Chapter Fifty-Three

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On Wednesday morning David and Maria sat in the lobby for an early breakfast. "I'm not sure how long I'll be. An hour, maybe two. If it looks like it may be more than two, I'll have a messenger sent over to let you know."

"And you still won't tell me what it's about?" She pouted. "You've not kept anything from me before. Why start now?"

"This isn't my secret, it's the Government's... No, probably not even they are trusted to know. It will be easier if you and I don't talk at all about it. Just pretend it doesn't exist. That will be safest."

"The Ambassador spent a lot of time talking with you last evening, to the point of ignoring other guests. Edith reminded him twice about it."

"And the Ambassador mentioned to Edith she was favouring you over the other women."

"We found many topics of mutual interest."

"As did we." He looked at his watch. "I must leave in two minutes." He reached into his pocket and pulled out two gold coins. "Here's thirty Francs. Go shopping and find some things that please you."

"You please me." She tilted her head and gazed into his eyes. "Sharing with you pleases me more than anything."

He stood and took her hand, then kissed her lips. "I'll try to make this as short as possible." He intertwined fingers. "I love you."

Maria nodded. "I feel as if I'm watching my hero march off to war. I've been catching glimpses of you doing that for a long while now, but it finally feels real."

David bent to kiss her again, then he turned and strode across the lobby to the entrance as his eyes watered. Damn, what are the tears about? I'm not leaving... Her sadness, her disappointment about the secrecy. I'm sure she's also crying now. Money and shopping can't fix that.

He stopped a short distance along the street, turned and rushed back into the hotel and ran across the lobby to catch up with her as she reached the stairs, calling as he neared, "Maria."

She turned, and he saw her wet cheeks as he took the last few steps to wrap her in a hug. "I'm sorry I explained it poorly. Lives depend on keeping official secrets. The entire war effort depends on it, otherwise we..."

"You were also crying." She reached up and stroked his beard.

"Thinking of you crying. Thinking of having hurt you."

"You must go, else you'll be late." She tilted her face up. "Give me a kiss you crazy man. God, I love you."

He scurried back across the lobby and walked briskly along to the Embassy, arriving with two minutes to spare. So simple to have done that. I'd be stupid not to have. So different living as two, but so worth it.

Colonel Picot greeted him as he entered the reception hall. "We'll wait here for Wallinger." He looked at David's clothing. "Back to your relaxed look. That's good, it blends in well and doesn't attract attention. I'm still amazed, though, at how superbly you and your wife dressed last evening with only a day's notice. You were far and away the fashion plates."

"We sought advice."

"There's much advice available, most of it freely given and worth its price. The wisdom is in understanding what advice is good and what is not. The... Ah, here's Wallinger now."

After they had greeted, Picot led them through to Skipworth's office, where they sat. Wallinger asked David to describe in detail his travels through Germany, giving his observations and opinions on what he saw. As he was recounting his equipment shopping in Freiburg, Wallinger interrupted him.

"The wounded soldier disguise is one we hadn't thought of. Takes huge ballocks to pull off something like that. You were never challenged?"

"Neither on the trains nor in the stations nor in the towns, except near the Swiss border. Wounded soldiers in uniforms were a common sight. Even far from the Front, there were a few on each train. I still have the German identity tag and the sick leave chit. The tag is crudely fashioned and should be simple to replicate. Strange, they don't have the soldier's name on them, only his number and unit. The sick chit would be easy to counterfeit."

"Thank you, that's more than sufficient. My superior has asked me to assess your suitability for my mission. I'll inform him I agree with the Ambassador's assessment that you'd be of far more value running your own mission elsewhere. Now, we need to get you to London to meet with him."

"I'm passing through there next Tuesday, on my way to Oxford."

"When are you there? In London?"

David reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a packet of papers. "Here's the itinerary." He ran his finger down the typed lines. "Arrive London St Pancras at 1432 Tuesday 22 June. Depart London Paddington for Oxford at 1645."

"I'll cable him and suggest he meet your train at St Pancras and talk with you as you're driven to Paddington. Two hours should be sufficient for a first meeting." He turned to Skipworth. "We'll still use your expertise, of course, but I think you'll be of far more value to David."

Wallinger turned back to David. "How may we contact you to confirm being met at Paddington?"

"I'll be at home until early Monday morning, but it's in a rather remote corner of Schaffhausen, and there's no telephone. There may be a cable office in the town... Better, you could cable me at my Paris hotel, I'll be there overnight on Monday." He leafed through the papers. "Hotel Gare du Nord. I'll be registered there under my Canadian name, David Berry."

"And if we miss you there, when are you passing back through London?"

"My current plans have me in Oxford for four months. Colonel Picot will have my contact information there. How can I contact your superior? I don't even know his name."

"You can't contact him. And don't worry about not knowing his name." He laughed. "I don't know it, even after four years. That's the nature of the service."

"And what service is that?"

"One that's not publicly known to exist." He paused and steepled his hands over his mouth for a few moments, then continued. "The Secret Service Bureau."

David nodded. "I suspected it would be something like that."

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