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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18. Some Terrible Tasting Champagne

Lizzie stared at her reflection in the taxi window, she was wearing the canary yellow gown with bright yellow feathers hanging from her ears and one pinned to her hair which, despite her concerns that it would clash with the bleach blonde dye, glamorised the outfit nicely. Her thick black lashes and cherry red lips contrasted the yellow making them stand out even more. She did look stunning tonight, she gave Julia that. As she ascended the same marble steps that she had just over a month ago leading up to Hans’ parents house, people around stopped and stared at her vivacious appearance. Smiling slightly to herself she walked inside as quickly as she could without looking too keen, looking forward to seeing Karl’s expression when he laid eyes on her. It was worth the wait. He stared at her as she approached, blinking several times before breaking into a wide grin.
“Well I must say Miss Wreath you always look stunning but tonight you have utterly excelled yourself.” He winked. “The man who holds your heart is very lucky indeed.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him when I see him.” Lizzie teased.
Anneliese and Katja then claimed her and set about bombarding her with the names of all the men who were currently staring at her from around the room, of which there were many.
“And he’s set to become the youngest Field Marshall Germany has ever had!” exclaimed Katja, pointing to a tall, blonde haired army officer who couldn’t have been much older than Lizzie. “Oh you must dance with him Julia. If I didn’t have Klaus I’d be waltzing all night with him so do it for my sake.”
Lizzie sighed at Katja’s pleading expression and agreed but only if he came and asked her; she was not embarrassing herself by going over there.
“Don’t worry he will.” assured Katja.
Sure enough just a few minutes later the she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned around to find him right behind her.
“Would you like to dance, Miss Wreath?” he asked politely at which point Katja let out a sort of muffled squeal causing Lizzie to say yes before Katja had the chance to say anything to him.
Fritz, for that was what his name was, turned out to be terribly dull and only interested in telling her about his, clearly beloved, dog Mitzi who had a fetish for digging up worms. Lizzie smiled and nodded trying not to look too disdainful and gazed wistfully over at Karl who was chatting to Hans over in the corner at a small bar that had been set up. The dance seemed to drag and when it finally finished Lizzie was relieved to be able to claim to be thirsty and leave the floor.
“Well let me get you a drink then.” Fritz insisted and headed towards the bar whilst she rejoined Anneliese and Katja.
“Anneliese and I were just saying what a delightful couple you two looked out there Julia.” Katja said. “What did you think of him?”
“Well it’s hard to judge as he didn’t tell me anything about himself, he only talked about his dog and how he didn’t know that so many worms could live in one garden.” Lizzie rolled her eyes.
“Oh dear,” said Anneliese, “don’t worry I won’t let Katja bully you into dancing with him again.”
At this point Fritz reappeared holding out a glass of champagne for her. Lizzie thanked him and took a tiny sip but immediately put the glass down.
“This is the most awful champagne I can honestly say I have ever tasted!” she exclaimed grimacing at the aftertaste.
“Mine tastes alright.” shrugged Anneliese. But Lizzie didn’t hear what came next because there was a loud ringing in her ears. She shook her head several times to try and be rid of it and briefly saw Katja give her a strange look before the room started spinning as well. A fog seemed to be creeping over her vision, like the kind you get when you don’t blink for a long time, but no matter how hard she started blinking it wouldn’t clear. He head was getting heavier and the ringing and the fog only seemed to be getting worse. She tried to tell the others that she wasn’t feeling well and was going to get some fresh air but found that she couldn’t get her mouth to open nor could she lift her legs to walk outside. Her limbs seemed to be getting heavier and heavier, and her brain more lethargic as she struggled to control them. Her heart was hammering in her chest trying to ask what was happening to her but her brain was unable to process her thoughts and instead seemed to be collapsing in on itself, suffocating under its own weight. And then she blacked out.
When her eyes fluttered open again she found herself in a room completely foreign to her. The walls were painted a deep red and the ceiling a brilliant white with concentric rings painted in gold around the chandelier that hung from the centre of it. She was lying in the most comfortable bed she had ever experienced, cushioned by a thick white duvet and matching puffy cushions. And that was when she got the shock of her life. She looked over towards the door and noticed her arm lying next to her on the duvet with a needle stuck into it and a long tube leading up to a transparent bag on a stand filled with a dark red liquid which she had a horrible feeling was her own blood. Before she had time to panic or wonder what exactly had happened to her the bedroom door open and a man in a long white coat entered carrying a clipboard.
“Ah you’re awake Miss Wreath.” He nodded at her. “And about time too you’ve been out for a week now.”
“A week?” gasped Lizzie.
“Don’t worry we’ve been taking good care of you. I would’ve transferred you to a hospital but your friend insisted you stay here where he could look after you, which he certainly has been.”
“My friend?” asked Lizzie unable to imagine that Karl lived in a house this grand.
“That would be me.” said a familiar voice from the door, and in walked a sheepish-looking Hans Von Heinzer. “I’ve been thinking about what you said last month and you’re right, we’re much better just friends and I shouldn’t have lied to you about Miss Engel. So I was hoping to make it up to you by making sure you didn’t end in one of the horrible city hospitals.” He smiled nervously at her.
“I’m so glad you did that would’ve been truly awful.” Lizzie smiled at him. “Thank you Hans, you really are a good friend.”
Lizzie stayed at the Von Heinzer’s house for a few more days where she learned that the clear bag was cleaning her blood, and that this had been necessary because she had been drugged! Apparently there had been something in the drink that Fritz had given her and she was lucky she had drunken such a small sip of it otherwise she would have been almost certainly paralysed. Hans told her that his parents were horrified that such a thing had happened at their party and were more than happy for her to stay with them until she felt one hundred percent better as an apology. Hans visited her every morning and usually stayed for almost the entirety of the day, reading to her and keeping her up to date with everything that had happened in her absence; apparently Katja had had a terrible row with Klaus and the engagement had been on hold until he appeared at her door with an even bigger engagement ring than before at which point she had agreed to marry him again. Apparently Anneliese and Katja had both visited her a couple of times whilst she was unconscious.
“And that journalist too, what’s him name? Mr Fuerst.” Hans said, “He came to visit you too but we wouldn’t let him in because we didn’t really think you’d want to wake up to find yourself on the front page of the newspapers for getting drugged.”
Lizzie laughed. “Well your right there.” She agreed whilst struggling to contain the smile that was creeping over her face at the thought that Karl had been worried about her.
However the question remained as to why he had had to worry about her at all. Whilst she freely admitted to herself that she, Lizzie McMorely, was probably fairly near the top of any Nazi’s hit list if there really was, as she suspected, a traitor in the camp, she didn’t understand how someone had managed to come that close to her. The drink had been tampered with, not the bottle, otherwise Fritz would’ve been affected too. No this had happened somewhere between her glass being poured and her taking a sip. It could’ve been Fritz she supposed, but she didn’t find this a very likely theory. It could’ve been the bartender but it would’ve been hard with Fritz there watching, unless there had been someone there to distract him, an accomplice maybe? Or the bartender was the distraction whilst someone else spiked the drink? It was far-fetched, Lizzie knew, she was desperate to find the weakness in her defences but all she could do was resolve not to drink anything given to her by anyone else throughout the remainder of her time in Germany.
She was sorry to leave when the time came; she had enjoyed Hans’ company more than she could ever have thought that she would. Now that they had agreed just to be friends he no longer sat nervously in awe of her and as a result the conversation flowed freely as they laughed and chatted as any good friends would and she felt happier in his company than Anneliese or Katja’s. But she was feeling a lot better and didn’t want to intrude on the Von Heinzer’s kindness any longer, and she was also dying to see Karl who had left his business card with Hans to give to her. Whilst she assured Hans she didn’t want to appear in the newspaper and wouldn’t be phoning it, she took it anyway and stopped at a phone box on the way back to her hotel and dialled the number.
It was his work number and she had to get diverted through a whole ton of people, many of which were receptionists who didn’t even remember that there was a Karl Fuerst working with them but eventually Karl’s voice was on the other end of the phone.
“Julia!” he exclaimed. “You’re awake thank goodness! How are you feeling?”
“Much better thanks.” She said.
“Let me take you out, tomorrow night? It’s feels like forever since I last saw you!”
“Tomorrow night is perfect. I’ll meet you on our usual corner?”
“No you must let me pick you up from your hotel!” He insisted. “You’ve been unconscious for the last week I’m not letting you catch a cold from waiting in the street.”
“Ok ok.” She smiled to herself; it was nice to have someone worry about her. She gave him the address of her hotel, and after assuring him yet again that she was fine, hung up the phone.
She spent the rest of the next day sleeping. It was strange that after a week of sleeping she was still incredibly tired. At last it was the evening and Lizzie headed down to the hotel lobby to wait for Karl in her chiffon red dress, the same one that she had worn on their first date. He arrived right on time looking handsome in a black tuxedo, making Lizzie wish she had not wasted a week of her time in Germany unconscious.
“How are you feeling?” was the first thing he hurriedly asked her. She assured him she was fine several times before disappointing him by informing him that she had no idea who poisoned her.
“I’ve been thinking about it and I think it must have been Fritz they were trying to drug. They probably wanted to drug him and then drag him off somewhere to question him. I mean he’s quite high up in the army, I’m sure he knows a lot of information on our plans for attack on the soviets, whereas you’re just… you.” He looked bewildered. “No offense of course.”
“No you’re right,” Lizzie nodded, “it’s absurd that anyone would want me dead. I’m no one.” But of course that wasn’t true and Karl’s suggestion that someone wanted to drag Fritz off for questioning seemed a very likely reason for drugging her.
“You’re someone to me.” Karl winked, “Speaking of which we should get a move on if we want to get there on time.” He hurried her into the car and she didn’t even attempt to ask where they were going, knowing that he wouldn’t tell her if she did. It felt like they’d been driving for a while when the car pulled up outside a large dome-like building.
“What is this place?” Lizzie asked in awe.
“Come inside.” was all he replied.
He took her hand and led her up the concrete flagstones. Curiously she stepped in through the doors. “Mr Fuerst?” An old man in a simple grey suit asked.
“That’s me.” Karl nodded.
“Through this door here then.” The man indicated to the door to his left and held it open for them both to pass through.
Lizzie gasped out loud.
“I thought we’d better not try the field again.” Karl smiled broadly at her reaction.
The room took the shape of an enormous dome which would have been completely pitch black was it not for the perfect replica of the night sky which formed the ceiling far above them. The stars, what she suspected were tiny light bulbs, twinkled just as they had that night in the field and gave the room just enough light for her to be able to see a picnic rug identical to the one they’d left behind during their escape spread out in the middle of the floor.
“Do you like it?” Karl asked.
“I love it!” Lizzie whispered, not wanting to disturb the perfection that was offered to her in this room.
“I thought you might.” He smiled. “Champagne?” He held out a glass.
He’d even brought a picnic basket; she couldn’t stop smiling at the sweetness of the whole gesture. She was about to nod when she remembered the promise she had made to herself while she had been staying at Hans’ house.
“I can’t.” She said ruefully. “I promised by parents I wouldn’t drink a single thing I haven’t prepared myself from scratch until whoever drugged me at the party is discovered.”
He looked disappointed but nodded. “I understand.”
They lay stretched out on the rug pointing out constellations they recognised from their previous stargazing trip.
Karl laughed. “After your initial scepticism the other week I never thought I would turn you into stargazer but apparently my skills of persuasion are better than I thought.”
“They’re so beautiful. I can’t believe I never noticed it before.” Lizzie sighed happily.
“You’re beautiful too you know,” Karl looked across smiling at her, “far more beautiful than they are.”
She blushed not knowing what to say, Julia would take the compliment and say something witty or flirtatious, but she was Lizzie McMorely and she wasn’t really sure how to respond. But it turned out that she didn’t have to. Karl leaned slowly towards her until there were mere inches separating them, inches that seemed to be shrinking by the second as he closed the gap and brushed her lips with his. He pulled away lying back down and Lizzie lifted her head onto his chest as he stroked his fingers through her hair. They remained there a while longer until the man from outside came in to inform them that he had to lock up now so they’d have to leave. Lizzie desperately wished that they could stay longer, but feeling Karl stir underneath her head she reluctantly got to her feet.
They drove back through Berlin easy conversation flowing between them. Too soon they were back at her hotel and she bided him goodnight before heading inside. Sleepier than she felt it was possible to be given she had slept almost all day, she climbed the flights of stairs up to her room. Reaching the door she came to an abrupt halt.
It was ajar.
Someone had been in her room, someone was possibly still in her room. Making her breathing as quiet as she possibly could she listened intently. Nothing. But that didn’t mean they’d gone, they could well have heard her approaching and were just keeping quiet. She had her pistol in her handbag, she had been carrying it around everywhere since her drugging. It was risky to get it out here in the hotel but she didn’t really see that she had another option. Rummaging around her in handbag for a minute she pulled it out and held it ready in two hands. She paused for a moment, then without warning kicked the door open and stood, gun poised in the apparently empty hotel room. She didn’t dare breathe as she sped around the room checking anywhere that it was possible for someone to hide. She found no one. But it appeared that the person who had been there had found what they were looking for. One side of the of the room was in complete disarray, draws pulled out, clothes scattered all over the floor, even the little bedside table had been tipped over, yet the other side was completely untouched. This could only mean that the person or, dare she say it people, had found what it was they were looking for before they had reached the second half of the room.
Lizzie wracked her brains trying to imagine what it could be as she sorted through her various belongings that were strewn across the floor, checking over her shoulder constantly in case the person came back. Her clothes were still here, her make-up, jewellery, even her multiple passports and the note from Clara lay on the side of the room that was untouched. And then, as she thrust a handful of material onto the bed, the answer plopped into her lap. A small silver tin sat upon the red chiffon with a large dent in the lid. And Lizzie knew before she had even opened it what she would not find inside: the one remaining dented mint was gone. It was proof they had wanted, proof that she had been involved with Nadia Kozlov, proof that it was her who had provided the distraction on the train, proof that she wanted Hitler dead; and they had got it. She slumped down on the bed. What did they need proof for? Because the traitor was back in England and had no idea what she was getting up to here in Germany. But the more worrying question was what they would use the proof for? Now that they had it did that mean that they could act against her in some way? They had already done that with the attempted drugging. Or were they just stopping her doing anything like that again? She didn’t know and that frightened her. But now that they had found her here she would need to move on, to a different hotel, this one was no longer safe.
 
 
 
After a night of next to no sleep and jumping ten foot in the air every time she heard the slightest noise, Lizzie packed up belongings and checked out of the hotel. Stood on the open street she felt vulnerable, cars rushed past her, people shouted things across the road at each other. But she was not part of it. No one would know if she had vanished, had been attacked last night after all. She was no one to all of these people. Shaking her head to rid herself of such negative thoughts she hailed a taxi and told the driver to take her to the whichever hotel he liked as long as it was a good twenty-minutes’ drive from where they were. He gave her an odd look at which point she realised just how strange her request must have sounded and told him that she was moving out and wanted to be a good distance from her over-protective parents. He nodded.
“I had some like that too.” He said knowingly. “They’re trying to do what’s best for you but it doesn’t leave you any room to breathe.”
“Exactly.” she agreed.
He took her to one of the biggest hotels in Berlin; it had thirteen floors and over a thousand rooms. Perfect, Lizzie thought, there’ll be so many people it’ll be hard for anyone to track me amongst them. She carried her bags into the vast entrance hall and stood gazing in awe at the size of it for a good few minutes before proceeding to the check-in desk. It was huge, there were rows of sofas taking up a large proportion of the room and a variety of bars and little shops stemming off to the sides. She had never been in a hotel like it! It felt more like an airport than a hotel. She approached a huge desk with multiple lanes to queue down designated to each receptionist.
“Can I help you?” A middle-aged man in a navy suit with the hotel’s logo – several small swastikas – embroidered onto it.
“Yes I would like a room, please.” Lizzie said confidently smiling Julia’s smile that it felt like it hadn’t been used in a while.
“And for how long?” he asked.
“Oh I don’t know!” exclaimed Lizzie. “Shall we just say a fortnight and see how we go from there?”
“Certainly Miss.” He handed her a small gold key. “Floor six, room five hundred and twenty-nine.”
She thanked him and started climbing the stairs thanking God that she wasn’t on floor thirteen. She was even more grateful when she arrived at floor six completely out of breath and red faced. She trailed down the corridor and found her room. Despite the clay green paint on the walls that Lizzie felt herself cringing at, the room was comfortable enough. The bed was small but she was glad to find that the mattress wasn’t lumpy and she even had a little radio. Over all she was quite content here but when she looked out of the window she found that her view of the Reichstag was partially obscured by a large statue of Hitler. She found herself shuddering as she stared at the statue, she felt like it was watching her. Hastily she drew the curtains shut, it was silly but she felt happier with a barrier between it and her.
She missed Highway House. A lot. She missed her friends there, she missed always being part of a team, and she missed never being scared. There was always someone to offer a solution at Highway House, like when Becky came up with the idea of buttons, or when Clara let the cows out of Mr Oakley’s barn. Here in Germany no one could help her, even Nadia was gone. She still had no idea who the traitor was, or how everywhere she seemed to go she was tailed. How was it possible for them to always find her? She had gotten so paranoid she had convinced herself a statue outside her window was spying on her! What was happening to her? On the verge of a breakdown Lizzie wrote to the only person she knew for definite she could trust: Clara.
 
Dear Clara,
I am very concerned about a friend of mine who appears to be losing her mind. She is convinced that she is being followed everywhere she goes and even more serious she genuinely believes that someone is trying to drug her. I have assured her that this cannot be the case however the poor woman will not let the idea go. Not only this but the other night she called me up to tell me that someone had broken into her flat and that the whole place had been searched. Of course when I went over there nothing of the sort had happened at all leaving me very concerned for her health. I do not wish to burden you with such a tale but I have no one else that I might turn to. Perhaps there is some sort of remedy that you could suggest or just some words that might ease her mind?
On other news the train fare to the only bookshop in Germany worth going to has risen from 64 reichsmarks to 105 and now 107. It means I won’t be going half as often unfortunately although I hope we might still be able to discuss the great works of Jane Austen frequently.
Best wishes,
Julia
 
Lizzie smiled to herself knowing Clara would be thrilled to receive a letter with a hidden message inside it even if it was a very basic one. Lizzie had completely invented the story about the train fare as a way to slip the numbers 64, 105 and 107 into the letter. When Clara then picked out the 64th, 105th and 107th words in the letter they would say; it all happened. She was letting Clara know that the drugging, the tails and her room being searched were all things that had happened to her. She handed it into the hotel’s own post-office which she had noticed amongst the array of shops on her way in and returned to her room feeling like an enormous weight had been lifted from her shoulders just by that simple act of writing a letter, although she still didn’t dare draw the curtains, whether it was watching her or not there was still something very eerie about that statue.

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