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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20. Playing the Hero

When she returned to her hotel room that night Lizzie felt entirely relieved that she finally had a plan. Well there wasn’t really a plan yet, but she had an opportunity which she could develop a plan around, and that was the next best thing. But Lizzie was not one for thinking in confined spaces, particularly in such a space that had a statue of the person she was plotting against watching her through the window. So when she got up the next day she decided to take a walk and hopefully get some inspiration along the way. 
Although she was wandering aimlessly and without purpose, something within her subconscious took her back to the bombed out street where Nadia Kozlov had been dwelling for those two weeks Lizzie had known her, and quite possibly ever since her first failed assassination attempt. She stood before the tiny shelter that looked in an even worse state than when Lizzie had last visited the mud-caked structure of sheets. The sheet that had been the roof was now non-existent, most likely blown away by the wind or the impact of a bomb exploding, the sticks that Nadia had been using to prop it up had gone, but not far, they had been used to extend a similar structure across the street amongst whose inhabitants were the girl and the boy that Lizzie had seen when she had come to visit Nadia before. It was pitiful that war had brought such a scene upon a street. Lizzie stood for a while longer in front of the pile of bricks and what were once sheets before moving on, there was no point in wasting what time she had to plan her next attack standing in a bombed out street. Even so she was sad to be leaving, she wouldn’t come back she knew, this was goodbye to Nadia from her.
She wandered slowly back through the many destroyed streets glad to finally reach one that was intact, although she wasn’t glad for long. She heard it before she saw it; someone was screaming, someone was crying, and in the midst of it all, someone was shooting. Lizzie rounded the corner and stared down the street that the commotion was coming from. Just a few houses away a large brown van with the swastika painted on the side was parked on the edge of the road. Two soldiers had bludgeoned the door of the house down and were stood in the middle of the street. One was holding a screaming woman by the scruff of her neck while a child, no more than a toddler, cowered crying at her feet, the other firing shots into the air and yelling apparently at someone still inside the building, to hurry up. Lizzie didn't want to draw attention to herself; she seemed to be getting enough unwanted attention recently as it was, so she crossed to the opposite side of the street and continued walking. Just as she approached the men seemed to get fed up of waiting for whoever was inside, the soldier who was holding onto the woman dropped her to the floor and they marched into the house shooting as they did. The woman lay in the dirt on the street shaking. Lizzie knew she should keep her head down, knew there were enough people after her as it was, but still she couldn't just watch this happen. Glancing around her she dashed across the street and helped the woman to her feet.
"Shhh" she said quietly putting her finger over her lips to indicate to the child to keep quiet. "Come with me and hurry."
"My husband." The woman stuttered pointing at the house.
"You need to save yourself and your little boy." said Lizzie desperately. "He'd want to you to run. Now come!"
Thankfully the woman picked up her son and followed her as she began to run through the street as fast as she could. She knew they were drawing attention to themselves but they didn't have time to worry about that. The soldiers would be back any second. They sprinted through the street and the through the next. Lizzie heard shots fired from the street they had just left and then the sound of a vehicle roaring to life. The soldiers were on their tail. But they were a matter of feet from the entrance to the underground, they were so close, they had to make it. Then she heard a cry from behind her and she turned around to see the woman lying spread-eagled on the floor, she ran back to help but just as she reached her the van rounded the corner and started speeding towards them. There was no time.
"Number 3, Kardinal Street." Breathed the woman heavily at Lizzie and thrust her son into Lizzie's arms. There wasn't time to hesitate, Lizzie just ran. She heard the engine cut out, doors slam, a single shot was fired and then a dull thud. The woman was dead. They had seen her helping her, taking the child; they would be chasing her by now. But she was already down the steps, and just to the left of her was a platform where she could see a train waiting. She didn't know where it was going but neither did she care, she pushed herself into the crowd of people already on it just as the doors slid shut and the train began to move. She just had time to look out the window as the two soldiers sprinted onto the platform. But it was too late, they were gone.
Lizzie bought tickets for the furthest stop that the train would take them when the conductor came round, she had no idea where Kardinal Street was, all she knew was that she was heading south, but as long as she was far away from those soldiers she didn’t really care. The train got emptier the further they went from the centre of Berlin and soon two seats became free and they were able to sit down. The boy was just a toddler but it was easy enough to see why the soldiers were after him and his parents. On the little grey jacket he was wearing there was sewn a badge displaying a yellow six-pointed star; the Star of David. They were Jews. It explained how the soldiers had treated the boy’s parents, the Nazi’s despised Jews more than anyone else, and they despised a lot of people. The only thing the boy, scarcely older than a baby, had done was to be born into a Jewish family, just like all his parents had done was hold a particular set of beliefs. Lizzie knew she had broken every rule she had ever been taught at Highway House by helping this boy and attempting to help his mother, but if being an assassin meant she couldn’t have morals as well then maybe she wasn’t cut out for it just like Beaky, whose real name she now knew was Lucya, had always said. But it really wouldn't be a good idea for her to start dwelling on that now, just a week before she was set to attempt one of the most important assassinations that could take place at the current time.
The train reached the end of the line and there was nothing for Lizzie to do except get off. The boy had started crying again anyway and people were starting to stare at her. Without a clue as to where on earth she was, she picked up the boy and left the autobahn. She found herself on a street quite unlike any other she had seen during her stay in Berlin. She was still in the city but there were parks and the houses had gardens, everything was far more rural and Lizzie felt much more relaxed away from the bustle of the crowds and vehicles. She walked for a few streets until she came across a small bed and breakfast and realising that it would soon be dark, decided that they'd be far safer spending the night away from the centre of Berlin.
Cautiously she pushed the door of the bed and breakfast open, the sign above it swinging as she did, and was greeted by the tiny jingle of a bell. Inside she could feel the difference from the middle of the city just as clearly as outside. The entrance hall was decorated far more like a home than a hotel, paintings and photographs hung on the walls and the furniture looked very cosy and comfortable but wasn't matching. Almost immediately an elderly woman with grey curly hair and an apron tied around her waist appeared smiling broadly and welcomed them.
"He is a beautiful boy." She said pointing to the child in Lizzie's arms.
Lizzie decided it was better not to pretend that he was hers because she was entirely foreign to caring for a child and was sure that that would become obvious if she were to stay the night here. "He is my nephew." She fabricated. "She and her husband were killed in a bombing raid three nights ago. I am taking him to live with his grandparents."
"Ah I am so sorry!" The woman shook her head. "It is so terrible the stories you hear these days, so many children will grow up orphans after this war. This little one is lucky he still has family to care for him."
Lizzie nodded her agreement. "Could we have a room just for tonight?" She asked.
"Of course, of course, as many nights as you need." She handed Lizzie a key who took it and handed the woman some notes saying that it would just be the one night because she really should get the boy to his grandparents as they'd be worried about him.
She awoke the next morning to light pouring in the window. She was surprised she had slept in so late it must be nearing nine o'clock. The room had a homely warmth to it and the yellow eiderdown and walls gave it an uplifting feeling. The boy had woken twice in the night crying but had soon enough gone back to sleep. She hated referring to him as "the boy" he look old enough to be talking at least a bit, but he seemed to be on some sort of silent protest at the disappearance of his mother, so for now at least "the boy" would have to do.
They departed early; had some breakfast and then left straight away. However Lizzie was done with running without a destination and so she asked the old woman who ran the bed and breakfast if she had a map of Berlin. Crossing her fingers seemed to have worked this time for the map that the woman brought out was as detailed a map as any Lizzie could have wished for. She took a while over breakfast to look at it in closely and found Kardinal Street without too much trouble. She also located the train that would get them there and was relieved to find that it was but a twenty minute walk away.
They began the walk to the station, Lizzie carrying the boy who cried every time she set him down for a moment even if it was just to tie her shoelace. The bitterness of winter was prominent in the air now and she hurried as best she could, not wishing the child to catch a cold. They reached the station to find they just had half an hour to wait until their train arrived so they sat in the station café which was not uncomfortable and Lizzie bought the boy a biscuit to nibble on. The train arrived and Lizzie was surprised at how short the journey was, as in what felt like no time later they were stood outside number 3 Kardinal Street.
The house was quite large and obviously well cared for as despite the grey soot that seemed to have stained every wall in Berlin due to the air raids, this house had a recently seen a fresh layer of white paint and cheerful red curtains hung from the windows. Lizzie had no idea what on earth she was going to say, she had no idea of the boy or his parents’ names or really why she was here other than the name of this house was the last thing the boy’s mother had said to her. An elderly woman still wearing a dressing gown and slippers opened the door and stared down at them.
And then a small miracle happened. “Nana!” The boy in Lizzie’s arms cried and reached out towards the woman who stared at him her eyes wide before seemingly snapping out of it and taking him from her before ushering her inside.
“Come come.” She insisted pushing Lizzie into the sitting room where Lizzie sat on one of their beautiful cream sofas, before calling her husband down from upstairs shouting “It’s Abe he has been brought to us by a young girl!” Then she asked for the story. “You have brought us Abe, you must explain what has happened!”
So Lizzie explained though she hated having to tell them about the death of the boy’s mother and most probably his father too. Neither of, what turned out to be the boy, Abe’s paternal grandparents cried, they both just accepted it and Lizzie realised that they were probably very used to hearing of the deaths of their family.
“Thank you for telling us that.” The woman said finally. “It is a relief for us to know what happened to them, our two daughters and their families went missing some weeks ago and we haven’t heard a thing. It is better to know than to hope when there is no hope. And thank you for bringing us Abe. He would be in the world to come with his parents if it weren’t for you. He deserves the chance to live his life.”
Lizzie didn’t know what to say, they were kindly overlooking the fact that their daughter-in-law was dead because of her, true she was probably going to be killed anyway, but it had been brought about more quickly by Lizzie convincing her to try and escape. She didn’t want to mention it but still Lizzie left as hurriedly as she could, refusing to stay for lunch instead saying that she had to be somewhere. She said goodbye to Abe and was thanked multiple times more by his grandparents and departed. She was glad to be away from there, she felt guilty though it was true that Abe would probably be dead but for her. Having to impart the news of his parents’ death made her feel as if she was the one who had committed the murders, silly as it was. Still she felt oddly lonely as she walked back to the train station and travelled back to her hotel in the centre of Berlin, she missed having company even if it was that of a toddler who refused to speak.
 
 
 
On returning to her hotel that afternoon Lizzie discovered a letter waiting for her at reception.
"It came this morning Miss," the receptionist told her, "looks foreign I'd say."
She thanked the man and sped up to her room to open it. The misadventure just two days before at the department store had been a harsh reminder of the existence of a traitor.
 
Dear my beloved friend,
 
The letter read; Lizzie knew Clara wouldn't have wanted to write a name in case she'd had to change identity again.
 
I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed the book; it's one of my favourites. As for Elizabeth Bennett’s decision I am still rather clueless but I believe the answer lies in the conversation she overheard at the party. I am sure that none of her sisters would wish her ill but those who were discussing her may have not wished her to be with Mr Darcy. I hope this has enlightened you somewhat and has at least given you something to think about before you embark on another of Jane Austen's novels.
Best Wishes.
Your book-loving companion.
 
Lizzie re-read the letter several times. Clara didn't know exactly who had betrayed her that was for sure, however she suggested that it wasn't one of their roommates but one of the staff. One of the staff who they had overheard talking about the mission - that was what Clara meant when she said "the conversation she overheard at the party." Lizzie knew it made sense, they knew her identity as Mary Eliza Jenkins, that was how the tails first found her, and then, they either recognised her as Julia or was notified of her change in identity. The chances of being recognised so quickly when there had never been anything published about her and Hans were slim. Which meant this person knew she had become Julia, knew she had become Julia when no one had been told about the passports because of the fear that that traitor would find out. So it was someone that was in on the secret, which left only one person, the person who had come up with idea of sending the passports. They had made sure she Lizzie, didn't change her identity to something they didn't know about, like she had been about to do before she got to the garage, and then they had given the names of the passports to the Gestapo. This was the work of the same person, who had tried to stop her coming to Germany in the first place, had tried to get her arrested at the Houses of Parliament. A person who, as Jen had said “had been to Germany a thousand times, had all sorts of contacts there and knew the Secret Service”. And the only person who could've done all of that was Mr Stantham.
Grabbing her notebook, Lizzie went about composing a letter to Clara.
 
Dear Clara,
I was delighted to hear your thought-provoking interpretation of Pride and Prejudice. It has made me realise that Elizabeth Bennett cannot trust the person who is closest to her; Mr Darcy. It was he that originally suggested that she was not pretty. It is possible even that because of her hostility towards him he had adopted the saying "keep your friends close and you enemies closer." He alone knew her the best and knew she would be offended by his character yet he still acted to hurt her. I believe the moral of this story is not to trust those who instigate the actions that lead to disastrous consequences. I hope I might be able to visit you soon and we shall be able to discuss this further.
Best wishes,
Julia
 
Clara would understand what she was trying to say in that letter she knew, but she was still worried as to whether Mr Stantham might read the letter before Clara had a chance to. On the other hand, the press conference was a mere week away and if she managed to complete her task then there would be no time for anyone to intercept the letter and act against her. She thanked God that he wasn’t an actual teacher at Highway House otherwise he would’ve been able to spill all of their secrets to the Nazis and she was sure that there wouldn’t still be a Highway House if he had. There was nothing she could do here in Germany about it anyway. Therefore Lizzie had to be content with putting the disturbing revelation out of her mind and focusing on the task in hand: the time had come to put her lesson in building a bomb to good use.
She placed the contents of the package she had been given on the little table in the corner of the room. It seemed so much longer than a couple months ago that she had been sat in class with her roommates being taught the mechanisms of timed explosives, so much had happened since then. The bomb proved to be quite a challenge, more because Lizzie was not equipped with any of the usual tools; pliers/saws, that one should have when building such a thing. In the end she resorted to using her razor-sharp hairpins that her roommates had given her to drill holes through some of the metal.
Eventually Lizzie sat before a contraption of high explosives that was her bomb. It was quite big but still small enough to fit in a large handbag. All she had to do was wait for Thursday, turn the dial on the bomb and with a bit of luck she could return to Highway House successful. The problem was that she wasn't sure she wanted to leave Germany, the tails of agents she'd be glad to leave but during the last few weeks she'd found herself thinking about Karl far more than she liked to admit... and she wasn't sure that she was ready to give him up. But she couldn't think about that, she had been trained to be a professional and that meant keeping your mind on the job and doing what was necessary to get it done.
So with that in mind she resolved not to see Karl again unless it was strictly necessary for the operation.

 

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