1943. Above the One Two Two Paris Night Club…
“ ….Yes, give me five minutes he’s coming up the stairs now”.
She finished her update and quickly packed her Morse transmitter back into the little brown case and then hurried it all under the wooden bar stool sitting at the back of her tiny upstairs bedroom. Down stairs Piaf was singing: Padam Padam. He knocked but didn’t wait for permission to enter the dimly lit bedroom, bare except for a bed, table and chair. She lit two cigarettes and offered him one. He took it. She teased the officer’s hat from his head and cocked it sideways onto her own head. They both undressed; him quicker than her. She was down to her underskirt, when he, just in his underpants, moved the couple of feet towards her. Not saying a word he slot his face between her breast. He looked up to her and smiled. She held his head firm but seductively with one hand while the other was busy pulling the hat-pin in the shape of a dagger from
her folded up hair. In one swift movement she rammed the steel hat-pin up into the back of his brain. He dropped instantly.
Summer 1993. 10.30, Monday morning. The thirteen steps to her attic were no problem. She had kept fit, unlike so many of her friends from the war years, who were now long gone. Friends in the village she had moved into one year previous laughed when she said about taking up jogging. Yet somehow they weren’t surprised not even when in1990 she entered the London Marathon. Once was enough though. She finished it. Ok, it took her six hours, but she finished it. Now it’s a mere five miles a day and she thinks herself lucky to be doing that at her age. She headed for the spiral staircase leading up into the attic. Since childhood she had dreamed of having a walk-about attic with a large double window at one end. She never understood why. Her dream had happened. Whatever that was? The attic was the one place she felt safe. It was her place and no-one would ever be allowed to enter. She loved the way a yellow oblong of sun slid along the bare floorboards and then over the wooden table in the centre of the room. It looked like a stage set, especially at night when the lights were on. She also loved standing at the window and giving her best performance to an audience of birds, trees, cows and fields.
She draped her cardigan over a wooden beam, walked over to her C.D. collection and inserted Edith Piaf C.D. In seconds she was singing along with the Little Sparrow in perfect French, “Non, je ne regretted rien” She moved across towards her telescope. Soon, she was somewhere in the sky with the lapwings, gliding into the next field where a parliament of magpies was taking place. She scanned this way and that over the hedgerows. She paused the music with the remote control. It was a nightingale singing. She also heard machine-gun like-sounds of woodpeckers. A yellow hammer too was singing, “ A-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese.” In a distant field she could just hear tractors going up and down.
There was a sudden explosion in the lane. A car was on fire! She spun her scope to where she saw two men: one was wearing dark blue jeans, and a green jumper. He had red hair and was carrying a Webley revolver. The other man was taller with blonde hair, and wore a boiler suit but apart from that there was nothing distinguishing about him except for the sawn off shot-gun.
Inching the scope to her right she saw a white car, it seemed to be waiting. The driver was bald with a goatee beard. The two men were laughing as they strolled over to the car and handed the driver a black money box like the security firms use. The blonde haired one punched the air. She noted the white car’s registration X1573 BU on a piece of paper. She went to the phone box a few yards from her house.
“Police!” she said calmly to the operator. “And you’d better send the fire-brigade. A car has exploded in Brewsters Lane. It’s Miss Hewitt, yes, goodbye."
There was a distant sound of Fire engine and Police cars. A second explosion set the hedge on fire She went to walk towards the car but changed her mind and made her way back towards her front gate. There was a stench of burning rubber. A plume of smoke was being sucked up into the sky. Kestrels, pigeons, starlings were flying in panic. Cows in the next field were escaping as far away and as fast as they could . A fox was darting across the field.
The next morning the grandfather clock in the hallway was chiming ten. She checked herself in the mirror, rolled her tongue over her teeth, fiddled with her hair. Outside the door, she winced at the stench of burning, put her hand over her mouth and coughed to clear her throat. She was surprised to see Mr Conroy was digging out that overgrown peony she had often complained about. His cap was crooked over one eye. He straightened up, groaned it was the fourth car that year. She was fixing her hat ready for going out when the sudden screech of motor-bikes doing wheelies up and down the country lane, yards from her garden while pillions shot Roman Candles at Mr Conroy. She phoned the police. It was a Detective Sergeant McCoy who visited her at home. They shook hands. He accepted tea and biscuits. She knew everyone in the village were too scared or too old to do anything about the gangsters and the vandals scourging their once peaceful village life. So she agreed to give all details about the stolen car and the men who destroyed it. If he promised to at least stop those vandals from bullying and wiping dog muck on the old peoples windows. He agreed.
Sergeant McCoy phoned asking her to go in and identify one of the suspects: a well known ‘wheel-man’. She cycled the four mile round trip. He had offered her a police car. She refused saying she preferred the exercise. Through the one -way glass in the I.D. room she recognised the bald guy with the goatee beard. Under intense questioning, a reduced sentence and guaranteed protection he gave McCoy the rest of the info he needed.
Back home she rested, listened to Piaf singing Padom Padom Mr Conroy was standing near the back door where he could see a royal blue Aga cooker. The patio windows were open. There was a welsh dresser, stacked with Royal Albert “old rose” plates, saucers and large a tea-pot. Next to that was a writing bureau. She invited him into the kitchen where she poured them both a cup of tea. They sat down on opposite sides of a wooden table. She clipped her white hair back at the sides.
“ One lump or two?”
He asked for two lumps.
There was a loud silence while they blew steam from their cups and sipped their tea.
“The vegetable patch is looking good,” she said clumsily .
“Is that the French way, growing in circles like that?”
She nodded. He had already gathered she had been brought up in France by the slight accent and the music she always played. He once caught her dancing around the room to Charles Trenet singing: “Boum”. He never really asked her about France and the war years. He knew from Mrs Jospeth’s, the lady who had the house before Miss Hewit she had been there most of the war. But, he was never one for raking ashes. They were talking about the designs for the chicken coop when the house phone startled them.
“Yes, this is Miss Hewit.”
Silence. She was gripping her cardigan sleeves.
“I see. Thanks for letting me know.”
He waited for her to say something.
“McCoy assured me they never got bail when it’s armed robbery. He was saying something about questions around the guns, my age and my vision from the distance I was away.”
They sipped their tea in a long difficult silence.
“You were great friends with Mrs Jospeths?”
She was a guest at our wedding: June 4th 1939. The next day I was drafted!”
“Who were you with?”
“I started with the Fusiliers, but finished up as a Chindit in Burma.”
“You, were one of Wingate’s?”
They sipped more tea and shared more biscuits.
“How long are they normally on bail for”
“I wouldn’t know.”
She cleared her throat and then asked if he would drive her into town to see a solicitor. She said it was urgent. They each had their own jobs to do in the morning. So two ‘o’ clock was agreed on.
All the time he was driving he was looking in his mirror, He checked and checked. It was on their way home when he noticed the dark blue Jag following them. When he stopped they stopped. They weren’t very good at this sort of thing. Amateurs he thought. He asked Miss Hewit if she would take the wheel. He pulled out his large handkerchief and knotted each of the corners.
“It’s a long time since I saw that being done,” she said.
“Something’s you never forget.”
She hurried down the house path towards her house. Mr Conroy put the car inside the empty garage then walked out through the back door of the garage. Tyres outside the garden were screeching to a halt. She fiddled for her key. Once inside, she slammed the door shut, locked it. She was running upstairs towards the attic when she heard the front door lock being blasted. There was the sound of heavy boots on the floor boards.
She ran up into the attic locked the door behind her. She hurried over to the left of the room, pulled a portmanteau from out of the shadows, clicked it open and pulled out a small leather case. Inside there was a Morse tapper and a radio receiver. There was a black and white picture of a young man with wavy hair. She kissed the picture,
“Henri,” she said in perfect French. “There is always trouble!”
She riffled through some French papers stamped with a Nazi eagle. She pushed to one side her L’Ordre de la Liberation and her George Cross. She unfolded an oily rag. In front of her was a Luger P08 pistol. She checked it. Then slammed in the full magazine. The gun was pointed to the floor. She moved across the room inserted her Edith Piaf CD. Someone was trying to kick open the door but they gave up and decided to blast it. She was standing in the centre of the room sideways on.
She wet her lips. The gun felt right in her hand. She remembered it well. He was raising his gun when she pressed the remote control of the CD. He flicked his eyes over to where Edith Piaf started singing, “Non, je ne regrette rien”.
He jerked back twice as the two bullets hit his chest. Not wanting her rug to be covered in blood she pulled it to one side. She then walked back over to the Portmanteau, clicked out the magazine and returned the gun back into the oily rag and replaced everything in its order.
Outside there was a man with red hair lying face up with a white handkerchief still around his throat. Through the open window she could hear Police sirens.
Peter Street © 2011