The Secret of Highway House

Highway House is a name that, if things had been different, every one of you would have heard of, every one of you would marvel at and every one of you would know the story of. Why there might even have been a Highway House day, or a Lizzie McMorely day! But you don't and there isn't, and this is why.

Lizzie McMorely, newly graduated from Oxford, is recruited to train as an assassin at Highway House. But when sent out on her first ever mission; the assassination of Adolf Hitler, several factors Lizzie hasn't been trained for come into play: luck, betrayal and love.

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2. Behind Closed Doors

It was a Thursday, the first time that Lizzie McMorely walked along the half-mile driveway that led to Highway House, Thursday 26th June 1941 to be precise. She could remember this afterwards because it was exactly a week after she graduated from Oxford. Yes she, Lizzie, was smart. That's why Highway House wanted her so much. She could do things with numbers that no one else would even attempt; she was what people called a genius. It had been a completely unexpected surprise, and quite frankly a bit of a shock to have the letter slipped into her bag during her graduation ceremony. It didn't even specify what kind of work went on at Highway House, in fact it didn't really give any sort of detail at all, she thought as she recalled the words on the crumpled piece of paper she had read more than a dozen times.
 
  Dear Miss McMorely,
                                   Congratulations on receiving your first class honours in the study of Mathematics. Your diligence and work ethic, as well as the other important qualities we believe you have, has been noticed by many besides your lecturers. We at Highway House are constantly on the lookout for capable young women to participate in the vital tasks we perform in aid of the war effort. Therefore it is our pleasure to offer you a place among us to do your bit for our soldiers. Regretfully we are unable to give you any more details on what your role here will be however upon your arrival you will be informed more thoroughly. If you wish to accept our offer, then we will see you at Highway House, Green Lane, Warwick, at 10am next Thursday morning.
Yours Sincerely,
 
But the letter wasn't signed, which was perhaps the most intriguing thing about it. A familiar feeling of curiosity overcame Lizzie every time she read it and it was this that caused her to make the decision to accept. This might seem an odd decision to make for someone as calculated as an Oxford maths graduate, however although Lizzie had enjoyed her mathematics degree she hated what it seemed to say about her; boring. She didn't feel like a boring person and she felt offended that this was people's perception of her. Highway House was going to change this she was sure of it.
The sun was shining which as well as bleaching tiny blonde highlights into her dark wavy hair, gave a glistening border to the beautiful view over the fields that was displayed before her. The house itself was incredibly grand, a red-bricked mansion with brilliant white balconies and window boxes over-flowing with pansies of every colour. The steps leading up to the doors were made of pure white marble flagstones which were undeniably impressive. However on stepping inside the great oak doors she found herself in a room quite the opposite. Beautiful though it was with its mile wide beams and ceilings the stretched into the clouds, the furniture itself was plain and minimal; a reception desk made of a light oak and one simple chair in the corner with a threadbare green striped cushion flopped lifeless across its seat. If Lizzie had not been already enraptured by the compelling mystery that was contained within this building, she might have been disappointed by this plain and bare exterior, however knowing a little and suspecting even more of its secrets, the curiosity inside her was only enhanced by the fact that this drab little room gave nothing away.
There was no one in sight which unnerved her slightly as after all she had been invited. Nervously she reached out her hand to press the little bell that was sat on the counter but before she could do so a stick thin bird-like woman emerged from the door behind it.
"Don't touch it!" she barked. "The whole place will go into code red."
Lizzie jumped and retracted her hand but on her continuing puzzled face the woman roll her beady grey eyes. "And they told me you were smart." she raised her eyebrows sceptically. "Code Red: the whole ground floor will seal itself off trapping anyone down there in the bunker below. A precautionary measure should any unassuming by-passer decide to show up; i.e. a German spy. Now you don't look like a spy to me, and I am trained to recognise these things, but you also don't look like the brilliant-minded young girl that I was told you were. Pity…" she muttered shaking her head. "Well maybe you'll prove me wrong." she added sceptically shoving multiple pieces of paper under Lizzie’s nose. “The Official Secrets Act. You need to sign it before I let you beyond this point. Basically you can’t tell anyone about anything you see or hear during your time here, you can’t hint, mime, forget you’re not allowed, nothing. There’s no loophole so once you sign you stay silent.” Lizzie nodded and started to read the first of a whole pile of pages that she had been handed. But apparently she wasn’t supposed to read them, she was just supposed to trust that they were genuine, for the woman started tutting and added indignantly, “trust me there is no loophole there’s no point in looking for one.”
“I wasn’t.” said Lizzie alarmed, but not wanting to do anything else to make this woman dislike her any more than she apparently already did, she hurriedly glanced through the rest of the sheets and signed her name.
The woman nodded briskly and led Lizzie out of the reception and down an equally bare corridor. Lizzie followed trying not to be too alarmed or offended at how quickly and harshly the woman had judged her on, as far as Lizzie could tell, little to no grounds. "Anyway," the woman regained her brisk business-like tone, "we also have various contraptions in place so that if a German invasion was to occur and the Germans came in here the same code red clamp down would occur. For example ... DON'T STEP ON THAT FLOORBOARD GIRL!" she shouted causing Lizzie to jump out of her skin and pull back the foot that was inches from the board that the woman was pointing at.
 "Remember that floorboard, everyone here knows not to step on it therefore only an intruder would do so. Hence it's rigged to set off code red."
Lizzie nodded and desperately attempted to memorise the exact appearance of the particular board. They made their way through a series of cream-painted, plain corridors that all looked exactly the same; Lizzie suspected they were deliberately designed that way in an attempt to confuse the intruder that this bizarre woman seemed so paranoid about. On thinking this Lizzie realised just how rude she was being and hurriedly asked, "Sorry, what was your name?"
"That's for me to know." she snapped as if the question had been offensive, "just call me what you want and then if you're caught no one will be able to trace me."
Lizzie blinked several times, before deciding not to even bother asking what she might be caught doing, knowing that she wouldn't get an answer.
"Here we are." the woman barked after a few more minutes. "When you go through this door don't gasp, stare or scream. They seem to think you're cut out for this. Me, I'm not so sure."
Lizzie tried not to show the alarm she was feeling as she tentatively pushed open the door, except she didn't get very far before a fist thrust it open from the other side and she found herself face-to-face with the end of a pistol. And for the first time today she surprised herself at her own calmness as she smiled at the tall blonde haired girl pointing it and said breezily, "If you shoot me now you'll never know why I'm here." But what surprised her even more was the grin that spread across the girl’s face as she tossed the pistol to the floor and grabbed Lizzie's hand to shake it.
"Hi Lizzie!" she grinned toothily. "Come on in."
She pulled her into what looked like an enormous gym hall full of girls doing...everything. They were boxing, wrestling, shooting, meditating, playing hockey, every single sport you could think of. And then, branching off to the side divided by glass panels were classrooms. It was hectic yet organised as the room was filled with people yet each person seemed to have a specific task from which they did not stray.
"It looks impressive," the blonde haired girl interrupted her out of her thoughts, "but it's nothing really, you could be an expert in here but nine times out of ten it won't even make a difference when you're out there. All down to luck really, although it's worth the training in case you are that tenth person." 
And as Lizzie stared around the room everything seemed to click into place, the gun, the floorboard, the doorbell, code red. "You're spies." she breathed.
"Bit slow aren't you?" The girl stared incredulously, "We're assassins, or we will be if we ever get out of this god-forsaken place. You're lucky, you won't be here long they've got a special task planned for you."
"What is it?" Lizzie asked startled.
"I don't know. I just know they've got one." she shrugged and bent down to retrieve the pistol lying at her feet. "Here," she handed it to her, "have a go."
She nodded nervously and aimed at the target, an outline of a body, in front of her before pulling the trigger. "Not bad” said the girl as she examined the bullet hole through the rib cage, "might've just got a major artery there; I only hit his ear on my first attempt and let's face it who needs two ears? I'm Jen by the way, Jen Porter."
"And who was the woman that showed me in?" Lizzie asked.
"Oh that would've been Beaky. No one knows what she's really called; she won't tell anyone. We think she might've faked her own death in a previous assassination and so now she can't be used again in case she gets caught.
But she had barely finished her sentence when she was flat on her back on the floor and a short dark-haired girl with thick-framed glasses stood grinning in her place.
"Sorry about her." She gestured to Jen who was wincing on the ground. "She's probably boring you to death, I sometimes think that's why they chose her to be an assassin; no way of getting caught - the ultimate murder. I'm Clara by the way."
"I'm Lizzie." Lizzie replied but before the words were out of her mouth Jen had pulled Clara's legs from underneath her and the pair now lay in a heap at Lizzie's feet. She helped them both up, the three of them laughing.
"You'd better watch out Jen; I'll get you back. I'd sleep with one eye open if I were you." She winked at Lizzie and Lizzie grinned happily, she'd been here less than an hour and already she felt like Highway House was where she was meant to be.

 

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