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.


4. The Test

Lizzie’s five roommates spent the next week trying to predict what Lizzie would have to do in the imminent test she was being set. Becky was convinced it would involve cracking a series of German codes whilst Clara had been fantasising about car chases through London followed by an attempt on the life of a suspected German spy in the government (Clara had a list pinned up on the wall above her bed of MP’s that she suspected were German spies). Whilst this did seem an unlikely prospect, the more time that passed without any word of the test, the more Clara’s idea seemed to catch on to the point that she was practicing shooting moving targets in her sleep. Finally, on Wednesday morning when Lizzie and her classmates walked into Basement Two Mr Stantham announced that they were going on a fieldtrip.
“The time has come to review your progress and decide how ready you are to take on real missions of your own. To do this we are going on a class fieldtrip. As part of my training when I joined MI5 we were assigned up to three missions per day, most were practices then occasionally when you fired your gun it was a real one and you killed the target, you never knew whether the person you were aiming for would still be alive after you had pulled the trigger. Don’t worry you won’t be killing anyone today but the idea is still the same; I give you a target, you act as if it were a real assassination. We’ll be meeting at the train station in town in half an hour and I’ll give you more details on the train. Any questions?”
The room was silent.
“Off you go then.” The class scattered. Lizzie felt Clara grab her arm and pull her towards the exit.
Once above ground Sophie began talking. “We have half an hour to get to the train station which is at least an hour’s walk from here which means-”
Clara cut her off, “A heist!”
Ten minutes later the six girls were crouched behind a hay bale a few fields away from Highway House, and in the driveway a hundred metres or so from them was parked a truck. The only problem was that Mr Oakley, the man who owned it, was washing it.
“What are we going to do?” whispered Becky.
“Distract him?” Jen suggested.
“But then he’ll know it was us who stole it.” Lizzie pointed out.
“Then we don’t let him know it was us who caused the distraction.” Clara winked and glanced up to check Mr Oakley had his back turned before sprinting over to the cow shed not far from where they were stood. Sure enough the girls only had to wait a few moments before a herd of cows began stumbling out into the field with a grinning Clara hidden behind them. She sprinted back over to them and silently mimed a high five with Jen. It didn’t take long for one of cows to let out a loud moo causing Mr Oakley to turn around. He cursed loudly and stumbled over to the herd waving his arm to try and herd them back in. The girls took their opportunity and ducked quietly between hay bales until they reached the truck. Jen took the driver’s seat and the other five ducked down in the back of the trailer. Jen started the engine, causing Mr Oakley to turn around only to get a glimpse of his truck speeding out of his driveway.
“Nice job girls!” called Jen out of the open window once they were on the road.
“It’s not really stealing is it?” Sophie asked worriedly. “Not if we’re going to give it back. And we’ll leave money for the petrol we’ve used and everything.”
Clara laughed. “Sophie you’ve been trained to kill people yet you’re worried about stealing a truck?”
“We’ll give it back with the money and everything.” Becky reassured her.
They pulled up at the train station with a few minutes to spare, to find Mr Stantham stood waiting for them.
“Nice job, girls.” He nodded his approval. “You’re the first here.”
Within minutes the rest of the class arrived in dribs and drabs, most were on horseback; “Not as comfortable as our truck.” Clara had whispered in Lizzie’s ear. But when the train turned up they got on to find three members of their class were already on it, though they wouldn’t say how.
“Right listen up everyone.” Mr Stantham announced once the class was settled in a private first-class compartment; no one asked how they’d got it though later on several rumours emerged on the subject. “Your task today is this: to infiltrate the Houses of Parliament. You must have one assassin stationed outside each of the doors of the offices belonging to the Prime Minister and every one of his cabinet ministers. Your objective: don’t get caught. From the minute this train pulls up at Westminster Station you have ninety minutes. You will all be armed with a simple pistol, so I’ll say it again; don’t get caught. I won’t be offering any kind of explanation for you if you do, so use the prospect of spending the next twenty years of your life locked up in a cell as a deterrent for getting caught.” A few nervous glances were exchanged amongst the class as he said this, but Clara looked simply thrilled at the challenge.
Half an hour later the train rolled into Westminster station and the two dozen girls seated in the compartment leapt to their feet as one. Once outside on the street the girls huddled together in a group.
“We need a cover.” began Susan a blonde curly-haired girl to Lizzie’s left. “Any ideas?”
“Plenty!” Clara jumped in and began reeling off a list of possible scenarios that would cause them to be in the Houses of Parliament.
“I have an idea.” said Lizzie quietly and everyone turned to face her. “We be ourselves.”
“What? A group of secretly trained assassins? Are you mad?” asked Jen incredulously.
“No, a class of students on a field trip. We need to get some uniforms or something to make us look more like a group, but it could work.”
“No one would suspect a group of school girls.” nodded Susan.
“Leave the uniforms to me.” winked Jennifer, the daughter of a very rich businessman, who pulled out a huge wad of cash her father had no doubt given her, from one of her pockets. Despite protests from many in the group at her spending her money on them, Jennifer insisted telling them her father had too much money for his own good anyway.
She disappeared into a huge department store across the road and emerged some fifteen minutes later holding a dozen enormous carrier bags full of clothes. The girls packed themselves into the public toilets a few streets away and changed into their outfits consisting of a grey pleated skirt, a white blouse, a grey jumper and to top it off a straw hat decorated with a red ribbon. Lizzie couldn’t believe how much younger she looked simply by this change of clothes! Ten minutes later and the girls were assembled outside the Houses of Parliament along with Becky who, as the tallest in the group had been elected to act as their teacher and so was now wearing a long dull grey dress with a black jacket. Jennifer had even gone as far to buy her glasses which were now perched on the end of her nose.
The foyer to the Houses of Parliament was lined with police officers and security guards all of which turned to face the group as they piled in through the front doors. Lizzie knew that every one of her classmates was holding their breath as the eyes of so many officials rested on them, however being professionals they continued to chatter as school girls do, appearing to be oblivious to the stares they were receiving. Becky purchased visitors tickets for the group using more of Jennifer’s money before they were all subjected to a security check. Nervously they formed a line and as they did multiple security guards approached holding some sort of hand held scanner which beeped when they scanned over anything metal. Lizzie would have been extremely worried by this had it not been for Jennifer’s cunning in buying the straw hats. Each girl had used the ribbon around the rim of their hat to tie their hair up, and in doing so tie their pistol to the top of their head, over which they placed their hat. They were right in guessing that the guards would focus on scanning their arms and legs and would not lift the scanner to scan their hats. And they were in! But they were about to head off when an older man in a black suit ran after them. “Sorry Miss, but we don’t allow anyone to look round without a tour guide nowadays; we are at war you know.” He looked at her a little incredulously.
“Of course, of course, silly of me.” Becky hastened to cover up her alarm at the prospect of what she and any other trained assassin would see as a tail. “Well let’s get started then shall we?”
The man nodded and began his tour. “Welcome to the Palace of Westminster, most likely known to you as the Houses of Parliament. The part of the building we are stood in now is a replacement of the original structure which was destroyed in a fire in 1834…”
It was at this point that Lizzie really appreciated the genius in her idea of impersonating school girls; it meant that she didn’t have to pay the slightest bit of attention to what their guide was saying and instead could turn her mind to the more pressing matter of how they were going to get rid of him. But the more she thought about it the bleaker the options seemed to get. They couldn’t all wander off and “get lost”, neither could they all claim to need the toilet, no it seemed that rather than detach themselves from the group they would have to detach their guide from themselves.
Time was ticking as all of the girls were well aware and as they reached an hour into their given time a mist of panic seemed to descend upon the group, electrifying every possible notion in Lizzie’s brain as she struggled to come up with a solution. Then finally it hit her, the eureka moment she had been waiting for. As the rest of the group rounded the next corner she slipped away in the opposite direction and retraced her steps to where she had seen a staff room sign at the start of the tour. She ducked into an alcove as a security guard passed but thankfully he didn’t spot her. She waited until she thought it was safe again before proceeding down the corridor, reaching the door she was looking for and ducking inside. It still being fairly in the early in the morning the room was, as Lizzie had hoped, completely deserted. Scouting around as quickly as she could she spotted a cupboard in the corner which was marked as lost property, and inside was exactly what she had been looking for. She held up a uniform identical to the ones she had seen the security guards wearing, it was going to be big on her but when she slipped it on the bagginess did a very good job of masking her figure. She stuffed her hair up under the black cap that went with the uniform, slipped her pistol into the inside pocket of her jacket and turned to leave. Just as she did so the door swung open revealing a stocky, middle-aged security guard staring down at her. He nodded at her but didn’t attempt to speak and she thought she might just have the chance to slip out without having to say anything but just as she reached out to pull the door handle he turned to her and said; “You’ve been told to watch out for a dark-haired young lady today haven’t you?” He asked gruffly. “In her early twenties, long dark hair, might try and cause us some trouble with a pistol today.”
Alarm bells rang in her ears as her head pounded trying to process what the man had just said, very aware that this description described her exactly. “Err no, I was a little late in this morning and must have missed it.” She said lowering her voice to make it sound more masculine.
“Well the Foreign secretary Lord Halifax has been notified by his good friend Jeremy Stantham that there might be such a young lady try and infiltrate the Houses of Parliament today and that she is to be arrested if anyone sees her.” He nodded gravely.
“I’ll be sure to do so if I see her then.” Replied Lizzie and hurriedly left the room before the man could become suspicious. Once outside it all seemed to make more sense, Mr Stantham had tipped them off to make this test especially hard for her in particular, she was the one being truly tested here. But there was no time to think about it, she needed to get on with the task. She sped off to catch up with the group and quickly stumbled across them being lectured about a tapestry hanging on the wall opposite them.
Again Lizzie lowered her voice. “Sorry to interrupt you sir,” she addressed the tour guide, “there seems to have been a problem with your pass into the building this morning, the security team at the front desk seem to be under the impression that it’s due a renewal which hasn’t been carried out. If you could report to them immediately that would be most helpful.” She paused and indicated to the rest of her classmates who were all concealing grins. “I’ll take over this lot for you.”
“I-thank you.”The man stuttered. “I’ll go and sort it out right away, admin these days, incompetent the lot of them.” He strolled away frowning and muttering to himself.
Once he was out of sight Lizzie and the rest of the girls divvied out the different ministers between them and departed to resume their posts outside of their allocated office. Lizzie, who was now intrigued by Lord Halifax and his connection with their teacher, was to be stationed outside of his office. It was rather risky since Lord Halifax was meant to be on the lookout for her, but she was convinced that especially to a stranger, she didn’t much look like herself in this uniform. She hurried up to the third floor where she knew the war cabinet ministers’ offices were, and strolled down the different corridors looking at the names on the doors. Glancing down at her watch she saw she only had five minutes remaining to find her destination and station herself outside of it, and it was then she walked headfirst into a six foot tall security guard who, in Lizzie’s opinion, greatly resembled a sumo wrestler.
“Watch where you’re going officer!” He snapped at her.
“Sorry, my mistake.” She muttered in her lowered voice.
“What are you doing up here anyway?” He eyed her suspiciously.
“I’ve been sent up here sir.” She fabricated. “Lord Halifax believes that there may be an armed young lady inside the building and I have been stationed outside of his office. Obviously we wouldn’t expect her to get this far but every precaution must be taken to ensure the protection of someone as vital to the war against the fascists as his lordship.”
He frowned at her. “In that case I suggest you go back and stand outside his office instead of roaming the corridors!” And it was at this point that Lizzie’s luck was in as at the word office he gestured with his hand at the corridor on his right.
“Yes sorry I’ll just be heading back.” She mumbled and headed down the corridor which he had pointed to. Sure enough at the bottom of the corridor there was a door marked LORD HALIFAX: FOREIGN SECRETARY, and so with minutes to spare Lizzie took up her position outside.
The minute hand on her watch ticked round and she knew that their time had just run out, she just wasn’t sure what to do now, did she leave her post? Mr Stantham had said he would be checking up on them and as far as she knew he hadn’t, but then again she was sure he had other ways of knowing where they were besides using his own eyes. She resolved to remain a little longer just to be sure she had completed the task and then leave. However just a few seconds after she had decided this, the air raid siren began wailing through the building. Lizzie smiled knowing that this there was not an air raid, no somehow this was Mr Stantham letting them know that time was up. She turned on her heel and filed down the corridor, down two flights of stairs and into the street where she found the rest of her class gathering on a street corner. Before the whole group had even had the chance to arrive, the siren stopped leaving the rest of the street staring up at sky in bewilderment and the group of Highway House girls grinning at each other. They proceeded to the train station and caught a train back to where Lizzie and her roommates discovered the truck that they had all forgotten about in the events of the morning, sitting at the station exactly where they had left it.
“How are we going to give it back without him knowing it was us?” asked Jen.
It was decided that they would leave the truck just outside of the farm on the road and let Mr Oakley find it of his own accord. Clara struggled not to laugh as Sophie insisted in emptying the entire contents of her purse onto the dashboard and then worriedly asked, “Do you think it’ll be enough?” At which point the other five girls all felt obliged to pitch in causing Clara to cease laughing immediately. Eventually they made their way back down the last stretch of road to Highway House and re-assembled in Basement Two with the rest of their class. At this point Mr Stantham strolled in smiling at them all.
“Well done girls, I can honestly say that I was very impressed by all of you today. You adapted to different obstacles very well. The disguise worked well despite the mishap with the tour guide and the idea of hiding your weapons in your hats was a good one too. But I was most impressed by the way in which you managed to get rid of your tour guide so well done Miss McMorely.” He nodded at her. “As for the timing, there were certainly a few close calls, Miss Brown your flirting with the security guard almost lost it for you.” The class all turned to look at Amanda who was blushing furiously in the corner.
“I was trying to convince him not to escort me back to my teacher.” She muttered to her friend Alice who was stood next to her.
“But despite this you were all stationed outside the door of a cabinet minister when the air raid siren sounded and therefore you have all passed. Congratulations.” He added as the girls whispered excitedly to each other.
“Mr Stantham?” piped up Clara excitedly, “How did you do it? How did you know we were all outside the doors of the cabinet ministers at the correct time?”
“Ah, Miss Bradhurst, a good question, perhaps one that I could pose back at you all. How do you think I knew where each of you was at the precise time when the fire alarm went off?”
There was a pause.
“The tiles outside each minister’s door were rigged?” suggested Jen, breaking the silence.
“No. It would have been far too much effort and I’m sure would have attracted a lot of attention if I had replaced half the flooring in the Houses of Parliament. Think.” He said.
“You had accomplices inside Parliament to check up on us?” guessed Susan.
“Wrong again. I would need to have severely infiltrated the Houses of Parliament to do that, more so than I would hope it is possible for one man to do.”
“You used some kind of tracking device?” breathed Clara, “Like ear tags in animals.”
“Correct.” smiled Mr Stantham. “Now what did you all have with you that I knew about and would have been able to attach tracking devices to?”
“Our guns.” Lizzie grinned.
“Correct Miss McMorely. Now as a reward for doing so well this morning, you are all free for the rest of the day, lessons are cancelled.” Everyone cheered and grinned at each other before heading out to sunbathe in Highway House’s vast grounds, Lizzie happy in the knowledge that she had just passed her test.


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