|A week later – outside Gestapo HQ|
‘It’ll never work,’ René whispered to Robin as they crouched uncomfortably in bushes at the side of the road.
‘Yes it will. We have to make it work,’ Robin responded. ‘There’s no way we could have got into Gestapo HQ to steal the original.’
‘I suppose this is our best chance,’ René said. ‘But the chances of pulling it off are slim.’
‘Nonsense!’ Robin said bracingly. ‘It’s all been worked out. We just need a little luck on our side, or more importantly no bad luck.’
As they watched, Violet and Polly appeared, dressed in the outfits they had worn in the café. They stopped beside the car belonging to the Germans and engaged the driver in conversation by asking for a light. Conversation was lively, judging by the body language, as they were too far away to be overheard and before long the soldier followed the girls along a path at the side of the Gestapo HQ building.
Robin and René looked at each other. So far, so good.
A few minutes later, the German soldier appeared to return from the same direction and get into the car.
‘Was that who I thought it was?’ René asked, incredulous.
‘Yes, of course,’ Robin replied. ‘Remember we had to have a fluent German speaker, just in case. And Madge and Maria Marani were needed for the next phase of the operation.’
‘Will she be fit to drive?’
Robin nodded. ‘I hid the gin bottle when I went up to school for the final briefing this morning.’
Herr Flick and Helga emerged from the building. Helga was carrying a long cylindrical parcel which she placed carefully in the boot of the car. She and Herr Flick got into the car and it drove away.
In the car, silence reigned until the car had to stop suddenly as a bridge which should have been there had disappeared.
‘What is happening?’ Herr Flick demanded angrily. ‘Why is there no bridge?’
‘I rather think the Resistance have been up to their tricks again,’ Helga said. ‘We will have to go by another route.’
The driver duly undertook a three-point turn which, as the road was narrow and overhung by trees, was more like nine points. Herr Flick muttered impatiently whilst this was going on and, when the car almost stalled on the final turn, swore.
Eventually with much bumping, the car crawled forward and an alternative route to the harbour was decided upon. When the harbour was reached, Helga retrieved the parcel from the car boot and handed it to Herr Flick. They both boarded a German ship and returned a little while later.
The car took them back to Gestapo HQ and when they were safely inside, the driver emerged and disappeared along the side of the building.
The real driver reappeared some minutes later and drove the car round to the compound where all the vehicles were kept.
‘How did you get him to co-operate?’ René asked, as they set off to return to the café.
‘He didn’t exactly co-operate,’ Robin explained. ‘We arranged for him to be kept occupied while the car was away. He doesn’t know it wasn’t another soldier who drove it and he daren’t say anything because he should have been on duty.’
René was shocked. ‘Those two girls who looked like tarts are schoolgirls, are they not? You surely didn’t get them to sha-, er, entertain, the soldier to get his uniform from him, did you?’
‘Of course not. Mind you, they were well up for entertaining him but we agreed that Yvette and Maria would be more able to keep him out of the way for the time we needed. So Polly and Violet only had to entice him into the hotel in the next street.’
It was a noisy gathering that evening at the café to celebrate a successful mission. René drew the curtains and locked the door before serving drinks all round.
‘But how could you be sure Helga would put it in the boot?’ Polly asked. If they had taken it into the car then you’d have been snookered.’
‘They carried it in the boot when they got it from the tree,’ Miss Annersley said. ‘And if they had taken it into the car, then I would have crashed the car instead of just stalling it.’
Polly looked at her headmistress in awe and a new respect. She had never imagined Miss Annersley to have so many skills.
‘How about we have a look at this famous painting then?’ Miss Annersley suggested, in high spirits – and not entirely due to the G&T she had just consumed. ‘It’s the only time we’ll get to see a Van Klomp up close and personal.’
Madge put down her brandy and soda, and went round behind the counter of the café. ‘Here it is,’ she said, putting it on a table.
It was unrolled carefully and everyone gathered round to admire it.
Robin looked at it carefully and rolled back one corner to check the canvas. ‘This isn’t the original!’
Author's Chapter Notes:
The rescue of the original painting is under way....