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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11. Glitz, Glamour and a Whole Lot of Flirting

It was eight o’clock and Lizzie stood on the corner, a few streets from her hotel to be on the safe side, in the periwinkle blue dress that reached half way down her thigh; far more daring than Lizzie McMorely would ever have worn. The material floated over her frame, clinging in just the right places to show off her figure. Lizzie had never particularly liked the way she looked, she was sort of pretty if she made an effort but not beautiful and not model thin either. However she had learned in the time that she had spent so far as Mary and Julia that it didn’t matter how you looked; if you acted confidently enough then everyone thought you were stunning regardless. So tonight she had tripled the amount of make-up that she would ordinarily wear even as Julia, so that her lashes resembled a pair of black fans highlighting the way in which she fluttered them when flirting, and her lips were stained pink, the ultimate colour for a girl who did not wish to be taken seriously. And that was her aim, she was to float by in the background, chatter unimportant nonsense, but ultimately avoid any topic of conversation which might lead to difficult questions.

Her taxi arrived and took her to a marvellous town house with more floors than Lizzie could count in the fading light, despite the trails of fairly lights marking out the marble steps up to the porch. It seemed to be the peak time to arrive for half a dozen more taxis were parked outside and a flow of elegant women were being escorted by their husbands and chauffeurs up the steps. Lizzie was thankful to see that she was neither over nor under-dressed and in fact had managed to land quite perfectly in between the two. She stepped out of the taxi as gracefully as she could given the high heeled shoes she was wearing, and made her way up to the doors feeling quite out-of-place but not showing it in the least. As she got closer she could see Hans stood just inside the porch, she was sure that he had been waiting for her for when he saw her his eyes lit up and he began to walk towards her.

"I didn't think you would come." He admitted.

"Why ever not?" She smiled and winked at him, feeling guilt trickle through her chest knowing that she was leading him on horribly. "I said I'd be here didn’t I?"
"Yes, of course." He blushed.

"It doesn't matter," she said hurriedly, worried that he felt humiliated. “I am here now." She offered him her arm which he took and steered her into the ballroom.

The room was as beautiful as one would expect from such a grand house. It was gold and glorious with a beautifully engraved ceiling showing angels chasing one another. Enormous chandeliers hung from multiple places which were made of crystals shaped like teardrops. Waiters were gliding across the room carrying gold trays lined with rows of filled champagne glasses.

"Did I tell you that you look beautiful tonight?" whispered Hans in her ear making her smile and laugh a little.

"You men are easily pleased." She replied throwing her head back a little as she did.
He led her over to a group of men and women lounging across a table in a corner of the room.
"Hu-hum." He cleared his throat and they turned to look at him. "This is Julia." Their gazes flicked over to Lizzie where they glanced her over. A few of them smiled, most frowned whilst giving her cold icy stares. Feeling slightly unnerved she glanced up at Hans who glared at them and quickly asked her to dance, steering her away from the group.
"Well they didn't seem pleased to meet me." Lizzie said airily trying to act amused rather than put out by their attitude, as they waltzed.
"Don't worry about them, they're just old fashioned." he replied.
Lizzie smiled though inside she frowned feeling like there was something she was missing. For a start old-fashioned was a strange choice of words and secondly people didn't act like that to a person they had just met usually. Could they detect she was English? No, she was sure they couldn't, her accent was more believable that most actual Germans’. Still there was something. They finished their dance and headed over to sit on a bench on the balcony outside, but they had barely sat down when a rather forward young girl, Lizzie thought, with dark curly hair approached and asked Hans to dance.
"I-um..." He hesitated for a moment and looked at Lizzie.
"Oh you must!" Lizzie exclaimed. "Don't let me stop you!"
He looked a little wistfully back at her as the girl steered him towards the dance floor. Now that Hans had gone she had the chance to mingle a little; he hadn't seemed keen for her to talk to his friends after their less than friendly welcome, however she was curious, so when she saw a man she recognised from the group earlier, one of the few that had smiled at her, she decide to go and talk to him.
"Have you got a light?" She asked indicating to the cigarette. She didn't smoke, she, what they called at Highway House, "social-smoked". Basically she smoked when it was necessary to start a conversation with someone who had some information she wanted. The man nodded and held out his lighter. Lizzie lit it and inhaled deeply.
"So, Julia...?"
"Wreath." She smiled slightly.
"Wreath." He repeated in his husky, deep voice. "That sounds English."
"I have some English family on my father's side." She replied airily, aware that her attempt to avoid difficult questions tonight was never a realistic aim.
"I see," He replied, "so you and Mr Von Heinzer, how long have you been together?"
"We're not together." Lizzie said trying to sound haughty and irksome, "I only met him last week. And I must say I don't quite believe that you're his friend, you don't even call him by his first name!"
He chuckled irritatingly. "I'm not as you put it, Mr Von Heinzer's friend, I am a journalist and you are a particularly interesting story."
Her head spun as she thought of her encounter with the media that very same morning, had he been part of the crowd? She couldn’t recall any of their faces. "How am I a good story? I've barely known Hans five minutes. And why are you here if you’re a journalist?" She demanded.
"Because my delightful young lady,” he said and she frowned knowing that he must be being sarcastic because she had been anything but delightful towards him so far tonight, “for the Von Heinzer's we journalists are as good as friends, possibly better. Without the press they would be nothing. They have a party, they want everyone to know about it and wish that they had been invited. That is how they remain at the top of the social ladder; everyone wants to be them, and we, the media, show everyone why they want to be them. And as for you being a good story, why you have appeared at a party with one of the most eligible men in Germany, and not only that but one that is engaged to be married!"
"Engaged?" Lizzie gasped, as it all made sense in her mind; the cold looks from his friends, the way he didn't want her near them and that strange question that one of the journalists earlier had asked her; Do you have a personal vendetta against Miss Engel? Or are your motives purely selfish?
"Ah so you didn't know. I suspected as much." He frowned. "Well don't be too broken-hearted."
Offended Lizzie replied, "You under-estimate me greatly..."
"Karl" he offered.
"You under-estimate me Karl. I have a heart of steel which is not so fragile as to be broken by any man I have known all of five minutes. Now if you'll excuse me." She turned abruptly and started towards Hans who was just coming off the dance floor.
"Julia, I am sorry to have left you..." He began but she cut him off.
"Hans listen, I know about your engagement."
His faced paled. "I, please hear me out, my mother set up the match for me, the girl is the daughter of one of the most important men in Austria, and she believes it will improve her social status further. I do not wish to marry the girl, I barely know her. Please believe me I do like you a lot, she is nothing to me." He paused searching her face for her reaction.
"You barely know me either." Lizzie pointed out, determined that now she had been given an opportunity to stop leading Hans on she was going to take it. "Hans, your mother knows what is best for you, she only cares for your happiness I am sure and you will be happy with this girl. Please let us be friends, I know you did not mean to hurt me and you have not. I ask that we end this discussion now and move on as friends." She smiled, but this time it was not "Julia's film star smile", it was a friendly smile.
"I, of course I understand." He nodded looking rather downhearted.
"Now, I believe that young lady in the corner is really hoping that you'll ask her to dance, why not indulge her?" She said and he nodded again and turned to leave her and as he did she breathed a deep sigh of relief.
"Not bad." came a deep voice from behind her. "You've just absolutely blown my story out of the water."
"And what would the headline have been?" Lizzie asked, smiling slightly.
"New girl in town charms Von Heinzer away from a match made in heaven?" She could hear the laughter in his voice as he teased.
"So you think I'm charming." Lizzie flashed him a dazzling smile.
"I said Mr. Von Heinzer finds you charming, there's a difference so don't let it go to your head."
"I take it you won't be asking me out for a drink at the end of the evening then?" She winked at him.
"Well I never said that now did I?" He said just as the orchestra began to play another waltz. He smiled and took her arm, and as he led her out into the dance floor Lizzie felt her heart flutter in a way that had nothing to do with the champagne nor flirtatious persona of Julia Wreath.

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