Willie's War Ch. 10

bySnurge©

Suddenly the loud noise of aircraft engines descended on them like a howl from hell and a machine made a low pass over the house. Beyond the bedroom window a flare burst red in the sky, spluttering as it floated towards the earth on its parachute.

A second followed, they were both at a distance but glowing bright. The second flare was almost gone when there was an ear-splitting CRUMP and an enormous, luminous orange flash. For an instant night became day outside and a split second later the bedroom window rattled violently from the bomb blast.

Jimmy's whole body became as taut as a piano wire, and he cried out as he found the magic of release, while Willie's bottom churned and clenched to extract the last drop of his essence.

At last Jimmy Hyde sank back against the pillows, closed his eyes and pulled Willie's pliant body closer, enjoying the petal-soft feel of his bare skin against the length of his body as he marvelled at the girl. She was so extraordinarily lithe and full of life. The sparkle she displayed when enjoying herself was an antidote to the dark thoughts that so frequently plagued himself.

Amid the air raid he had lost himself in the warm depths of her body, drinking in its sweetness as would a man dying from thirst. It had never been like that with a woman before, so pure and so intense. Their bodies had come together in one incredible passion after another. Yet it wasn't just his body that felt fully sated. His heart was content along with his soul. For the first time in a very long time he felt truly happy.

***

When he first heard the aircraft in the night sky above Tom Soames stepped out from the back door of his cottage breathing heavily with excitement. A fingernail moon hung low on the horizon, and the sky was a blanket of wet shimmering stars. He tried to contain things and breathe slowly, but it was only natural to feel elated. He had put so much effort into this moment.

He had seen the twin-engined Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft pass overhead in daylight two days previously, necessary because of course Jerry would want before-and-after photographs to estimate the damage done in a full scale raid. Detected by British radar it had only been minutes before a flight of Spitfires scrambled out from North Weald had arrived to chase it off over the sea, but by then it had done its job.

When that had happened he was assured that the people on the other side of the Channel were taking him seriously, and now he was there in person to witness the execution of the plan he had personally designed. It was his own triumphant creation, the destruction of an entire brigade of tanks, his personal contribution to the Fuehrer's contempt for England. Now, overhead in the night sky a large formation of Junkers Ju 88s were wheeling and swooping onto the target area that the Lorenz beams of Y-Geraet had led them to.

For safety's sake he should have got out of the area of course, but his calculations were so precise he didn't believe there could be any danger to himself and with eyes hot and hard with the fury of the hunt he wished to observe the kill.

Bombs soon began crashing and flashing in a great show, like fireworks on New Years Eve, erupting in orange ferocity and strafing the trees just a mile away with shards of scalding metal. He rung his hands together in jubilation at the power he had released.

The arteries in his temples swelled and throbbed, and his nostrils flared. But then after just a few moments he became increasingly exasperated, meshing his jaws together and scowling furiously. Flames snapped and wood popped while great belches of smoke rose up blacker than the night. But the German bombs were falling in entirely the wrong place. They were dropping into the farmland and uninhabited woodland instead of onto the target area he had so diligently specified.

Something had gone wrong, there was no need to emphasis that. Unknown to Tom Soames British radio-jamming research had found a way of injecting false ranging signals into the German guidance system with the result that the pilots conducting the raid that night were receiving all sorts of odd information to offset their true position.

At that moment there was an enormous explosion nearby and a hot blast seared his face with the force of a hurricane. The bombing was getting nearer, moving in his direction. A string of explosions was creeping towards him. The air began to reek of fertiliser and cordite mixed with the sweetness of old hay.

Deafened by the explosions and all but blinded by dust and debris he turned and ran towards the cottage... the motorcycle, he could get away on that. No, there wasn't time to kick-start it. Instead he ran back inside the house and slammed the door, aware that each successive detonation was becoming louder and more threatening. His head rolled to one side and he closed his eyes as he pressed his back against the woodwork. His heart was pounding in his neck as he stood without moving, barely breathing. A vicious hot blast blew in the windows and knocked off half the roof above him. There was no escape. Nowhere else to go...what was he to do?

Those poignant urgent thoughts were Tom Soames last considerations on earth. He felt a momentary absence of atmosphere, a vacuum, the fine hairs on the back of his head lifted away from his skin. The door came crashing inwards, blown forward by the concussion of bomb blast. It slammed against his back and knocked him to the ground. Then the air shuddered with light and he was no more.

***

When early morning light began to filter into the room Willie turned on his side and looked at Jimmy Hyde. He was sound asleep and lying on his stomach, the sheets pushed down to his waist. His face was turned towards him and a lock of hair had fallen across his forehead in a way he would never have tolerated if he were awake, and for a second Willie could see the boy in him.

He departed Jimmy's bed quietly, leaving the man still slumbering. Having completed his ablutions he dressed and went down the stairs to find Captain Troughton standing in the drawing room gazing up at the painting of the old man wearing the tropical topi.

"Toby, how nice to see you again." he greeted.

A voice, soft, cultured and humorous replied, "What ho. Nice to see you too, Willie. You look absolutely the ticket this morning, and a damn sight nicer to look at than all the blasted sergeant-majors I've had to deal with lately."

"Do you like the portrait of Sir Neville?"

Captain Troughton glanced up at it again. "The gentleman is a mite Kiplingesque, isn't he? You know; like a character out of Gunga Din."

"Kipling wrote a lot about soldiers, so he must have loved war."

Toby shrugged lightly. "I don't think he did. He admired the courage and comradeship that war can inspire, but his writings about it were invariably tinged with pathos."

"Even such things as that conspire to make war glamorous and a thing for heroes, while they ignore the plight of weeping women and terrified children. Did the bombing cause any damage to your Camp last night?"

Toby shook his head with an expression of secret delight. "Those blighters couldn't hit a barn door with a brick at five paces, but I'm afraid they've ruined Sir Mortimer's little bit of wildwood. They dropped a land-mine and the trees there have been blown to bits. I expect you heard it."

"Yes, it was very loud and frightening. It made the earth move."

He stroked his moustache thoughtfully. "I expect Jimmy as told you we're due to move out shortly, the whole cat'n'caboodle of us from down the road. 'Fraid this will be our last visit here for some time."

Willie nodded. "He did say. Do you know where you go?"

"We haven't been told, and we wouldn't be allowed to say anyway. But judging by the kind of stuff they're giving us I reckon we're likely to have sand in our shoes before long, and it won't be from the beach at Brighton."

"I'm worried about Jimmy."

"You're not alone there. Most fellows that go to war never imagine going to their own death. They always reckon it will be someone else who will catch the bullet and die, never themselves. Jimmy is different. Since that time in France he sees things the other way round."

"You must help him, Toby. You are near to him in spirit and you must use your influence with him. He is not well in his mind, so you must insist with him that he visits a doctor."

Toby frowned and made a helpless gesture with his hands. "I've already tried that, and he won't have it. Says if I mention it again he'll cut me dead forever." A faint look of despair showed on his face. "He means it, Willie, and I couldn't bear that. He and I have been chums since our schooldays, and I love him."

A second later his moustache twitched with delayed embarrassment. "I say, I didn't intend for the words to come out quite like that. It probably sounds awful, doesn't it? Does saying I love him sound strange? Does it sound... erm... suspicious? What I mean is, does it sound a little bit, y'know...odd?"

Willie grasped his hand and held it for a moment, scrutinising him as if he were a Vermeer. Eventually he gave it a reassuring squeeze, a simple expression of friendship. "In the narrow minds of most men to say you love your friend would be unacceptable. But there are different types of love, and yours is a caring kind. I believe that to love someone in a caring way can never be a bad thing."

After a further moment he took hold of his hand and tucked it into his elbow. "Come with me. Mrs Whippet will not have expected you to arrive so early, and we must persuade her to arrange an extra place for breakfast."

Captain Troughton pulled a face. "Goodness, do we really need to face that frightful old dragon? She'll make an awful fuss about the food ration."

"We shall not let you starve," Willie promised, "If we are allowed an egg this morning, you shall have mine."

Together they exited the drawing room on their quest to confront a common foe, Toby Troughton at Willie's side bravely chanting: "We're marchin' on relief over Injia's coral strand. Eight 'undred fightin' Englishmen, the Colonel, and the Band."

***

At breakfast Willie was pleased to find Jimmy Hyde in a calm frame of mind, calm enough to quiz his friend about the air raid the previous night.

"They were undoubtedly trying to bomb the tank brigade," Toby said, "But they missed their mark. They caused considerable devastation, but only to a tract of countryside. As far as I know there were no casualties."

"Apart from the young RAF gentleman who rents Lilac Cottage," Mrs Whippet couldn't resist putting in, "That poor man's place received a direct hit, nothing much left of the house, or of him."

Willie stirred his tea absently, even though there was neither milk nor sugar in it. Tom Soames was a clever individual, but clearly there had been a mistake, either in the sending of information or the receipt of it, and the mistake had caused his doom. He felt oddly apathetic to the fate of a man who had proved he had never cared for anything born, or anything made, or anything grown. He was more concerned as to why Sir Mortimer hadn't taken his usual place at the table that morning.

He asked Mrs Whippet, and the woman gave a grumpy response. "He knows when he wants to eat. He went straight into the Gun Room when he received the mail this morning, and he hasn't come out yet."

When several more minutes had passed Willie left Jimmy and Toby eating toast and marmalade and went in search of him, and as soon as he had gone Mrs Whippet stepped forward a second time.

"Excuse me, gentlemen," she murmured in a quiet deferential voice, "May I say something?"

The two men both looked up. "Well, you've grabbed our attention, Mrs Whippet." said Jimmy Hyde "Is it something important? Is it something Sir Mortimer can't deal with?"

The woman offered a slightly smarmy smile. Her nose and chin, though sharp, were delicate, and her eyes glinted with intelligence. "It's probably not that important, but I feel I need to speak to someone, sir. It's about the young Dutch lady, you see."

"Go on."

"I was talking to Mrs Groves at the Post Office yesterday, and I happened to mention to her that Miss Naarden came through the Refugee Centre at Ramsgate. Mrs Groves remembered something about the place, and she went through the postal information circulars she gets. And well, apparently the Centre in Ramsgate closed in February. It's been shut down for ages."

The woman took a pace back. Her lips curved in a smile, but her voice was tense and brittle. "There's probably a perfectly good reason for what Miss Naarden said about Ramsgate, I expect she's got confused with place names...her being foreign as it were. But I thought I should tell someone."

"Thank you, Mrs Whippet. We'll look into the matter." Jimmy replied, and he and Toby looked gravely at each other.

Willie's mind was tranquil that morning, but a shock greeted him when he entered the Gun Room. He found Mortimer slumped inert in his chair, head bent and leaning on the back of his right hand, his elbow on the desktop. For all intents he seemed like a graven image.

"Is something wrong?"

The elderly man looked up and slowly ran thick fingers through his thinning hair. "There was a heavy raid on Liverpool two nights ago. The area around the docks was severely damaged and there were a lot of casualties."

Willie caught his breath. "Deborah went to Liverpool to meet her friends off the boat from America."

Mortimer nodded. Harrowed and stricken he looked Willie full in the face. "They were all caught in the bombing and killed." His face was gaunt. "I received notification in the post this morning." Immediately his gaze changed to a baffled, dismal expression that held as much understanding of the world as an infant. "Deborah is dead, Willie. What am I supposed to do now?"

For a moment he struggled to keep from bursting into tears. He had not realised how emotional he was until Willie had arrived, but now the weight of tragedy seemed too much for him to bear.

Willie's hands flew to his face as he groped for words that would convey a fraction of his feelings. When he spoke all lightness had gone from his tone and the words were mingled with a sudden feeling of sickness in his stomach. "Oh no. Deborah was my friend. She called me her little sister."

Mortimer grimaced. "She was my wife in all ways possible. I know she wasn't entirely faithful, but her indiscretions were infrequent and I know she loved me. I certainly loved her. Everyone thinks I'm just a depraved old coot who enjoys being with men who wear dresses, but Deborah was the best thing that ever happened to me."

He slapped the top of his desk with an open palm hard enough to send papers flying. "I can't do as you wish any longer Willie. I won't do it." he scowled amid a mixture of grief and accumulating fury. "You are naïve. Hitler has no honour or respect for human life."

He clearly wished to be alone to mourn, but rather than demand Willie leave the room he decided to leave himself. As he brushed past, Willie reiterated his sympathy. "I understand your feelings, and I don't expect you to continue with any peace initiative."

"Peace!" Mortimer's face became near manic and his voice had all the power of a shout, "I can't encourage people to seek peace with a madman such as Hitler. He's something more than a ruthless dictator, he's a monster in human form, and he must be stopped."

He paused as he passed through the door, tears brimming in his eyes. "I've been a pacifist all my life, but if the only way to stop him is with guns, then so be it."

Left alone in the room Willie's heart seemed to sink. He had failed in his mission. There was no possible chance now that Sir Mortimer would pursue the policy of a peaceful settlement with Germany. It had all been going so smoothly. He had Sir Mortimer convinced and enthusiastic about the merits of an early agreement. But now in one morning all hope of such a thing had withered like grapes on the vine in unseasonable frosty weather.

Two years previously Eduard had been killed, and then Felix Haushofer had been murdered. Now Deborah was dead, Jeremy had gone, and Jimmy Hyde was going. Every person he had ever had feelings for was being taken from him. Even Sir Mortimer had deserted him, and the war was the cause of it all.

He stood in front of the gun cabinet, and could think of no alternative to what he must do next. The adrenaline in his system was working overtime and tears of rage threatened to spill from his eyes, but he controlled the urge to cry with a steely resolve. He had made a decision.

A small key lay in the lock of the gun cabinet, so there was no problem about swinging open the glass that fronted it. His hands shook. On the lowest tier of the display were hooked a number of hand guns and he pulled one out, selecting it because it looked a little bit like the cowboy six-shooters he'd seen in American movies, which gave him a rough idea of how such things worked.

Exasperated and angry at his failure he scrabbled around in the draw beneath the cabinet, emptying out cartridge boxes until he found some bullets that seemed to fit the five chambers in the revolvers cylinder. Five bullets. Only five, but that gave him five chances to kill Winston Churchill.

There was a sudden clatter of footfalls in the hall and a gruff interchange outside the door. Willie dropped into the chair behind the desk and buried the pistol between his knees.

Jimmy and Toby came in, and Jimmy started towards him. "I'm sorry to startle you," he said, "but I have something to put to you that needs an answer. You see, Toby and I have been chatting with Mrs Whippet. She made some enquiries yesterday and discovered that the Refugee Centre in Ramsgate closed down months ago; everyone fleeing from the continent is processed elsewhere now. That means I have to ask you a few questions, Willie."

It didn't require a wise man to explain to Willie that he was about to become ensnared in a trap of misinformation relayed in his own words. Knowing of no way out from it he sprang to his feet and levelled the gun at arms length, pointing it directly at Jimmy Hyde's chest and using both hands to hold it steady.

"Mrs Whippet is a very correct lady and very smart."

The soldier looked at the pistol in astonishment. "What on earth are you doing with that?"

"I'm going to shoot Prime Minister Churchill." Willie replied candidly.

Jimmy took a step forward. "But you have always been opposed to violence."

It was Toby who first noticed the manic look in Willie's eyes, and how his voice was not at all steady. "Careful, old chap. The lass looks rather pent-up and emotional."

Jimmy then noted the wildness in his eyes too. "Yes, you are emotional, aren't you Willie? You're an emotional person always wanting to do the best for people, and although I don't know why you came here, I certainly think it's impossible for you to be an assassin. The instinct for murder isn't in you."

"Are you sure about that, Jimmy Hyde?"

"Fairly sure." he said, taking another pace forward.

There was a slow click, the sound of a revolver being cocked, or the safety catch being released. "Keep back or you'll find out how wrong you are. I have to bring the war to an end. I've tried persuasion and it hasn't worked, so I'm left with no choice."

"I see. And do you know where to find Mr Churchill and how to get to him?"

"I have to find out those things and make a plan. I'm not stupid, I can do it."

Ignoring the impracticalities of any scheme Willie may dream up Jimmy tried a different tack. "If you kill him Halifax or Eden, or someone else will take his place. It will change nothing. The struggle against Hitler will continue."

Tears finally began to form in Willie's eyes and the muzzle of the gun started to tremble, but when he spoke his voice was firm and resolute.

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