Chapter Forty-Four

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David and Maria walked back toward the hotel after lunch to refresh before continuing to the Embassy. "Are you sure I should be going with you? The invitation was for you, not us."

"That's because he isn't aware we're us." He gently pulled her to a stop in the street and wrapped his arms around her. "We're one, and they need to know that. I told that gentleman who greeted us you're my wife. Shall we continue pretending to be married?"

"I cannot think of any way to be more married than we are. We don't need to pretend."

A while later, back in their suite, Maria said, "I should tidy your beard. It's never been trimmed, and it has a few scraggly areas." She giggled. "Don't worry, I used to do Dada's. I won't leave you looking like a poorly sheared poodle."

He looked at it in the mirror. "Good idea. Over seven weeks now, it could use some touching up, particularly on the moustache." He chuckled. "I've begun eating it."

Half an hour later at the Embassy, David told the woman at the reception desk they had an appointment with Mr Grant Duff. Two minutes later, the same tall man who had greeted them earlier came out through a door and nodded his head to them in acknowledgement, then he looked around the waiting area and announced, "I'm looking for Mr David Berry."

David stepped forward. "That is us, Sir. Sorry for the confusion, we were being careful this morning."

The man smiled and extended a hand. "I'm Picot, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Picot." They shook hands, and he escorted them past a guard, through a door and along a narrow, featureless corridor. "I've read your letter, and I'm impressed by the little you told us. Now I see more of the smart thinking that has brought you safely here."

Picot stopped at the door at the end of the corridor and knocked. A small window opened, then a guard opened the door. Picot ushered them through and smiled. "A short-cut. Saves being seen by all and sundry." He led them along a broad hallway to the door at the end, then knocked and opened it. "Private David Berry and his wife Maria, Sir."

A grey-haired man rose from behind a massive mahogany desk and strode briskly toward them. "So pleased to meet you." He extended his hand as he approached. "You certainly don't look like the standard Army private, nor from your letter do you act like one," he said in a broad Scottish brogue as they shook hands. He turned to Maria and took her offered hand to his lips. "And you definitely don't look like standard Army issue."

He looked across to Picot. "Have you been able to rearrange your schedule, Henry?"

"Yes, Sir. I'm able to join you."

"Great. Please, let's sit." He motioned to the leather chairs around a low table. "Your wounds? You appear to have recovered. Do you need medical attention?"

"I was fortunate to have my face stitched back together by a skilled surgeon, Sir. It's fine now. The beard hides the scars, so the two missing teeth are the only reminder."

"And where was this surgeon?"

"In the German field hospital behind their lines in Belgium, across from our position outside Ypres. I forget the name of the town now, Sir."

"So you had been captured?"

"No, after I regained consciousness and realised the Germans had overrun our position, I stripped a dead German soldier and dressed in his uniform, then I blended in from there."

"That's an incredibly dangerous move," Picot said. "You not only risked being discovered by the Germans, but you made yourself a target as an enemy to your own side. If you saw no way back, it would have been excusable to surrender."

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