Authors: Leslie Thomas
'Put in for a magnet,' suggested Ormerod, bending and picking up two clips from behind the leg of the desk. 'Pick them all up more or less at once then. And you won't lose so many.'
The girl looked at him with some admiration. 'You know, I never thought of that,' she beamed. 'I will. I'll indent for a magnet. I expect they'll ask why, but it's going to save hundreds of man-hours, well woman-hours, during the whole war, isn't it? You're not a sort of boffin are you? One of those people they have in the special department? Not everyone would think of getting a magnet. I wouldn't for one. And this is supposed to be Intelligence, Four BX.'
'So I hear,' nodded Ormerod. 'But I'm not a boffin, whatever that might be. I'm a policeman.
'That's right. Of course you are. Well, in your job, you obviously have to think logically as well, don't you?' She wrote down the word 'Magnet' on a pad. 'Brigadier Clark will see you in a minute. He's got a Frenchman in there at the moment. You should see all his medals. Acres of them. You wouldn't think they'd lost. Would you like some tea?'
Ormerod eyed the cups and she saw him doing it. 'You'll get a clean cup,' she promised. 'Don't take any notice of those.'
'Oh, all right. Thanks,' said Ormerod. 'What are they there for then? Those cups? Another booby trap for the Germans?' She grinned at him. He said: 'They come in here, dying for a cup of tea, drink out of one of the poisoned cups and urgh! Another Hun dead.'
'You know that's not a bad idea,' she said, busying herself
with a teapot. She took two clean cups from a cupboard and
held them up so he could see. 'Perhaps we could extend it. Open
all the cafes along the south coast and fill them with dirty cups. The Germans land, rush for a cup of tea at the Bognor Esplanade Tea Rooms, and they're wiped out to a man. Not bad.'
'Make sure all the pubs open when they land,' contributed Ormerod. 'The beer's like poison now, anyway. That should take care of the ones that don't drink tea.'
The inner door opened to destroy the fantasy. A tall man in the uniform of the Free French Forces came out of the room followed by Brigadier Clark. Both men put their caps on and saluted each other, shook hands and then saluted each
other again, a performance which, for some reason, acutely
embarrassed Ormerod. He had uncertainly risen to his feet
at the first salute, in the same way as he would have done had the National Anthem been played, half sat down at the hand
shake and then stood up again at the second salute. The French
man, only glancing at him, went out briskly and Brigadier
Clark took off his cap and shook hands with the bewildered
Ormerod who had thought that because he had put his cap on he was leaving the room. The officer saw the reason for his expression. 'Had to salute,' he said, motioning Ormerod into his office. 'So had to put the damned cap on. Can't salute without a cap you see.'
'Oh, that's right,' recalled Ormerod. I seem to remember now.'
'You didn't really have enough time in the army to get any rank did you?' said Brigadier Clark indicating a chair. He opened a folder and glanced inside. Ormerod stared at the folder as he sat down. The Brigadier balanced on the corner of his desk. He was a tall man and his feet were comfortably on the floor.
'Rank? Me? Oh, I rose to lance-bombardier,' said Ormerod.
Clark laughed good-humouredly. 'At least in the police force
you've done a bit better than that,' he said. Then immediately,
'Are you sorry you're out of the army, Ormerod?'
Ormerod said: 'Well, to be honest, no sir.' Then he slowed and looked at the officer carefully. 'And anyway, I feel I'm
doing a worthwhile job as I am. I mean we're all here together
now, if you understand my meaning, sir. All besieged. If the
Germans come we'll all be in the army won't we? They've given the police guns and that's not to direct the traffic is it?'
The answer obviously amused and satisfied Clark. He nodded
and smiled and went around to the chair behind the desk. 'You won't have to worry,' he said. 'I'm not giving you your calling-
up papers. Would you like some tea?'
Ormerod said yes for the second time in ten minutes. As if
she had been eavesdropping the busty girl came in with a tray
and poured two cups for them. They had sugar too, Ormerod
observed, obviously part of the emergency rations in case of a
siege. For the first time in months he took two lumps. He looked
up guiltily but nobody seemed to mind. The Brigadier refused
and Ormerod thought it was strange that the girl should have
offered it to him. If she worked there she must have known that
he did not take sugar. Then it occurred to him that he had
taken the officer's lump as well. He felt embarrassed and even
thought of fishing it out again. But it was already well dissolved.
There followed a difficult silence, the staff officer and the
detective drinking tea from thick WD cups. It was an occupation that required complete attention at least until the heavy
brown tea was lower than danger level. Once it was they could
look at each other again. Embarrassed, they both looked up at the same moment. Clark seemed too shy to say something he
wanted to say.
'Er ... played at all recently, sir?' Ormerod asked to fill the void.
'Played? Oh, golf. No. Well, not much. The war seems to be
getting in the way. Just get a decent fourball arranged and
dammit if there's not a red emergency from the coast or something. I'll wager if Jerry does turn up I shall be somewhere out on the fourteenth and by the time I get back the whole bloody
show will be over.' He seemed relieved that Ormerod had given
him a start. 'Ormerod,' he said. 'I've found out where your murderer chum is holed up. Wasn't all that difficult, actually.'
The policeman felt his eyebrows rise and his jaw drop. 'You
have, sir?' he managed to say. 'Where would that be?'
Brigadier Clark pulled down a map of Europe on the wall
behind his desk. 'Right there,' he said pointing to the middle of
Normandy. 'Bagnoles de l'Orne.'
He turned from the map to see, as he expected, Ormerod's astonishment. It appeared to embarrass him and he went back to the map again.
'Nice spot,' he mumbled. Then, more firmly, 'Was before the war anyway. Played golf there. Very genteel and so on, full of
old ladies with bad legs and chaps with sticks, but that's what you get at a watering hole don't you? The water comes from
the spring at a steady eighty-one degrees. Supposed to work
miracles with various afflictions and aches. Story goes that years ago some farmer chap had a very old horse and rather than have it put down he sent it to die in the forest. Blow me if the brute didn't come back looking twenty years younger. He'd found the magic spring. The farmer followed him and bathed in the well with miraculous results. I took the waters there myself once, although I can't say it made me feel any younger. Very good for the feet though.' At once he looked
directly at Ormerod across the desk. He said deliberately: 'You
really ought to try it sometime.'
Baffled, Ormerod stared from his chair. The Brigadier saw his expression and looked sorry. 'Look Ormerod,' he said, rushing to the point. 'The real reason I invited you here today was to ask you if you'd like to take a trip off to Bagnoles de l'Orne to find your murderer.'
Now Ormerod was transfixed. He was certain the man had
gone mad. 'Very nice idea, sir,' he said nervously. 'But ... the
Germans. What about them?'
'We won't tell them,' smiled the Brigadier triumphantly. He
saw the policeman's look of overwhelming consternation and
held up a reassuring hand. 'No, no, I've not gone off my rocker.
It's a serious plan. You would be doing something you have
quite urgently wanted to do and also rendering a service to this
country and to France - in fact to the world.'
Ormerod thought of the French officer going out. He remembered his sideways glance. Realization arrived coldly in his
stomach. 'You want me to ... er go to France?' he said incredulously. 'Me?'
'Not alone,' said Clark. 'You'd be accompanied by a trained operator.'
I'm a London copper sir. Don't you have experienced agents and that sort of thing?'
'Trained, yes. A few. Experienced, no. There's not been much scope for experience has there? Europe's not been occupied up until now. The basic idea is that you are landed in France, Normandy or Brittany, and that you make your way to Paris by a prescribed route, contacting resistance groups, or potential groups,
and at the same time tracking down this man you so desperately want to apprehend.' He attempted an encouraging smile as though it were all simple. 'Your function would be almost one of bodyguard because the agent going with you is a young woman, a former schoolteacher from Normandy, who is a trained operator but needs some er ... well muscle ... she needs a man to go with her, although she won't admit that. We're trying to cobble together some sort of organization to operate in Europe, but frankly in the state we are in at the moment we cannot spare another trained man to go with her. It only needs one experienced person. You simply go to ... well, to be
I see,' said Ormerod slowly. The wonder of it was still stunning him. 'You don't want to risk anyone
But it's all right if it's me.'
'You're what they call "expendable",' Clarke nodded with sad honesty. 'This idea has been buzzing around in the trade for some time, ever since Dunkirk, but nobody wanted to sacrifice ... well, spare, two agents. And the girl is absolutely ideal. She comes from Normandy and she's fanatically French. She hates the Hun. Come to think of it she's not all that keen on us either. But she's a woman for all that. She needs a travelling companion.' He tried to beam encouragingly. 'And you wanted to go to France. Now's your chance.'
Clark took a file from the drawer of his desk. 'You're a good pistol shot, I see,' he said, looking at a sheet of paper from the file. 'You impressed the small arms instructor at Woolwich when you did your army training. And physically you seem to be in excellent condition. You have a policeman's mind, train-
ing and outlook. And your record with the force is quite outstanding. All plusses, Ormerod, all plusses. How's your French?'
Ormerod was now regarding him with new horror. The whole business seemed to be cut and dried, running out of control. 'French? Well... not very good.
'allo Mademoiselle. That's about the extent of it.'
The Brigadier smiled encouragingly. 'Well that's all right. After all the French are on
side. They'll be the only ones who'll notice. It's the Germans v/e must worry about and most
of them won't speak French. Not the ordinary private soldier
anyway. And if you ever get to officer level then the game's up
with you anyway, so it won't matter either way. You don't speak German, I suppose?'
As though he was walking through a dream Ormerod said: I played
football for the Metropolitan Police against the Berlin
Police before the war and we had a return match in Germany.
I tried to learn a bit of German for that. But it's mostly football
like "goal" and "off-side" and "foul" ...'
'It might just come in useful, said Clark with frankly bogus
optimism. 'Anyway we've settled that you're going, Ormerod.' It was not even a half question.
'Have we?' mumbled Ormerod. 'Well I suppose that's it then,
isn't it. Right now I can't say I'm looking forward to it. I just wanted to catch a bloke that's done a crime, not take on the Master Race.'
Clark regarded him with professional seriousness. I want
to tell you that you will be doing your country a great service.
Churchill himself is right behind this, you'll be glad to hear.'
'Oh I am,' said Ormerod flatly. 'Ever so glad.'
'He has said that he wants to "set Europe alight". You could
be the first match.'
Ormerod sighed woefully. 'Well it looks as though I'm going,'
he said.'When is it?'
'Can't tell you. Sorry, it's a secret. Anyway we don't know.
But within a few weeks. You'll have a concentrated training
course, small arms, explosives, all the usual stuff, and of course
we'll have you taken off police duties right away.'
'Right,' nodded Ormerod. 'I'm glad I don't have to do it in my spare time. What can I tell my wife?'
'Ah yes, your wife. Well I'm afraid you can't tell her the truth. Now what can we do? Can you go on some sort of police training course? We could arrange for everybody to be told that.'
'Yes, I could go on a police course,' said Ormerod dully. 'That should be all right.'
'You haven't any children have you?' said Clark looking at the file. 'It says "no" here.'
'It's right,' answered Ormerod. 'I've only been married a year. No time yet.'
'And you are ... er thirty-five.'
Clark took a celluloid card from the desk and ran his finger
down a column of figures. 'If anything happens to you, your wife will get quite a decent pension.' He looked up brightly.
'Oh good. That's a relief anyway,' said Ormerod. 'I'm really
pleased about that.'
'Right,' said Clark holding out his hand. 'You're a great chap Ormerod. This war will be won by men like you. Within days you will receive further orders. You'll have to go down to Ash
Vale in Hampshire for your training and detailed briefing. After that it could happen any time.'