that he could do a woman with the best of them, he knew that he'd still failed the test of being a real man.
He raised his foot out of the water and began to scrub vigorously, paying special attention to between his toes.
He couldn't leave Petersholme with that impression of him. He might be an officer in the Royal Navy, but he was a very junior one with a number of men in position to judge him. Petersholme knew them all - at least, he knew Churchill, and that was more than enough.
He reckoned that he'd always be seen as Lancashire's youngest son after this. The sympathiser's whoring son, more like. He'd never be thought of as a man to be entrusted with responsibility by the men who counted.
He had to prove himself to Petersholme.
Flirting with Elizabeth the next few days simply would not help him to do so. Walking the perimeters of this château with a pistol strapped to his belt and peeking behind every curtain wouldn't go very far in doing so, either.
Brigadier Dunham had been quite certain that there was going to be an assassination attempt against Petersholme on the drive out from Paris. He hadn't said much - in fact, he'd been mum almost the whole time - but that much he'd been sure of. And it'd already happened when they arrived at the château.
What he needed to do was capture the Jerries behind the attempt this morning. At least one of them. That would make Petersholme sit up and take notice - London too.
He nodded and raised his other foot. He washed it more gently than he had the other one.
Capture himself a Jerry - that would be sweet, for sure. He shook his head slowly. It didn't take brains to understand that would be a lot harder to accomplish than merely thinking about it.
Pettigrew strongly suspected that the MI-5 agent planned to do nothing about this morning. There would be no English effort to find the assassins. He was going to let the French follow through on it while he disappear back to Paris, now that he had Sub-lieutenant John Pettigrew of the Royal Navy in place to guard Petersholme and his party.
Pettigrew could easily guess what the French were going to do about it. Nothing. They'd let the Germans escape just to avoid a bit of ugliness. After all, they'd had two of their own killed this morning and at least one of those dead Frenchmen had proved to be an undercover agent. He didn't doubt they both were.
The French would let things lie fallow for that, of course. It wouldn't do at all to cast mud on any of their own.
But, if it was a German operation like MI-5 thought it was, the Germans had failed to kill Petersholme. If they knew they'd not got the man they came after, they'd try again. That was so plain that even a five year old could make it out.
He laid back in the tub, letting the warm water lap at his chest and legs and relax him.
Somebody had killed the French major who'd turned out to be a Nazi himself. And the other Frenchman had been killed on the knoll where the assassination team had hidden. It didn't set right somehow to imagine that team had been French, however, not with them killing their French partners it didn't. And Dunham had said it was a German job.
Pettigrew told himself that there had to have been Germans in the woods shooting at everyone. Germans who'd travelled across France to reach Deauville. Germans with no confederates left alive in France. Germans who needed to eat and sleep.
With the temperature hovering at the freezing mark, the sub-lieutenant had no problem guessing that there had to be a room or rooms in Deauville occupied by Germans. At least, there had been - and, if they knew that they'd missed Petersholme, they'd still be around because they had so far failed to accomplish their mission. They had to make another attempt, and it would come before the weekend.
He sat up and pushed himself out of the tub. Quickly towelling himself, he dressed in the American's clothes. All he had to do was find them and alert MI-5, and the danger to his Lordship would be past. He grinned at the thought of that being recorded in his dossier.
As he exited the bathroom, he saw Petersholme enter the American's bedroom. The man hadn't seen him and had left the door open. Pettigrew crossed quickly to the doorway but held back from entering as he realised that he'd be intruding if he made himself known to his Lordship and his ward.
Even holding back, he'd heard the man tell his cousin that the French captain had asked for her hand. He shrugged as he slipped out of the sitting room. So, his Lordship's cousin was going to be one of the women who slipped through his fingers. It was too bad, but there were other women, a whole world of them in fact. Waiting just for him.
* * *
Neville sat on the edge of the bed, glancing out of the corner of his eye at David Rice standing before the fire. He didn't know what to do or, even, what he could do. And he didn't like Rice standing there like the man was guarding Neville. It was almost as if he was in gaol and awaiting a date with the hangman.
He knew that whatever the Hun and that Crooksall were up to was no good. That much was as bleeding obvious as the nose on his face.
Only, Clive was involved in it, too. Just before the men had arrived, Clive was talking like he might do more than show them how to get to the house. That mixed things up into a pretty stew. Clive was his best mate, after all. He couldn't just desert him - even if he could get past Rice. And he couldn't tell on him, either.
Here he was in their cottage whilst Clive was moving further and further away from him with every step. And David Rice was standing in front of the fire, his arms crossed over his chest. Standing between him and the door, he was - like he was some kind of guard in the cells of gaol.
He pushed himself off the bed and, forcing a smile to his face, approached the blacksmith. "How long do you think they'll be then?" he asked, trying to keep his voice casual.
Rice just watched him. He didn't move and he didn't speak. His eyes seemed to glower as they stayed on him. Neville knew something was wrong.
He wondered why Crooksall had come back after they'd left and called Rice outside. Something was definitely wrong.
Rice was so much bigger than him. If the man ever got a hold on him, Neville knew he'd be done for without so much as a fuss. He reckoned then that was their plan. He stopped walking towards the man when he reached the foot of the bed, his brain trying to comprehend this.
The big question on it was what Rice was going to do to him. Only, he couldn't stop wondering if Clive knew what the men were planning all along. If he did, maybe Neville wouldn't be hurt too bad - as long as he didn't try to escape. They were mates, after all. Been since they were in nappies. Clive wouldn't let him get hurt. Maybe things would be all right, if he didn't do anything suspicious before Clive and the others got back.
Only - what if Clive wasn't in on what the men were planning? Rice had called the other two comrades - and that made him either a Nazi or a communist. Them as well, most like. And Neville wasn't about to believe that Hun was one of those communists by any stretch.
They were in danger - him and Clive.
Neville's heart pounded in his chest. Clive could be about to die, just as soon as he showed those two where the Hall was and how to get in. Just like he was, whenever Rice got around to doing him in.
Neville gulped and looked over at David Rice again, studying him for anything that would give him away.
There was nothing. Just the smith watching him. Like a hawk watching a mouse.
He glanced towards the door. He hadn't meant to. He understood instinctively that Rice would see it and know that he was now thinking about escape. He pulled his gaze back and gasped when he saw Rice take a step towards him.
Neville looked back to the door, gauging the distance to it. He didn't think about his chances of reaching it, getting it open, or getting out into the night. He had to try, else he was dead.
Rice started across the room, moving directly towards the farmboy. He'd caught Nevie's glance at the door and reckoned he knew what that had meant. His hand went into his coat pocket and found the knife there.
He might as well get it over with. That undertaker had been clear about killing him, like they were going to do to Clive. He'd been thinking about doing just that as he'd driven them out from the village, and it hadn't bothered him at all. It was him or them.
He had to stay in the village after the Hun had the brat and was gone back to Germany. He had a business there, and he didn't relish the idea of swinging on the end of one of His Majesty's ropes. With both boys dead and the Hun gone, there wouldn't be a risk of that.
He'd never killed anything bigger than that hog on his uncle's farm when he'd been sixteen. That hadn't bothered him - in fact, he'd enjoyed it. As he neared Neville, he wondered what it was going to be like to kill a man.
Only, he wished that the boy would run for the door. Anything. Instead, he stood beside the bed, frozen - like a hare caught in the beam of an electric torch.
Even the hog had tried to escape. It had struggled before he could get his knife to its throat, too. Its bucking and squirming had almost got it away from him - until he'd already cut its throat. But he'd managed to hold it down until it was too far gone even to struggle. Blimey! There'd been so much blood.
Nevie, though, just stood there, letting him draw closer with each step. The boy wouldn't even reach the door if he bolted now. Of course, he'd have never got through it, even if he'd run before David started towards him. David Rice was big all right - strong too - but he was fast. Faster than any farmboy he'd ever seen.
"Please don't, Rice," Neville said, his voice low and strained. "Don't do this, please. I won't tell anybody anything."
David Rice took another step, delighting now in how wide the boy's eyes were as they watched him approach. Definitely like a rabbit, Rice told himself. Knowing what was about to happen - the eyes wide with fear and the whole body frozen with it. He almost laughed. He had the knife by its hilt but kept it hidden in his pocket.
Neville bolted for the door suddenly, breaking out of his trance. Rice's big hand grabbed the boy's cotton vest and pulled him back towards himself. The smith's other hand came out of his coat pocket, still holding the knife, and encircled the boy's chest, entrapping both his arms.
"Don't hurt me, mate," Neville whimpered. "I'll do anything you want. Just don't hurt me." He felt the point of the blade through his vest as it rose up his front. "Oh, God!" He jerked then, lunging forward to break away from Rice's hold on him.
The smith tightened his grip, pulling the boy closer. His hand let go of the vest and moved to cover Neville's mouth.
The knife rose over the rest of the boy's chest and Neville felt its tip touch his neck. He looked down, along the sides of his nose and over the hand on his mouth at the big hand holding the knife to his throat.
"No, please-!" he tried to yell but couldn't get his mouth open enough. The sound of his voice was muffled. He felt the metal move across his skin towards the side of his head.
He felt the blade pierce his skin then, just below his ear. He started to scream but the knife slit quickly around over his adam's apple towards his other ear and the only sound he made was a gurgle.
"Eliza," I called to her softly as I entered Barry's room and saw her sitting beside him.
She looked up and, seeing that it was I, smiled. "Hello, Robbie. Did you men get it all figured out with those interviews they asked for?"
"I suppose," I answered, entering the room. "I did not like the chap from MI-5, though."
I looked down at Barry lying there. He looked so peaceful. And undisturbed.
"Who was it? The Germans?"
"So it appears. They think it's an Waffen-SS operation because it seems to have been quite bungled. And von Kys' widow is now in the SS - it was probably Gisele."
"Bungled?" she yelped. "Two men dead and Barry lying here wounded-?"
"The chap from MI-5 believes it was me they were after. I do too. Major Urnazy was a German agent - a double agent really - but there was little reason to kill him whilst we were on the hunt. At least, that MI-5 chap didn't indicate any."
"The other dead man?"
"They still don't know who he was."
"He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time apparently. The moment before he was hit, he'd been between me and the knoll where the assassins were-"
"Assassins, Robbie? How many of them were there?"
"Two from the footprints in the snow leading away from the knoll." I looked down at Barry again and noticed the beads of perspiration that covered his forehead. "Should he be perspiring so?" I asked.
"You might want to bathe his face with cool water." Elizabeth pointed to the pan sitting on the bedside cabinet nearest us and stood.
"Are you leaving then?" I asked as I wrung out the flannel before folding it and bending over to wipe Barry's face.
"I thought that you might like to be alone with him for a bit," she chuckled.
I looked up at her and saw the merriment dancing in her eyes. I took her seat, refolded the flannel and laid it across Barry's forehead. "I think that we need to chat a bit before you leave."
"The Comte de Paris has asked me for your hand, Eliza. I think he'll spring the big question on you in the near future."
"He what?" She stared at me. I saw the smile tugging at her lips. Now she was an actress.
"Don't act so shocked, Eliza," I told her, turning my attention to Barry. "You've known all along that the poor man was smitten with you."
"Well, yes, I supposed I did-"
"Oh, and I suppose you aren't smitten with him as well," I continued, knowingly laying it on a bit thick. I permitted myself a slight tug at the edges of my mouth but did not allow the smile to grow. I rather liked this game she and Barry were always working on me, now that the shoe was on the other foot for a change. "At least a little."
"I didn't think that it'd go this far, Robbie," she said softly and I picked on the seriousness that had entered her voice. "I'll admit that he's made me feel good - being with him, I mean. And I'd reckoned that I was in love with him a little. He is very interesting - but marriage?"
I looked up at her then. "Let your heart decide, dear Eliza," I said just as seriously. "He is a good man and he loves you - and you love him as well. Those are very good reasons to get married."
"I'll have to think about it, Robbie," she answered looking away. "Marriage is rather final, you know."
I shrugged. "It is. But love doesn't come along every day, either."
"This war that you think is coming - would Philippe survive it?"
"Will any of us survive it, Eliza? He's in a position to have a better chance than most men will." I pursed my lips. "And I think that you're being more than a bit selfish, if that's one of your criteria for marrying him."
"I'd like to have the opportunity to grow old with him and enjoy our children-"
"Wouldn't any woman - any human being - want that of her partner?" She hung her head. "It shouldn't be something that you use to decide whether you marry Philippe, Cousin. If he makes you happy and you do the same for him, you should enjoy the time that you have - no matter how long or short it is. No-one can beat chance or know the future."
"It is selfish," she mumbled shakily. "It's just that I want him with me forever-"
"Accept his proposal then. Enjoy whatever time God gives you."
She laughed and turned back to face me, her face flushed. Even in the darkening room, I could see that her eyes were puffy. "You sound just like the vicar, Robbie - or Aunt Alice."
I smiled. "Go on with you, lass. Go find Philippe and let the poor lad make his request." I studied her for a moment more and knew that I adored her as much as I did Barry. "Get that first proposal under your belt, Eliza."
She stood indecisively for another moment. "I should go see if I can find a decent cup of tea," she said finally. "Would you like some?"
"I think not. Enjoy, Eliza." I looked back at Barry then. "That's what you're supposed to do with life - enjoy it as it comes."
"Thanks, Robbie," she whispered and was gone.
I remained seated on Barry's bed, watching him and letting my mind wander. I took his hand in mine and held it, trying in some way beyond the normal senses to impress on him my love.
My mind wandered.
It had been Urnazy who'd insisted on the stag hunt. He'd used Philippe to plan it, of course - at least, the part that I'd known about. He and a still unidentified confederate had plotted the rest of the scheme - my elimination at the hands of Gisele von Kys. The man from MI-5 had suggested that she was involved - even as he was saying nothing.
So, Janus' wife had thought to pay me back for my shooting her in the stables of Schloß Kys.
As she was involved, it was obvious why Barry had been shot - if, somehow, she had found out about us. Of course, she had. She'd had Urnazy as an informant - and both Barry and I had picked up on his interest in us last night.
It made sense in an insane sort of way for her to try to kill Barry. It would have been a way to hurt me before I was done in myself. As she had started to do to Janus in that damned stable. As she had done to Dagold, for that matter.
If I was right, I had to expect another attempt on me before Reynaud arrived at the weekend.
Barry could well be killed this time, too. And Elizabeth.
But why wasn't Gisele trying to get Willi back? And possibly finish what she'd started with young Dagold back at Schloß Kys?
I dropped Barry's hand and stood.
I began to pace. I couldn't wait until the Justice Minister of France finished his verbal duels and political games necessary to arrive at compromise with the other parties in the Government coalition.
I had promised Churchill that I would brief Reynaud and de Gaulle. The voice of armour in the French army had elected not to hear my briefing, relegating me to Philippe. That lessened the value of my giving information by at least half.
Why shouldn't I merely brief Philippe and let him get the information to his people?
I would be able to get Barry to a doctor who could at least speak English. He'd be in a top drawer hospital as he recovered. I would also have Elizabeth and myself out of France where Gisele was presumably acting like some American cowboy with unlimited guns and ammunition.
I wondered if Philippe had popped the question to Elizabeth yet. If he hadn't, it would probably be bad form merely to announce that I was going to brief him and, then, pack up my party and have young Pettigrew drive us back to Paris.
* * *
The narrow path up to the Hall from the cottages had been cleared since the last storm. But there were small patches of ice.
Crooksall's foot landed on one and, before he had realised that he was on ice, he'd put his weight on it. Both Clive and Müller watched him try to keep his footing before both legs shot out from under him.
Crooksall went down silently. Clive laughed.
"Schweigen, Schweinhund!" Müller hissed at the boy and moved carefully to pull Crooksall to his feet. "This rubbish has to remain silent, comrade," he told the Englishman as he helped him up. "Until we reach the manor - then, I'll silence him permanently."
"Clive, you've got to stay quiet, lad," Crooksall said quietly as he brushed snow off his coat and trousers. "We get caught and it's the dickens for all of us. You as well as us."
"You were funny," he answered. "Like one of them puppets at the fair, you were." The boy managed to get control of himself, stifling the last of his chuckles.
They trudged silently along the path after that - Clive in the lead with Crooksall between him and Müller.
After they'd walked what the Hauptscharführer was sure was a kilometre, he began to wonder if, perhaps, this English farmboy was as slow witted as he'd initially thought. Instead of being greedy as well as dense, he could well have alerted the nobleman to what the smith had paid him to do. He could now be leading them into a trap. And that ox he'd left back at the cottage to finish off the other dunce and his bumbling would be the cause of it.
He speeded up to catch the undertaker. "How much further?" he whispered to Crooksall.
Clive stopped when he heard the whispering and looked around at the two men behind.
"How much further?" Crooksall asked softly in English.
"See them woods jutting out there ahead of us?" Clive asked, pointing to the even darker area of the shadows in front of them. "Just after them, we'll come out amongst the outhouses and all. It's only a hop, skip, and jump from there to the kitchen - maybe a couple of furlongs as the crow flies."
Crooksall translated and Müller, squinting, tried to see into the shadows. "Why would he lead us to the kitchen? There's more danger of being found out there than any other part of the manor, isn't there? Don't servants do the aristocracy's work here in this country?"
Crooksall translated the essence of the Hauptscharführer's questions without including the man's suspicion.
Clive grinned cheekily at both men. "They leave the kitchen unlocked so eggs and stuff can be brought in and the fire started before the cook is up. Everything else is locked." His grin widened. "Maybe they expect us to come after them with pitchforks or somesuch - and they don't think we're smart enough to know that they're leaving the kitchen as a way in."
Müller nodded to himself as Crooksall translated. Clive turned and they began to move along the path again.
English nobles closed up their manors at night. Müller could understand their reasoning, but it would seem that English peasants were more revolutionary than German peasants were. At least, the aristocracy who ruled them thought that they were.
He smiled. Locked doors would not protect these relics of feudal times - not after the Führer had liberated all of the Volk and brought them under the same banner. Then, greater Germany would finally rid itself of the useless relic that the aristocracy was. No door would be able to withstand the force of history.
The quarter moon had broken through the clouds when they'd made their way through the woods. Crooksall saw the outbuildings and turned to Müller. He smiled as he pointed to them.
Like some child, the Hauptscharführer thought. Crooksall was as mindless as the farmboy. And nearly as useless. He wished that he could handle the undertaker the way he intended to do the boy. Unfortunately, the undertaker held his key to escape - and he had to carry the Obersturmbannführerin's son back to Germany.
They halted in the shadows of the outbuilding closest to the kitchen and Müller surveyed the manor carefully. The entire upper storey was dark, but he could see a faint light in the west wing on the first floor and another on the ground floor west of the kitchen.
"They had electric put in three years ago," Clive volunteered, "just before the old Lord died. That and the telephone."
"Where is everybody?" Müller grunted.
"Miss Murray and Cook, they're on the top floor," Clive told them after Crooksall had translated. "Miss Alice now - she keeps an apartment on the ground floor over there," he pointed to the west wing where Müller had seen the light. "Her and Miss Elizabeth both do." He leered.
Müller could see the glint of his eyes. "Who is this Elizabeth?"
"She's His Lordship's young cousin and quite an eyeful, I must say."
The Hauptscharführer reckoned that the boy had watched the young aristocrat through her windows. That made Clive both stupid and a leering pervert. "And the others?" he demanded, a sharper edge to his voice. Crooksall translated.
"All the sleeping quarters are on the first floor there."
"The child too?" Crooksall translated and the farmboy nodded. "And the escaped criminal as well?" Again, Clive nodded.
"Which rooms are theirs?"
Clive looked back to the woods beyond the outbuildings.
"Which rooms?" Müller growled.
Clive turned back to the other men before Crooksall could translate. He didn't look at them but intently looked at the dark shadow at their feet. "I've only been inside the Hall once. And that time only to his Lordship's study."
"So, he doesn't know then," Müller groaned. He instantly imagined them searching from room to room for the dead Graf's son and lover. He could only hope that there was only the old woman, the Graf's Schwul, and the child inside the house. He was beginning to revise downward the chances of his getting the brat out of England.
He reached into the left pocket of his greatcoat to find his dagger and looked at the farmboy gazing at the back of the manor. The dagger was the standard, ornamental issue that was part of the dress uniform of the Waffen-SS - with the German eagle holding the swastika enclosed in a circle of laurel leaves. Horst Müller had found that the steel was good however, and had the blade sharpened.
"Find out from him where the unlocked door is, comrade," he told Crooksall as he began to edge towards Clive. "That and anything unusual he might remember. But hurry! We must be back to this Coventry of yours and on the road to the coast as close to midnight as possible."
Clive and Crooksall spoke together for several minutes while the Hauptscharführer inched closer to the farmboy. There were but inches separating them when he stopped moving and reached into his greatcoat for the dagger.
"Ask him if there is any reason that these aristocrats might guess that there is a threat to them," he told Crooksall, slipping the dagger out of his pocket so that it was pressed against the greatcoat's sleeve unseen.
Watching the farmboy shake his head and answer the question, the Hauptscharführer worked the blade of his dagger around so that it jutted out from his hand, ready for a quick jab to the boy's back.
Clive turned to peer up towards the Hall. Müller's right hand clamped over his mouth, pulling the boy back towards him while his left hand thrust the dagger into his back. The Hauptscharführer stabbed him three more times before he felt the body go limp in his arms. He held him close to himself for another minute to make sure that he was dead.
Müller let the body go and watched it collapse. He reached over and cleaned his dagger on the boy's jacket. "Let's get inside," he told Crooksall. "Just stay within the shadows, like we taught you at camp in the Fatherland."
* * *
John Pettigrew drove into the village. It hadn't taken the majordomo but minutes to find car keys for him. He hadn't even had to explain why he wanted them. That had surprised him; he had expected to be grilled about why he wanted to go out alone. After all, there'd been two men killed and one wounded only hours earlier.
He snorted. The French were always so damned efficient, even when they were being insanely inefficient. He only hoped that it wouldn't be as easy to get inside the château as it was to leave it.
It was Elizabeth who occupied his thoughts as he drove towards Deauville. She was a lovely thing - far more interesting than the girls his mother had had around for him to look over. Lord Petersholme's cousin was one he'd enjoy a bout with in the kip, but it'd have to be on the quiet. And take some planning. It was never just a quick roll in the hay when the girl was one of his sort.
He drove past the casino before parking. Less than a block ahead of him stood the Normandie and the Germans he reckoned to be there. According to the majordomo at the château, there was only one other hotel in the village - one that didn't cater to gentlefolk. It was also in a shabbier part of Deauville.
Germans were ostentatious in Pettigrew's experience, at least the Nazis were - those were men who thought themselves the equals of their betters. It would be logical not to call attention to themselves, to take rooms at a hotel that was simple and did not call attention to itself. It's what he would have done if this had somehow been his mission. The less exposure, the better.
Only, the few Germans he'd had occasion to meet didn't seem to think like that. They wanted people to be aware of them, of their presence. To Pettigrew's mind, that meant that the Jerry who'd tried to kill Petersholme and very nearly succeeded in doing so with the American would not try to hide himself.
He continued to sit in the motor car and studied the front of the hotel. He'd left the château enthused at doing something that would square him with Petersholme and have his dossier show him to be ingenious. He'd only thought far enough along that he found Jerry, but now he realised that wasn't even half of it. What happened if he did find one or more Germans encamped in Deauville?
He frowned as he accepted that, in itself, meant nothing. Germans were allowed to move about in France, just as they were in England. He had to make sure that the Germans he found were connected to the assassination attempt that morning. He had to have evidence.
"Bloody hell!" he groaned aloud to himself. "I'm as dense as dear old pater ever was," he mumbled to himself, continuing his train of thought. "I need a plan of action."
If he did find Germans at either hotel, he told himself, it wouldn't mean anything - not by itself, it wouldn't. He could envision himself bursting in and proudly reporting what he'd found to Brigadier Dunham agent at the château. The man would love that - le jeune homme Anglais proving what he probably already knew. Pettigrew felt his ears burn as he imagined the man laugh at him.
No, he needed more than just confirmation that there were Germans staying in Deauville. French internal security had to have that information already. He needed something that was more concrete than that. He needed something that would place any Germans he found inside the plot to kill Petersholme.
He grinned. He'd studied German at Marlborough, just as he had French and Latin. He reckoned that he could read anything he found in a room occupied by a German. He'd know all right if he had intelligence that the chap from MI-5 would have to act on.
His grin broadened as he thought of the kiss that Elizabeth Myers would give him once she knew how thoroughly bright he'd been in finding her cousin's attempted murderers. He could even smell her perfume. Of course, she would permit him to show her London after this was over. And he'd turn on all the charm his dear old mum was always saying that he had in order to make sure she fell into his bed.
Pettigrew pulled himself back from the direction his thoughts were taking. It didn't matter if Elizabeth became interested in him or not. He was, after all, an officer in His Majesty's Navy. Putting a stop to a plan to kill any man on His Majesty's business was his duty. Finding evidence of such a plan and being able to identify the killer would certainly gain the attention of both Churchill and the First Lord of the Admiralty.
So, how did he get into a Jerry's room, he asked himself.
Firstly, he'd have to learn if there was a Jerry at the hotel. The best way to do that, he reckoned, was simply to ask at the desk. Desk clerks were forthcoming if they were palming money in all those films he'd seen in the cinema; Pettigrew had no reason to believe they were any different in reality.
He pulled his wallet from the American's trousers and felt cloth gather up against his genitals in a strange way. He paused and curiously ground his bottom against the car seat. "Blast!" he grumbled. "The whole bloody cut of these pants is wrong."
He allowed himself a moment to wonder how the Yanks could endure the way the seam cut into a man's wedding tackle. American underpants weren't cut sensibly at all. He'd be walking queerly inside a day if he had to wear these things all the time. Thank God for sane English tailoring.
Pettigrew remembered his wallet then and opened it, turning so that he had some light to see by. He had twenty-five Francs left. He wished he had more. But it would have to do. He figured he could offer no more than five Francs to the desk clerk to learn if the hotel had Germans. Not if he was then to have enough to buy information as to whether any German he found was in his rooms or not.
He had ten pounds in his wallet. He quickly calculated that was worth more than fifty Francs at the official exchange rate. It should be enough for what he wanted.
He pulled the Francs from his wallet and shoved them into his front pocket. Placing his wallet in his greatcoat, he stepped out of the car and started towards the Normandie.
He strolled leisurely up to the front desk, just as he imagined Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes would do on a similar case.
He smiled kindly at the balding man behind the desk and asked in French: "Do you have any Germans registered? I'm looking for a friend who was supposedly was coming to Deauville."
The clerk opened a ledger and nodded. "Oui, Monsieur. Two. A Gräfin von Kys and her aide."
"Gräfin?" John Pettigrew asked, picking through his memory for translations of German titles.
The clerk nodded dourly. "Countess for us in the civilised world, Monsieur," he said softly in a Breton dialect.
"Why would a countess be here at Christmastime?" Pettigrew wondered aloud.
"To play the games at the casino - she said."
Even through the dialect, the sub-lieutenant made out the man's disbelief. "And she has yet to visit the casino?" he asked.
"Is she the friend you seek, Monsieur?"
"Definitely not. The chap I'm looking for attended university with me - in England."
"Mais oui! This Boche is a cow - no! A hog! She eats like one and wallows in her rooms as if it were a sty."
Pettigrew pulled a five Franc note from his pocket and placed it near the clerk's hand. It seemed to disappear into thin air. "Is she in now?" he asked.
The clerk shrugged. "I have not seen her go out this evening and it is most difficult to miss her."
"Her aide? What about him?"
"He's called Stefan Schmidt. I saw him leave almost twenty minutes ago."
"Stefan Schmidt?" Pettigrew pulled another five Franc note from his pocket and, watching more carefully, was still unable to see the clerk pick it up. It still disappeared before his eyes. "I wonder if this is he's same Stefan Schmidt I knew at university?" he mumbled. "What room is he in?" he asked more forcibly.
Alice Adshead couldn't sleep. She'd tried to find a comfortable position for what seemed like hours. She'd fluffed her pillows twice and even got up and smoothed out the creases in the lower sheet once. Nothing had helped. She was still wide awake.
She assumed that her insomnia was because she wasn't in her own bed. That, and this nasty business of secret agents planning to attack Bellingham Hall.
Max and Dagold had prevailed upon her to move out of the apartment on the ground floor that had been her home for twenty years and take up temporary residence in the guest apartments of the first floor. She now lay immediately above the kitchen in the second room off the landing. Only Willi's room separated her from the landing itself.
At least, young Willi was safe, with the old Earl in Easthampton-Mares. But that poor Jorsten lad wasn't; and, she guessed, neither Molloy nor she were as well.
She'd always thought being so far from Coventry, from any place large, had been ideal. It had shielded the farm, and the core of Petersholme itself, from the waves of turmoil that began crashing over England with the new century. Now, however, she realised that the Hall's very seclusion worked against its owners. They were open to anything that the Hun chose to throw at them. Wide open. And too far away for the city to be any help before it was too late. They were now - isolated. She decided that was the proper word to explain their situation.
Her hand slipped over the side of the mattress to the floor to find the loaded shotgun she'd put there when she went to bed. Her teeth clamped tight as she frowned. Just let one of those Huns try something at the Hall.
The Hall was defended, though. She had the two men - and herself. They were enough.
There was always room for one more head in the trophy room. She'd do it too - mount it herself - if one of those barbarians dared to threaten her home and guests. The idea of something like that happening was so un-English that it was preposterous. Only, both Molloy and young Jorsten seemed seriously convinced that it would happen.
She wished that Robert were here. He would be able to represent Petersholme properly in this mess. Her nephew seemed to know instinctively what to do at times such as these.
She gritted her teeth at the exterior kitchen door protesting being opened and wondered irritably why servants on their own couldn't think to oil hinges. She assumed the men were bringing in wood for the stove and attempted to clear her brain of everything so that she could somehow slip off to sleep.
She relaxed and permitted her mind to wander. She could feel her body releasing the tension that had held her since Lord Molloy arrived, sleep beginning to touch her.
A stair groaned, sounding as if it were right beside her bed.
Alice sat up with a start and pulled her alarm clock to her. She swallowed hard as her fingers found the clock's hands and told her that it wasn't yet even midnight. Part of her had known as much, but she'd almost ignored its warning.
Only, the groan of the outer kitchen door had meant someone had entered the Hall. If she actually had heard it.
She told herself that she'd not really heard anything. That she was having a case of nerves. That she was being a hysterical woman. Only ... She was so sure that she had heard the kitchen door being opened.
She pushed off the bed and pulled her dressing gown about her. She knelt beside the bed and found the loaded shotgun where she'd put it. She stood again, facing the door, her index finger automatically moving to the trigger.
"So, you came after all, did you?" she hissed between clinched teeth. "Despicable rubbish!"
She started for the door, moving carefully so as not to make any noise. There, she paused and pressed her ear against the thick oak. She knew that she wasn't likely to hear anything from the corridor through it, not unless it was as loud as a cavalry charge; but she had to be as careful as possible.
Pressed against the wall, she opened the door slowly. In spite of the situation, she smiled that this door's hinges had been oiled. It opened silently. She inched into the doorway, holding the shotgun at waist-level as she peered into the darkness of the corridor for anything that should not be there.
The darkness steadily grew more impenetrable the deeper into the house that she looked. Molloy and Jorsten had rooms farther down the corridor than hers was. Neither of them would have heard the kitchen outer door.
She inched further into the doorway and looked towards the landing. There was more light there coming from the quarter moon shining through the cathedral window. If the sounds she'd heard were real, if they meant the Huns had actually invaded the Hall, their attack would come from there. She could make out a form, deciding that it was the chair directly across the corridor from the door to Willi's room.
Movement caught her eye and she squinted, concentrating on the top of the stairs.
Her teeth clinched tighter. She made out a figure rising from the chair. She stepped into the hallway, aiming the shotgun towards it. Her eyes were mere slits as she tried to make it out. The figure stretched and groaned softly.
Alice allowed herself to relax slightly then. She was sure that the figure was Molloy. She nodded as she accepted that the men had set up a watch at the entrance to their bed chambers. And, like men everywhere with a woman, they hadn't bothered to include her in their plans.
She decided it had been Max that she had heard before and wondered idly if she should join him in his vigil or return to her bed. She decided to say something to him and took a step out into the corridor.
Behind Max, at the head of the stairs, a figure materialised. It was far shorter and more indistinct than Molloy was. Alice stared spellbound at it for a moment as it rose up and blended with the figure she knew to be Molloy's.
Molloy grunted once. There was silence then as the combined figures seemed to melt to the floor.
The figure hissed something in German - Alice made out the word for child - and another figure materialised at the head of the steps and started towards Willi's room.
The threat to Willi pulled Alice out of her stupour, galvanising her to action. She raised the shotgun and aimed at the figure making its way towards the child's room. And fired both barrels.
"Scheiße!" a hoarse voice growled.
Alice watched as the figure nearest Willi's room stopped, pausing for a moment before beginning to collapse in on itself. She couldn't move.
She felt, more than heard, an angry hum near her ear and a thud as Müller's bullet hit the oaken door jamb behind her. "Crooksall?" the same German-accented voice called.
Her eyes registered the nearly continuous flashes that began in the corridor behind her then. Bullets hit the wall, sending sparks from the stone. They hit furniture as well, before finding that combined figure huddled before her in the corridor.
Alice's first feelings were the hand grabbing her shoulder and pulling her against a warm, smooth chest. "It's all right, Fraü Alice," Dagold Jorsten told her. "There is no more danger. They're dead."
"Molloy?" she asked, her voice muffled against his shoulder.
"I think-" he began but Alice shivered violent against him. "No," he continued. "I'll hold you more and watch carefully, yes?"
* * *
Pettigrew closed the door and leaned back against it. He was in Stefan Schmidt's room, and it had only cost him his last fifteen Francs to get the key from the desk clerk. It certainly had proved to be a good thing that the French weren't fond of the Jerries.
He took a deep breath and looked slowly around the room, wondering where a man would leave anything incriminating.
He quickly pulled off his gloves and unbuttoned his greatcoat before walking across the room towards the desk beneath the window. He opened drawers and quickly shut them when he saw there was nothing there. It took only moments for him to see that the desk held nothing that would identify Stefan Schmidt for him.
He opened the wardrobe and studied the German's shirts and trousers hanging there. Neither the workmanship nor the material were of what Pettigrew would call superior quality. They were, however, of good quality and indicated a man who took pride in his appearance.
Stefan Schmidt entered the hotel lobby in time to see the hotel clerk hand a key to a handsome, young man. A man with hair that was so dark that it was nearly black; yet, with a complexion so light that Schmidt could make out the freckles on his jaw even across the lobby.
Smiling, he watched as the dark-haired youth took the stairs to the first floor two at a time. And wished that he had a few hours to come to know the other man and, perhaps, to explore mutual pleasures.
He shook his head sadly. A few hours were something that he did not have. He had to develop a scheme that would enable the Gräfin to kill the English Baron. It had to be one that left her beholden to him enough that she would see to his promotions while protecting him from someone like the late Major Urnazy fingering him as a Schwul gigolo. And it had to make him safe from the fat woman's attempts to hide her mistakes. There was no time for pleasures of any kind.
A scheme. That was what he needed. One that would get him safely back to Berlin, even if the Gräfin had to die to make it so. And it was already too late for anything to work - the château had to be swarming with the French police by now. He started across the lobby.
"Monsieur Schmidt!" the desk clerk called to him in German.
Stefan arched an eyebrow in question as he approached the man. "Is something the matter?" he asked when he was close enough to speak the words in a normal voice.
"Your friend from the English university has gone to your room, sir," the man told him and Stefan was able to bite back his surprise before he had shown it. "I gave him the extra key just now."
"The young man with the dark hair?" Schmidt asked quietly. The clerk nodded and Stefan smiled. "I thought I'd recognised him but then - I did not expect to see him in Deauville this time of the year." He nodded. "I'll go up to my room and greet him properly." He handed the clerk a ten Franc note and thanked him.
John Pettigrew was still feeling through the pockets of the trousers hanging in the wardrobe when he heard a sound behind him. He froze when he felt the muzzle of a pistol shoved up against his back.
"Come out - slowly," the German said in halting French. "Your hands - up."
Pettigrew gulped down his fear and began to back slowly out of the wardrobe, his hands holding the back of his head.
"I speak German," he said as his feet reached the floor of the room. He hoped that if he was helpful to the Jerry behind him that he would live long enough to sort out a way out of this mess. He tried not to think of how weak his legs felt.
"Turn around then," Schmidt said in his own language.
Pettigrew did so, slowly. And found himself looking into the muzzle of a Luger aimed at a point between his eyes.
"Take off your coat. Drop it on the floor."
Again, the sub-lieutenant did as he was told, his gaze never wavering from the hole at the end of the machine pistol pointed at him.
"Good!" Schmidt told him. "Now, I can see you if you try something." He studied Pettigrew for a moment. "You are English, yes?"
"You are a very foolish Engländer. You steal into the rooms of an officer of the Waffen-SS, and you bring no weapon. Unglaublich!"
"I-" Pettigrew felt his ears burn as he accepted how big a fool he had proved to be.
"Most foolish indeed, Engländer."
Pettigrew looked from one elbow sticking out past his face to the other. "May I take my hands down now?" Schmidt nodded and the sub-lieutenant let both arms fall to his side.
"Sit there at the desk," the German told him. "I had many questions, Engländer, immediately when I found you in my room," he continued as the Englishman moved to the chair and sat, "but I am most interested, I think, in why you are here."
Pettigrew gazed at the blond standing beside the bed, trying to think of an explanation for his presence that would not sign his death warrant.
"I am waiting, Engländer." He grinned. "And I hope that your excuse is a good one."
"I-" The sub-lieutenant decided at that moment that he would paint himself as a common thief. The German would simply call the police, and John Pettigrew was reasonably certain that he could convince them that he was not a criminal and to let them go. He felt certain that Petersholme would vouchsafe for him. "I reckoned that you'd have some valuables," he answered. "I figured to pinch them for myself."
Schmidt studied him for a moment, his eyes hooded. "I think that you should remove your shoes, Engländer. Then, your shirt and trousers."
The Obersturmführer's smile broadened. "Of course, if you would prefer to be shot-" He raised the Luger so that it was pointing at the centre of Pettigrew's chest. "It makes no difference to me when you die."
The sub-lieutenant gulped. "You're going to kill me then?" he asked hesitantly.
"Perhaps. Perhaps not. I haven't yet made a decision."
"Well, I would prefer that you didn't."
Schmidt laughed. "You English, you have such a delightful sense of humour. Now, if you will please undress?"
"If I don't?" Pettigrew asked, looking directly at the blond man.
Schmidt shrugged. "I will kill you."
"And if I do?"
"We'll see then, yes?"
Pettigrew lifted a leg and crooked it over his other leg. He quickly unlaced his shoe and took it off before repeating the action with his other foot. He knew that he had no other choice. He quickly unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it over his shoulders. "The trousers too?" he asked, his voice announcing his resignation to being in just his pants with this man.
"The trousers too, yes. Pull the belt out of them as well and hand it to me." Schmidt smiled. "And do so slowly, Engländer - unless, of course, you want me to shoot you so soon."
Pettigrew unbuckled the belt and pulled it out of his trousers. The thought of using it to lash the German's arm did come to mind but, nearly as soon as it had appeared, he rejected the idea. He was five or six feet from the blond and sitting - and the German had a pistol aimed at his chest. He could see that there was no chance that he would survive the attack. He rose from his chair slowly and handed the man the belt.
"Remain standing and remove the trousers, Engländer." Schmidt watched the dark-haired Englishman unzip the corduroys and push them over his bottom. As they bunched around his ankles, the German said: "Turn around now and put your hands behind your back."
"What're you going to do?" Pettigrew asked, his mouth suddenly dry as he stared at the Luger still pointed at him.
"I'm going to bind your hands with the belt, Engländer. That is all for the moment."
Pettigrew turned around slowly and moved his hands to rest on the upward curve of his buttocks. He prayed that the Jerry wasn't going to kill him, not nearly naked as he was. He thought that a gentleman shouldn't die in such a way that would embarrass his family.
Schmidt quickly tied his hands and crab-walked him to the bed. He pushed Pettigrew face-down onto the mattress and pulled his trousers off of him. "Let's see who you are, Engländer," he said conversationally as he searched Pettigrew's pockets. "Coins, keys to a motor car," he said, providing a verbal inventory of the Englishman's pockets. "But no wallet, no identification papers - nothing." He moved to the desk and laid the trousers over the back of the chair before glancing down at Pettigrew watching him over his shoulder. "I have never been fond of cyphers, Engländer," he explained. "Where would you have carried your wallet if not in your trousers?" He glanced at the greatcoat on the floor before the wardrobe. "Perhaps there in your coat?" he asked rhetorically and stepped over Pettigrew's outstretched legs to reach it.
He picked up the coat and rifled through its pockets. He grinned and pulled the sub-lieutenant's wallet from the breast pocket. Schmidt laid the greatcoat over the trousers on the back of the desk chair and opened the wallet.
Pettigrew watched fearfully as the German pulled out his identification and studied it. The game was up as he'd known it was the moment he found himself looking down the wrong end of the man's Luger. He tried to remember why he'd be so hellbent on doing something as stupid as entering Jerry's room without even a weapon on himself. He just hoped the blond man would allow him to dress before killing him.
"Was bedeutet 'Royal Navy', Engländer?" Schmidt asked, tripping over the English words.
"I'm an officer in His Majesty's Navy," he told him and was glad that his voice did not betray his fear.
"And why is this officer in the English Navy in my room going through my things? Are you a spy, Engländer?"
"No! I'm an aviator, not a spy."
"You were then thinking to fly your aeroplane into the hotel? Into my room?"
"Under the Geneva Convention, I only have to give you my name, rank, and serial number. I'm John Pettigrew, Sub-lieutenant, Royal Navy. Do you want my serial number?"
Schmidt shrugged. "I have no use for it." He crossed to the bed and sat beside the bound Englishman. "So, Sub-lieutenant John Pettigrew, what am I going to do with you now that I have captured you?"
Pettigrew understood the playful tone in the blond's voice, but he sensed too that the man was in no rush to kill him. He turned on his side to see the German better. "You could start with giving me your name and rank," he said perkily.
Schmidt's eyes twinkled. "Yes, I do like the English sense of humour very much. We are to pretend that I am your prisoner now, yes?"
Pettigrew thought better of answering that and remained silent.
"Ah, I see no harm in this pretence - as long as I'm not expected to untie you - I am called Stefan Schmidt and I am an Obersturmführer in the Waffen-SS, a rank analogous to leutnant in the Wehrmacht."
"It's nice to meet you then, Stefan," Pettigrew said. "I'd shake your hand but I seem to be tied up at the moment."
Schmidt stared at him for a moment before he accepted that the man's words were nothing more than more of his sense of humour. He laughed as he stood and studied the dark-haired Englishman appraisingly.
John Pettigrew reminded him of his sex-partner from officer-training school - young-looking with a nearly hairless body. Handsome like a boy still at gymnasium. And with a plump bottom that invited plundering. He felt himself stir beneath his wool trousers.
And why shouldn't he? It would cleanse the feel of the Gräfin from him better than all the soap and water in the world could. The sub-lieutenant would not stop him. He could not stop him, even if he tried. It would be a pleasure to feel such a fine body under his again. He could simply kill the Englishman afterwards if he acted as if he would report their tryst.
But, firstly, he needed more information.
"You are with Baron Petersholme's party at the château of Minister Reynaud, yes?"
Pettigrew studied him. "I don't think that I should answer that question, Obersturmführer," he said finally.
"You don't know," Schmidt told him playfully. "I may want to defect but only to the English."
Pettigrew stared at the young German. Defect? And not kill him? Perhaps this was going to be his lucky day after all. "Were you with the gunmen who tried to kill Lord Petersholme this morning?"
Schmidt had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing. It had been so easy to get this Englishman to give him the core information that he'd sought. Instead, he said: "The Reich is also a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, Sub-lieutenant. What was it you said? I need only give you my name, rank, and serial number, yes?"
"But you said you wanted to defect!"
"I said that I might want to, John." He reached down and touched the small of the Englishman's back.
Pettigrew jerked at the touch and turned onto his back, his gaze locked on the German's face. "What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.
"You're very handsome." Stefan smiled as his fingers slipped under the waist of Pettigrew's underpants. Your bum looks delectable."
"You!" Pettigrew's face burnt with embarrassment. "I'm not that sort."
"Perhaps not, John. But you want to live-" Stefan smiled at him as his other hand went to the other side of the Englishman's underpants. "And, if I do let you live, you would like nothing better than to have me defect, using your good offices I imagine. That would ensure a promotion, would it not?"
Pettigrew watched in shock as the blond pulled his pants over his legs and tossed them behind him.
"Lovely. I definitely like what I'm seeing of England's youth, John," Schmidt told him, gently sliding his fingertips along the inside of his thigh from the knee to the bollocks.
"I don't-!" Pettigrew yelped. In spite of himself, he felt himself begin to grow.
"You're a virgin? I'll take great care then, lieber Hans. Turn over."
Pettigrew stared into the man's eyes, unable to think of anything to say. He felt his hand move along his hip to cup his bum. "Please-?" he groaned.
"I've got lotion for skin; it won't hurt at all," Stefan told him as he turned him over to expose his bottom.
* * *
Schmidt smiled at the desk clerk as he walked through the lobby. He was sated; and he was surprised to find that he was thinking much more clearly than he had been the past few months that he had been on duty in Berlin.
Yes, Sub-lieutenant Pettigrew had certainly been a fortuitous elixir. But what did he do with him now? That question pulled him up short as he reached the drive in front of the Normandie. What in the devil did he do with him?
He could kill him but that would mean that he'd have to dispose of the body. There would be too much opportunity to be caught.
He could leave him in the hotel room, bound and gagged. That would probably be the easiest course as the Englishman would not be found until after he and the Gräfin were already on their way back to Germany. John Pettigrew would still be there to satisfy him with his body until they left but would be in no position to alert the authorities to his presence in Deauville.
Pettigrew had not been in the hunting party; Schmidt would have seen him if he had been. Yet, he was now in Deauville hours after the attack - an officer of the English Navy. If nothing else, his presence indicated that security had been ratcheted up since the morning - with English intelligence agents and probably their French counterparts now at the château to prevent another attack against the Baron.
It would be foolhardy to attempt to kill the man now. They'd had surprise working for them in the woods; it would not be there again. If he and the Gräfin attempted an attack on the château, they would be killed. Or captured - and France had the guillotine. And he preferred that his head remained attached to his body.
No, any attempt they made now would make no sense. The risks were simply too high.
The hatred Gisele von Kys felt towards the Englishman, however, was illogical. As Schmidt strolled towards the casino, he could see that clearly. The whole operation had been insane from its very inception. Thinking on it now, he was even willing to wager that she had not cleared their plans with superiors in the Waffen-SS. In addition to putting him, Müller, and herself in harm's way, she had endangered Sicherheitsdienst operations in both France and England.
Because she had birds between the ears. Many more birds than just one.
The Obersturmführer didn't doubt that Gisele could avoid a reprimand once they were back in Berlin. She had the money and the connections that placed her on the same level as the highest echelons of the service. That was something he didn't have.
The commandant of the officer training school had warned him to be careful with her. Even from the Mädelbund, she'd been able to have one man face a firing squad. A lover from university, it had been rumoured. That had been all over Berlin two months ago. Everyone had heard about it.
Now, she was his commanding officer. His life was in her hands. And he could see that it rested there most precariously.
He had seen her flub her assignment. And she knew he had. Even if he did develop a scheme that got them into the Reynaud château, allowed them to kill Petersholme, and escape safely, she could still have him dragged out before a firing squad himself.
That was not an attractive thought. Stefan Schmidt enjoyed living and breathing. He especially enjoyed his body being just as healthy as it was.
He would not become indispensable to the Obersturmbannführerin if he found a way for her to finish what they had come to France for - and escape afterwards. Pulling her chestnuts out of the fire would not help him with her.
She would see him as a liability - someone who knew something dark about her. It did not take a university professor to guess what the woman could do to ensure his silence and her continued power in the service. Would do, he corrected himself.
And if he did not devise a scheme for them to kill the English Baron?
He did not want to think about it. It was enough to know that he almost certainly wouldn't live to see Berlin again.
He was dead whatever he did - by an English bullet or a German one. And that simply would not do. There were too many things that Stefan Schmidt wanted to do now that he had pulled himself out of the poverty of his childhood.
His was not a pretty dilemma.
He shoved his hands deeper into his greatcoat as his gait slowed.
There had to be a way for him to escape the death staring him in the face.
He chuckled as he remembered how he'd told John Pettigrew that he was thinking about defecting. In his room and with the proximity of sex with the Englishman, the idea had only been a ruse to lessen the other man's fear of dying. Now, he wondered if he should actually consider it as a possible course of action. It would certainly keep him alive.
Only, he knew very little that could be his coin with the English - or even the French. And he knew that he didn't want to throw himself on the mercy of the French. The Sicherheitsdienst had very obviously infiltrated both their army and their security apparatus. Only that morning he'd killed one mole while the Gräfin killed the other. The French would not be happy to see him. Besides, the eagle's talons would soon destroy them. If he were to defect, it would have to be to the English.
The English, however, would want far more from him than he could give. He knew so little. His knowledge would be useless to them. He couldn't even speak their language.
Even if, somehow, they accepted him and gave him his freedom on their island, what would he do to keep himself alive? He spoke no English. He knew too little about anything to be valuable. He'd starve in England. A slower, more agonising death than a bullet to the head perhaps, but still death.
A motorcar accelerated nearly beside him and he looked up. Across the motorway, he saw the lighted casino rising before him out of the night. He nodded to himself - life was indeed a gamble. Each breath a man took was.
He pivoted and started back towards the Normandie. He wanted to go back to Germany. He wanted the life that was there waiting for him to live it.
If killing the Baron meant his death, if not killing him also meant his death, and if defection was not an option, what did he have left? What was a safer gamble than those three options?
If only Obersturmbannführerin Gisele von Kys didn't exist.
Stefan Schmidt grinned suddenly.
If she didn't exist, his life would be perfect. And he could make sure she didn't exist much longer. That she no longer lived before she do anything to him. All he had to do was to put her in a position where the English killed her.
Not the French - the Reich would destroy them soon enough. The English - with their channel of water to protect them from the Wehrmacht. No-one in Berlin would know then.
His grin broadened. He could even use Sub-lieutenant John Pettigrew to arrange things so that the Gräfin died in Deauville. And it would obligate lieber Hans to him. He felt his Latte grow inside his trousers at the thought.
All he had to do was convince the English that he wanted to become a double agent. If they paid him money, he would even give them titbits of useless information. Better, he would tell his superiors in Berlin and let them select the information he gave the English. That way, his allegiance to the Fatherland would never be questioned.
He'd been bloody buggered!
John Pettigrew sniffed and rubbed his face across the pillow to get rid of his tears. Here he was - a grown man - and crying like some child.
But if any man had a right to cry, he did. Damn it! He'd enjoyed the bloody Jerry ploughing his arse. He'd been hard from the moment he felt Stefan Schmidt's pubic bush crushing against his bumcheeks. He'd pushed back to get the man back inside him, just like the woman he'd serviced the last two days. And he'd had an orgasm with the German's dick buried in him.
He'd experimented as a child. He guessed all the boys at Marlborough did when puberty started and hormones began to rage. He'd even let a couple of lads in his backdoor as they had him. But they'd been just lads then - maybe age thirteen. Just first formers.
He was a man now, however. More importantly, he was an officer in the Royal Navy. He'd still had an orgasm whilst being buggered.
Worse, he was erect now, just thinking about it. His dick caught between his belly and the bed covers. One of his own socks stuck in his mouth. Wanting it again. Thank God the German had dressed and left after having his way with him. He'd die of shame if the man saw that he was ready for more.
His legs were bound to the foot of the bed. He tried to pull one leg and then the other up towards his body. He tried to bring them together. Nothing he could think of worked. He was bound spread-eagled and securely.
He'd had sex women. He thought them beautiful, especially unclothed and waiting to be ravished. He'd never felt that way with any boy when he was experimenting in school; he didn't feel that way towards Stefan Schmidt now.
He just wanted the German's hard cock in his bum again.
That made no sense at all.
Either he was a bloody invert or he wasn't. Either he wanted women as sex partners - or he wanted men. Either he wanted what was natural or he didn't. Yet, somehow, he wanted both. And, right now, he wanted the Jerry ploughing his arse again. His body did.
He forced himself to concentrate on his hands. Schmidt had taken the belt off after he'd done the nasty on him and tied each hand to either side of the bedboard. Tight too. He couldn't even move them, much less get his fingers on the rope.
He tried rubbing the rope holding the sock in his mouth against the pillow. He tried to pull his lower jaw back so the damned rope would slip past his lip. The rope rubbed his face but didn't bulge. The damned thing was tied tight behind his head.
He hoped Stefan returned soon, he was freezing.
His bottom felt like he was sitting on a cake of ice. His whole body did. It was cold in Stefan's room. He wished he wasn't naked. He wished he could think of something other than the bloody Jerry sodomising him.
He wished he could reach his erection.
* * *
Dagold switched on the electric torch and, together with Alice, surveyed the corridor before them. Handing her the torch, he pulled bullets from his dressing gown and reloaded the ammunition clip of his pistol.
"Fraü Alice," he said as he snapped the clip back into place, "reload your shotgun. I want you to train it on the single one there near Willi's room while I turn on the lamp and see to Lord Molloy and the other one."
"They all look dead to me," she said in a small voice, the enormity of what had just happening beginning to descend upon her.
"They do, gnädige Fraü, but we would not want a surprise, would we?" He crossed the corridor and turned on the lamp sitting on the table near where Molloy and his murderer had fallen.
"Hauptscharführer Müller!" Jorsten growled as he recognised the German.
"Who?" Alice asked.
"My Graf's sergeant major, Fraü Alice. He is - was - what the Party calls an old fighter, a Party paramilitary since before the Nazis came to power.
Müller was on his back, his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling; his Lordship laid face-down on the floor. Jorsten moved to the two bodies and knelt at their heads, his Luger pressed against Müller's forehead as he reached for the Hauptscharführer's wrist. The dagger slipped from the man's fingers as Dagold felt for a pulse.
He smiled when he felt none. He studied the blood-soaked front of Müller's coat. He nodded to himself. Those interminable days of target practice had proved useful after all. He had hit Müller four times in the chest and once in the stomach.
Dagold turned to Lord Molloy then. He reached for his wrist but knew the man was already dead. Blood still seeped from the wound between his ribs just left on his spine where the Hauptscharführer had stabbed him. There was no doubt in his mind that the dagger had entered the man's heart.
"Ärmer Herr Molloy," he mumbled as he felt nothing and lay the man's arm back on the floor. He looked up at Alice then. "Lord Molloy is dead," he said, his voice a rasp in the stillness of the corridor. "So is his murderer."
"And this one?" she asked through clinched teeth, her face a mask of resolve, her shotgun still pointed at Crooksall's prone body.
Crossing the hallway, Jorsten turned the body onto its back with his foot. He knew the man was dead just from the blood that covered the front of his greatcoat. From the looks of it, both of Alice's shots had hit him in the chest. He felt for a pulse but found none. "He is dead also, Fraü Alice," Dagold told her, looking up at her.
She seemed to shrink before his eyes. Her body shuddered. He stood and moved quickly to hold her. "It is all right, gnädige Fraü. They are dead, and we are safe."
"Are we?" she whispered and buried her face against the breast of his dressing gown. "Are we really? Will we ever be safe again, Dagold? Will this ever be over?"
"You must take control of yourself, Fraü Alice. We must search through the Hall and ensure that it is secure."
He felt her take a deep breath. Her body stiffened against him. She lifted her head and met his gaze. "I'm sorry," she sniffed.
"Are you all right now?"
"Yes. It's just - I never believed something like this could happen in England."
"Miss Murray - she lives here in the Hall, doesn't she?" he asked.
Alice glanced towards the stairs. "Upstairs, in the servants' quarters. She and Cook both do-"
"Are there others here as well?"
"No. Only the two of them."
"It would be best if you awakened her then. We need to secure the Hall. She can arm herself with his Lordship's pistol-"
"I'll take that and give her the shotgun," Alice said firmly.
Jorsten studied her for a moment and she turned back to meet his gaze. "Have you ever fired a pistol, Fraü Alice?" he asked finally.
"My late brother insisted that I learn to fire one - during the Great War."
He nodded. "You'll take Lord Molloy's pistol then. Please bring Miss Murray as quickly as you can."
Dagold had dressed by the time Alice returned with Jane Murray. Cook followed behind them, peeking between her fingers. He had pulled on his coat as well.
"Will you be going out then?" Alice asked when she saw him as she reached the first floor landing.
"After we've looked through the Hall. We need to know if the property is safe as well as the house."
"And we'll need to call in the police," she said.
"Oh, my God!" Jane Murray groaned, staring at carnage at the beginning of the corridor. Cook groaned and ran back up the stairs.
Jorsten quickly glanced to her and followed her gaze to the dead men.
"It is a nasty mess," Alice said, moving to take her in her arms. "But it's all right now, Jane." She turned to Jorsten. "Cook can cut and chop any meat you put in front of her, Dagold, but she's afraid of a little mouse." She nodded towards the carnage. "We've found something else that she's afraid of."
"Miss Murray, can you fire a shotgun?" Dagold asked.
"Me?" the woman asked in surprise, pulling her gaze from the dead men to look at Alice and then Jorsten. "I-"
He smiled. "It's all right. All you have to do is aim it and everything within five metres will be hit."
"We must make sure there's no-one else in the Hall, Jane," Alice told her.
"You and Fraü Alice will need to cover me as I look for more of these men. Can you do that, Miss Murray?"
"I - I guess I could," she mumbled, looking down at the shotgun at Alice's side. Fearfully she looked back up at Jorsten. "Do you think they're still here?" she asked in a small voice.
"No," he answered without hesitation, knowing that he had to soothe her doubts quickly. "Anyone who might have been with those two would have heard the gunshots and then our voices and us moving around - they also wouldn't have seen their friends return. They would have escaped - if there were any others. But we do need to make sure - so that we all remain safe."
"I heard them," Alice told them. "I heard them enter the kitchen." She shook her head. "I thought I was imagining it - just an old woman allowing herself to become hysterical." She chuckled at her comment, knowing that she was helping Jane Murray to grapple with the reality of violent death before her. "It was only when I heard a sound on the stairs that I knew I wasn't dreaming."
Her eyes widened. "I opened my door and that's when I saw-" She sobbed. "I saw that man kill Lord Molloy," she gasped, tears suddenly rimming her eyes.
Dagold shuddered involuntarily as he thanked the God above that it had not been him who had stood guard over the corridor when Horst Müller attacked.
He glanced over his shoulder at the body of Maximillian Molloy lying at the entrance of the corridor, shame spreading through him like a gorge. His Lordship's death had taken the murderers just long enough that he and Fraü Alice could kill them.
And, now, they had to be in control of themselves - all three of them - in order to search the Hall. Or Lord Molloy would have died in vain.
He forced his shoulders back and faced the women. "We must be strong now, each of us. There is much to do and no time for us to become hysterical."
He took a step towards the head of the stairs. "I'll go down first and watch my right side. Fraü Alice will follow three steps behind me and watch our left side. Miss Murray, you'll stay here at the top of the steps and watch for any movement. If you see any, aim at it and fire."
Alice squared her shoulders and nodded as Jane Murray muttered a weak "yes, sir". Dagold took the first step and tried to swallow his heart that had somehow lodged in his throat.
"We seem to be clear of them," Alice said as they stood in the kitchen.
"Should I make tea?" Miss Murray asked, looking from one to the other of them.
"Go tell Cook that she's safe and we need her in the kitchen," Alice told her.
Dagold frowned. He would like coffee. That would settle his nerves better than anything. But coffee was one thing the English seemed totally incapable of making. "It will need to be strong."
"No-one will be able to sleep then!" Miss Murray yelped.
"I doubt any of us will anyway, Jane," Alice told her.
"While she's making the tea," Jorsten told Alice, "Miss Murray and I can go to the cottages for help."
"I'll call the police then," Alice told him while the housekeeper hurried to get Cook.
* * *
David Rice pulled his watch from his fob pocket and frowned as he looked at the time. Crooksall and that stuck-up Hun bastard had been gone more than an hour. His gaze moved idly to Neville's body on the floor.
Blood covered most of the floor on that side of the room. Who'd have thought the kid had that much in him. A line of it had made its way almost to the door before it clotted. And it smelled like an abattoir. Anyone who entered the cottage would know instantly that there had been a murder - even without seeing the body.
If he continued to sit in the cottage, he'd be found out.
That led him to the thought of having to take those thirteen steps up to the hangman's noose. He shuddered and pushed himself out of the chair. What was taking Crooksall and that Hun Müller so long?
He believed in the new order all right - especially cleaning up the race and making sure that whites like him ruled the world, it was their natural-born right to do so. But he didn't believe in it enough to get himself hanged. He understood that was exactly what would happen if he was cornered in the cottage.
If anything had gone wrong up at the Hall and word got back down to the cottages, the farm manager would come for Neville - for both him and Clive to go help out at the Hall.
They'd find Neville, all right. Dead.
They sure as hell didn't need to find him with the body, though. If he tried to escape, he'd be shot like some dumb animal at the charnel house - and he'd hang if he surrendered.
He stood with his back to the dying fire and stared at the door.
It was cold outside and he didn't know how long he'd have to wait for his two companions. If he went out there to wait for them.
If something did go wrong with the scheme-? He'd be quietly warming his hands when the farmhands came looking for the boys. Armed.
It wasn't healthy to stay in the cottage, no matter how warm it was. Rice sighed and put his coat on. He started for the door, making sure that he didn't step in any blood, and pulled on his gloves. Pulling the door to behind him, he slipped unseen into the midnight silence.
He made his way to the toilet behind the cottage and circled it, looking for a vantage point from which he could watch any activity from the cottages as well as movement along the path from the Hall. The important thing was that he not be seen, that he be able to slip away if Crooksall and that Hun weren't back soon. He crouched down beside a bush several yards behind the toilet.
He pulled his watch out and lighted a match so that he could read the time. Almost two hours! He blew out the match. They'd been gone two bloody hours!
They weren't but about a mile from Bellingham Hall - a fifteen to twenty minute walk for healthy men. So, where were they?
How long did it take to kill one Hun boy and take a child from his bed? Not a whole hour, it didn't. Not even if they had to fight the boy and the old woman who lived there.
He shoved his hands into his arm pits. It was cold. A still, numbing cold. The cold of death, it was. David Rice could almost feel the mask covering his face and the coarse hemp of the noose settling around his neck as he sucked in the cold air through his nose and stared up the empty path that led to the Hall.
His ears were burning they were so cold. He covered them with his gloved hands and shivered. He almost didn't see the heavy woman dart along the path from the Hall. He looked up in time to have a sense of something - someone - there where there had been no-one. He saw her when she'd passed in front of the boys' cottage, between their cottage and the next one as she hurried along the path.
He stared after her for a moment. Something had gone wrong. That was his one thought as he stood. He saw the man on the path then, following the woman and his rifle held at the ready. Something had gone wrong, and he had to get away. He started for the trees beyond the cottages.
As he made his way around the cottages, he prayed that both Crooksall and Müller were dead. That was the only way that he was ever going to escape the gallows. Tears glazed his eyes and froze on his cheeks as he made his way to the tracks he and the other two men had made as they'd come in.
"Just be fucking dead, you bastards!" he hissed as he began to follow them back to the wagon. "Be dead and carry your tales with you."
There had been no-one in the corridor as Stefan Schmidt walked quickly from the landing to his room. He left the door ajar so that he could see the lamp on the table beside the entrance. Switching on the lamp, he saw that the Englishman was watching him over his shoulder.
He saw, too, the fear in John Pettigrew's eyes as they followed his every movement. His gaze travelled down the length of the naval officer's body; a smile touched his lips as it lingered on the man's pert, inviting bottom. He felt his cock begin to fill out and he pulled his attention back to Pettigrew's eyes.
There was something more in the other man's eyes than just fear, he decided. He sensed sexual desire. His smile grew as he shut and locked the door. The boy - no, the Englishman was a man - wanted him. His brain concentrated on the two nouns he'd used. Sub-lieutenant John Pettigrew was neither boy nor man - not a man like Urnazy. Not old. He was young. Youth. That was the word to describe the Englishman before him. Young and enticing, yet a man still.
He crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed, his hip just below that of the Englishman's. His fingers touched and began to caress Pettigrew's furthest arsecheek before moving over his hip and shoving their way between the youth's body and the bed cover. "You are happy to see me again, yes?" he asked in German as they found the Englishman's erection.
Pettigrew seemed to tremble through every fibre of his body at the touch.
"If I remove your gag, lieber Hans, will you remain silent?"
The Englishman nodded his head slowly, rubbing his cheek against the pillow. Schmidt reached up and untied the kerchief behind his head, and Pettigrew spit the wadded sock from his mouth. Schmidt's fingers had returned to his buttocks and were gently kneading it.
"We must discuss things, my friend."
"What things?" Pettigrew croaked, his mouth dry and his throat rough.
The German chuckled. "What I will do with you. What you can do for me. These sort of things."
"Are you going to bugger me again?"
"Is that what you want, lieber Hans?"
Pettigrew was afraid to say anything; anyway, the German had already found his erection and it seemed that his dick was doing all the talking - just as it had when he was a first former.
"It is what I want. But I suspect that I will need you very much in the next day - and I don't want to force myself on you if you are unwilling."
"You're going to need me?" Pettigrew looked over his shoulder at the man and studied him suspiciously.
"I do not wish to discuss my reasons, John; but I wish to defect-" He paused and it was obvious in his face that he was thinking deeply. "Not defect. I do not want to leave the Fatherland - it is my life. I will ... help-" He smiled. "That is the correct word, I think - help. I will help the English. Give them information, I mean. At least, until your England has sued for peace as it did before when Napoleon's armies ruled all of Europe."
"This information - what do we need to do in order to receive it from you?" Pettigrew asked, his mind instantly turning from wanting the German inside him again to this new situation. He almost forgot that he was nude, bound, and that Schmidt's fingers were still kneading his arsecheek.
"Is MI-5 at Reynaud's château or is it just the French who are there?"
"MI-5?" Pettigrew asked suspiciously.
Schmidt pursed his lips. "We won't play games, lieber Hans. You must understand that this is much too serious for that," he said, leaning closer to the Englishman's ear. "As you must also understand that I am not stupid. There is no time for games. If you want to live to be dressed again, much less have me mount you again, you will tell the truth." He sat back up. "Now, is there an MI-5 agent at the château?"
Pettigrew nodded. "Along with a man from the Sûreté and gendârmes."
"I see." Schmidt fell silent for a moment, his fingers ceased kneading Pettigrew's bottom. "The French cannot be allowed to know about this," he muttered finally and, pulling his dagger from his greatcoat, turned to the Englishman's feet.
He quickly cut the rope from Pettigrew's feet before standing and moving to the head of the bed. He freed his prisoner's hands, crossed the room to turn a chair to face the Englishman, and sat down.
Pettigrew sat up slowly, his hands falling on his lap to cover himself. He looked over at Schmidt.
"I must talk with your MI-5 agent - tonight. None of the French can know that I wish this or where he is going. You will bring him here - no!" He thought for a moment, then nodded. "Yes. Across the boulevard from the casino there is an alleyway. The two of you will be there at eleven hundred hours."
Pettigrew snorted. "I suspect that man would rather I not be there."
"You will not tell him where the meeting is and merely bring him then. I will not speak to him without you there. I would not know him to recognise him. You must be there."
"I'll be there with him."
"Are you angry at me for taking pleasure with you earlier, John?"
"It wasn't exactly the treatment I expected when you caught me pilfering your room," Pettigrew answered as a smile threatened his lips.
"Helping to turn an officer of the Waffen-SS should be noted in your dossier. It should help you receive your next promotion more quickly than usual-" He smiled across at the Englishman. "It should impress your superiors." Schmidt studied the other man for a moment. "Will you accept what I am giving you as fair payment for what I did to you?"
"I'll take it, but why are you doing this?"
"I don't want to die just yet, John Pettigrew. And I find myself with only this escape from that reality."
"Why don't you just defect then?"
"I have nothing to offer England - no way to earn a living. I would not be able to live comfortably there. Besides, I love the Fatherland, even if I must hurt it a little in order to live. Why don't you get dressed now and bring your MI-5 agent back to meet me? There is much still to be done tonight for this to work correctly."
"What reason do I give to ensure that the French know nothing of all this?" Pettigrew asked after he'd pulled his underpants up over his wedding tackle.
"Tell your man only that one of the men killed today was a senior Sûreté operative, the other one was a Major in the French Army. They were both paid agents of the Sicherheitsdienst. I want no record of my treason kept in France; it would be too easy for the wrong eyes to read it." Schmidt fell silent and watched the Englishman as he finished dressing.
Pettigrew sat on the edge of the bed to tie his shoes before succumbing to the silence and looking over to the German. "Second thoughts?" he asked softly as he stood.
"None," Schmidt shook his head. "There is only one course of action for me and it is the one I've now started in motion." He took a deep breath and looked down at his hands. "I regret, however, that I cannot have a week with you to share in bed. You would make a wonderful lover."
"Maybe-" Pettigrew had already started to give voice to the thought before he realised it.
Schmidt grinned up at him. "We'll meet again then - you and I - alone. But, now, you must find your man and convince him to come to Deauville." He quickly pushed himself from the chair. "Let me ensure that the corridor has no prying eyes, lieber Hans. Then you should leave by the back way. It is safer." He crossed to the door and opened it.
Pettigrew waited just inside the door for the German to check the hallway. He saw Schmidt motion to him from the end of the corridor and slipped out of the room. He was quickly out into the cold night and making his way to his car.
John Pettigrew had been unsure if he could believe what Stefan Schmidt told him and Brigadier Dunham in the alleyway between two businesses across from the casino. He'd been so cold and his teeth were chattering so, he'd wondered if he had somehow misunderstood the German. Even now, lying under a goosedown quilt with a fire still burning in the fireplace, he doubted it was possible.
In the alleyway, he'd kept his greatcoat pulled close around him and wished that his gloves were furred. But Stefan had kept Dunham spellbound. Him too, he reckoned - at least, he was gomstruck when he wasn't realising just how cold he was.
If only half of what Stefan had told them was true, the Gräfin von Kys had to be one daft woman. And, bad for him, she was his commanding officer. Some member of her family needed very quietly to have her committed to some fine, secluded, and very private sanitarium like his family had his uncle years ago.
Instead, she was something akin to a colonel in the Nazi Party's army. And she'd decided to kill Petersholme on her own, with no orders from higher up. That was one of the parts of Schmidt's story that he found hard to believe. Pettigrew had no problem accepting that Dunham and the men of MI-5 would kill a foreign official. But he accepted as an article of faith that there had to be a very good reason to do so and that the order from the highest authority in Whitehall. Such an order probably even carried the PM's initials on it, it would come from so high up.
This Gisele von Kys seemed to be a loose cannon, however. She was able to make her own law and, if someone tried to thwart her, she trumped up capital charges on him. Or she simply had him killed - like she was doing according to the rumours Schmidt had heard about the night her husband was killed. She might make her own law, but there surely seemed be a rumour mill over there in Berlin. After he and Dunham were back in the car, he had to suspect that a lad couldn't even take a pee without somebody knowing about it.
And there was another part to this sordid mess, too. The bitch had sent some sergeant major and English Sicherheitsdienst agents to kidnap her son from Petersholme at his home in Northamptonshire. That much of it sounded right - a mother should want her son back. But her husband's will had make his Lordship the boy's guardian - he guessed that the man must have known a lot of dirt about his wife to do that.
Dunham had bought Stefan's story. He accepted that the lad would be killed if he went back to Berlin in her tow and they had failed to kill Petersholme. And it was pretty obvious with all the French police guarding the château, that'd he be killed if he joined her in another attack on Petersholme there. It had been decided then that England were going to acquire a guest of His Majesty's government - to wit, one Gisele von Kys.
He, John Pettigrew, was to keep the gendârmes guarding the entrance on the east side of the château tomorrow night occupied from ten to twelve o'clock. Dunham told him any distraction would do. Only what would distract them? He decided to corner the brigadier in the morning on that one; all he could think of was gambling with them.
Stefan would lead the von Kys woman into the house and up the stairs to where the English party were quartered. Dunham would nab them then. Stefan might have to take a flesh wound on the arm but he'd get away before any of the French showed up to mess things up. And they'd have the Gräfin von Kys in quiet custody. Dunham would let the man from the Sûreté take her apart before flying her back to England.
Dunham had left him the moment they were back in the château and called London. He wanted to make sure Petersholme's people were all right before reporting to him.
For the first time since leaving the German's hotel room, Pettigrew allowed himself to remember Stefan as he prepared to enter him. Instantly, he was erect and didn't stop himself from remembering the whole sexual encounter while he relieved himself.
* * *
Dagold stood in the path that led between the cottages and peered into the darkness for any sign of movement. Behind him, using both hands, Miss Murray beat on the farm manager's door; the noise unnaturally loud in the stillness of the winter night. He held the rifle he'd brought from the Hall at the ready.
He was sure that there were no more assassins on Lord Petersholme's estate. In the months that he'd known Horst Müller at Schloß Kys and at the base on Peenemünde, the man had always been disparaging of the English students he'd trained at the Party's war school. Jorsten doubted the man would have put his life in the hands of more than one Englishman at a time.
Jorsten supposed that there was a dead farmhand's body somewhere near the Hall; Müller would have needed a guide to find his way to the house, but he would have killed the man to keep him silent. Probably the fellow was the same one who had radioed Berlin.
But Müller would have carried through his mission with only the one man who was with him, the man who had been supposed to get him out of England. There would be no-one else left to attack them again - this time. But, with the Gräfin involved, there was almost certainly going to be a next time.
He heard a muffled grunt behind him and Miss Murray stopped pounding on the door. He turned in the sudden silence and saw the cottage door swing open. A tall, muscular man stood in the doorway pulling a dressing gown close around him.
Miss Murray went to pieces then, crying incoherently and burying her face against the farm manager's chest. Dagold stepped closer to the two people at the door.
"We were attacked up at the Hall," he told the man. "Lord Molloy is dead as are the two men who came to murder us."
The farm manager nodded his understanding. "There may be more of those Huns around still," he said. "I'll just get the Missus to take care of Jane Murray here; then, we'll round up the hands and go search for them."
"There probably aren't any more of them," Jorsten told him. "But the dead men weren't know and probably needed a guide to lead them to the Hall." He shrugged. "We'll probably find at least one of the hands dead before this is over."
"Right," the manager told him as his wife joined him in the doorway and took Miss Murray from him. She led her back into the cottage. "Let me put on some clothes and we'll round up everybody."
Behind Dagold and the farm manager, two men were already dressing. They walked up to the third cottage. "These lads are our farm's troublemakers, Mr. Jorsten," the manager told him, "but they're still good lads. They'll be out fast to join us."
Dagold stepped up to the door and knocked on it. It pushed open as his fist hit it. "Verdammt!" he hissed softly, crouching quickly and bringing up his rifle. "Bring the electric torch here," he called over his shoulder while keeping his gaze locked on the darkness inside the cottage.
He sensed the farm manager come up and stand behind him. "Shine it inside," he told the man.
He blinked as the interior of the cottage flare into sudden light. "Blut!" he gulped as he figured what the dark pools on the floor before him were.
"This don't look right at all," the manager mumbled from behind him.
Cursing himself for not bringing his pistol, Jorsten leaned forward and pushed the door all the way open. The manager began to move the light around the one room of the cottage. "Gott im Himmel!" he yelped when it reached the body lying in even more blood.
"That looks to be young Neville," the manager told him.
"Whoever he was, he's dead."
"He can't be. Why, the boy's barely seventeen, Mr. Jorsten."
Dagold rose and stepped inside, moving to stand over the body. Kneeling, he picked up the boy's wrist and felt for a pulse. There was none. "He's dead all right." He turned the body onto its back. He squeezed his eyes shut when he saw the jagged cut across the man's neck. "Someone cut his throat," he told the farm manager still standing in the doorway and forced himself to swallow the bile that was suddenly in his mouth.
He stood quickly and hurried back to the door. He had seen enough death that night to last him a life time. Outside, he felt more bile surging out of his stomach and knew that he would not be able to fight it back this time. He stepped quickly away from the cottage and, bending forward, began to retch.
* * *
"I wasn't able to get the constable in Bellingham," Alice told Dagold as he entered the kitchen. She sat at the small table beside the fire she and Cook had laid. "The night operator put me through to the main station in Coventry." She shook her head. "The night duty officer there told me he would have men out by dawn - and that he'd contact the Home Guard as well."
She realised then that Jorsten had entered alone and had shut the door. "Where is Jane?" she demanded.
"The manager's wife kept her at his cottage. She'll be along shortly, with several of the wives I suppose." He moved across the room to the teapot. "At least one of the farmhands is dead - one of the young ones. Neville," he told her without turning to see her. "His throat was cut." He poured himself a mug of the thick tea.
"Neville? He was so young - what about Clive then?"
"That was the boy sharing the cottage with him?" he asked, finally turning back to face her. She nodded. "The manager and his hands are searching for him now."
Alice saw how pale Dagold was then. "Are you all right?" she asked.
He snorted. "I fear that I am finally beginning to react to what happened tonight." He frowned, tears welling up unexpectedly in his eyes. "They meant to kill me as well as take Willi with them - back to Germany," he said thickly and turned away. "I am sorry that it was Lord Molloy who was killed instead of me. I thought the Hauptscharführer would wait until midnight to attack. I should have taken the first watch."
"Nonsense, lad!" Alice said sharply, rising from her chair quickly and moving to stand beside him. "I'm just glad that you're alive and here with us now."
"Lord Molloy was important to England; he had a young child," Jorsten said in a choked voice. "I am unimportant and have no children. It should have been me." He sobbed.
"Listen to me!" Alice growled sharply. "Turn around and face me, boy," she continued. She knew he was losing control of himself now. She guessed that he was reacting to killing one man and seeing two others killed. And, from what this lad had said, the murderers had been none too gentle with young Neville. Seeing a body that had been brutally murdered would make even the strongest man weep.
She knew that she had to establish control over young Jorsten before he lost all control and pull him back into a proper state of mind for a man. Doing so was no different than how she'd managed to keep Robert and Elizabeth behaved all these years since Robert's mother had died. Dagold Jorsten was still a boy in many ways. She knew just how forcefully she had to pitch her voice to pull a person out of the emotional abyss.
"You will pull yourself together now, Dagold," she told him. "You're the man of this house now - until Robert returns. You'll act like the grown man that you are."
He turned back to her slowly. He sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his coat. A smiled tugged at his lips. "You sounded like my mother just then, Fraü Alice."
Alice smiled back at him. "There are only one way to raise a boy, Dagold - and your mother did a remarkable job raising you. She'd be proud of you, lad."
The farm manager opened the door and stepped inside. Seeing Alice, he doffed his cap. He looked from her to Dagold and back again.
"Miss, we found young Clive," he reported to her. "He's dead too. Stabbed in the heart, he was."
"Which one of the outbuildings is clear?" she asked.
"Everyone of them but the one by the stables has things stored in them from the Hall here or what we use for the farm, ma'am."
"That's what I thought," she said nodding. "All right then, have the men lay out the bodies in that one. Cook and I will find sheets they can use to cover them."
"And young Neville too?" the manager asked.
"Of course, bring him up too. As soon as the police are through with their investigation, the undertaker in the village can prepare the bodies. Our dead, at least-" She looked puzzled. "For the life of me, I don't know what to do with the murderers. I don't think they should be buried here, though I suppose they should have a Christian burial."
"They shouldn't, ma'am, not here on the farm with our good people," Cook told her. "There's potter's field in Bellingham village - that's good enough for their sort, I say."
Alice nodded, still looking at the manager."You'll need to have some men inside then. We've got three bodies lying on the landing. Lord Molloy is one of them."
The manager made to open the door but Alice stopped him. "Do you know when Jane will come back up to the Hall?"
The man shook his head. "Send a man down to get her," she told him. "Several of the other women too, I suspect - to help us clean up the mess before his Lordship comes home from France."
As the manager let himself out the door, she turned to Cook. "We'd better get busy, you and I. We've got hungry men to feed." She frowned. "And another load of them arriving at dawn."
The knock at my bedroom door began to pull me from my sleep. "My Lord?" an English voice called, and it was enough to push me on to the shores of awareness. I opened my eyes. It was still dark in the room.
I was completely awake, pushing back bed covers even as my legs sought the side of the bed. "A moment please," I called and pushed myself to my feet, moving quickly to the foot of the bed and pulling my dressing gown on.
I opened the door to find Dunham standing there waiting for me. I glanced quickly towards Barry's bedroom, but the door was closed. I felt no sense of glumness about Dunham and relaxed. "Yes?" I asked.
"Mr. Churchill is on the telephone in the study, Lord Petersholme," the man from MI-5 said. "He's at Chartwell and would like to speak to you for a moment."
"Let me put on my slippers," I told him and returned quickly to the bed, all the while wondering what the Honourable Member wanted of me now.
Churchill wasted no time on pleasantries and had me instantly gomstruck with his tale of the attack on Bellingham Hall the night before. I was assured that my family was safe before he told me that Max had been killed.
I was in shock from that when he requested that I work with Dunham to bring the culprits to heel. I agreed and we rung off.
Standing at the Minister's desk, I was still trying to pull my thoughts together when Dunham pulled the doors of the study closed behind him and we were alone.
I turned to face him.
"Young Pettigrew seems to have lucked into an end to this two-pronged attack on you."
"Oh?" I suddenly was unable to pull my gaze from the nondescript man.
"The lad's a bit impulsive but has good instincts-"
"You know that it's this Gisele von Kys who orchestrated both attacks on you?" I nodded. "Her subaltern is willing to lead her to us-"
"Why in the world?" I demanded.
Dunham smiled ever so slightly. "It would appear the poor lad has decided that his commanding officer is quite daft-"
"He felt that his life would be in jeopardy if she wasn't quickly incapacitated."
"Good God!" I knew that I shouldn't be surprised. Gisele was daft. But I was. "Why?"
"It seems that she'd rather it not get around back in Berlin that she'd failed to kill you. She and this young man are the only ones on their side left alive, either here or in England. I guess it's the old adage, sir - dead men tell no tales."
"So, he thinks she'll kill him if they don't get me?"
"And if they do as well, sir."
I nodded, finally seeing the backdrop behind this lovely mess. "Her mission wasn't approved by her government then?"
"Not that we're able to tell."
"Why doesn't he just - is 'defect' the right word?"
"It would be better for His Majesty's government if he remained in the Waffen-SS and gave us information from Berlin."
"I see," I said. "Gisele is going to try to kill me and this lad, her subordinate, is quite happy to appear to help. You'll be there to ensure that she's captured before she gets the lucky shot off. Where and when does this caper take place?"
"Tonight, sir - here at the château."
"In my apartment - mine and Mr. Alexander's - I suppose?"
"Yes, my Lord. That's the scheme Obersturmführer Schmidt and I came up with last night."
"I see. Elizabeth and Mr. Alexander will be quite safe while all this is going on?"
"I'll personally hide in Mr. Alexander's room until the Jerries make their move, sir."
"In his room?" I groaned. "You're going to let Gisele get that close to him?"
"We have to, sir." He shrugged. "Sub-lieutenant Pettigrew will keep the French away from the entrance on the east wing. They'll steal up the servant stairs there and make their way to your apartment."
"Pettigrew? How did he get involved in this?"
"Schmidt seems to trust him."
"And Elizabeth? Will she be safe?"
"She'll be in her own apartment-" he paused, then added, "or with the Comte. Either place, she'll be well away from the action as it develops."
"I hope," I mumbled. A thought struck me then. "I've not heard a word from you about the Sûreté man or these gendârmes who're all over the place - is this purely an English exercise then?"
He looked away. "I'm afraid so, sir. It seems the second man killed yesterday was with the Sûreté - and a German agent. Young Schmidt doesn't want any record of his collaboration kept in France. He doesn't know who is on the Sicherheitsdienst's payroll and who isn't, and he doesn't want to take any chances. And we don't know exactly who to trust at this point."
"He's taking his chances with us English then?"
Dunham pursed his lips. "He hasn't said and now's not the time to pursue it - but I get the sense that it's common knowledge in Berlin's official circles that France will find herself caught in the German eagle's talons if there's a war."
"So, this is now a completely English scheme then?" I wanted to make damned sure that I understood this.
"What time does the Gräfin expect me to breathe my last?"
"They're due to arrive at a barn several kilometres from the château around ten o'clock tonight and come in by foot from there."
"Between eleven and twelve then?" He nodded. I shrugged. "For King and country then. I'd best be off to wash," I told him and chuckled. "It certainly wouldn't be proper to be unclean when I meet the man on the white horse, would it?"
"No-one's going to be hurt, sir. We'll take this woman into custody and whisk her off to England where she'll be put away quietly."
In spite of the bad feeling I had about the scheme, I decided to accept his assurances and let things unfold as they would. "I'm in then," I told him. "Carry on with it, Dunham."
* * *
As she followed him through the woods, the Obersturmbansführerin wondered idly how she would kill her subordinate.
It was, of course, a pity that he had to die. He was so perfectly what the Führer wanted the new German male to be like. And he was good in bed as well. But, there could no chance of his loose tongue wagging once they were back in Berlin. He would have served his purpose as soon as she was in the château and had her Luger aimed at the Drecksau's heart.
Bare twigs caught at her hair and her coat.
She suspected that the damned boy enjoyed leading her through bushes and knee-high snow. Boys, and even men, took a perverse pleasure in leading women into the worst possible situations. And making her way through these woods behind Stefan Schmidt at twenty-three hundred hours was about the worst possible situation she could imagine at the moment - especially now that she'd stepped into that knee-deep patch of snow and it had got inside her boot.
A tree branch snapped as she pushed it away from her face and Schmidt turned back to her. "We must be quiet, Gräfin. We're only about a hundred metres from the house now. Our mission fails if we're found out."
She grunted her acquiescence and studied him through slitted eyes. He'd be dead soon. She might kill him immediately after taking care of Petersholme. A smile touched her frozen lips at the thought. She could even use the Baron's own pistol to do it.
She forced that thought away quickly. The Reichsführer was more than willing to allow his field-grade officers to set their own programmes. He would not mind at all that she had planned this mission. He would mind, however, if it failed. And Himmler would be absolutely livid with her if a the body of a Waffen-SS officer, her own adjutant no less, were found lying beside the man they had come to kill.
No, dear Stefan would have to die elsewhere, anywhere other that the château of the French Minister of Justice.
He couldn't be found at the Hotel Normandie either; they'd arrived together and registered as Germans - she wished now that she'd thought that through before they'd done it. She'd have to do it between Deauville and the Belgian border, though.
She nodded as that thought expanded in her mind. It would be simple really - she had the embassy driver to help her, after all. She'd simply kill Stefan as he sat beside her in the car, maybe as he dozed, in the hours before dawn that lay ahead of them after they had completed their mission. And the driver could strip him completely; that way there would be nothing to link him to the Reich or her when his body was found.
Petersholme would be dead as would her late husband's Schwul and she would have her son back to give to the Reich. There would be no link to the Waffen-SS. Reichsführer Himmler would be pleased with her resourcefulness.
She smiled broadly at her ingenuity and sped up her steps to catch Schmidt. They reached the edge of the woods behind the château together.
"We'll go through the door in the east wing, Gräfin," he told her as they studied the manor before them. Light shone from the windows of most of the ground floor, but most of the upper storeys were dark.
"How do you know where we're going?" she demanded in a low voice.
He looked at her in the moonlight, his face angelically innocent. "I told you, Gräfin. I happened upon one of the maids in service here-"
"And, no doubt, she was a lovely girl as well," she grumbled, wishing now that it had been her who'd had Stefan between her legs. It was a waste that he had to die.
He chuckled and looked away. "Reasonably so. But she did manage to give me a layout of the château before she had to leave this morning. That and where the gendârmes have positioned themselves to protect the English Baron."
"And this door on the east wing?" Gisele demanded in a low voice.
"She's left it unlocked so that I may enter-"
"Thinking that you're coming to her in the servants' quarters, I suppose."
He shrugged nonchalantly and smiled at her. "Of course."
Gisele von Kys resolved then that, once they were back to the car waiting for them at the abandoned stables, there would be a detour back to the Normandie. She would have Stefan a last time. He would die, but he would also have the best possible sex as a reward before her bullet entered his brain.
"Gräfin, if we move along the edge of the woods, we'll have shadow almost to the door," he told her, pointing out the path he was suggesting.
She forced thoughts of him inside her away and forced her gaze to follow his finger pointing towards the end of the wing.
Schmidt ran in a crouch across the two metres of moonlighted snow to reach the door, his Luger in his hand. He reached for the knob hesitantly, now afraid that the English intelligence agent had lied to him. Or, worse, that John Pettigrew had opted for revenge and that he was about to walk into a trap that would ensnare him as well as the Gräfin.
He was satisfied with Brigadier Dunham's scheme, although he would have preferred that the Gräfin died tonight. If there was a war as everyone in Berlin expected, England would be defeated. It was possible that, like France, they would be occupied as well. If that happened, the Obersturmbannführerin would be released and he had no doubt that her memory would be long. He had to risk that, however, to free himself from the death sentence he knew she held over him as long as she was free.
The knob turned in his hand and he carefully began to open the outer door, bringing his pistol up to cover the interior opening to him. He smiled as he accepted that it made no sound. Perhaps things would go well, after all. He could always learn English and be in the first wave of the Waffen-SS to arrive in England. He would ensure that there were no records of his treason or witnesses to it - except perhaps John of the rounded, sweet and compliant Arsch.
He knelt and peered into the darkness between the outer door and inner door. He saw the stairs, exactly as the English brigadier had said. No-one was there guarding them. John had not opted for revenge then. Thinking about it, Schmidt was certain that the young officer had enjoyed their coupling of the night before as much as he had. When he entered England after their defeat, he could have John Pettigrew assigned to him. He grinned at the possibilities that offered up.
He shined his electric torch and quickly doused it. He took several steps inside and opened the inner door just enough to peer inside. The noise it made sounded loud and he held his breath as he leaned closer to look through the crack. He saw light from an open doorway a quarter of the way down the corridor and wagers being made in French. There was no-one in the corridor, however, and he shut the door.
He motioned to the Gräfin to join him. It was time for her to meet her fate.
Inside, he hushed her with a finger to the lips and slowly started up the stairs to the first floor where the brigadier had said the Baron's apartment was. She followed after him; and, by the fourth step, he could hear her breath becoming rasping. By the time they reached the landing on the first floor, Schmidt was sure that her breathing was loud enough to wake the dead.
He could only thank the God in Heaven that this was an English scheme already. If it had been a real assassination attempt he had no doubt that, the moment they opened the door in front of them now, both English and French riflemen would open fire on them.
* * *
Louis-Philippe d'Orléans was reaching for the handle of the water closet in the toilet next to the stairwell when he heard the creak of the door that opened to the servants' stairs. He paused.
His first thought was that the sentry in the servants' stairwell was coming inside. He instantly changed his mind and remained still when the door didn't open further. He pulled his hand back from the lever.
His second thought was fear for Elizabeth in the parlour at the other end of the corridor. He rejected that just as quickly as he had the idea of the sentry coming in to warm himself. The door had been opened, but not much. Not enough to allow a man to pass through.
That left only two possibilities: a second attack on Elizabeth's cousin or he had imagined the door creaking. He pressed his ear to the wall, hoping that he would hear no sound there.
Muffled, he heard heavy breathing, as if someone had just completed an exercise regime, someone whose body was unfamiliar with the regimen. He smiled and almost chuckled before he remembered the men who had been placed in the château by the police. None of them had appeared out of shape. The servants hadn't, either.
His smile changed into a frown then. He listened as the heavy breather began to climb the stairs.
He opened the door to the toilet slowly and looked into the corridor. The door to the stairwell was closed. Down the hall, the gendârmes were playing cards with the English aviator. Beyond them was the parlour where Elizabeth waited for his return. And, beyond her, were the main staircase to the first floor sleeping quarters.
He hurried down the hallway to the card room, keeping an eye on the door to the servants' stairwell as he moved. In the room, he saw all five gendârmes sitting with the English pilot, their attention riveted to their cards. The Englishman had the most chips.
"Citizens, you're supposed to be defending a guest of France," he growled, "yet, you sit here gambling away next week's wages and hear nothing!"
"What's there to hear?" Pettigrew asked quickly without looking up. Philippe noted subconsciously that the Englishman's French perfect except for the slightest accent. "We're just whiling away a boring night, Capitaine. Relax and pull up a chair."
"Someone is climbing the servants' stairs now," d'Orléans told them. "Where was the sentry there in the stairwell when he entered the château? Are our guests defended?"
Pettigrew looked up at the French Army captain then. "His Lordship is being protected, as is Mr. Alexander." He smiled broadly, hoping to satisfy the other men around the table. "And Miss Myers has you defending her, I would assume."
If he had dared to say something comparable to an English officer, trivialising his concern, he would have been headed for a court martial that he doubted even MI-5 could help him escape. But d'Orléans was French, he could only be insulted; he could not bring Pettigrew up on charges. And Brigadier Dunham had stressed the need for him to keep the French police occupied. He was doing exactly that. He hoped that the man knew what the bloody hell he was doing. Besides, this Frenchman had somehow got to Elizabeth, winning her heart.
"Are you in the pay of the Boche as was my superior officer then, Sub-lieutenant?" d'Orléans demanded. Every man at the table could hear his teeth gnash as he spat out the words.
Pettigrew stiffened. "That's an insult, d'Orléans. I am an English officer and a gentleman-"
"Fine!" The Frenchman's eyes blazed. "I will apologise after we have searched the first floor and the servants' stairs - if we find nothing there."
He looked to the gendârmes sitting at the table and watching them. "You will follow me, please. And one of you will bring this English officer and gentleman with us. If he makes to warn anyone on the first floor, shoot him."
Pettigrew knew that he could push the Frenchman no further. Dunham be damned! And Stefan too - if that buggering Jerry got killed, Pettigrew would be well-rid of him. He laid his cards face-down on the table and rose. Smiling to the policemen, he said: "Let's go see what we will see."
"Two of you," d'Orléans ordered as he turned back towards the door, "go to the stairwell and guard against anyone trying to escape that way. The rest of you, follow me up the main staircase. And watch the Englishman," he said, glancing at Pettigrew as he stepped to the doorway.
Elizabeth stood in the hallway outside the parlour. A smile began to transform her lips when she saw d'Orléans leave the card room but it quickly disappeared when he was followed by Pettigrew and the five gendârmes. She watched as two of the men broke from the others and start for the door at the end of the corridor.
It seemed almost as if the other three were flanking Pettigrew as guards would a prisoner.
"What's the matter, Philippe?" she asked as he approached her.
"I heard someone on the servants' stairs. We're going upstairs to take a look."
Her face went white. "Robbie?" She looked towards the staircase in the centre of the château.
"Stay here, Elizabeth. We're going to see. It's probably nothing, but-" He took her hand. "Stay here where you're safe."
D'Orléans let go of her hand. "I'll be back in just a few minutes," he assured her and started towards the stairs. Pettigrew and the three gendârmes followed after him.
* * *
Elizabeth watched the men start up the stairs. Her thoughts went to Robbie and poor Barry were up there. And, if Philippe was right, someone was on their way to attack them. There was no way that she would play the part of a shrinking violet and stay quietly in the parlour while her family was in danger.
She needed a weapon. Elizabeth's gaze scanned the corridor quickly. She and Philippe had explored the rooms of the ground floor together on Tuesday. She smiled to herself as she remembered the trophy room directly across from her. Next to it and opening onto it was a gun room. Philippe had told her that the Minister was well-known as a gun collector and was proud that every gun in his collection was kept in working order.
She crossed the hallway and slipped into the trophy room before the last gendârme had set foot on the bottom step of the staircase. She slipped into the gun room and turned on the lamp that sat on the table beside the inner door. Before her stood the large gun cabinet she remembered.
She opened it and selected a shotgun, then started opening drawers looking for shells.
Armed, she returned to the corridor and determinedly began to climb the dark stairs.
Barry had been sedated a second day and lay in his room, dreaming whatever dreams morphine imparted those injected with it. I didn't envy him the pain or the necessity to relieve it. I also did not allow myself to worry that morphine was a derivative of opium, an addictive drug. I wanted to get him home to England where I knew he would receive the best care in the world.
Dunham was secreted in Barry's room. Less than ten minutes earlier, I'd peeked out into the sitting room and saw that the door to his bedroom stood slightly ajar. A moment later, the man had told me to get back to my room and to stop offering my head for target practice. The Brigadier was on duty. I gripped the pistol he'd given me earlier and returned to my bed with no increased sense of security for its presence in my hand.
It was silent in the château. But I could not sleep, it was much too early for that - only a few minutes before eleven. I wasn't allowed to read, however. Dunham had insisted that I have no light in my room. Bored, I tried to sort out what could be going through Gisele von Kys' mind to entice her to follow through on this caper.
Janus had once intimated that his wife was insane when he was still alive, but the strikes against my home and my person this past week forced me to believe my dead friend. I lay back against the pillows of my bed and allowed my thoughts to roam freely.
It took an insane person to launch an attack on my home. True, the presumed goal was to retrieve Willi - but she could have done so through the courts when I was seeking to adopt him. No English court of law would have awarded him to me, no matter his father's will, if his natural mother had made any effort to thwart me. Instead, she had remained silent in Berlin and allowed me to gain legal custody and even adopt the boy. And, all the while, she'd plotted an armed expedition against my home.
Worse, it had been a two-pronged attack with more military precision than any one had reason to expect. The second prong had been aimed at me personally. That was the most insane part of her whole scheme.
Admittedly, I would have been quite miffed at someone who had shot me and left me unconscious in a stables that was about to burst into flames. In that regard, I couldn't see that I was different from her.
But Gisele had carried it further than simple anger. Much further. She had set out to kill me and destroy my home. To destroy Petersholme. And she had done so in her official capacity within Germany's ruling party's military arm. She had involved her government, making my destruction a German goal.
I allowed myself to wonder if I would ever again be able to move about freely, like any Englishman had the right to do. And I knew that I wouldn't - not as long as Gisele von Kys remained alive.
But I would not be able to kill her tonight. I could disarm her. Even wound her if it came to that. But I could not conceive of killing her, or any woman.
The slightest creak sounded as the door from the sitting room to the corridor opened. I sat upright, staring at the closed door of my bedroom and gripping my pistol.
I forced my heart out of my throat and slipped silently off the bed. In a crouch, I hurried to the position behind the door that I'd given myself earlier. Holding my breath, I listened for another sound.
It was as still as a grave.
Light flared and wobbled beneath my door. An electric torch, I guessed.
"Which room did your whore say was his?" Gisele asked in a hoarse whisper.
I pressed my back against the wall. I allowed myself to wonder how the woman could be so stupid as think that we would not defend against a second attack. I blanked that out of my brain as the light beneath the door grew brighter as someone approached it. I reckoned that her companion had told her where to find me - the same companion who had set her up for this with Dunham the night before.
"Kill the Baron's Drecksau, Obersturmführer," she said and I heard her step towards my door.
In the dim light, I watched as the knob turned and, in a moment, the door begin to open. I saw the cone of light from her torch touch the wall opposite me and begin to search my bedroom as the door continued to open.
I held my breath, my finger on the trigger of the pistol at my waist, pointing at the door where I assumed her body to be.
"Verdammt!" she hissed. I saw her gloved hand holding the torch then.
"Halt!" a voice in French commanded.
The light arc-ed crazily back across the room, as Gisele pivoted to see who had interrupted her.
* * *
D'Orléans reached the first floor landing and positioned the three gendârmes behind him in a line that spread across the corridor. His hand closed on Pettigrew's arm. "You come with me," he whispered. "And not one sound, Englishman."
They moved silently along the corridor towards Baron Petersholme's apartment. D'Orléans saw the torch switch on and hurried his pace, pulling the unresisting Pettigrew along with him.
The door to the sitting room was open. D'Orléans squatted before moving into the open doorway. Two of the gendârmes took up positions on either side of the door while the third slipped past him and entered the sitting room.
To his right, he could make out a large figure with a lighted electric torch in one hand and the knob of a door that was partially open in the other.
"Halt!" he commanded, aiming his revolver at the figure.
"Verdammt!" the figure hissed.
D'Orléans was surprised to hear a feminine voice. He watched as the light quickly swung around towards him. "Drop the torch, Mademoiselle," he ordered her, but it had already moved to blind him.
Fire exploded in his arm then. In reflex, he squeezed off a round at the woman as she fired a second time.
All of the gendârmes fired and continued shooting as the large female figure jerked. Her pistol lowered and slipped out of her hand as her legs buckled. She looked down at the floor before looking back at d'Orléans.
"Drecksauen!" she grunted as she collapsed to her knees. Her gaze never left d'Orléans as her body began to topple forward.
* * *
"Hold your fire!" I called from behind the door where I'd been hidden when the fullisade began.
I stepped out from behind the door as Dunham opened the door to Barry's room. "He's one of ours," I cried to the Frenchmen. "Don't shoot!"
"Switch on a lamp," Dunham ordered as he stepped into the sitting room, speaking French with no accent. "We need to see to sort out this mess."
When the light came on, I saw a young German was standing against the far wall, his hands over his head. I wasn't the only one who saw him; two gendârmes pointed their revolvers at him. He glanced to Brigadier Dunham fearfully. "Bitte," he pleaded.
"Le Comte is shot," the third gendârme told us.
"Hold your fire," I told the two covering the German and stepped over to Philippe. He held his left arm over his chest and the whole left side of his uniform jacket was soaked. "Where are you hit?" I asked.
"The arm," he answered.
"See to your traitor first, Robert. He's in the corridor unless he's escaped."
I looked to the open doorway and saw Pettigrew move to look into the room. "What's this about you being a traitor, lad?" I asked.
He looked at me sheepishly. "It seems our French captain thought I wanted you left unprotected."
"You had the policemen occupied then?" Dunham asked, moving to stand beside the German.
"Just as you ordered me to do, Brigadier," Pettigrew answered.
"This German is one of yours?" d'Orléans growled. I noticed that he'd begun to pale.
"He's one of ours," Dunham told them. "Now, we need to get him out of here so that he and his driver can get to Paris."
"Who is he?" d'Orléans demanded.
"No names, gentlemen," Dunham told them as Elizabeth ran into the room and stopped beside young John. "There can't be any record of him being here."
"Elizabeth, Pettigrew," I called them to me. "Help me with Philippe. Elizabeth, you get some water and, John, help me strip off his tunic and blouse." She leaned the shotgun against the wall and was gone. I heard the echo of her running down the corridor beyond the door.
Admittedly, I knew little about treating gunshot wounds, but there seemed to be far too much blood. Barry had not bled as much.
"Are there men at the foot of the servants' stairs?" Dunham asked the two gendârmes still guarding the German. One nodded. "Good thinking. I'll need one of you to go back downstairs via the grand staircase and approach your men normally." He pointed to the fittest looking man. "You. Tell them that all is well and that we'll be coming down." He looked to a second man as the first sprinted out into the corridor. "You'll come with us."
"One of them needs to call a doctor," I said. The first man slipped into the hallway.
Dunham stepped over to Gisele and felt her wrist. "She's dead," he told the room in English.
"Was bedeutet 'dead'?" the German asked.
"Tot," the MI-5 agent told him.
I glanced up in time to see a smile tug at the German's lips.
Pettigrew had knelt on d'Orléans' other side as I unbuttoned his army tunic. He helped the Frenchman slip his good arm from the sleeve. With his help, I had Philippe stripped to his waist in moments.
He had taken Gisele's bullet in his upper arm. Fresh blood welled in the jagged wound with his every heartbeat. "Give me your belt, Pettigrew," I told my countryman.
I didn't know if d'Orléans' artery had been nicked but, from his paleness, I thought that a tourniquet wasn't a bad idea. Pettigrew didn't argue. He quickly stood and pulled off his belt to hand it to me.
I was fixing it to d'Orléans' arm at the shoulder when Elizabeth returned. "Is he going to be all right?" she demanded as she came up to us. Pettigrew took the bowl of water from her and she knelt at Philippe's head, cradling it in her lap.
"I think so," I told her. "I've had the doctor called."
Pettigrew reached for the flannel in the bowl of water and squeezed it before beginning to clean the Frenchman's arm.
"It's nothing," Philippe mumbled and tried to pull his arm from John. Pettigrew was having none of it, however, and held him in place against his thigh.
D'Orléans attempted to sit up but instantly collapsed back against Elizabeth before his head left her lap.
"Fiddlesticks!" she yelped, looking down at him. "You lie still, Philippe." Her hands went to his cheeks and she looked up at me then, her eyes searching my face. "Robbie-?"
"I've stanched the flow of blood, Liza," I told her. "And John is cleaning the wound. We'll have a doctor here soon. He'll be fine, you'll see."
I glanced over to where Gisele's body lay. Even with the greatcoat around her, she appeared to have put on weight since I'd seen her in Berlin only two months earlier. Relief flooded over me then. Willi was mine now - totally. There was no-one left in Germany to try to claim him.
Brigadier Dunham motioned Schmidt to him before turning to the gendârme he'd designated to join them. "We need to get this man back out to the woods so that he can make his escape," he told the Frenchman. The gendârme nodded and led them into the corridor.
"Swear to me that there will be no record of our agreement in France," Schmidt said as he followed the intelligence officer to the servants' stairs.
"There won't." Dunham assured him as they followed the Frenchman down the steps to the ground floor. "Officially, the Obersturmbannführerin and an accomplice will have broken into the château on an ill-conceived mission to murder Lord Petersholme. The accomplice will have escaped when Petersholme's guards fired at them."
"That'll be good," Stefan told him as he stood at the outer door. "I can make up a story that fits that record."
"We have everything we need from you, Obersturmführer. We'll be in touch with you in Berlin," Dunham told him as he opened the door for the German.
Schmidt paused and looked back at the Englishman. "Your man in Berlin must be very discrete, Herr Brigadier. I don't want to return to Berlin only to have my head chopped off."
"No-one will know," Dunham promised.
Schmidt nodded and stepped out into the night.
Alice Adshead stood on the first floor landing of Bellingham Hall, her hand on the balustrade, and surveyed the area in front of Willi's room for the second time Friday morning. Sunlight flooded over the landing from the cathedral windows of the great hall.
She decided again that the women from the cottages had done a good job. She could see the nicks in the door jamb of the boy's room. Her face reddened in embarrassment. Shot, she reminded herself, from the shotgun blast that had brought down the man who'd thought he would take Willi from her and Robert. They'd just have to be filled in and painted over come spring.
The table across from the child's room was bare. Its doily was still soaking in bleach, but she doubted that horrible Hun's blood would ever come out of it. She would have to find a nice piece of linen with which to replace it. She shook her head at the deadly precision that nice German boy had shown, using an entire clip of bullets firing into the shadows and somehow knowing that man was there with poor Max's body.
She folded her arms over her chest and nodded to herself. It was as clean as it was going to get. There was nothing left that would give poor little Willi nightmares, except the nicks in the door frame. In front of him, they could pretend that nothing had happened and he would be none the wiser.
She knew better, though. Robert would never stop and think before he spoke in front of the boy. For that matter, Elizabeth was nearly as oblivious as her cousin.
At least, there was now practically nothing to remind the child of what had happened. He could hear Robert and Elizabeth, and even Barry, talk about it; but there was nothing for him to link their words to the Hall.
There were too many shadows along the corridor, however. Young boys were prone to imagining things existing in dark places. She would have to talk with Robert about putting in more lighting for the whole floor. Willi was almost too bright, he didn't need dark places for nasty things to breed in his mind.
Alice turned and started slowly down the stairs. She hoped she never had to live through another two days as ghastly as these last two had been. And the very worst of it was poor Max.
She smiled as she remembered him when he would stay at the Hall with Robert during school holidays. He'd been such a gentle boy then. She'd never been able to reconcile her memories of that boy with the man who'd made that homosexual approach to Barry in Robert's very home in London almost three months ago now.
She reminded herself that she was not going to be the one to harbour evil thoughts about the dead or, even, unpleasant memories about them. Whatever he might have done in his life, Maximillian Molloy had died most honourably. He had died in defence of his friend's family against an enemy of his King and country, no less. No man of their sort could ask for a more noble death than that.
Alice reached the foot of the stairs as she looked around her at the gaily decorated great hall. She frowned suddenly.
Should Bellingham Hall be so festive after what happened only yesterday morning? She wondered if she should have Jane Murray take down some of the ornaments and replace them with something funereal. It would be proper, after all, to join with the old Earl and Max's wife and son in their sorrow.
It would be proper, she told herself frowning; but what would it do to young Willi? In an hour - two at most - he would be home. Returned from a house that had been thrown into sorrow yesterday. There was no telling what someone might have said in his hearing. He needed the normality of the season most of all.
Besides, the Earl's youngest son wouldn't be entering Bellingham Hall. Dagold had been kind enough to meet him and Willi at the village station. She'd spoken with the undertaker yesterday and make arrangements to ship Max's body to Easthampton-Mares on the afternoon train with Max's brother. No-one from the Earl's household was going to see the lack of funeral decoration at the Hall.
But Willi would see the Christmas decorations that had been there when he left. That was the normality that a child needed. The continuity of things. As Robert's aunt, she would see to that continuity before anything else for his heir.
She nodded her agreement to herself at her decision. Yes. Life did go on - even in the face of death. It was necessary for Willi to see that and know it with all his heart - especially after everything the poor child had been through over there in Germany.
Willi was running from the car towards the entrance before Dagold could turn off the ignition. He burst into the great hall and stopped, surveying the decorations suspiciously.
He broke into a grin as he realised that nothing had been changed since earlier in the week. "Goddamned Huns didn't stop Christmas!" he yelled, beginning to jump up and down with excitement as he accepted that he would have Christmas after all.
"What did you just say, young man?" Alice demanded, hurrying along the corridor from her room.
Still jumping with his joy, Willi turned to her as she swept into the great hall. "Goddamned Huns killed Cecil's Vati, but they didn't stop Christmas after all, Aunt Alice!"
In shock, she stopped, her left hand going to her breast, and stared at the boy. Where had he learnt such vulgar words?
Carrying the boy's suitcase, Dagold entered the hall then. He turned to close the doors and only realised something was wrong when he'd turned back to the great hall. He glanced from Alice to Willi and back again. The woman's face was the colour of beetroot, it was so red. The boy was still jumping around happily, oblivious to whatever had upset Alice.
"Is something wrong, Fraü Alice?" Dagold asked.
"He - that boy ... Such language!" she sputtered.
"What did he say?"
"I - I certainly couldn't repeat such file language, Dagold."
Willi began to realise that he'd upset Aunt Alice and stopped jumping up and down. He studied her for the moment it took Dagold to reach him.
"What did you say to your Aunt Alice, Willi?" he asked, squatting beside the boy.
"I said nothing, Dagi," he answered, lapsing into German. "I didn't even see her come from her room."
Dagold fought against the smile that threatened to take over his face. "What were you yelling then whilst jumping around out here?"
"Oh that!" Willi grinned and put his arm around Dagold's neck. "I was so happy when I saw all the decorations still here."
"But what did you say?"
He looked down at the floor, realising that his words had meant something entirely different here at Uncle Robert's house than they had at Cecil's. "I said 'The Goddamned Huns didn't stop Christmas', Dagi. Was that wrong?"
Alice cringed as she heard the offending words once again.
"Where did you hear this, kleiner Graf?" Dagold asked in a troubled voice.
"Cecil's Großvati," the boy answered, finally realising what had so bothered Aunt Alice. "He kept stomping around the house saying it as the servants were taking down the Christmas decorations there." He sniffed. "Poor Cecil. He's not going to have Christmas now that his Vati is gone."
Dagold looked up at Alice. "He says Earl Molloy was using the words all day yesterday as he had his servants take down the decorations."
She nodded, accepting the explanation. "Willi," she said. "Those are very naughty words. You must forget them."
"But the Earl said them, Aunt Alice. Is he a naughty man?"
"No, but-" She looked helplessly to Dagold.
"Willi, do you know what this season is about?" he asked
The boy raised his head and looked into his eyes. "Of course, Dagi. It's about good boys like me being rewarded with nice gifts."
Dagold chuckled. "Yes, it is that," he admitted. "But it much more. It's our way to honour the birth of the Son of God, Willi."
"That too," the boy conceded.
Dagold smiled. "It isn't right to use God's name in vain then - not ever, but especially when we're about to celebrate the birth of his Son."
"But I didn't-"
"Willi, 'Goddamned' means Gottverdammt. It's very naughty. Father Christmas could punish you for using it."
The boy studied his face for a moment. He could see that Dagold was telling him the truth and averted his eyes.
"You won't use it again then?"
Willi nodded without looking up.
"And the word 'Hun" means us German to the English. It's not a nice word, either."
"They were saying that about us?" the boy asked quietly.
"Cecil's Großvati and his Önkel too. They both kept saying the bad words all day. Are they bad men?"
"Not bad, Liebchen - just very upset. They had just lost someone they loved very much. Now, promise your Aunt Alice that you won't use such words again, Willi," Dagold told him.
The boy turned to face Alice.
"Promise her in English, kleiner Graf. That way, she'll know what you're saying."
* * *
Barry had been given another dose of morphine and his wound cleaned with a solution of carbolic acid late the night before after the doctor had seen to Philippe and declared that the son of the Pretendant would indeed live. Though, sedated since Wednesday, Elizabeth had managed to feel him gruel from the kitchen on several occasions.
As I sat with him Friday morning, holding his good hand in both of mine, he still slept the drugged sleep French medicine had declared for him. I thought that he did look better. His eyes were still darkened shadows but his face didn't look as pinched as it had Wednesday and, even more so, Thursday. His colour was better, as well.
I was still concerned. True, I had never been involved with anyone who was recovering from a gunshot wound, but injecting Barry with morphine to keep him sedated didn't seem the most logical way to help his body heal.
I wanted him seen to by a specialist, an English-speaking specialist preferably. Instead of Coventry, we would fly into London. We might be a day or two late arriving at Bellingham Hall, but I now knew them to be safe and the danger past. In London, I could have my doubts eased and never once seem to be calling into question the quality of French care.
"Monsieur le Baron?"
I looked towards the door, pulling myself from my thoughts about Barry's care as I did. The château's majordomo was watching me, his face expressionless.
"The Minister has just arrived. He has asked that you make your presentation in fifteen minutes."
"In the study, sir."
I arrived at the study at the appointed time to find Philippe d'Orléans and several men I didn't recognise stand and clap as I entered the room.
A burly, middle-aged man broke from the others and began to descend on me. "Monsieur le Baron Petersholme," he said barrelling across the room at me like one the tanks Colonel de Gaulle recommended in warfare in his book. "I am Paul Reynaud," he continued, slowing to a normal walk as he approached. "My very good friend, Winston Churchill, recommends you so highly. Thank you for coming during this special season to describe what you've seen in Germany," he gushed as he grabbed my hand and began to pump it.
Paul Reynaud was my stereotype of a politician. I couldn't imagine why Churchill thought so highly of him.
"Come, Monsieur le Baron," he said, keeping hold of my hand. "I want you to meet the one man in all of the Republic who most wants to hear your report." I was pulled after him towards the other men in the study. All of them wore Army uniforms.
There was Philippe in his sling, of course - smiling at me. The older man to whom Reynaud was pulling me looked be well into his sixties and had the most medals and braid I'd ever seen on a man. And there was another officer. I blinked. The man towered over me.
"This is Marshal Pétain," Reynaud told me, stopping in front of the older man. "He thought he should hear of your tale of Peenemünde, even if it does entail but a child's toy."
I smiled to the man and extended my hand. "Marshal Pétain," I said, "Your genius saved France in the Great War."
He took my hand and shook it once before releasing it, without saying a word.
"And this is Colonel de Gaulle, Baron. He is our genius of the future of warfare," Reynaud said as his hand on my elbow moved me past the Marshal.
I looked up. I was nearly six feet tall, and this Frenchman had me by nearly a head. "I've read your treatise on the use of the tank, Colonel." I extended my hand once again. "It makes a tremendous amount of sense-"
The Marshal harumphed and left our group for the sideboard and the whisky decanter there.
"And you, Lord Petersholme," Charles de Gaulle said in barely accented English, his eyes twinkling with merriment, "would naturally be interested in the tank as a weapon. After all, your factories supplied Britain with theirs in the great war - those of the Russians too, I believe."
I felt my ears grow warm. It appeared that I was not the only one who brushed up on people I was about to meet officially. "Thank you for coming," I said.
His eyes twinkled even more. "I wouldn't have missed it, even if the Minister hadn't threatened me with a court marshal tonight and execution at dawn tomorrow, Lord Petersholme-" He paused for the space of a heartbeat. "He even suggested that he'd use the guillotine rather than allow me to face a firing squad."
* * *
It had only taken Pettigrew a couple of telephone conversations to bring the HP-42 that had been assigned to me from Paris to Deauville and to gain clearance for us to fly to London instead of Coventry. After only the briefest conversation between the two, de Gaulle had given Philippe a fortnight's leave to visit us and fly on to Morocco to spend time with his parents. We were airborne by one o'clock that afternoon.
I had heard about Pettigrew's near altercation with Philippe and I suspected there was more to it than young John's effort to keep faith with Brigadier Dunham. I was concerned that it might carry over into our flight. But, as our aeroplane climbed into the clear skies over Normandy, my concern was focused on Barry.
He had lapsed into unconsciousness whilst I briefed the Minister and warlords of France and was running a fever as we covered him in blankets to carry him to the car. Airborne, he was burning hot with fever and I was squabbing his forehead with a flannel continuously. Elizabeth had offered her help but I shooed her back to her own wounded man. It was no longer a matter of consulting a London specialist to ease my doubts; it was become a necessity.
I looked up to find Pettigrew standing beside me. I'd been aware of his checking on us a few times but paid little attention to him. "Yes?"
"I've spoken with London, sir-" He glanced to Barry. "About Mr. Alexander, sir."
"I didn't ask-"
"Sir, I am the commanding officer of this mission - anything that happens on this ship when it's in the air is my responsibility."
He looked at Barry again. "Anyway, sir, the First Sea Lord himself has ordered the Navy's senior surgeon to meet us the moment we're on the ground. He'll be taking charge of Mr. Alexander, sir."
I looked up sharply. "I have my own surgeon meeting us at the aerodrome-"
"Sir, it appears that Lord Stanhope has decided to take charge of Mr. Alexander's health at Mr. Churchill's request."
"What?" I yelped, staring at him in shock.
"We're flying to Portsmouth, sir."
I swallowed my shock and the expletives that went with it. "When did Mr. Churchill have time to plan this?" I asked with resignation.
"I reckon after I called him this morning, sir."
"You called him?" He nodded. "From that château in Deauville?"
"And why did you do that?"
He was concerned about Mr. Alexander, my Lord. He told Brigadier Dunham to have me call him in Chartwell the moment that Minister Reynaud arrived."
I had to admit that it did feel good to be taken care of. To have my every concern met before I even knew that I was concerned. But I felt more than a little disquiet as well. I was, after all, fully capable of thinking for myself.
Pettigrew was out of the cockpit as we taxi-ed towards the hanger and walking down the aisle towards us. He stopped to look at Barry for a moment but said nothing. I continued to hold Barry's hand and didn't look up. His gaze went to Philippe. "It would be best if you let our lads look at your arm too, Captain," he said to him.
"He treated Mr. Alexander too, sir - and he's burning up with fever now."
"It might be best, Philippe," Elizabeth said. "That doctor was probably very good, but I'd reckon that he doesn't see too many gunshot wounds."
He sighed. "I guess it won't hurt anything-"
"Right," Pettigrew said brightly. "After all, we can't have Miss Elizabeth's beau coming down sick whilst visiting the family of his intended, can we?"
I wondered when he'd learnt about Elizabeth.
He moved towards the back of the cabin then. A moment later, the engines were cut and Pettigrew threw open the portal. Before I knew it, I was asked to move aside and two Royal Navy medics were efficiently helping a nearly unconscious Barry Alexander from his seat. A moment later, they had him strapped to a gurney and were carrying him towards the back of the aeroplane.
"Barry?" I mumbled as I watched him being carried down the aisle.
Pettigrew's hand closed on my arm. "Come along, my Lord, we'll ride with him."
Numbly, I allowed him to lead me out onto the tarmac and into the ambulance that had been waiting for our arrival.
I was in shock.
There was the letdown that was the aftermath of the attacks on me, that had left Barry wounded and killed my best friend. But there was also the reality that I had simply been unprepared for Barry's life becoming so precarious so suddenly.
He had been so full of life from the moment I met him. His smile, his warmth, and his love had become a cushion that protected me from the world around me.
Now, however, there was no smile. His face was lax and he'd slipped over the edge of consciousness. His eyes had been dark and sunken as the medics laid him out on their gurney. His breathing had become increasingly laboured since we left France and his skin looked pale and pasty as the ambulance carried us across Portsmouth Naval base. There was only his body warmth now and I couldn't even touch him to feel that. It was almost as if he were dead.
I instantly closed the mental door to that line of thinking. I was not able to think about Barry Alexander dying. I could not, would not, do it. Besides, it was simply impossible. He was only sick, after all - probably some sort of infection; the Royal Navy doctors here at Portsmouth would give him an antibiotic and he'd be himself again in the morning.
I stood at the open door of the ambulance and watched as the two medics carried Barry into the hospital. "He's going to be all right, Robbie," Elizabeth said from beside me, her voice pulling me out of the shock that had descended over me.
I looked at her and she smiled up at me.
Pettigrew appeared at the entrance of the hospital. "Capitaine d'Orléans," he called and I felt movement as Philippe turned his attention to John. I hadn't even realised that Elizabeth's fiancé had been standing at my other side.
"Yes?" he called.
"There's a surgeon inside who'll look at that arm of yours," Pettigrew told him.
"Robbie, I think perhaps we should go inside," Elizabeth suggested. Together, they led into the hospital.
A nurse met us as we entered and motioned Philippe to her. Elizabeth looked from him to me and back. "Go with him, Eliza," I told her. She smiled acknowledgement and followed the man she'd chosen for herself.
"My Lord, the base commander is in the waiting room to meet you," Pettigrew informed me, giving me his name, as we were left alone in the entrance corridor.
"The base commander?" I asked, my interest piqued.
Pettigrew grinned back. "I think that Mr. Churchill had something to do with it, sir."
"Churchill again?" I yelped. Damn! But that man was beginning to intrude in every facet of my life.
"Shall we go to meet the admiral, sir?"
I looked around me. "Where's Barry?" I asked.
"They've moved him into an observation room. The base medical officer is examining him now." He paused and I felt him study me closely. "Lord Petersholme, they call this chap in for the King's annual check ups - Mr. Alexander couldn't be in better hands. Mr. Churchill insisted on it."
The admiral had little to say, other than being effusive to someone for whom Winston Churchill had such high regard. I hadn't expect anything else, of course. The man was, after all, twenty years my senior and had never been on Aunt Alice's list of eligible bachelors for Elizabeth. But I would have liked to be with Barry instead of performing the part of some visiting dignitary. At least, I wanted to know what the Royal Navy's imminent physician had found was wrong with him. Barry shouldn't have been in the state he was when we arrived in England.
Elizabeth and Philippe joined us in the waiting room and the admiral was properly impressed to have the heir to the Pretendant of France on his base. I thought that Philippe was a bit embarrassed by the man's effusion. That made me a bit more comfortable.
We made small talk for an hour. It was like having the local vicar at Bellingham for tea. I accepted that Churchill had, for some reason, made me the admiral's special project. My thoughts wandered but always returned to Barry and my growing concern for him. I wished that the base commander would find himself another special project.
The base commander was saying something inane when he suddenly smiled. "Lord Petersholme, Monsieur le Comte, Miss Elizabeth," he said, naming us all, "I'd like you to meet our chief medical officer here at Portsmouth."
I turned to face the man who was walking towards us. My heart caught in my throat when I saw how glum he was. Barry's dying, I told myself and began to believe it. Elizabeth's hand found and gripped mine.
The doctor looked directly at me. "You're Lord Petersholme?" he asked before the admiral could begin to make introductions. I attempted to swallow my heart so that it returned to its proper place. "Then I need to speak with you, sir-" He glanced at the others. "Alone," he added ominously.
"Mr. Alexander has developed an upper respiratory infection, my Lord," the doctor said without preamble when we stood across the waiting room from the others. "It's not septic yet-"
"Septic?" I asked hesitantly, wondering how in the world poor King George with his stuttering ever survived an examination by this man.
"Spread throughout the body. It's not reached that stage yet, fortunately. He's your guest, isn't he?" I nodded. "How old is he?"
"Eighteen or nineteen, I think. He just entered the London School of Economics in the autumn."
"Good. He does seem to have a strong constitution and his age is a definite plus." He studied me for a moment. "His condition is quite guarded at the moment but we're treating the infection aggressively. He's also in an oxygen tent."
I gulped. "It's that bad?"
"It would be if he were older. He should pull through this, though."
"The doctor in France kept injecting him with morphine," I babbled.
"Country quacks!" he hissed softly, glancing back at the others. "No wonder the French lost so many good men at Somme. Us too." He shook his head. "Drug them to the nines and let them die in peace." He frowned. "Ours were doing it as well."
"He's going to recover, isn't he?"
"The next twenty-four hours will tell the tale, my Lord. If he responds to treatment, he'll soon be up and chasing his nurses around his bed like it was a maypole."
"May I-" I glanced to Elizabeth. "May we sit with him?"
"Of course. We do have him sedated and a nurse will check him over on the hour."
"I'll tell the others then-"
"My Lord, do you know if he has a personal physician here in England?"
"Not that I know of. Why?"
"His wound was a bad one - not life-threatening in itself - but it did mess up his shoulder a bit." He shrugged. "The x-rays we took will be available at any rate. I suspect that he'll need a good deal of therapy to get it back to anything approaching normality."
"He'll be a cripple?"
"No. Nothing that bad. Just quite stiff." He smiled then. "Enough that he'll be able to sit out this next war that damned Hitler is pulling us into."
I nodded. I grinned. I was as happy as a lad getting his first horse. Barry was safe after all. All he had to do was get through the next twenty-four hours.
My eyes flew open and jerked back in my chair. Philippe leaned over me, his good hand on my shoulder. I sat in a chair beside Barry's bed and realised that I'd fallen asleep.
"Your young aviator is to fly Elizabeth and myself to your home. Is this acceptable to you?"
I nodded, still groggy.
"Good. He'll stay the night there, yes?"
Again, I nodded, more awake now.
"He'll meet Mr. Churchill tomorrow morning in order to bring him here."
I was awake now. Churchill was going to enter my life again.
"I understand how you feel for Barry here, but the doctor assures me that he will not wake in the night. Pettigrew has offered his rooms that you might sleep there tonight. I think it would be a good idea if you accept."
"I can't possibly-" I looked at Barry. His face and upper body hidden behind the oxygen tent. His body so still.
"Mon ami," he said, changing to French. "I do not understand this love between you and Barry. But then I do not understand electricity. I accept the existence of your love, however - as I accept that of electricity." He paused, obviously collecting his thoughts. "Robert, there is going to be a war. A terrible war. England will need her very best men, as will France. You are one of the best that your King has, mon ami. Please do not force him and Mr. Churchill to avoid you by doing openly something that is against your law."
"No. Robert, Barry receives the very best medical care that England can provide now. His doctor is the one who administers to your King. It is enough. You do not want to make the Royal Navy aware of how much you love him or how. You do not want to force Mr. Churchill and your King to avoid you when you're the best man they have. Barry sleeps.
"He knows in his soul that you love him. That is all that he needs from you at this moment, Robert. Now, you must think of what your King and your country will need from you and make the appearances so that it possible to satisfy that need when the time comes."
He stepped back, his hand dropping from my shoulder. Again, I looked at Barry. So still. So like a dead man.
"Come. Pettigrew has found you a driver to take you to his rooms. The same driver will bring you back to hospital in the morning."
I knew that Philippe was right. I swallowed my fears. I stood and followed Philippe from the room.
"Petersholme, it's good to see you again," Winston Churchill said as I entered the office of the base's chief surgeon. We were the only ones there, and he was sitting at the chief medical officer's desk.
"Thank you, Churchill," I answered, pulling my thoughts from Barry's room which I'd just left.
"Your American guest - Mr. Alexander - will he be all right?" he asked.
"It depends, sir. They're waiting to see how well he responds to the drugs the doctor's ordered."
"He'll make it. He comes from good stock." He snorted. "That Irish rumrunner called me before I could leave Chartwell this morning."
"Rumrunner?" I asked, gomsmacked by the man's reference.
"The American Ambassador - Joseph P. Kennedy. President Roosevelt asked that he determine the status of the boy's health and apparently Portsmouth gave him a run around when he called here."
"President Roosevelt?" I mumbled, now completely dumbfounded.
Churchill studied me for a moment, from within a thick fog of cigar smoke. "Mr. Alexander's father heads up the stocks policing authority over there - he's one of Roosevelt's closest advisors on things financial, I hear."
I blinked, realising for the first time that the love of my life had a far more colourful background than I'd expected.
"You didn't know about his father?"
"No, I didn't. I was probably told but never thought much about it." Churchill seemed to be waiting for a fuller explanation and I hurried on. "He's related to my house servants - his mother is my housekeeper's sister."
His brows arched and his eyes widened in surprise. "Good Lord, how strange!" He waved it away then, tendrils of cigar smoke making an arc before him. "But then Americans are a strange lot - a good, strong race of course, but still passingly strange."
He stood and came around the desk to me. "Petersholme, I asked to meet you this morning because you've been singled out for a lot of German attention this past week."
"I guess that I have."
"Can you handle that?"
"I don't like to have my friends murdered-"
"It was a German operation from start to finish-" He snorted, his eyes suddenly twinkling. "Well, not the finish - we provided that ourselves, to their embarrassment."
"Do we know yet who staged that attack on my home?"
"A sergeant major in the Waffen-SS named Horst Müller was the one who killed Molloy. The other was a damned undertaker from Coventry."
"My God!" I groaned. "An Englishman?"
He nodded. "There have been a number of English lads who spent a summer in Germany the past few years."
"The Foreign Secretary will be needing someone to replace Molloy, Petersholme. The position will take on more work than before, as long as Berlin keeps pushing us all towards war. It could well be more a more exposed position, as well-" His gaze fixed on my face. "Will you accept it if Lord Halifax offers it to you?"
"I-" I glanced around the room, fighting off my shock before I felt safe in answering him. "There are a number of men in the Foreign Office much better versed in diplomacy, Churchill," I said, still trying to gather my wits about me.
"And none with your connections or your knowledge. I've heard that your ward will marry Louis-Philippe d'Orléans-?" I nodded. "His being a Bourbon will open doors in southern Europe for you, doors that no-one else can open. Your King is going to need your help. Will you give it, Petersholme?"
I knew I was snared. "Of course, I'll do my best, Mr. Churchill."
He smiled and returned to his side of the surgeon's desk. "Lord Molloy's funeral will be day after tomorrow - Monday. King George and the Queen will attend. It'll be a small affair, though - just enough to impress on Chamberlain that royal backing is not with him." He looked at me, his jowls slack. "Will you agree to be one of your friend's pallbearers?"
"Of course, I will," I answered instantly.
"You'll need to arrive in Easthampton-Mares Sunday evening then. Young Pettigrew will take care of getting you there and seeing that you're taken care of."
Our meeting was over. I could sense it. I knew that I had just agreed to be Churchill's man at the Foreign Office, as well.
I extended my hand. "Thank you, Mr. Churchill, for coming down to see about me - and about Mr. Alexander as well."
"I wanted to make sure that a man I'll be working closely with hadn't become a jibbering idiot his first time under the gun." He grinned. "I shouldn't have worried. The Petersholmes are made of stern stuff."
He began to study the ash on his cigar. "I won't keep you any longer. Go look after your American guest." He looked up as I turned, a smile on his face.
* * *
My heart leapt into my throat again as I arrived back in Barry's room. The base's chief medical officer was there, looking into his mouth and then his ears. Another surgeon stood attendance. Two nurses stood at the foot of his bed and watched the men. "Is he all right?" I managed, my throat full and my voice hoarse.
One of the nurses broke away from their group and came towards me. "Please leave," she said with an authority that brooked no disobedience.
I stood, staring at Barry's limp form and fearing the worst.
Barry's doctor looked up and nodded to me. "Perhaps Lord Petersholme could stand outside until I'm finished examining him, sister," he told the nurse before she could reach me.
"Is he all right?" I asked again, fear coursing through me like a rushing flood.
"His fever's broken, sir," the nurse who'd set out to expel me said as she escorted me from the room.
I swallowed. My heart allowed itself to be returned to its proper place in my chest. The flood of fears swept back from me like the Red Sea, and I felt weak as relief rushed over me like a desert wind. "He's all right then," I mumbled.
"His condition is still very grave, sir," the nurse said more gently.
I realised that she was herding me into the corridor beyond Barry's room only after we were already standing there with me looking over her head into the room beyond the open door. She stood in the door watching me.
An eternity later, the doctor stepped into the hallway with me. The attending doctor and two nurses disappeared to perform one duty or another. The chief surgeon's face wore no expression as he approached me. Again, I wondered how poor, stuttering King George survived an hour with this man without being forever left unable to speak.
"Mr. Alexander's fever has broken, Lord Petersholme," he said, repeating what the nurse had said. The young man's constitution is quite robust."
"He'll be all right then?"
"There are still a good many complications that will need to sort themselves out," he began and I felt as if I was about to hear a death sentence read. "However, I'll take a chance and tell you that he will probably survive this without having to make too many changes to his life."
Relief did flood over me then - again.
"We've taken him off his sedatives, my Lord. He'll be awake in another hour or so, but very weak for the next few days. He'll also have some withdrawal symptoms now that he won't be given morphine."
I nodded, not really hearing the words. My brain was still stuck in the euphoria that covered me like a fog now that I knew Barry was going to live.
"May I sit with him then?" I asked.
"I don't see why not. Just stay out of the way of my staff when they're attending him, sir." I watched as he walked away.
"My Lord?" the voice called softly from the door.
I turned and saw Pettigrew standing there. "You're back then?" I said standing, instantly feeling every kink that had found its way into my legs and bottom.
"Could we speak, sir?"
I nodded and crossed the room to him.
"As I flew him home, Mr. Churchill suggested that I put myself at your disposal, Lord Petersholme." He chuckled. "The admiral just now made it an order upon my return to Portsmouth."
"I'll have to thank both of them, John." I smiled. "Though, for the life of me, I can't imagine what I'll be doing with you to keep you occupied."
"Sir, I'm being permanently assigned to you," he explained. "Perhaps, it'd better to say that getting you around has been made my primary duty assignment."
I blinked. What in God's name did Churchill have planned for me? "I'm sorry, Pettigrew. Yours will be a boring lot, you'll find-"
He smiled. "I rather like this duty assignment, sir. It came with a promotion." His smile grew into a grin that covered his entire face. "I'm now officially Lieutenant John Pettigrew, Lord Petersholme." He had the presence of mind to be embarrassed by his exultation and looked down at his feet. "Thank you, sir - for everything."
I stared at him. "Surely, I had little to do with your promotion-"
"You and Brigadier Dunham, sir."
"Dunham?" I'd almost forgotten the man from the MI-5 station in Paris now that I was again in England.
"When you won't be needing me, the Brigadier can call upon me, my Lord."
I did stare at him then. "So, you're no longer in the Navy? You've gone MI-5? And this has something to do with me?" What had Churchill got me into?
"No, Lord Petersholme. I'm still Royal Navy Air Arm all the way." He grinned again. "Just on special assignment until further notice."
"I see." I didn't, of course. It seemed to me that the military was always doing something cockeyed and Pettigrew's situation was the perfect example of that.
"When will you want to fly to Coventry, sir?" he asked.
"Mr. Churchill suggested that you'll want to return to Bellingham Hall before going on to Lord Molloy's funeral."
"Oh, right." I shrugged. "I'd like to be here when Barry wakes up. Let me think about it, Pettigrew."
"Rob - Lord Petersholme?" The voice was the weakest that I'd ever heard, but it was Barry's. My hand tightened around his.
"I'm not in France any more, am I?" he asked, his voice marginally stronger.
"You're in hospital at the Royal Navy's base at Portsmouth." He opened his eyes inside the oxygen tent and focused on me questioningly. "In the south of England, Barry."
"You were shot four days ago. You've been here two days now."
"Are we alone?" he asked and swallowed. "I don't feel too good."
I poured him a glass of water and, reaching under the tent, lifted his head so he could drink.
"Kiss me, Robbie," he whispered as his face approached mine.
My lips pressed against his but he didn't open them. I pulled back.
"My mouth tastes like shit," he explained. He looked down at the glass in my hand. "I'll take that drink now."
Lying pack on his pillow and me sitting chastely in the chair beside him, he said: "So fill me in on what I've been missing, lover." I saw the twinkle in his eyes as they met mine and knew how much I'd missed it these past four days.
I told him what had happened in Deauville after he'd been shot, including the second attempt on my life and that Gisele von Kys was now dead. "They also attacked Bellingham Hall as well," I told him.
"Two of them. Aunt Alice, Dagold and Max stopped them. Before they were killed, they got Max."
"Lord Molloy's dead?"
"And Willi's in that house where this shoot-out happened?"
Again, I nodded.
"You've got to go to him, Robbie. That boy needs you."
"I'll be with him soon, Barry."
There was a knock at the door and Pettigrew stuck his head in.
"Is he still out?" John asked in a loud whisper.
"Get in here," Barry called to him, his voice not much louder. "This hard-headed nobleman has things to do, Pettigrew," he continued when John had entered the room. "He's got a kid to see to and a funeral to attend. You're big and strong - kick him out of here so he does his duty for those who need him."
Pettigrew looked to me in surprise. Barry laughed. "Get him to go home, Pettigrew."
I knew when I was being dismissed. "Are you going to be all right, Barry?" I asked quietly.
"Sure I am, your Lordship. I've got all these pretty nurses who're going to be ready to play after you're gone."
"Randy bugger, isn't he?" Pettigrew asked, accepting the game Barry was playing and entering into it. I was had.
Barry looked to Pettigrew. "Could you wait in the hallway?" he asked.
As soon as young John had left us, Barry motioned me to him. I lifted the tent and kissed him.
Several moments later he pushed me back. "I love you, Robbie."
"I love you too."
He nodded. "Yeah, but you've got people to see to, buddy. Go do your thing with all of them and get your ass back here to me after Christmas. I want your undivided attention for a day or two then."
He held up his hand. "Go on. Off with you, Robbie, lad," he said in a perfect midlands accent.
Dagold was waiting for us when we landed in Coventry. It was nearly dark and we had more than an hour's drive ahead of us.
"Is Barry all right?" he asked immediately I'd stepped from the aeroplane.
"Weak, but coming around," I told him. "How about you and the others at the Hall?"
"Fortunately, the kleiner Graf was visiting Easthampton-Mares when the attack came, my Lord."
"Oh?" I hadn't heard this. I'd assumed that the boy had been asleep in his bed when Max was killed.
"Yes. Lord Molloy came up the day before to tell us of the intercepted radio broadcasts from the village to Berlin. He and I decided that the child should be out of harm's way if there was a move against the Schloß Petersholme."
"If he took Willi to Easthampton-Mares, what was Molloy doing at the Hall when the attack came then?" I asked.
"He returned, Lord Petersholme - the day that he was killed. He did not want to leave Fraü Alice and myself unprotected-" He paused and I nodded. "We set up sleeping arrangements for the three of us on the first floor and divided up guarding the landing between the two of us. He chose the first watch-" He looked down at his hands. "I should have been on watch, sir. I should have known that Horst would attack early."
"If you had, my aunt might have been killed - you and Max as well. You did all that you could do, Dagold."
"There were radio transmissions from the village?" Pettigrew demanded as he hopped from the wing of our two-seater trainer and grabbed our luggage from the cabin.
Dagold looked up, recognised the naval officer from his visit the day before when he brought Elizabeth and Philippe home, and looked to me for permission to speak.
"Go ahead, Dagold," I told him. "We're all in this together, it seems."
"That is what Lord Molloy said. They were picked up by the Royal Navy."
"Were they in code?" Pettigrew asked as he joined us.
"He didn't say," Jorsten answered as he led us to the car. "He said they reported that Wilhelm and I were here - and that his Lordship was in France."
"They were onto you from the first then, Petersholme," Pettigrew observed, naval college chummy now that he'd learnt we were both pilots. He'd been good enough to give me the controls outside Portsmouth and I'd flown us to Coventry.
"Lord Petersholme?" I looked up as I was opening the car door and met Dagold's gaze. "I searched the cottage of the two dead farmhands after the police were gone. There was no radio transmitter there. Nor was there one in any of the cottages. The police didn't find one, either."
"Who'd have sent the messages then?" I asked and slid across the seat to let Pettigrew follow me into the car. Jorsten opened the boot and deposited our bags there before coming around to the driver's door.
"If whoever it was reported on you and the operations of the Hall, they had to be pretty close, you know?" Pettigrew observed as Jorsten slid into the driver's seat.
"Yet there was no transmitter on his Lordship's farm," Dagold pointed out as he turned on the ignition.
"This Crooksall chap, the Englishman in on this caper, he was an undertaker up here in Coventry," I said slowly.
The enormity of the attack on the Hall was beginning to sink in - the attack and its aftermath. I shuddered. "There's someone else then," I mumbled as waves of shock crashed over me. "Someone still out there."
"Good God!" Pettigrew yelped, staring at me. "Do you think so?"
"I think that we must remain watchful, my Lord," Dagold said as he put the car in gear.
I wished that England was not at war. No, I corrected myself, not England yet - Petersholme. I'd hoped that Gisele being dead would be the end of it, but I now doubted it would. I suspected that things would get far worst before they could get better.
My brain was still racked by dark thoughts and what I could do to defend against them when our car started down the drive to the Hall. Any defence that I envisioned, however, was so blatantly defensive and weak that I rejected it out of hand. As we stopped before the entrance doors, it seemed as if Bellingham Hall stood defenceless against all the evils of the world.
Pettigrew and Jorsten had remained mercifully quiet as we drove through the darkened English countryside. I knew they were there for me. Their presence assured me of that. Their presence and the knowledge of what that meant reassured me, even as I found no practical way to defend myself or that which I was.
"Smile, my Lord," Dagold Jorsten said, turning off the car and facing me, "and think only happy thoughts. Your son needs the reassurance they will bring him."
"Willi!" I groaned. "Is he still awake, do you think?"
"It is only nineteen hundred, Lord Petersholme. The kleiner Graf will still be awake - and excited to be with you once again."
The entrance doors flew open at that moment and Willi was running towards the car. Aunt Alice came to stand in the doorway watching him.
"That boy," I said and looked through the window at the house that had held me and nurtured me my entire life. The fears that had threatened to smother me on the drive from Coventry fled before the lights shining from the open and welcoming doors of Bellingham Hall.
I stepped from the car and knelt. A bundle of flannelled pajamas and small dressing gown flew into my arms and I was holding Wilhelm Adshead in my arms. My son. My future. Petersholme assured. I grinned happily as Willi's arm went around my neck and pulled me to him. I felt indefinably better. I was home.
"You're finally home, Uncle Robert," he said against my ear. My cheek was covered with his slobbered kisses beginning to freeze. "I was so worried about you and Uncle Barry."
"Go ahead inside, sir," Jorsten said from behind me. "I'll bring everything in."
I nodded - and carried my son back into the house that had always been the centre of my being. Willi's face was plastered to mine, his arms held my neck tight.
Aunt Alice greeted me at the entrance, pecking my free cheek and smiling up at me as she patted Willi's bottom. Elizabeth put her arm around my waist and hugged me. Philippe nodded and smiled. Once we were all inside, she led us into the sitting room and sat us down before the fire.
Sitting in my lap, Willi looked around, his face first puzzled, then growing long as he took in who was in the sitting room with him. "Where's Uncle Barry?" he asked, a quiver in his voice.
"He was hurt there in France," I told him. "He's in hospital now, getting better."
He turned to look at me. "I told you not to go there," he said.
"I had to, Willi."
"You had to?" he demanded.
I hoped that his question wasn't the prelude of some tantrum. "When your King asks you to do something for your country, you don't have a choice," I explained.
"No matter how much you might get hurt?" he asked carefully.
"It makes no difference. It's your duty to do what you're asked."
He fell silent, his eyes studying my face's every feature.
"Whisky?" Jorsten asked.
I looked up and realised he still stood at the doors. "I'll have one. How about you, Pettigrew?" He nodded. I looked to Philippe who nodded his agreement as well.
"I'll take a glass of sherry," Aunt Alice said and I started. This was the woman who kept a watchful eye on every decanter in the house. If more than a jigger was gone in a night, she started watching me even more carefully than she watched the spirits.
"Are you all right?" I asked her.
"A bit tired, Robert," she said. "I haven't slept well since-"
Elizabeth moved closer to her and took her hand. "It's been trying for her, Robbie. This whole thing-"
"I know," I mumbled.
Willi adjusted his back where it laid comfortably against my chest. He took each of my hands and placed it around his chest. "Hold me, Uncle Robert," he said softly, his small body now turned towards the fire. "And don't ever let go," he added even more softly.
Aunt Alice wanted to know about Barry then, and I told her everything I knew. When I'd finished, she excused herself and left the room. I understood then.
Poor Miss Murray knew nothing about how her nephew was faring. I should have been the one to tell her. I should have gone to her immediately upon arrival and reassured her. Now that I thought about it, it did not sit well with me that my aunt was doing what I should have thought to do.
Around me conversation flowed and ebbed. Willi relaxed in my arms, seeming to grow heavier. Jorsten chuckled and I looked over at him.
"The youngest Petersholme has fallen asleep, my Lord," he said in explanation. "Would you like me to take him to bed?"
"No, I'll do it in a minute," I told him.
He nodded. "That is what the kleiner Graf wanted - to be held in his father's arms again."
"He'll have plenty of that," Alice said as she re-entered the room.
"Probably not enough," I mumbled, rubbing my chin gently across the top of his head and relishing the touch of his hair on me. I looked back to Jorsten. "We'll need to go down to the cottages tomorrow morning," I told him, my thoughts returning to the dark fears that had held me on the drive from Coventry.
* * *
Sunday morning I was in my study early. I had not slept well, and calling my condolences to Earl Molloy left me even deeper in my funk than the night had.
His son had been my dearest friend for twenty years. We had grown up together - at Rugby, on visits to each other's homes during holidays, and, later, as students at university. Now, Max was dead. Killed defending my home. Another dear friend, Janus von Kys, was also dead. Killed helping me escape the insanity that was his Germany. Both were dead at the hand of or on the order of Gisele von Kys.
Gisele, too, was dead. I tried to convince myself that her death meant that no-one else dear to me was threatened. I tried, but I failed.
I remembered the conversations that had swirled about Reichsführer Himmler's soiree at his home in Berlin. I remember the poor lad shot down at my very feet in the Berlin Bahnhof.
Gisele had indeed been insane - more than most. Her hatreds had dictated her actions. Her insanity, however, was not hers alone. It permeated the political party that ruled Germany, its leadership. Its very centre of authority.
I had displeased more of that leadership than just Gisele von Kys. Whilst young Willi and, even, Dagold had each in his own way unleashed her personal hatreds on me, I had also done things that would generate much more serious hatred from men with far more power than she ever had.
In Germany, I had helped Jews escape that country's racial laws. Not just any Jews, but rocket scientists - men who understood the power that German insanity sought to use against a still unsuspecting world. I had escaped myself and briefed men in two countries who could begin to build a defence against that power. And, because of me, three German spies and a senior member of the Nazi Party's military arm were dead.
I was not now safe, simply because Gisele von Kys was dead. Petersholme was not safe. Any more than England could be safe.
A knock at the door brought me out of my revelry. "Enter," I called, looking up to see d'Orléans winch as he pulled the door open. He stood back, holding his wounded arm, and Elizabeth entered.
I smiled at them both as they approached my desk. "Philippe has something to ask you, Robert," my cousin said.
The man's face flushed. "Monsieur le Baron-"
I held up my hand. "Louis-Philippe d'Orléans, I thought that we'd had this discussion before. It's deucedly difficult to be friends if you're going to insist on using titles."
"But - I - it seems so - so panache not to use them in this sort of situation, Robert."
I grinned. "Only to you, mon ami. Now, what sort of mess do you intend to ask that Elizabeth be allowed to get into?" I glanced at her as she gripped the arms of her chair at my seeming assumption that I could dictate her actions. I chuckled then. "Not that I have any authority over her, as you should have guessed by now."
"I - we - thought that my parents should have a chance to meet her and learn to know her as I have to come to do."
"In Larache?" I asked. He nodded.
I turned to Elizabeth. "It's probably past time to ask this, but I'd like to know what you intend to do about university?"
"I'll get my degree, of course, Robert," she retorted quickly. "I have no intention of being a useless woman, married or not."
"You'll-?" the Frenchman choked. I turned to study Philippe as he finally began to digest just what sort of woman he wanted to marry.
"I see," I said solemnly. I fought hard to prevent the smile threatening to envelop my face. "Perhaps it would be best if the two of you discussed your plans for this marriage privately." I paused for one beat and did not give myself time to worry that I was going to open the doors to a maelstorm. "Like the mature, rational adults you are," I continued, knowing full well that Elizabeth would find a way to get even with me for my words.
"Perhaps we should at that," d'Orléans answered, forcing the words through clinched teeth, his gaze never wavering from Elizabeth's face.
She studied me curiously until, slowly, she smiled. "Of course, you're right, Robert," she said finally and turned to the Comte de Paris. "I think we need to sit down in the library, Philippe."
I watched them leave the room and pass Dagold Jorsten without saying a word to him. I motioned him to enter as I allowed myself to wonder which reality would win the day - my cousin's adamant equality or Philippe's tradition of useless couriers and meaningless machinations along powerless corridors. And if they would even still be talking marriage by the time I returned from Easthampton-Mares on the morrow.
Dagold pulled the doors closed behind him and came across to my desk. "The farm manager has just sent word, my Lord."
"He has just taken delivery of the gelden you ordered for the Kleiner Graf. He has placed it in the stables with your own horses."
I closed my eyes for a moment. I had forgotten Willi's present. I had even forgotten that there were only four more days to Christmas. Thank God for men who do what they've been told to do. "What did he say about it?" I asked.
Dagold grinned. "He said this was the finest piece of horseflesh that he'd ever laid eyes on, my Lord."
I nodded. All was well in Petersholme. At least this day. And I refused to allow whatever Berlin might cook up to take that away from me. This was Willi's first English Christmas and it was going to be perfect.
I frowned then. Barry. He was in hospital
I clinched my jaw. Willi's first Christmas with us was going to be perfect - as perfect as it could be without Barry there sharing it with us.
The family chapel at Easthampton-Mares was much more gothic than was my taste, but Molloy was a much older family than Petersholme. Weak sunlight from twin stained glass windows covered us with the closeness and dimness of a sepulchre. Bleak stone walls, broken with the stations of the cross instilled the gravity of death in us who had come to mourn our fallen friend.
Max Molloy's simple coffin sat centred below the altar - alone. Its only decoration the flag draped over it.
King George sat in the first pew with Queen Elizabeth. Beside her was Earl Molloy next to his surviving son. Max's wife Sarah sat stiffly beside him. Young Cecil was beside his mother, followed by Willi and Alice. A determined looking Mr. Churchill sat next to my aunt at the far end of the pew, followed by Lord Halifax of the Foreign Office. I sat in the next pew along with the other five pallbearers.
Willi held the hand of Max's son as the service began. Occasionally, young Cecil would look around wide-eyed and my son would hold him close, his arm going around the small boy's thin shoulders. I wondered idly just how much young Cecil understood of what was happening around him. What either of them understood really.
Whatever the depth of his understanding, however, Willi knew instinctively what to do to ease the fears that Max's son must have been feeling. I was proud of him. I realised then that I'd not once been un-proud of him since he had come to live with me. I was still being continuously amazed by him. And by his father who, in too few years, had still managed to teach the boy the level of insight that he was now showing.
I knew that I would never regret agreeing to Janus von Kys' dying request to raise his son. I also knew that I had come to love Willi as much as his father did.
Standing in the back of the chapel, Alan Dudding sniffed and covered his eyes with his hand.
"I'm sorry that it was not me, my friend," Dagold Jorsten whispered and his hand gripped the Irishman's arm reassuringly.
"Why?" Alan asked quietly, his voice strained.
"We guarded Bellingham Hall together - Lord Molloy and I. I should have taken the first watch, then he would have lived."
Alan turned to look at the German beside him. "No. All of you would have been dead if that had happened. Max had absolutely no notion of how to even aim a pistol, much less how to fire it." He took a deep breath and looked back at the coffin and the medieval tableau in which it stood. "This is what Max would have wanted."
"He wanted death?" Dagold asked suspiciously. "He had you and his son - and his wife."
"He was always afraid that his life wouldn't matter. That it had no meaning." Alan started to chuckle but it instantly turned into a moan. He turned and buried his face in Jorsten's coat. "It was almost as if that part of him lived in some fantasy world," he whispered against the wool. "Peopled like Mallory's Camelot with knights doing only honourable things. That's how Max wanted to live - a thousand years before here and now. It's how he wanted to die as well."
Dagold hugged the man to him, patting his back. "Then, he is happy in death, my friend. He died honourably."
"I know," Alan sobbed.
"You loved him?"
"Yes." Alan lifted his head and looked into Jorsten's face. He pulled back and wiped his eyes. "It was all still so new for us. We hadn't even had an argument yet." A small smile touched his lips. "We were still finding our way around each other when-" Tears quickly welled in his eyes and he wiped them away. "This happened."
"It was like that when my Jani was killed," Dagold told him softly. "Only, I had no time to mourn him. I had to flee or die as he had - but without the honour."
"Never have so many owed so few so much," Churchill said from the pulpit, his voice echo-ing through the stone. I felt that he was looking directly at me. "Maximillian Molloy was one of those few whom we all owe. He saw the coming night descending on all of us and tried to stop it." He paused, as if gathering his thoughts.
"England has lost a true son," he continued. "England lays to rest that son today. May God ensure that we all have learnt what this man knew and will now shoulder his burden. For, without that effort, England will surely know the darkest night."
Once I had known Churchill to be a rightwing fanatic - somewhere far out on the anti-German fringe. I had not known that my oldest and dearest friend had been pulled into his orbit. Now, I knew that Churchill was a true prophet and I was in as close an orbit around him as Max Molloy had ever been.
England did stand before the descending darkness. And, for the first time in our history, the English Channel would not defend us against that darkness.
With the other pallbearers, I moved to take up position on my side the wooden coffin. An officer of the Home Guard folded the flag and handed it to Earl Molloy.
I realised just how thoroughly Churchill had planned Max's funeral and how military that planning had been when, as we began to carry the coffin from the chapel, I heard a slow, muffled drum beat begin in the corridor beyond us. Collectively, we instinctively assumed a half-step as we carried my friend down the hallway towards the great hall and his family's tomb that lay off it.
Max's coffin stood in its drawer directly beneath his mother's. The two drummers stood at the top of the stairs at the gate to the great hall, their instruments silent for our last moments with Max. My friend's wife and father placed single roses on the lid whilst Willi held young Clive's hand and Aunt Alice held his. Tears rimmed my eyes as I finally accepted that I would never see my friend again.
Willi released the hand of Max's son and broke away from Alice's hold. He stepped up to the drawer and rose on his toes to see the coffin. He nodded to himself and, standing back on his feet, straightened himself. He stiffened, snapped his heels together loudly, and brought his right hand to his forehead, palm outward. He held it there as a Molloy servant pushed the drawer containing Max's coffin into the vault.
It took me a moment to realise that my young son had saluted my dearest friend in his final departure. It wasn't a perfect salute; a sergeant major would have called him on it. But it was a salute nonetheless, and a heartfelt one at that. Tears flowed freely down my cheeks then as Queen Elizabeth knelt and kissed Willi's cheek.
* * *
I opened the door quietly and peered into Barry's hospital room. He lay up on his pillows, his eyes closed and his lips parted. Asleep. I saw that the oxygen tent had been removed. I smiled. My lad was alive and well indeed.
It was the afternoon of New Year's Eve and Pettigrew had flown us down to Portsmouth, the two of us and Willi. The chief medical officer of Portsmouth Naval Base had telephoned that morning and said that he would release Barry if we would keep him warm and in bed.
From the looks of it, either the good doctor had neglected to tell his patient that he was released or Barry was much more blasè about his stay at Portsmouth Naval Base than I had supposed. I entered the room and Pettigrew stood beside the door.
Willi followed me and I motioned that we were going to sneak up on Uncle Barry. He nodded and, with far more exaggeration than I expected from a child, he followed, his face contorted into a grimace and arms raised in a monster pose.
"Barry?" I called as I reached his bed and took his hand in mine.
His eyes opened and a smile turned his lips upward as he focused on me. "Robbie-"
Willi took Barry's hand from mine and pretended to gnaw on it. I suspected that someone had been taking the boy to the cinema in Coventry far too often for his own good. I'd have to talk to Aunt Alice about it.
"You have to get up lad," I told Barry, making my voice rough and fighting back the grin that threatened to give me away. "We only have ten minutes to get you out of here before the guard changes."
"What?" His face went lax with surprise.
I threw the blanket and sheet from him. "Hurry, Barry. We have to get you dressed."
"What're you doing, Robbie?" he yelped, making a hurried effort to pull the hospital gown onto his legs as Willi climbed up on the bed with him.
I grinned. "Taking you home, lad - where you belong."
He searched my face. "I'm allowed to go?"
Willi lay down against Barry and pulled his good arm around him, his own arm going across the man's chest.
"You smell, Uncle Barry," Willi told him but didn't pull away.
"With the permission of the King's own physician, my love. And at the command of William of Petersholme."
"Willi?" he asked looking down at the top of the blond head cuddled up on his chest.
"He refused to open your presents until you were there to watch. He's been breathing down my neck to bring you home since Christmas Day."
"You're going to have to get up then, kiddo," he told my son and patted him affectionately on the bottom with his good hand. "I'm being ordered out of bed here."
Willi sat up and climbed down off the bed to turn and watch Barry expectantly.
Barry pushed himself up into a sitting position using his good arm. He looked at Willi before turning his gaze on me and shaking his head slowly. He grinned then.
"You'll never guess who visited me yesterday," he said as he took the clean clothes that I'd brought.
"The Ambassador himself - Joseph P. Kennedy."
"You're an important man, love," I told him.
"Robert Adshead, Baron Petersholme, you've become sloppy in this relationship of ours," he said.
"What do you mean?"
"Just that you can never say in a public place how you feel about me or anything about our relationship." His grin widened. "But it sure feels good to know that you care." He broke his gaze and looked quickly around the room. "Where are my clothes? You've got no idea how happy I am to be leaving Portsmouth."
His expression became serious and he looked back at me. "Take me home, Robbie."
"We're going to fly in an aeroplane, Uncle Barry," Willi told him, taking his hand possessively. "Don't worry, though. Uncle Robert isn't driving, so we won't have a rough landing."