Willie's War Ch. 08bySnurge©
In spite of his determination Brascombe's splendour that day began to fuel worries that it may weaken his resolve and the reason for him being there. The sense of detachment wasn't as strong as it had been on his arrival and he had begun to feel a surge of delight, a connectedness to the place where he was living and to the people he was sharing it with.
Fortunately the house emptied again and became quiet after the weekend, and gave him a chance to take stock of his frailty. His mission was not to endanger these people; he was there to save their lives.
To offset the scarcity of company Deborah laid on tea in the drawing room with all the pomp and best china she could call on in an English country house. Willie sat in the high-ceilinged drawing room on a lumpy but comfortable sofa, before an open fire, grinning as he watched her pour. "You take tea just like an English lady."
Debbie pulled a face of disapproval. "I ain't got any choice at the moment. I finished off Mortimer's mocha coffee stock weeks ago and we can't get any more for love or money at the moment. Mrs Whippet can only get chicory essence with the food coupons and that stuff as a flavour that goes nowhere."
He passed a full cup of tea across the table between them. "Jeremy will be coming back with Mortimer next week, and he'll be staying for a few days. He'll be company for you while I'm away."
Willie took the offered cup and refused the sugar. The English and Debbie seemed to like their tea well brewed and strong, but he preferred it weak, without milk or sugar. He added hot water to his cup. "Company for me? Why is that? Are you going somewhere?"
"Yeah, I'm taking a train to Liverpool soon. Got to meet some friends of mine off a boat from the Yoonited States."
"Is it safe for your friends to travel here? German submarines are sinking many ships in the Atlantic."
"They'll be okay. We operate the Neutrality Act. The Germans don't touch passenger liners with Ol' Glory flapping at the back. An' I tell you, when we get back here we'll have plenty of coffee and a bucket full of Bourbon too. We'll show all these stiff-necked Limey's just how well Yanks can throw a party."
At that moment the door opened and Mrs Whippet showed Arnold Knapp into their company. Debbie looked up in surprise. "Arnold! I wasn't expecting you to call. Have I neglected an appointment with you?"
The man grinned oafishly. "No, Deborah. I...er...just happened to be passing...and... er... thought I'd just... pop in. The truth is, Brenda and I have had a bit of a tiff." he confided, "You know, a lovers quarrel, a spat. She's hoofed it back to Birmingham to look after Knapp and Co, but damned if I felt in the mood to go with her immediately."
"You've had a spat?" queried Deborah.
"Yes, she criticised the way I laugh. She said I should acquire a more socially acceptable laugh, she said people who bray like a mule only attract other mules."
Debbie regarded him suspiciously. With Brenda not around Arnold was something more than a mule, he was a lounge lizard running loose. He had even tried his greasy charm on her in the past, and while Debbie was not always entirely faithful to her own partners, she liked steady men who took their time. The hearty, bovine types who, without the least encouragement swiftly became amorous were a bore, and there was no doubt into what category she placed Arnold.
As he spoke Arnold raised a meaningful eyebrow, and Deborah observed him quietly as his eyes lingered on Willie. It was not herself he intended to pursue on this particular occasion. He had the newly arrived Dutch girl in his sights. "Do you trust your wife to look after all your steel rivets alone?" she asked him.
Arnold snorted, pulled up a chair and helped himself to a cup of tea. "I have perfectly capable managers on each shift at my factory. I don't need to be there ALL the time myself."
"Don't you care about producing rivets for victory?"
"War!" Arnold grinned with some complacency. "It's always hit or miss with that sort of caper, and with Hitler I've an awful fancy that we've rung the ruddy bell this time. Trouble is we've no chance of getting out of it while Churchill has control of things. All people such as I can do is make plenty of hay while the sun shines."
Debbie smiled vaguely. "I understand you, Arnold. As far as war is concerned you only hear cash registers ringing. You don't care anything about it or want to know anything about it."
"That's true, "said Arnold, "And it's the same with you I'll warrant. I don't know much but I do know this... they shouldn't be giving so many rifles to the Home Guard. They're civilians, and these are trying times. If you start giving guns to every Jack and Harry we may hear 'em go bang in the wrong direction one day."
"You don't trust human nature." said Debbie.
"Not when they've got guns. That's tempting revolution. What do you say, Willie?"
Looking exquisite and dreamy Willie sipped his tea. When the man threw him a lop-sided grin he managed to smile back. "War is lunacy. Unfortunately most people these days seem to be lunatics."
"I blame Churchill." Arnold drawled in a cynical voice, while his green eyes devoured the Dutch girl. "They should have made Halifax Prime Minster. He's well qualified for it."
"Sure," agreed Debbie, "Better qualified than most of the others. But when it comes to the pinch... like it as done... then I doubt if he's tough enough to take the strain."
"You may be right. Churchill is more the type. He's as tough as leather. But for all that, I reckon Halifax would have been better. He's got ideas, yet knows when not to bother. Toughness isn't everything."
Debbie shrugged and crossed her legs with a swish of nylon. "I never said it was. But sooner or later in the business of politics, you've got to have it. Mortimer has seen a lot more of it than most... even though he's never been offered High Office... and he says politics looks deceptively easy, but somewhere behind all the tea drinking and talk there's a battlefield."
Arnold lifted a ginger-nut biscuit from a plate, thought better of it and put it back. "That's the reason I'm glad to be in rivets. I don't even like the word battlefield."
He turned and gazed at the window. "We're wasting some decent weather today. When you've finished your tea how about going for a stroll."
Deborah refused to commit herself, saying she'd check that out with Mortimer when he was free. Then there was a break in the conversation when Mrs Whippet came in and asked him if she could spare a moment to talk on a domestic matter.
Suddenly conscious that Arnold was staring at him, Willie quickly looked away, but as soon as Deborah had gone from the room the man abandoned his own chair and moved onto the couch where he was seated.
"Deborah doesn't seem too keen on a walk out," he said, swinging towards him and leaning forward, "But that's okay. I'm sure you and I can make a nice time of it without other people being around."
He showed all the romance of a cold fried egg, and something seemed to curdle in Willie's belly when he heard the man speak. "I don't know what you mean, Mr Knapp."
Arnold openly smirked. "Come off it, you're no angel. You know exactly what I mean all right. I doubt you've come this far in your travels without showing gratitude to a few men. More than a few I'd say. 'Spect you got to enjoy it along the way, and there's no reason why we couldn't both enjoy it together today."
Willie turned away in some alarm. He could smell the eau du Cologne the man had lathered on his body to a sickly sweet degree. "Arnold, I wish you would..."
"Wish I would what, my dear?"
"I wish you would go back to Bir...ming...ham."
The man gurgled with amusement. "You're a card, you are. You're a regular comic. But don't try to be a Clever Dick my girl, just keep it straight and simple." Looking more uncouth than ever, but still amused, he ran his fingers back and forth along Willie's bare arm, aware now that the skin there was soft and smooth,
"Reach back a little," he urged, "You'll find it's not a stick o' celery I've got in my pocket."
Unnoticed by anyone Deborah had returned, and she was not a person to avert her eyes or disappear into the scenery. Arnold uttered a sharp yowl as she came up behind him, grasped an ear, and twisted. "We'll have no more of your vile attitude in this house, Mr Knapp. I suggest you leave."
Arnold made a display of indignation and leapt to his feet. "Just a minute Deborah. It's all this little Dutch tramps fault. She's been encouraging me ever since I arrived, giving me the glad-eye and smiling and everything."
Such a demonstration made no impact on Deborah. Despite the restrictions of wearing a dress she squared up like a boxer. "Listen here Buster, this kid's only been here a short while, but I already know her like I know my own little sister, an' she wouldn't make any kind of eyes at a creepy spiv like you."
With that she swung a hefty right hook that caught the man hard enough on the chin to make his head swivel sideways.
Horrified, Arnold staggered and clutched at his face. "Look here, Deborah," said he, bolting towards the door and opening it; "You can be as abusive as you wish, but there is a limit. You may not assault me."
"May I not?" Debbie began slowly advancing towards him in a menacing way, "I've throw people like you out of the door in the past. You will be the fourth or fifth. Four pounds and ten shilling each in English money it cost me in fines. Expensive, but very necessary. Now, I advise you to go before I stuff one of your steel rivets up your ass so deep you'll need surgery to get it out."
Taking note of the threatening advance Arnold drew his lips together until they puckered like a chicken's backside. "I don't like you today, Debbie. Nor you," he added turning to Willie. "In fact I don't like being here at all, and I wish I hadn't come."
With that he was gone.
Deborah smiled with satisfaction and dusted his hands together. "We sure put that guy in his place, didn't we, little sister?"
Dumfounded by the violence and rapid turn of events Willie looked up at his protector. "Er, yes. We sure did."
It was just on 6-o-clock in the evening when Mrs Whippet came looking for Willie. "There's someone on the telephone asking to speak to you." she said.
He gazed at her, surprised. "Asking to speak to me?"
"Yes, Miss Naarden. Someone is asking to speak to Willie."
Mystified he went through into the Gun Room and picked up the phone. "Yes, who is that?"
"Hello, Willie Froehlich." said a man's voice.
The response caught Willie off guard and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise up. He swallowed hard as he recognised Tom Soames speaking, and now there didn't seem any point in denying things any longer. "How did you find me?"
Tom uttered a lightweight heh-heh cackle, but his voice was low and sonorous. "That was quite easy when I'd made up my mind who you really must be. You were with an American, and there aren't many of those in Essex. I just asked around until I found someone who knew where the American lived, then I phoned and asked to speak to Willie. Lo and Behold, you obligingly answered the call."
"What do you want, Tom?"
"Over the phone is awkward. Meet me at the end of the drive in an hour. We need to talk."
"What do you mean: 'we need to talk'?" objected Willie. "I'm not sure we do have to talk."
"Don't be cross with me, Willie. Just be there. Believe me; we really do need to talk."
Willie Froehlich couldn't help but feel uneasy for a while afterwards. He could think of no reason for going out that night that would convince Deborah that he should go alone. Debbie knew he had no boyfriend and that he knew no one in England beyond the boundaries of the garden, and when he tried lying to her he was always so transparent.
Providentially she went upstairs to take a bath as the deadline approached, and taking advantage of her absence he slipped on his topcoat and left the house by the side door. The invention of excuses, he decided, would need to wait until his return.
Tom Soames was standing across the lane at the end of the drive. He was beneath a tree, his air force uniform concealed beneath a voluminous trench coat, and he was stamping his feet as if impatient to begin a race. When Willie appeared he looked at the shapely nylon-clad legs beneath the hem of his skirt and grinned.
"Hey" he said, "you look... nice. Good to see you. How are you doing?"
His soft husky voice sent a prickle of anxiety over Willie's skin. "I'm doing well, and you?"
Despite the worrying arrangement that had been made Willie managed a smile. Tom was still handsome. He had been attractive before, but the passage of time had added a devastating power to his bearing, broadening and strengthening it. When they had first known each other he had been rangy and uncaring about his appearance, now, composed more formerly, his clothes hung on good square shoulders and he radiated confidence. His eyes, also, had changed. in the past they had been wide and youthfully lustful. Time had altered that too.
He still had a pleasant quizzical face, which promised interest and sympathy. He recalled how Tom Soames had always been an engaging flirt with those dark circles under his eyes, and his thick arched eyebrows. He would always appeal to women and men alike; people of his appearance, with pleasant manners did.
"I never expected to see you again once you left Heidelberg. Why do you need to see me now at all? What's it all about?"
"Would you like tea or a drink or something?" Tom asked, "If you don't mind walking a mile I've a little cottage just along the road." Suddenly he grinned, and the wicked, genuine amusement in his face made him seem heart-stoppingly sexy. Just has Willie remembered him.
He felt reassured, and the idea of Tom was oddly no longer threatening. For a moment he recalled the pleasant times they had shared at university. How when they had first met he thought the world would stop. The silly games they had played, and how he thought he would explode with joy when Tom held him in his arms.
He felt his pulse quicken, felt his nipples tightening against the soft fabric of his blouse. "Well, I don't want to be away too long. But, oh...um...Yes, I'd very much like to go for a walk." he conceded. "I can't think why it's such a good idea. I just feel like a walk."
They swung away along the lane and nodding at a woman walking her dog. Once past her Tom said, "I was surprised to see you in the town. You speak English quite well, so you must have come over here shortly after I returned home. And the female disguise is good. It took me a little time to work out that you'd gone over to being a girl, Willie, but then I recalled you were always rather effeminate, and once that clicked into place, so did everything else."
"Yes, I've been here for quite a while." Willie lied, "And you, Tom. You are an officer in the British air force now."
The young man half-smiled and shrugged. "I would never volunteer for such a thing. I'm still the same kind of rebel I was in Heidelberg, but I was pressed into service when I returned home. I help in administering a detachment on the coast doing wireless interception, listening to commentary on the Duetchlandsender and monitoring low grade messaging sent in clear. It's a bore and an insult to my talent. A schoolboy with a decent crystal-set could do the same work. I wanted to become involved with RADAR development, but because I spoke good German that's where they put me."
Willie sensed the aggressive defensiveness of him that was pitted with discontent. It had always been there in the past and he had accepted it then. Now such childlike carping jangled slightly.
A man appeared in front of them, walking in the opposite direction hurrying to join the woman with the dog. Tom looked at him with suspicion until he had gone past then took hold of his arm. "This way. I don't want to sound pushy, but we do need to talk and my place is the best place to do it tonight."
The cottage he was taken to was tucked into the south side of the little hill where Sir Mortimer enjoyed his walks. It was stone-built, solid and four-square, unpretentious and strangely friendly amid a small garden containing a few defunct hydrangeas and a stand of nettles. A small fence of wooden rails surrounded it, giving it the appearance of the sort of place a warm-hearted old widow-woman would inhabit in a nursery story. On a wicket gate hung a plaque declaring it as 'Lilac Cottage.'
Willie followed through the gate and down a little path and noticed a motorbike shrouded in a tarpaulin at the side of the house which was obviously Tom's way of getting about.
"Make yourself at home." invited his host, unlocking the front door and flinging it open. He groped for a light switch and illuminated the place, revealing a tiny room, sparsely decorated and slightly forlorn, containing two easy chairs with greasy armrests and worn cushions. A faint but pervasive smell of mildew hung in the air, so it was clearly a place for an individual preoccupied with matters other than keeping house.
"It's not the Ritz, but it suits me for doing things I wish to do," Tom declared, "and it's better than living with my parents. They're as conservative and stuck in the mud as old Sir Mortimer."
Tom led the way through to the back room, a more spacious place, being two small rooms knocked into a single larger one. It was furnished with a sagging single bed with a scratched headboard and crumpled sheets. A long table, a workbench built from sickly plywood was fixed to the wall, and the top of it was cluttered with steel boxes with dials and gauges, oscillators and amplifiers and loops of aerial wire.
"Radio is my passion, my profession and my hobby." he boasted, swinging his arm around at everything.
When he went off to put some water in a kettle Willie wandered over to the window. Through it he gazed at a glimmer of lights in the distant forest, and when Tom came back he smiled. "I was thinking this was a lonely place for you, but I see you have company nearby. I see lights in the trees further on."
Tom nodded. "That's the camp of the armoured brigade in Foxley Wood. It's less then two miles from here. They risk ignoring the blackout sometimes and work on into the evenings, like they are in a hurry to go someplace else."
And then, almost as if waiting for a cue, there came the mournful wailing noise of an air raid siren and within just a few seconds all the lights in the forest became extinguished. Tom switched off his own electric light and lit the stub of a candle with a match, and together they listened to the drone of heavy-engined aircraft growing overhead.
"Luftwaffe seeking their nightly kill." murmured Tom, "What a target they are forsaking in those woods. An entire tank brigade laid out at their mercy, but they can't see any of it. What a missed opportunity for them, eh." He took a step towards Willie. "I - I'm really happy that you're here."
His hands slipped around Willie's waist and he felt the gentle grip of strong fingers. Tom's expression was impossible to read, but Willie had the idea he was estimating things, perhaps assessing the depth of his old boyfriends sexuality and experience since they had last been together.
Tilting his head back a little bit he was able to hold Tom's searching gaze as their faces moved closer. Their lips dusted together lightly and then parted before coming together a second time and colliding in passion.
Willie had forgotten how soft his lips were, how gently his mouth could move. He felt Tom's fingers tracing the contours of his back and any reticence melted to be replaced by an intense yearning. He kissed his old acquaintance ferociously, pushing his fingers through his hair, pushing his hips against the strength of his body.