It had been another of those nights.
Disgruntled because his alarm clock had brought him back from the Land of Nod, Hans Geering stretched and looked at the time. Yes, he'd had that dream again- the one in which he was still in Nouvion. It was always the same vision: he and his brother-in-law, Colonel Kurt von Strohm, were sitting together in the corner of a typically French café. A tall man with a moustache came over to talk to them. If Hans remembered correctly, this was the owner of the café- René Artois. Over in the corner, a young German man by the name of Lieutenant Hubert Gruber tickled the ivories, which was notably better than the caterwauling of Edith (otherwise known as Mme. Artois). Fortunately, just before Edith began the next verse of her song, someone came storming- or rather, limping- into the café. This was Herr Flick of the Gestapo. He made his way over to where Hans and the Colonel were sitting, and informed them about the latest twist in the trouble which had been triggered by a stolen painting, called…
…Oh what was the title of that picture? The vision faded as Hans racked his brains about that. Ah yes- 'The Fallen Madonna.' What a kerfuffle she had caused those who knew about her! No doubt that was still going on in Nouvion. Although Hans had occasionally eavesdropped on various calls made to France on the radio in the Intelligence HQ where he worked, it seemed that the painting was never mentioned in these conversations.
Ah well- time to get ready for work. It was already 6:30, and Hans had to be at the Intelligence HQ in an hour's time. Noting this, he knew he should get a shuffle on if he wanted to get the right train.
Later that day…
"You sent for me, Herr… Mr. Philips?" asked Hans, entering the office of a senior member of the Intelligence.
"Yes, Geering. Please take a seat. Yes, that's it. Now- I have a mission for you. As an interpreter, you can of course speak fluent French and German, con you nit?"
"Erm… yes, Sir."
"Well- our agent Crabtree is out there, and has requested some assistance in his work. Geering- I have decided that you will go out to Nouvion and work undercover."
"Might I ask what I would masquerade as?"
"I was just about to tell you that. Panic not- a woman called Michelle, who runs the Nouvion Resistance, has planned it all. The town Commandant is looking for a new assistant; so you are to dress as a German Captain and pretend that you are on leave from the Front. An aeroplane will escort you to France tonight at 8 o'clock. You may now use the intervening time to pack anything which you wish to take with you."
"Thank you, Sir," said Hans, turning to leave.
"Oh, and Geering… don't forget to take a parachute with you."
"Ok, Geering, you know the drill. When the green light comes on, the trapdoor on which you are standing will open. At which point, you must open that parachute of yours, and hope that you don't land in a lake. Any questions?"
"No, Mr. Philips, sir."
"Jolly good. Bonne chance, Geering. And one more thing- tell them that Kingfisher sent you."
About five minutes later, Hans found himself falling through the trapdoor. Opening his parachute at the right moment, he noticed that he was to land in a forest… and before you could say "Bob's your uncle", he had hit the ground. Cursing to himself for not having seen the rather large safety net which had been set up just next to his landing point (which was hardly surprising, as the night was so dark), Hans quickly put his parachute away. At which point, he heard a voice.
"Good moaning! Is anyone aboot?"
Turning around, Hans found a rather tall man carrying a torch, and wearing a gendarme's uniform, coming towards him. Recognising the man as one of Nouvion's top police officers, Hans felt it was safe to answer. He was about to reply, when a woman (presumably from the Resistance), clad in a brown raincoat and black beret, appeared like a phantom from the bushes.
"Is this the British agent?" she asked.
"I do not knee, Michelle. He has nit spooken yet," answered Crabtree.
"Well, there is only one way to find out," said Michelle, moving over to Hans. Suddenly, the language changed from French to English, as she asked, "I say, chap- did Kingfisher send you?"
"Er… oh, yes. Yes he did," replied Hans, quickly remembering Mr. Philips' advice.
"Good show. Well, there's been a slight change of plan. You are to pose as a Police Officer, instead of a German Captain. Nothing to worry about- Crabtree will help you along, Officer… oh gumboots, I'm sorry- what's your name?"
"Ok, Hans G-" suddenly, Michelle froze. "Oh no… no… no. It can't be."
"Don't pretend you don't know. You're a German officer! You used to work for the Colonel!"
"A spy? Yes, that's evident." (They were speaking in French again).
"Just losten to him, Michelle. Let him exploon."
"Very well, then. I must sit down," sighed a rather exasperated Michelle, perching herself on a nearby tree stump. "What do you have to say?"
Hans explained everything, from how he had been sent to England by the Resistance, who had mistaken him for a British Airman, to the fact that he had gained citizenship- and a position as an interpreter for the Intelligence.
"His story holds witer."
"I suppose you're right. It might help having someone with his knowledge on our side. But first- you must change your identity. The forger at the café will make papers for you. Now- you need an English-sounding moniker. Which English authors do you like?"
"I haven't had much time for reading, but I guess Charles Dickens is my favourite."
"Very well- and do you have a favourite character?"
"Splendid. Your new name will be Oliver Dickens."
"But what if someone should recognise me?"
"Just tell them that it's pure coincidence. We can discuss everything on the way back to Nouvion. As you might remember, it's quite a walk from here- so I say we start making tracks."
It had been yet another busy day for René Artois, who owned a small café in Nouvion's Town Square. This had become a very popular hotspot with the German soldiers… and unfortunately, much Resistance activity was also planned here. Anyway, Edith's cabaret was in full swing at this moment in time, so René had disappeared into the back room, to read the day's mail.
Three bills and the latest edition of the district's Propaganda paper later, he stumbled across a fancy envelope, with a silver border, and a purple love heart in the bottom right-hand corner. The postmark was not perfectly clear, but René could just about make out the word "Geneva". But who did he know in Switzerland? Rather intrigued, René carefully opened the envelope, and gasped in surprise as he read the little note inside, which had been penned in black ink, on a sheet of paper which matched the envelope.
Dear René, Edith, Yvette, et al [it read, I regret that this letter could not have arrived sooner- and it comes with many apologies for my delay in contacting you. However, I hope you will join me in Geneva in a few weeks' time, for I am to be married! René, I would like you to give me away. The name of my husband-to-be is Andreas. He's about a year older than me, and he owns a small café- not dissimilar to yours. I think of Nouvion every day, and would be thrilled if you could come and visit me! RSVP soon. Yours affectionately, Maria Recamier xxx.
Maria! René had not seen her since 1941. In fact, the last he'd heard of his former waitress, was that she'd tried to escape from a P.O.W. camp, disguised as a Red Cross parcel. However, this had not quite gone to plan, so the poor girl had spent the last few years living in Switzerland.
René's train of thought was suddenly halted, as a young, slim, brunette woman entered the room.
"Oooooh René!" she cried, as she ran over to him and they hugged.
"Yvette, my little beetroot!"
"Oh, my great big cabbage! What is that piece of paper in your hand?" asked Yvette, taking Maria's note from René. "Maria? Our Maria, as it were, is getting wed?"
"It would seem so."
"I have a plan-"
"It had better not be a silly one. I have had it up to here with Michelle's harebrained schemes."
"No, René. When we go to see Maria, why do we not stay in Switzerland? I know it failed last time- but I have saved up more than enough money for a little chalet in the mountains."
"Oh Yvette- but what will I tell my wife?"
"I'm sure we'll think of something."
"My clever Yvette!" grinned René, as they hugged again.
"RENÉ! What are you doing with your arms around Yvette?" Edith stormed in, causing the love birds to break up their happy home.
"You stupid woman! Have you not heard? Our former waitress, Maria, is getting married. Yvette was so overcome by the news, she burst into tears."
"It… it is true. Oh, Madame Edith- I'm so… so thrilled for her!" said Yvette, through fake sobs.
"Oh, I do apologise. What wonderful news! So- when's the wedding?" grinned Edith, as René handed her the note.
Meanwhile, in the main café…
"Good moaning, Mimi!"
"Good evening, Officer Crabtree," replied the petite waitress, polishing a teaspoon.
"My camponion and I need to tick to Ronnie."
"He is in the back room."
"Ah- good evening, Officers!" exclaimed René, emerging from the said room at that precise moment.
"Are we aloon?" asked Crabtree.
"Well, apart from Mimi, four customers and your colleague, then yes…" began René. He was interrupted as the main door opened. A balding German Colonel entered, followed by a young Lieutenant. The latter stood by the door, and loudly announced,
"General Erich von Klinkerhoffen!"
The General entered, saluted, and sat down at the table nearest the window, with the Colonel and the Lieutenant.
"Oh my- General von Klinkerhoffen! Lieutenant Gruber! Colonel von Strohm!" gasped Hans. "René- do not let them see me!"
"How do you know me, and who are you?"
"Psst- it is I, Hans Geering!" whispered Hans, removing the fake moustache, which he was wearing in a bid to go unsuspected.
"What are you doing dressed like that?"
"I told you, René. I have switched sides. Crabtree sent for some assistance, so now I, too, am masquerading as a policeman. You must call me Oliver Dickens when there are German soldiers around."
Their conversation was cut short, as at that moment, the rather charming German Lieutenant came over to the bar.
"Good evening, René!" he half sang, happily.
"Ah- good evening, Lieutenant Gruber! Your usual?"
"Thank you," grinned Gruber, taking a small cognac from René, before noticing the two policemen to whom René had been talking. "Oh, I am very sorry- am I interrupting something?"
"Er… no, Lieutenant. These two coppers just came to check the black-out. You can start in the back room, Officers. Any problems, just let me know, ok?"
"Come on, Dickens- we must go this woo," said Crabtree to Hans, in his best French, as the pair of gendarmes walked into the back room.
"That little policeman looks familiar, René. Is he another cousin of yours?"
"Oh yes, Lieutenant. A very distant one, I hasten to add. He has just moved here from Boulogne."
"Ah- that is such a beautiful place! Anyway, the Colonel needs to speak to you as soon as the General has left. From what I have gathered, the General plans to put the genuine paintings of 'The Fallen Madonna' and 'The Cracked Vase' in a Swiss art gallery. But don't worry- the Colonel and I have a plan."
"Oh no- not another one!"
"René, you can rely on us," concluded Gruber; at which point, René moved back slightly, as the Lieutenant reached out to take his hand. Taking the hint, Gruber picked up his cognac, and hurried back to join the Colonel and the General.
"Did I miss anything important?"
"No, Gruber. Everything has been arranged. The General will give the paintings to Helga. We will then have the simple task of seeing that she boards a train to Geneva," said Colonel von Strohm.
"Indeed. Let it be done! Now, I must return to the Château. I understand that a new edition of the local paper is waiting for me." Saluting, the General marched out of the café, and back to the rather magnificent Château which he now owned.
Once the General was out of ear-shot, the Colonel had a little time in which to tell René the latest twist in the 'Fallen Madonna' saga.
"But do not panic. Disguised as simple travellers, Gruber and I will get on the train with Helga," began the Colonel.
As usual, this conversation was soon interrupted, as a little old man, carrying a basket of apples, entered the café.
"Apples! Apples! Who will buy some apples from a poor, wandering apple seller?" he shouted, making his way over to the bar.
"Excuse me, Colonel. Ah- good evening, old apple seller!" said René, heading over to where the alleged merchant was standing. "Yes, I would like to buy all your wares."
"Oh, this is good news! Never before have I had such a good day for selling apples. I…"
"Shut up, you old fool!" hissed René.
"Psst- it is I, Leclerc!" said the man, raising his spectacles.
"The man of a thousand faces, each one exactly the same."
"I have a message from Michelle. She knows about Maria's wedding, and says that when you go to Switzerland, you must break into the gallery in which the 'Madonna' and the 'Cracked Vase' are to be displayed. You are to replace the paintings with forgeries. The agents disguised as policemen have 2 forgeries, which were stolen from Herr Flick, when he removed his high Gestapo boots during a visit to the shoe shop."
"And where am I going to hide the originals, when I get them back?"
"You must hide them in these empty cider bottles. Michelle will tell you the rest later. Now I must go back to the orchard and pick some more apples." And with that, Monsieur Ernest Leclerc headed out of the café, all the while shouting, "Apples! Who will buy my apples?"
The next day, at around 5:00pm…
"Now listen very carefully, I shall say this only once."
"Go on, if you must," moaned René.
"Be quiet, René!" whispered Edith, nudging her husband, before adding, "Do continue, Michelle."
"Very well. I have information that that Maria's wedding is to be held at a small church in Geneva. As it happens, the reception will take place in a hall. Henriette tells me that this me that this building happens to be right next to the art gallery, in which the genuine paintings are to be displayed by General von Klinkerhoffen. Now- I trust that M. Leclerc brought the cider bottles?"
"He did indeed," answered Mimi, placing the afore-mentioned bottles on the table. Pointing at each one in turn, she continued, "This bottle contains a forgery of 'The Fallen Madonna' by van Clomp. And this one contains a copy of 'The Cracked Vase' by van Gogh."
"Good. All is going to plan so far. Now, as it happens, there is a small stream which flows between the gallery and the hall. René, you will break into the gallery, with M. Alfonse and M. Leclerc. Once you have located and exchanged the paintings, you must then go into the basement and float the bottles down the stream. Mimi, I want you to wait in the wine cellar and catch the bottles when you see them."
"But what will I do with the bottles after I have caught them?"
"I shall be waiting in the broom cupboard. There is a passageway leading out of there, and back to the foyer of the hall. If anyone asks where you've been, just tell them that you got lost while trying to find the little girls' room. That will not cause any suspicion, as I will have taken the bottles from you and disappeared by then."
"But will we not arouse suspicion, coming out of the gallery, long after closing time?" asked René, in his usual exasperated tone. What a ridiculous idea this was!
"Officer Crabtree will be outside the back door of the gallery, and lead you back to the hall. Madame Edith, I believe that Maria has asked you to help with the catering?"
"Yes, she has asked me to make the best wedding feast ever!" grinned Edith.
"Good. We need a diversion, so nobody will notice that some of the guests are missing."
"Why don't I sing for them?"
"Edith, we need a diversion, not a catastrophe!" remarked René.
"René, your wife has a good answer to my problem. Edith- you, Fanny and Yvette must pretend to be drunk and create a scene."
"Believe me, Edith does not need to be drunk to do that!" muttered René. Fortunately, this was not heard by his wife.
"Ok, so it is sorted. I must now disappear like a phantom, into the night," finished Michelle, climbing out of the back room window.
A short time later…
Crabtree and Hans were nearing the end of their duty, as it was approaching 8:00. However, it was not a crime-free evening. This was established as Crabtree stopped in his tracks.
"I must go into the café and sort this out."
Wondering what Crabtree was talking about, Hans followed his fellow Officer into the café. Once inside, Crabtree stood in the middle of the room and announced,
"Gid moaning! Where is Lieutenant Greeber, the owner of the little tink?"
"What appears to be the problem, Officer?" asked Gruber, leaving the piano, and walking over to where Crabtree and Hans were standing.
"You have porked your little tink in a dingerous spat."
"I'll go and move it, Officer. I do apologise- there was nothing to say that I could not park near that tree."
"I am afrood you are too late. Lieutenant, you are under arrost."
"Clarence! Clarence- why didn't you tell me that I wasn't allowed to park there?" demanded Gruber of a young blonde man, who was seated near the piano.
But before Clarence could reply, Crabtree had given Hans the order to take the Lieutenant to the town jail. It was one of the hardest things Hans had ever had to do. Trying to hide his identity was one thing, but betraying an old acquaintance was equally as difficult.
Making sure his grip on Gruber's shoulder was not too strong, Hans lead him to an empty cell. Once he had locked the door, Hans paused outside for a moment. Hearing the Lieutenant's sobs, he knew that something had to be done.
The next morning, Hans had a chance to put his plan into action. Arriving at the police station about 15 minutes before his shift, the Captain made a cup of tea and picked up some papers which had been left on his desk, and headed straight to Gruber's cell. Opening the door, he noticed that it had obviously been an ordeal of a night, judging by the number of cigarette ends which now lay on the floor, in an admittedly neat little pile. The Lieutenant himself was asleep- and sprawled across the wooden bench in the corner. These slumbers were evidently not too deep, as he awoke when he heard Hans sneezing.
"Oh, er… thank you, Lieutenant. I thought you might appreciate some tea and an apple." This part of the conversation was in French.
"That's very kind of you, Officer," said Gruber flatly, sitting on the bench and taking the offered mug and fruit. "Erm… do you… know how long I'm going to be here?" he finished, nervously.
"Let's see…" answered Hans, leafing through the paperwork which he had not yet read. "Ah- it says here that the Colonel has your papers. General von Klinkerhoffen knows what happens last night, but has decided to overlook it." Seeing the look of relief on Gruber's face, Hans smiled faintly.
"That is wonderful news, Officer. I do hope the Colonel brings the papers along soon, as this small space is making me claustrophobic."
"Well in the meantime, I need to speak to you, Lieutenant."
"Certainly…" accepted Gruber, moving along the bench, allowing Hans to sit down.
"Well, here goes," thought Hans, before asking out loud, "Gruber- what I am about to tell you is in the strictest confidence. You must repeat it to no-one, understand?"
"Of course, Officer. You can trust me with secrets."
"First of all, I am not a real gendarme. Nor am I French. I am, in fact, a German Captain."
"Then… what are you doing dressed as a policeman? And more to the point, why are you telling me this?" questioned a very confused Gruber.
"Do you remember a man who used to work in Nouvion, who went by the name of Hans Geering?"
"Why yes- he was the Colonel's assistant. But again, why do you ask?"
"Because I am Captain Hans Geering!" answered Hans, removing his fake moustache, and switching the language of the discussion to German.
"No! Where have you been for the past few years? The last I heard, you had been sent to England. I remember that day well- we all gathered around the radio in the back of my little tank to hear your farewell message," grinned Gruber, sounding extremely thrilled. "Oh- the Colonel has often spoken how much he misses you!"
"The Colonel! Gruber- you must not tell him who I am, or what I have been doing for the past few years," gabbled Hans, before reeling off a summary of how he was now working for the British Intelligence, and had become an English citizen. When he'd finished, Gruber, who had been listening in awe, commented,
"My- what an interesting tale, Hans! But what if the Colonel should see you?"
"I have some forged papers. My pseudonym is Oliver Dickens."
"I shall remember that. Oh- and don't forget that you can call me Hubert!"
At that moment, someone hammered on the door.
"Remember what I've just told you," whispered Hans, as he quickly opened the door, to reveal Colonel von Strohm.
"Gruber- your papers have been signed, and the General has demanded that you keep your little tank and driving licence."
"That is excellent, Colonel! I am most grateful…"
"Officer, the papers are on the desk in the Reception area," said the Colonel (in French, and completely oblivious to the fact that he was now in the presence of his former assistant), as the three of them left the cell.
"Good day to you," answered Hans as, once again, they had to go their separate ways.
A few weeks later…
It was the eve of Maria's wedding. As the train puffed its way into the station in Geneva, the bride-to-be smiled and waved when she spotted her friends in the fifth carriage.
"Over here!" she squealed, noticing them clambering off the train and trying to push past their fellow passengers.
"Maria! Oh, dear little Maria! I must say how kind it was of you to remember us when planning your wedding," beamed Edith, squeezing past a rather rotund gentleman, before hugging her former waitress.
"You are very welcome, Madame Edith! Seeing you all again is just like a beautiful drrream! Oh, Yvette- I still have the friendship bracelet you made me for Chrrristmas one year, see? And Madame Fanny, you look well. That hat is very fetching!"
"Edith… who is this girl, and why have you brought me here?" asked Fanny, picking up her ear trumpet.
"I have told you, Mama. It is Maria, our old waitress. She is to be married tomorrow."
"Ah yes- I remember. Where has she been all this time? I haven't seen her for decades."
As Edith tried to explain to her mother that Maria had only been in Geneva for about three years now, Miss Recamier had the chance to speak to the rest of the group.
"Oh Rrrrené! How much I have missed you. Tell me- did those foolish Airmen return home in the end?"
"Yes- they're finally gone, Maria."
"And what about the paintings?"
"It's best that you don't know too much about those. I wouldn't know where to begin," replied René. "Anyway- you remember Monsieur Alfonse, the old undertaker, don't you?"
"Sweet girl, I must kiss your hand, swiftly and with style," said Monsieur Alfonse, removing his hat, and taking Maria's hand.
"You are just as polite as I remember, Monsieur Alfonse," grinned Maria. At which point, René interrupted,
"And here are two new members of our flock. This is Monsieur Ernest Leclerc, Fanny's new husband."
"Congrrratulations to you and Fanny!" the emphasis on the letter 'r' sent small flecks of spit flying- some of which hit M. Leclerc. Wiping these away, he shook her hand in thanks.
"And my name is Mimi La Bonq," said Mimi, stepping forward. "I am a waitress at René's café. He has told me all about you."
"It's good to meet you, Mlle La Bonq- and I hope we can be friends," grinned Maria, before suggesting to everyone, "Why don't you all bring your bags and follow me to the Hotel? Your rooms are ready, and I'll introduce you to Andreas later."
How wonderful it was that Hans finally had some time to himself! He had been waiting for what seemed like forever for a break from work, so he could take a trip to Geneva. And now that he had pulled a few strings with his colleagues at the police station, the Captain was delighted that his plan was now in fruition.
Noticing that he had been wandering round in circles for the past 20 minutes, Hans decided to call in at a small café, for a slab of cake. Entering the eatery, he found that it was not too dissimilar to the Café René in Nouvion. In fact, there was even a lady sitting at a piano in the corner, singing sweetly and rather pleasantly. Finding an empty table near to the window, Hans sat and listened to the song.
"When the red, red robin comes
Bob-bob-bobbing along! Along!
There'll be no more sobbing when
He starts throbbing his old sweet song!"
"Excuse me, sir. Are you ready to order?" asked a waiter, who had the same mousey-brown hair and friendly smile as Hans.
"Oh… do you have any Black Forest Gâteau left?"
"We certainly do. Maria baked two lots this morning," replied the waiter, just as Maria approached.
"Andreas Geering! Why are you talking about me?" she asked.
"Just telling some of the customers how wonderful the gâteau is, dear."
"That's ok then. Anyway- I must disappear for a while, so I can make sure that everything is ready for tomorrow, seeing as we're not particularly busy, and-"
"Well get going, then!" laughed Andreas, giving his fiancée a friendly shove. Once she had gone, he turned to Hans and said, "Anything else?"
"Erm, yes… do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
"Do you have a brother?"
"Why… why yes, I do. But the last thing I heard was that he went missing in action in 1941. Hans was his name, and he was married to our pianist over there, in fact. They lived in Berlin, until the dreaded day when he went to serve in France. His wife, Elise, moved here after that," reminisced Andreas fondly, before adding, "Why do you ask?"
"Because I know the whereabouts of Captain Hans Geering. In fact, he is closer than you think. And if I remember correctly, he once gave you a lighter, with the word 'Andrea' on one side."
By this point, a shocked Andreas was staring at Hans, with one hand pointing at the Captain. This caused the pianist to hurry over, to see what the fuss was about.
"Andreas, what is wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost!"
"Elise, does this man look familiar to you?"
"Wait a minute…" answered Elise, studying Hans' face. Then she twigged, and whispered "Hans? Hans- mein Lieb?"
"Yes, Elise- mein Engel. I have finally returned!"
"Oh!" sighed Frau Geering, as she took her husband in her arms for the first time in years, causing all the customers to put down their glasses and cutlery and say,
"Everyone, this is a joyous day. Andreas is to be married tomorrow, and my dear husband and I are finally reunited," announced Elise to the rest of the café. "So, to celebrate, I'd like to offer each of you a drink."
"On the house!" added Andreas.
About an hour later…
"Well, that's the lunch shift over!" said Andreas, sounding quite relieved, as he locked the main door and placed a little sign (which read "Fermé/ Geschlossen") in the window. "So now, we have a few hours of peace, before we re-open at 5:30."
"Andrrreas- we need to go to the Church, so we can make the final arrangements with the prrriest," squeaked Maria, coming out of the cloakroom and handing a black coat to Andreas."
"Of course. Sorry about this, Hans. We won't be long. Ok, Maria- I'm ready now!" giggled the younger Geering brother, as Maria tried to drag him out of the café, leaving Hans and Elise alone.
"Do you remember our wedding day, darling?"
"Yes, Elise. I'll never forget the way you glided down the aisle, grinning, and wearing your mother's wedding dress!"
"I walked to our favourite tune- 'Für Elise'! Was that not romantic?"
"Indeed," commented Hans, before finishing his beer. Lowering the glass, he took his wife's hand and continued, "Elise, do you… do you...?"
"Do I what, Hans?"
"Do you still love me?" This question had been on his mind for quite some time now. Even though it sounded feeble, he just had to get an answer.
"Of course I do, Apfelkuchen! Trying to carry on without you is the hardest thing I've ever had to do."
"It hasn't been easy living without you for the past few years, either. Every day, I would pick a memory of you, and play it over and over in my mind, until everything was perfect."
"That's so cute! Have you done that for the time when I told you I was expecting Olli?"
"I was so delighted, I grabbed a bottle of Champagne from the pantry. But it was a little too bubbly, so the cork flew out and hit the ceiling! You were furious, but I just fell about laughing at how silly the situation was!"
"Aaah, memories!" giggled Elise, wiping the tears away and trying to control her laughter.
"I am due to return to Nouvion in a fortnight's time; but before then, I think it would be a good idea if we renewed our vows. I'll take you back to England with me after the War, I promise you."
"That's a wonderful suggestion, Hans! We'll tell Andreas and Maria tonight. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go see if I can still squeeze into my mother's wedding dress!"
"Slow down, eager beaver!" laughed Hans. But it was too late, as Elise was already halfway up the stairs.
The next morning, on the train…
"Hubert! Helga! Wake up!" whispered Colonel von Strohm, as the guard walked past their compartment and called the name of the next station.
"Uh? What time is it? Are we in Switzerland yet, Colonel?" yawned Gruber.
"We will be in Geneva in about 25 minutes. Helga- are those forgeries still in that briefcase?"
"Yes, Colonel," answered Helga, reaching for the small leather case which she had placed at the foot of her bunk bed. "Of course, the General decided to complicate the matter by taking the pictures to the gallery himself- but at least we know where the genuine versions are now."
"Excellent, Helga. Now hurry up, both of you, and get ready. We'll be there soon!"
"Woah!" chorused Helga and Gruber, as they tried to get out of their beds at the exact moment that the train gave a jolt.
"So, von Smallhausen; did the General put the paintings in the gallery?"
"He did indeed, Herr Flick. I went to the unveiling last night."
The two Gestapo Officers, now dressed as business men, were seated outside 'Mange Tout', the café owned by Maria, Andreas and Elise. Although it was closed because of the wedding, there were still people sitting at the tables outside.
"And did you manage to use your spy camera?"
"Yes, Herr Flick!" grinned von Smallhausen, handing over a photograph.
"Hmmmh. You have succeeded in taking a photograph of the corner of one of the paintings, and a finger pointing to the signature."
"It was the best I could do, Herr Flick."
"I will deal with you later. Meanwhile, I have a plan. Tonight at around 9 o'clock, we shall break into the art gallery and replace the genuine paintings with forgeries. The method is simple, and based around the instructions given in this book, the title of which is, 'How to Climb a Wall and Break a Glass Dome on Top of a Building, Without Causing Suspicion.' You must pay your utmost attention, and make mental notes while reading it."
"Of course, Herr Flick."
Meanwhile, in a small but very pretty hotel room…
"Ok, I've almost finished. Just wait a moment while I go and find that necklace, which I said you could use as your 'something borrowed.' I know it's in my bag somewhere…"
"Do not fret, Madame Edith," smiled Maria. "It was very nice of you and Yvette to offer to help me get ready. Oh- Yvette, your dress is in the wardrobe."
"This one?" asked Yvette, fishing out a sleeveless, wine-red number. It was actually quite elegant for a wartime bridesmaid's dress.
"Yes, that's right."
"You have an excellent taste, Maria! I don't think I've ever had a prettier dress. Thank you so much!" smiled Yvette, putting her arms round her friend.
"You're welcome, Yvette. And it will go very well with those black shoes with the red bows on, which you were wearing last night."
"Good idea. Hey- it's 10 o'clock now, and the wedding is at noon. I'd better go get changed!"
As Yvette left the room, René entered.
"Maria- have you seen my wife?"
"She went to get a necklace. I am to wear it as my 'something borrowed'. Now, let's see- I have something old, that's this brooch which my mother gave me for my 18th birthday. Something new is my dress, and my shoes are pale blue."
"My little Maria- how grown up you look now. I am honoured that you asked me to be your escort."
"Oooh René!" beamed Maria, as she stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek. René found himself kissing her in return.
"René! What are you doing with your arms around Maria?" Edith had returned with the necklace.
"You stupid woman!" retorted René, letting go of Maria and wiping away the faint lipstick mark on his cheek. "Do you not remember the old tradition? It is said to be good luck to kiss a bride on her wedding day."
"Oh of course! How could I forget? Maria, you look beautiful, and I wish you all the best for your future with Andreas," said Edith, kissing Maria on the forehead, before straightening her veil.
"Are you ready, Gruber?"
"Yes, Colonel. Helga has informed me that both of the paintings are in the room directly below the glass dome. It's on the next floor."
"Good. And nobody suspected a thing when we pretended to be museum staff."
"It was a good thing that so many of them were dressed up. You made quite a convincing Beefeater."
"So many people asked me questions about that painting of the Tower of London. And I must say, Gruber, your Anne Boleyn outfit is quite becoming!"
"I think the wig is made of horse hair," commented the Lieutenant, stroking the thick strands, just as Helga (dressed as Queen Nefertiti) entered.
"Colonel- the coast is clear. I have drugged the guard, as you told me to."
"I shall lead the way," said Helga, turning and walking over to the staircase.
"Do not dawdle, Gruber!"
"I am sorry, Colonel. I cannot move very quickly. I might trip over these skirts. And this corset is not at all comfortable."
"Stop being such a girl!" snapped Helga, grabbing Gruber's arm and pushing him up the steps.
Meanwhile, Maria's wedding party was in full swing. A live band played as the happy couple and their guests danced the night away.
"Edith- do you know what you have to do?"
"Yes, Michelle. Mama and Yvette- follow me. It's show-time!"
"Very well. Mimi is already in the cellar. René, M. Alfonse and M. Leclerc- good luck. I must now disappear like a phantom to the museum cellar, to wait in the broom cupboard."
When the next number began, Edith, Yvette and Fanny pretended to drunkenly stagger onto the dance floor, each carrying a glass of gin. They all sang tunelessly to the music, which caused all of the guests to stop and stare. At this moment, René, M. Leclerc and M. Alfonse slipped out, unnoticed, and headed to the art gallery.
"See, von Smallhausen. I have managed to smash part of the glass dome. Now for the rest of the plan: you will abseil into the gallery, steal the paintings and then leave by the fire exit."
"Yes, Herr Flick," answered von Smallhausen, as he crawled through the gap in the glass. "But what if -"
This was evidently not a good time to ask any questions. Herr Flick gave him a powerful shove, causing him to drop. Unfortunately, the rope around von Smallhausen's waist snapped, causing the little Gestapo Officer to hit the ground. But as luck would have it, he landed right in front of 'The Cracked Vase'. Quickly swapping this painting for one of Herr Flick's forgeries and then doing the same for 'The Fallen Madonna', von Smallhausen found the fire escape and hurriedly left the building.
Just seconds after that, René and his accomplices entered the gallery.
"Now if I'm not mistaken, the paintings are on the top floor of the gallery," said M. Leclerc, using his torch to search for something. "But unfortunately, the batteries in my torch are running low, and I cannot find the staircase."
"We are standing right next to it, you old fool!" sighed René, switching on his own torch and leading the way up the steps.
"Could you not perhaps go a little slower? All the suspense and excitement brought about by this adventure will not be good for my dicky ticker!" gasped M. Alfonse, finding the banister and plodding up the stairs.
Eventually, they reached the correct floor. Not noticing the fact that the glass dome on top of the building had been smashed by Herr Flick, the three of them set about switching the paintings. Making sure that the frames were not crooked, they then hurried back to the party, in time to see Hans and Elise were dancing together in one corner of the floor, and trying to steer clear of Maria, Yvette and Mimi, who were performing a mad ring-a-ring-a-roses type dance in time to the song "In the Mood" (which had always been one of Maria's favourite pieces).
Time now, René thought, to relax. After all, the paintings were now his. When the number finished, Edith offered him her hand. René quickly accepted and they took to the floor to dance a Tango.
The next morning, back in Nouvion...
"So, there we have it. 'The Fallen Madonna' and 'The Cracked Vase' are now ours!" beamed Colonel von Strohm. "Gruber- we must now roll up these genuine paintings and hide them in that safe at the Police Station, until the end of the War."
"Pardon me, Colonel, but there appears to be a message in the corner of the canvas," squinted Gruber. "It reads: 'This is a forgery. I know of your plans, and no one is going to make a fool out of me, Colonel. [Signed General Erich von Klinkerhoffen.'"
"Here we go again," sighed the Colonel, in a rather exasperated tone.
The War was finally over. In a few weeks' time, Hans would have to return to England, but not alone this time. He had been granted permission to take Elise with him, and her papers would be ready in a few days. How Hans would miss Nouvion! Once again, saying goodbye would be an ordeal, but the Intelligence had arranged for Hans to visit the area on business every so often. All the same, there was one special farewell that the Captain had to make.
Entering the Town Hall, which was the former German Headquarters, he was rather surprised to find Helga sitting in the Reception area, tapping away to her heart's content, on that little black typewriter of hers. Looking up, she asked,
"Hello- can I help you?"
"Yes... is the Colonel in today, please? I hear he's been appointed as the mayor's assistant?"
"That is correct. I shall announce you at once... Captain Geering!" smiled Helga, as she finally recognised him.
"Helga- don't tell him my name. Leave that to me."
Nodding, the former Private Geerhardt entered the office and closed the double doors behind her. Putting his ear to the wall, Hans could clearly hear the conversation between Helga and the Colonel.
"There is a man outside I do not recognise, Herr Colonel."
"Really? What does he want?"
"I don't know, but he says it is urgent."
"Very well. Tell him to come in here."
Hans knew full well what was going to happen next. He moved away from the wall, before Helga opened the double doors, stood to one side, and yelled at the top of her voice,
"COME IN HERE!"
Trying his utmost to keep the smirk off his face, Hans obeyed the command. Once Helga had left the room and shut the double doors, the Colonel spoke.
"Good morning. How can I help you?"
"Please, Colonel- I have come about some unfinished business."
"And who might you be?"
At this point, Hans smiled, raised his arm and cried, "'Tler!"