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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3. Bugs

Over the next few days Lizzie attended some of the most bizarre classes she'd ever dreamed of in her life: a class on stalking without arousing suspicion, attaching a bomb to the bumper of a car, how to make a death look like suicide and her favourite class; adopting a new identity. It was in this lesson that Lizzie really excelled. Adopting a different persona came surprisingly easily to her; she was Marie a young French girl on holiday in London, Catherine a lady's maid in a large country house, or Annabelle a top German journalist, she could be anyone she wanted to be. Whilst they were all assured that most of the time when assuming a new identity someone here at Highway House would draw up all the necessary paperwork, they were also told that there would be times where this would not be possible and hence they would have to adopt the character of someone already in existence. It was at this point in the lesson that Miss Johnson took the opportunity to delight the girls with one of the many tales from her past. Enthralled with the story, Lizzie along with the rest of her classmates sat in absolute silence listening to an extraordinary tale of armed thieves, several corrupt CIA agents and half a dozen ships carrying about six million dollars worth of opium.
 Meanwhile Lizzie and the five other girls in her dormitory were embarking on a mission of their own. Lizzie was shaken awake at three o’clock in the morning by Jen on her third night at Highway House. Soon the six girls were huddled in duvets on the end of Jen's bed whilst she recounted a conversation she had heard whilst fetching a drink. "It was Miss Chart talking to Beaky about you Lizzie; she said you were a fast learner and Beaky said you'd need to be where you were going and that it couldn't wait much longer." Jen whispered excitedly as the girls glanced around at each other. "We knew they had a plan for you Lizzie, this must be it."
Clara interrupted Jen's stream of excited chatter. "But we don't even know what this mission is." 
"We'll find out." Jen smiled confidently, "We're at Highway House for a reason; we're smart. We'll find out."
 The funny thing was that although Lizzie had only known these girls for a few days she didn't doubt that they would find out. She was utterly convinced that she was sitting amongst the cleverest and most cunning girls in the country and that if they couldn’t find out what the mission was then that was because there was no mission. So when Becky, a tall girl with light brown hair that reached down to her waist, entered the dormitory one night and tipped a dozen buttons out from her bra onto the bed Lizzie grinned knowing that things were about to get interesting.
"What are they?" she asked excitedly.
"Bugs," Becky winked, "the Soviet Union have been developing them for ages, God knows how they got to Highway House, through one of the staff I suppose, but anyway here we are! Me, and Sophie are going to set up a monitor in here so we can listen the footage while you, Jen, Clara and Sal attach them somewhere on every member of staff."
No one asked how they were expected to manage such a task because everyone knew the answer; they were Highway House girls. Instead Lizzie hopped up off the bed, her dark fishtail plait swinging as she fell into step behind the others.
"Okay," mimed Jen in sign language once they were in the corridor. "Clara and I will take the men, you two do the women. Meet back here in half an hour and if you’re late we'll come and look for you."
Sal nodded, her mass of blonde curls bobbing up and down.
"Wait!" Sal mimed, "I think we might be in need of a quick trip to Basement Three first."
The first glimpse of Basement Three that Lizzie McMorely ever got was completely blocked by a giant retinal scanner that descended from the ceiling above them. If Lizzie hadn’t been so concerned with the fact that they were about to get caught then she would’ve exclaimed that even the man that came up with the idea of a retinal scanner predicted that one wouldn’t be in existence for another thirty years! But instead she turned to face the others in panic only to be met by a shining glass replica of Madame Alleuret's chestnut brown eye held out towards the scanner by Clara who shrugged and said, "well if the staff in this place are stupid enough to teach us how to replicate the limbs of a victim, then they should at least be prepared for us to use it."
The scanner let the four girls pass quite easily, a credit to Clara's glass-blowing skills, and Lizzie found herself face to face with an enormous laboratory. White granite desks formed orderly rows across the room, on top of which a number of fizzing, bubbling and simply odd looking concoctions appeared to be brewing. "There's a group of developing poisons in here at the moment." Jen whispered, in explanation to the puzzlement on her face. Lizzie nodded as if this was an everyday thing for a class to be doing, because at Highway House it was.
Lining the room were an assortment of different machines that looked like they belonged to a factory, with tiny pieces of metal scattered around them.
"Over here" whispered Sal as she rummaged through a small red box, pulling out 4 bright red tubes of something and handing them round. “The stickiest glue you’ll find anywhere on the planet. It’ll survive anything so there’s no need for fiddling about with needles."
 Not five minutes later the four girls were back above ground.
"Okay half an hour, go go go." whispered Clara as she and Jen took a sharp left towards the staff room whilst Sal and Lizzie carried on towards the stairs climbing the three flights that would take them to the best possible place to conceal a button; a laundry room.
"Okay," whispered Sal, “keep watch here, if anyone comes greet them by their name so I know whether to get out." Lizzie nodded, and turned to resume a lookout post outside the door.
"Sal," she whispered through the crack in the door, "bring me out something that's just been washed so if anyone comes I have a reason for being here."
Moments later Sal appeared at the door and handed her a plain white dressing gown. "Good idea."
The minutes ticked by slowly as Sally kept her updated with whose coats she had swapped the buttons on and whose pieces of clothing she couldn't find. Lizzie was almost on the point of falling asleep when she heard footsteps pacing down the corridor. She didn't dare breathe a warning to Sal in case it was Beaky who had the ears of a hawk. There was a rumour that she had been deafened by a gun fight in Russia and her ears had actually been re-built using the stem cells of a hawk. Her brained whirred as she stood poised with the dressing gown ready to meet whoever it was. Sure enough seconds later Beaky rounded the corner carrying a bag full of laundry, and stared down the corridor at Lizzie who called out to her. "Beaky, oh sorry, Miss." She purposely slipped in the word Beaky as a code to Sal who was still inside the laundry room. "Please," she called out "I've forgotten which of the floorboards sets off code red and I'm too scared to move in case I get it wrong."
Beaky narrowed her eyes as she approached. "It's the one on your left." Her voice was full of suspicion.
"Are you sure though?" Lizzie cried desperately, "I thought it was the one on the right."
"No no it's the left." Beaky said confidently.
"There are just so many boards that set it off its easy to get confused between them and I don't want to wake everyone up for a false alarm." Lizzie said.
"For goodness sake girl, how are you going to survive in the real world if you can't even manage to remember a simple floorboard? I have a map in my room; I'd better fetch it for you before you wake the whole place up on your way back upstairs." She turned to leave but Lizzie called out.
"Do you want me to put those in the laundry for you whilst you fetch it?"
"Yes yes that would be good." She muttered and threw the bag down the corridor to Lizzie. "I'll be back." She nodded and started back down the corridor. Once Lizzie could no longer hear footsteps she whispered through the crack in the door, "Sal I've got Beaky's laundry but you'd better be quick she'll be back in a minute." Sal appeared momentarily, grabbed the washing and disappeared back inside.
"Okay I'm off," Lizzie heard Sal whisper, "I can't be here when Beaky gets back. I know a way out up the ventilation system. Meet you back with the others."
"Got it." she whispered back.
A few minutes later Beaky returned to hand Lizzie the map and yet again tell her that if she couldn't remember such a simple fact as the appearance of a floorboard then she was not cut out for Highway House. But Lizzie was hardly listening as she sped down the corridors back to where the other three girls were stood waiting.
"Nice job." winked Clara once they were back in their room, "I heard you fooled Beaky and that's hard to do."
 
 

The next few days seemed to drag as the six of them listened to hours of useless conversation between staff. However they did learn that the rumour that Mr Stantham, a member of MI5 who visited occasionally to take the odd class, personally knew Abraham Lincoln's assassin was true! On the fourth evening Sal and Clara were discussing other possible strategies for finding out Lizzie's task. Clara was all for breaking into Beaky’s quarters and holding her hostage in Basement Seven until she cracked, however as Sal pointed out there were two significant flaws in that plan; the first being that they were taught at Highway House never to crack during interrogation and so it seemed very unlikely that Beaky would, and secondly that once released Beaky was very capable of ending all of their lives for doing such a thing to her. They continued this debate until Becky called out. "Listen!"
Miss Johnson, the woman who had masqueraded as a nun in California in order to poison a rogue FBI agent with his communion, had just said Lizzie's name. "I think she's ready, she's mastered taking on different identities better than most girls do in a life time."
"She managed to lose a six person trail on the field trip the other day." added Mr Stantham.
"But in Germany she's going to be facing much worse than a six person trail." interrupted Beaky. "She'll be lucky to make it over the border let alone come anywhere near Hitler."
"If we leave it much longer he'll have killed half of Europe Cynthia," Clara snickered, and Lizzie knew it was because they had finally learnt Beaky's real name. "She must go. She has a better chance than you think. There’s nothing that should draw suspicion to her; a fascist sympathiser visiting Germany, there are plenty of them."
"Not plenty that have a past such as having been here, they can dig around others as much as they want and not find anything, if they discover Lizzie then she won't be seen again."
"That's just the nature of the task. She's as ready for it now as she'll ever be." said Madame Alleuret.
"Agreed." added Miss Johnson.
But Beaky interrupted, "We have to be sure, we have to be one hundred percent certain she's ready or she's dead and there’s a good chance that Highway House will be over. We need a test."
"And if she passes we fly her out immediately." Miss Johnson nodded.
 The room was silent. No one spoke. No one even breathed. Finally Lizzie, who found the silence extremely unnerving as nothing was supposed to be able to shock these girls, spoke. "So Germany, I go there and try and get near Hitler.... and then what?"
"Are you stupid?" asked Jen incredulously.
"No she's just in shock." whispered Sophie.
"We're assassins Lizzie, what do you think comes next?"
"I've got to assassinate Hitler." Lizzie breathed.
"You are so lucky!" Burst out Clara who seemed to have been holding this in the whole time they'd been listening and was now unable to contain herself any longer. "This is the best job there is! There is no one, no one that will be higher up the hit list. You'll get all the equipment, everything!"
"Sounds like she's going to need it." said Sal gravely. "He's been at the top of the hit list because so many people have failed. We might be Highway House girls but let's face it we're not the government’s first port-of-call for something like this. We're women, and women barely out of university at that."
"Sal's got a point." Becky spoke for the first time. "They're desperate that’s why they chose Lizzie."
"Well thanks that makes me feel great!" said Lizzie sarcastically.
"They underestimate us Lizzie." Sophie piped up. "We're Highway House girls and they just don't understand quite what that means. We're the best there is; you're the best there is."
"Sometimes the best isn't good enough though." Lizzie sighed. "This is Hitler I've got to assassinate."

 

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