A matter of life and … what’s worse than death? – Episode 23

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination with what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

Wallace wasn’t the most patient of men, and after planning what seemed, to him, as the easiest of operations, was beginning to think otherwise.

First of all, he had underestimated Atherton.  It was part of the plan to have London send him out, having, himself raised suspicions about the allegiances of the men who were in the castle.  They were, of course, British, but only he knew of their allegiance to the Reich.  That’s why he’s organized for Johannsson to be sent, and then for Jackerby to ‘stage’ a battle to consolidate London’s impression that it was being held by them, for the express purpose of repatriating defectors the allies.

Nothing, of course, could be further than the truth.  Since their arrival, only a few had been processed, just to keep London’s suspicions at bay, but the truth was, about a dozen more had been repatriated back to the Reich.

Wallace had ordered Johansson to make sure Atherton never made it to the castle, and Johansson, in turn, had given the responsibility to the resistance members, to take care of the problem, telling them Atherton was suspected of being a German spy.

Getting the local resistance on side proved to be a good idea, as it was they whom the defectors were expecting to meet when they arrive in the village.  And, as far as he was aware, Leonardo and his men had no idea who they were really working with.

Not that it would matter for much longer.  All he had to do was collect the Reich Marshall, and then he and his men were to escort him back to Germany.  He had the Fuhrers signed orders in his pocket.

There was only one wrinkle in the carefully planned operation.  The man who could recognize the defector was missing.

And, then a second wrinkle, the men he sent to find the lovesick fool were taking a long time to find a single man, though he was beginning to think there was something else going on, something that Leonardo hadn’t told him.

Johansson had said he didn’t believe all of the resistance members had signed on, even though Leonardo had told him they had.  Otherwise, how could Atherton disappear?  It was not likely that any of the villagers would harbor any soldier whatever side he said he was on.  

It was time to find out what Leonardo hadn’t told them.

He had sent Jackerby to fetch the man.  That was something else he didn’t quite understand.  Why were Leonardo and his men staying at the castle?  Didn’t they have homes in the village?  And didn’t they want to keep at arms’ length from whoever was running the castle in order to display neutrality?

Johansson had also told him he thought Leonardo was not the smart sort of person it would take to run a resistance operation, and that he believed there were some others still in the village who were once members, and who could also become a problem.  One of the reasons why Leonardo was at the castle was the fact he reported the radio provided by London had become inoperable, and the only other one was now at the castle, his main reason for being there.

He heard Leonardo long before he saw him.  A large bear-shaped man with a booming voice, a man who liked his wine in vast quantities, and had no qualms about emptying the cellar of the castle at any opportunity.  This late in the day, there would be fewer bottles.

Jackerby came into the room first, followed by Leonardo.

“You want me to stay?” Jackerby asked.

“By the door.”

Leonardo stopped by the table and then leaned on it.  “What this about?”

It was hardly a conciliatory tone, but Wallace ignored it.

“You tell me that all of the resistance members are here, but that’s not quite the truth is it?”

“Are you calling me a liar?”  

Belligerent, too, Wallace thought, but that would be the wine talking. 

“I could have you shot, so I suggest you use a more respectful tone.  You heard the question, now I want an answer.”

To emphasize the point, he took out his handgun and put it on the table where Leonardo could see it.  He could see Leonardo look at it, then back at him.

“Some of them didn’t have the stomach for it.  When you arrived here, most of us realized the fight was over.  Only I could see how we could be useful to our allies.”

“How many didn’t, as you say, have the stomach for it?”

“Three or four.  Women and a gardener, nothing that would cause anyone a problem.”

Nothing that would cause anyone a problem.  Johansson was right, the man was a fool.

“Well, it seems they are a problem, and you are going to fix it for me.  We don’t need problems, Leonardo.”

“I don’t understand.  They were on our side.”

“Seems they are not any longer.  We are expecting a high-value defector, and it seems that the Germans have recruited them to foil our operation.”

“The Germans?  There are no Germans here.”

“It seems I was mistaken about Atherton’s allegiance.  It appears he’s working with the Germans and is now actively working with those women and the gardener and causing us problems.  We’ve lost a man, and the three others we sent after him are overdue coming back.  I need you to go down to the village and find out what’s going on.”

“Isn’t that your job.  You have the soldiers and the guns.”

“We have orders to stay in the castle and wait for the defector to arrive.  That leaves you and your men.  Besides, you should be able to move more freely and unsuspected among your own people, and therefore make it easier than it would be for us to find this Atherton.  And when you find him, I want you to bring him to me alive.  Am I clear?”

It was clear to Wallace but it was not clear to Leonardo, he would do as he was told.  Or perhaps he should shoot him as an example to the next man, who no doubt would do his bidding.

“Yes.”

“Now would be a good time to get going, don’t you think?”

Leonardo was going to say something to him, Wallace could almost see the cogs turning in his head, but in the end, shrugged.

“Is there a reward for this Atherton then?”

Wallace nodded.  “Just bring him to me alive, and we’ll discuss it then, but I’m sure something can be arranged.”  He should have guessed Leonardo’s measured reluctance was all in aid of putting a price on Atherton’s head.

When they finally left the castle, he would make sure Leonardo got what he deserved.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

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