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Authors: Leslie Thomas

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43

'How's your French?' asked the major abruptly.

'It doesn't exist, according to this,' said the captain looking at
a sheet in his hand.

'Good God. No French?'

Ormerod shook his head feebly. 'I told Brigadier Clark that,'
he pointed out. 'But he didn't seem to think it mattered. He said the ordinary German soldier wouldn't understand a lot of French anyway. And if I got to officer level, then it would be too late. I've got to try and avoid talking to the Germans.'

'Not a bad idea,' intoned the captain. 'My advice to you Ormerod is if you get into a situation - you know, a
situation
- where you can't avoid it, you should try to make out you're drunk, insane or a deaf mute. Then they'll probably just kick you up the arse and let you go. So do you think you could impersonate a deaf mute? That's the favourite I'd say.'

'I could practise,' promised Ormerod.

The captain suddenly became very friendly and, advancing on Ormerod, put his arm about the policeman's shoulder. 'Listen, old chap, I expect you'll handle the whole thing very well.' He glanced at the major for confirmation.

'Oh, very well indeed,' said the major. 'Very well.'

'Now you'll be getting a detailed briefing before you're actually off on this outing,' said the captain returning to the map. He pointed at the island again. 'But anyway - Chausey. Landing by submarine. Then you've just got to make your local arrangements to get onto the mainland. We can't risk a submarine too near the French coast. Valuable things apparently, submarines.'

Ormerod, doubt from forehead to chin, looked at the map. 'On Chausey,' he asked tentatively, 'there won't be ... there won't be anyone to meet us?'

Both officers looked blank, then astonished. 'Meet you?'
said the elder captain. 'Good God old chap, it's not Paddington
station. We haven't got a clue as to who or what is on Chausey.
People from Mars for all we know, old boy. That's the object
of the exercise, to contact resistance groups, or potential re
sistance groups. I mean for all we know there's a bloody tank regiment on Chausey, although that, I must admit, is a bit unlikely.' He spread his hands. 'We simply don't know, Ormerod.

44

There hasn't been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing lately. Not since Dunkirk.'

The major sniffed approval of the sarcasm and glanced at the captain. The captain nodded as if agreeing to tell. 'You know it's a woman,' he said, 'going with you.'

'I was told that,' said Ormerod, glad there was something he knew.

The captain said breezily. 'Nothing wrong with women. I mean, they don't scare you or anything, do they?'

'No,' said Ormerod, shaking his head. 'Not at all. I've recently got married to one. But I'm just ... well, surprised, that's all. I thought it would be a man naturally. A trained agent. I mean, using a gun and all that.'

The major did not look directly at Ormerod. 'She's trained
but not
experienced.
There's a difference you understand. But
she can use a gun all right, from what I hear,' he muttered. 'Better than most. And she's not going to be squeamish about it either. She'll look after you.'

'Thanks,' said Ormerod. 'Thanks very much.'

'You'll be meeting her tomorrow, or the day after I expect,'
said the captain. 'You'll be called for detailed briefing and then,
at the magic hour, you're off.'

'Any more questions?' asked the major, unnecessarily adding: 'Ormerod.'

'Well yes, there is as a matter of fact. You know about me going to France to find a wanted man, don't you? He's wanted for murder. Brigadier Clark knows all about it.'

The captain looked surprised but the major tapped his teeth with a pencil. 'Ah yes. Now you remind me, there
was
some
thing like that. Very odd business, I must say. Anyway that's all right, Ormerod. It's something you'll more or less have to do in your spare time.'

A dull despair rolled along Ormerod's stomach. 'I see, sir,' he said bitterly. 'In case I get bored.'

The major laughed unpleasantly. 'That's it! You're
all right
Ormerod! Absolutely
all right I
I like your sense of humour.
You'll make out fine in France. I don't think we could have picked a better chap.' He looked at the captain. 'What do you think?'

45

'No,' said the captain with a sly smile. 'I think he'll have great fun. Off to France with a woman - and a beautiful woman at that. Sounds like everybody's dream.'

Ormerod had had enough of them. Another five minutes and he thought he might have tried out the silent killing which the unarmed combat instructor had shown him. He said nothing.

'Righty-ho,' said the major cheerfully. 'Detailed briefing tomorrow. A car will come to you at ten hundred hours. At Ashbridge, Herts or Bucks, whatever it is. Decent little day out if the weather keeps up. Then, pretty quickly I would think - it depends if the navy can rustle up a submarine - off you go. And any further questions? Made your will and all that rubbish?'

'Yes,' said Ormerod. The two officers advanced on him and extravagantly shook his hand. He could have sworn the captain's eyes were glistening. 'Cheerio then,' said the major. 'See you when you get your medal.'

I hope I'm there to get it in person,' said Ormerod evenly. 'Is it possible to ask how I am supposed to get back?'

'Arrangements,' said the major, as though that covered it. 'They'll be made. You'll know in time.'

'Thanks,' said Ormerod hollowly. 'I just thought I would ask. I'm glad it's all taken care of.'

He went out of the hut. The two officers sat down side by side and stared at the map of Normandy. 'Buggered if I'd ever heard of Chausey Island either,' said the major reflectively. 'Not until last week.'

'Nor me,' sighed the captain. 'We'd better allocate this fairy tale a codename hadn't we? What's the next letter in the book?'

'We'll have to use D,' said the major. 'A, B and C were all used in Norway. The Jerries know all about them because they nabbed the agents if you recall.'

'Yes, I remember that,' said the captain as if it were only with difficulty. 'Right, D it is then.'

The major opened a file. 'Letter D,' he said. 'Here we are. Ah, just the thing.'

'What is it?'

'Dodo. Operation Dodo,' said the major. 'And we can give him the name Dodo too.'

46

The captain nodded. 'Right,' he agreed. 'He's as good as dead.'

At ten the following morning an army car arrived at the Ash Vale camp to take Ormerod to the final briefing. He was told to leave his anonymous battledress behind and to make the journey in his civilian blue suit. Ormerod sat in the back of the car, the taciturn military driver never turning his head, and they drove from Hampshire into Surrey and then into
Berkshire and Hertfordshire. Because he was a town man, used
to living in streets, Ormerod had never noticed much of the
country. Now he saw it lying brilliantly all about him, the
most vivid autumn after a hot summer, miles of yellow trees,
copper trees, vermilion trees, unrolling as they journeyed.

'Nice time of the year this,' ventured Ormerod to the driver.

'Lovely,' said the man, a Cockney. 'Does a treat, don't it sir.' He nodded out of the window. 'Just like miles of wallpaper.'

'What's this place Ashridge, anyway?' asked Ormerod, now he knew the man was allowed to talk.

'Ashridge Park, sir?' said the driver. They were going through Windsor with the Thames blue with the deep reflection of the sky. Ormerod gave a nod of acknowledgement towards the castle. 'Well, sir, they've got the Public Records Office at Ashridge. Brought it from London, tons and tons of books and papers, like a blinking salvage drive. They had to get it out in case it got bombed. Make a very nasty fire all them papers.'

Ormerod wondered why his briefing was being held at the
Public Records Office, but did not press the matter. They arrived after just over an hour's drive, turning into parkland so full of bright leaves it hurt the eyes. In the centre of the
park was a fine, grave house, and adjacent to the house, under covering trees, rows of prefabricated, asbestos buildings, an
affront to the surroundings. The car stopped at one of these and an ATS girl came out and showed Ormerod into a stark waiting room. He sat down, the melancholy of the place sett
ling quickly on him. After a while the oldest man he had ever
seen, wearing the oldest clothes he had ever seen, striped

47

trousers and black jacket almost grey with age and dust, came
in and began intently to sharpen a white quill with a miniature penknife. He looked up at Ormerod and smiled beatifically.
'Lovely, isn't it?' he said, nodding at the autumn extravagance outside the imprisoning window. 'The sun on all the trees. Part of nature's war effort, I suppose. She's trying to make up for some of the discomforts.'

'She's probably doing it for the Germans as well,' pointed out Ormerod. The old man considered both Ormerod's point
and that of the quill; he nodded philosophically. 'Very true, I imagine,' he agreed. He dropped his voice conspiratorially. 'I
don't believe this rubbish about God only being on our side, you know. It's propaganda, sheer government propaganda.'

He was trimming his quill with a great art. Ormerod watched
him carefully for he had never seen anyone who used a quill before. A serene smile touched the man's face at his interest.
'Great shortage, of course,' he said, holding up the feather. 'The war again. Although why we can't get goose feathers is beyond me. Surely the geese still grow them.'

Ormerod could not believe that the ancient man was any
thing to do with his own presence there. 'Public Records Office
are you?' he asked.

'Indeed, indeed,' nodded the man benignly. 'All transported
from London. Quite a miracle, I suppose, although our work
ing conditions are hardly in keeping, as you might judge.' He looked around caustically at the almost derelict waiting room.
'You'd think a jam-jar of flowers would not be too much to ask for wouldn't you?' he said. 'And perhaps a few decent pictures on the walls.'

Ormerod nodded. 'Certainly make it look less ... formal,' he said. The man had finished sharpening his quill but he was not in a hurry to depart. "We have the entire history of our
great country in this building, you know,' he said. 'Even Magna
Carta. We
had
to bring that of course. It's quite priceless. And
if the Germans do come and conquer us it will be reassuring to
be able to read it and know what we fought for, even if we
lost.' He paused as if wondering whether to impart some secret information. I myself,' he said eventually, 'am working on
documents appertaining to the battles of 1899 in South Africa.'

48

'You're a couple of wars behind then,' said Ormerod.

'For the rest of the world, yes,' acknowledged the man. 'But for us, no. Here we never like to hurry these things.' He turned to go but paused at the door. 'If you would like to see Magna Carta this afternoon, I can arrange it,' he offered. 'It's something everybody should see.'

I was touched at the real generosity. 'Thank you,' he said. 'If I've got time, I will.'

The man nodded and continued nodding as if he were unable to stop. 'I'm the first room along the corridor,' he said before leaving the room. 'Just knock quietly. I'll hear you. We don't make a lot of din here.'

Bemused, Ormerod watched him shuffle and nod away. He felt a kind of envy. How peaceful it must be sorting out the Boer War. He stood up and looked through the grubby window at the extravagant trees. The driver was right. It was just like wallpaper. Someone came into the room behind him and he turned unhurriedly. It was the ATS girl. He could see at once that she knew why he was there because she was regarding him with a sympathetic sort of hero-worship. No one had ever looked at him like that before. 'Penny for your thoughts,' she said after she had smiled.

'Hardly worth that much,' he smiled back. I was just thinking that somebody is going to have a job clearing up all the leaves around here.'

'You're right,' she said. 'But it's a quiet job isn't it? You wouldn't know there was a war on. Not here.' She paused, then said, almost with embarrassment: 'They're waiting for you now. Will you follow me?'

He went after her, watching her tight, khaki-clad backside moving two yards ahead. A brief thought of his wife made him momentarily homesick. He would have to forget that. He had telephoned her several times from Ash Vale but she was always formal to the point of stiffness on the telephone. How was the police course going? Would he be getting extra allowance for being away? Could he fix the kettle when he got home because it had gone wrong again, please? It was hardly a romantic marriage.

The girl showed him into yet another grubby chamber where

49

two men in neat suits, like bank clerks, stood staring at a wide map of Normandy on the wall. As he came in one brushed his hand across the map. 'Couldn't tell whether that was a small town or a house fly,' he smiled weakly at his colleague. They seemed surprised to see Ormerod standing behind them and both came forward with bogus diffidence to shake his hand.

'Jolly glad to meet you,' said the first clerky man. He wore a grey suit with some sort of significantly striped tie and had the kind of pale wispy hair that is almost as good as being bald. The other man was wearing a pin-striped suit with another kind of significantly striped tie and his dark hair had been sleeked down as if it had been painted to his head. 'Sit down, please,' said the second man. 'Might as well get some rest while you can, eh?'

Ormerod was getting familiar with the type. He sat down heavily. The first man took some kind of form and showed it to the second. 'AF G 146,' he intoned. 'That's right, isn't it Charles?'

BOOK: Ormerod's Landing
2.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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