When Jinnie stood up to say goodbye to the PM she was pleased that she had left the car at the parent’s and they had grabbed a taxi to the Trattoria. She knew that the PM had a reputation for liking a drink but tonight had confirmed it. Suddenly the expression her grandmother used to say, “That man’s got hollow legs,” popped into her mind. Paolo called over Alberto and asked him to call them a taxi, but before he did he mentioned that they had already beaten their record takings that evening. No one wanted to leave before the PM and the sales of after-dinner coffee and alcohol had been enormous. He then said he would get the cab to come to the staff entrance as someone had tipped the press and they were besieging the main entrance.
It was gone ten the following morning when Jinnie woke, slightly the worse for wear. Paolo was still asleep so she dressed quietly and headed downstairs. Penny was sitting in her dressing gown, at the dining table with a mug of black coffee, trying to focus on the front page of the Daily Express where there was a huge photo of the front of the Trattoria Trevi with Nigel getting into his car. The headline said, “PM return’s to his new favourite restaurant,” and in smaller type below, “But who were his guests and where did they go?”
Jinnie moved on to look at other papers and they all had similar stories. But she had to laugh at The Sun who were speculating that the PM had a new girlfriend and had interviewed diners as they left the restaurant who confirmed that the PM had dined with two pretty girls, completely ignoring Paolo! Jinnie’s phone pinged and on checking it she found she had a message from the estate agent they had appointed to sell the Cambridge house only the previous morning. They had three customers who would like a viewing that day. Jinnie asked her mum if it was possible to bring lunch forward. She said yes, they were having steak and chips so it could be made to suit her arrangements. Jinnie ran upstairs and found Paolo dressing. She explained what was going on and his first reaction was, “We have underpriced the house,” despite it being on the market for £200,000 more than Jinnie had paid for it.
Jinnie phoned the estate agent, who now had four potential viewers and viewings were fixed for 3:30, 4:00, 4:30 and 5:00. They got home at about 2:45. Jinnie and Penny rushed around tidying and vacuuming. Paolo took a frozen loaf out of the freezer and Willie was instructed to get a big pot of fresh coffee brewing. By the time the first appointment arrived the house was full of delicious fresh baked bread and coffee smells. Willie made himself scarce by going to Dirk’s for the evening, Larry was snoozing in his basket having been given a huge helping of Felix and the others were waiting anxiously in the TV room. Jinnie showed the first couple around and answered numerous questions including, would it be possible to leave the furnishings? Jinnie said they were open to offers. In effect, they hadn’t thought about it but if they sold quickly they would have to put it into storage so that was perhaps a good idea. The more the viewing went on the more Jinnie realised that this couple were looking for a student house, exactly why Jinnie had bought the house in the first place.
Jinnie had the second viewers marked down as time-wasters. She didn’t think they were serious viewers, just someone whose Sunday entertainment was looking at other people’s houses. The third viewers were a couple with young children, their little girl fell in love with Larry and asked her mother if he came with the house. Jinnie explained to her that Larry was her special friend and he would hate to be parted from her, Larry meowed in agreement. The final viewers were very brisk and business-like and Jinnie had them down as more professional buyers looking for student accommodation.
The final viewers had just left when Jinnie’s mobile rang. It was the estate agent. The first couple had gone straight back to the office and got there minutes before they closed. They had put in an offer of the full asking price plus £25,000 for the furnishings. The agent advised them that it was a good offer but not to accept it yet as he was yet to hear from the other viewers and before closing he had two more potential viewers. Jinnie explained that they would not be back from London until at least 6:30 tomorrow evening. The agent asked if it would be possible to have a key so that he could show people around. Jinnie thought for a moment and said as the left for London well before the estate agent opened in the morning would it be possible to put the key in an envelope and put it through the door. The agent said yes, but he only lived a few streets away and would prefer if he could call round and collect it. He could be there in ten minutes.
The agent was as good as his word and pulled up outside the house within ten minutes, but sat in his car speaking on the phone for a couple of minutes before ringing the doorbell bell. The first thing he said was, “Sorry, I just got a call from another viewer, they loved the house and wanted to make an offer. I told them you already had an offer of the asking price but had not accepted it yet as you had other viewing arranged. They offered £5,000 over the asking price.” Jinnie was astounded, the house had only been put on the market the day before and they already had two offers.
Jinnie was sitting in the canteen chatting with Emma about Saturday night, eating a prawn sandwich for her lunch when her mobile rang. The canteen was one of the few places the mobile signal in the building wasn’t blocked. Once again it was the estate agent, complaining that Jinnie wasn’t answering her phone. She explained that private calls were not allowed in the office and she could only answer now because she was at lunch. He had another offer to report. This time it was the fourth viewer and the offer was now £7,000 over asking and they wanted to know if the furniture could be purchased. He now had three viewers for the afternoon and had told them all that several offers over the asking price were already on the table. Could he ring her later to update her on the situation? Jinnie said she would be leaving work at five but would be on the underground almost immediately. She aimed to get the 17:39 and would be able to answer after that if the train wasn’t in one of the infamous tunnels on that line.
Emma said, “I thought you loved your house in Cambridge, why are you selling?” Jinnie told her, “I do, but the house is going to be empty for months as Paolo is likely to be in Italy. Leaving it vacant for that length of time is asking for trouble from burglars or squatters or the likes. The idea is to invest the money and then buy a house somewhere near mum, maybe Barnet or Cockfosters. Somewhere where commuting to the Cross is reasonably easy, both are only one change on the tube.”
Jinnie had hardly stopped speaking when her mobile rang again, this time it was Alberto. Despite it being Monday, and the restaurant being closed, it had been chaos. The place was besieged by reporters. Jo had come in on her day off to answer the phone and they were now fully booked for the next month. He wanted to know her view on charging a non-refundable deposit on future bookings which would count against the final bill. Jinnie asked if there were many no shows? He said no, maybe one a night, but a deposit of say £25 a table would save having to keep a waitlist, by compensating them. She said, “OK, go for it but what do the other partners say?” There was a unanimous agreement, so as of tomorrow a deposit was to be charged.
The train had just come out of the Hadley tunnel when Jinnie’s mobile rang, it was the agent again. He had another offer to report, that made four. He suggested that the way forward was to ask for sealed bids and to sell to the highest bidder. She said she would talk to Paolo and let him know in the morning. The more she thought about it, the more she wondered if the little family had been one of the bidders and if so did they have deep enough pockets to compete with the people who wanted to run the house as a student house? But that was effectively what she had turned it into.
Paolo thought sealed bids an excellent idea, but suggested that if Jinnie really wanted the house to go to a family rather than a business she should ask the estate agents exactly who was bidding and because the house was still in her hame it was her decision on who it was to go to. The agent phoned later that evening, he was obviously working for his commission. He told Jinnie the offers were all from “businesses”, were all unencumbered cash buyers and the viewers she thought were time-wasters were amongst them and he had to declare his company were managing agents for the 14 student houses they already owned. He said sealed bids made it easier for him as that way he couldn’t be accused of showing them any favouritism while acting for Jinnie. She said to go ahead with sealed bids with two figures, one for the house and one for the contents. She was in a hurry so bids were to be in by noon Friday and she wanted to exchange contracts and complete as soon as possible.
The agent phoned her the next lunchtime, all four bidders were happy to proceed on the suggested basis and had promised to have a bid in on Friday. Jinnie phoned the solicitor who had dealt with the purchase of the house, who was storing the deeds and explained to him what was happening. He agreed to act for her again and to start work in anticipation of getting more details on Friday afternoon. Back in the department after lunch, she told Penny what was happening. Penny said she supposed she would need to look for a flat for next term. It suddenly struck Jinnie that she could insert a clause in the sale making Penny a sitting tenant until she finished her course. She was certain Penny could easily find some coursemates to house share as most would be having to leave university supplied accommodation this summer.
On Wednesday morning Jinnie and Penny got orders to attend a three-day “demolition” course at Sterling Lines the following Monday. Jinnie pointed out to Penny that things were being taken very seriously if they were going to be taught by the SAS. Penny wondered if she should take her OTC uniform. Jinnie said she shouldn’t bother as it was a course for SIS agents and she would be the only one in uniform.
Jinnie was very nervous on Friday morning and could hardly wait for the expected lunch time call from the estate agent. She was chatting with Emma and eating a beef and horseradish sandwich when her mobile rang. The highest bidder had offered £20,000 over the asking price, £25,000 for the furnishings and was quite willing to accept Penny as the lead renter for the two years she expected to still be at Cambridge at a “market rent”. Jinnie phoned Paolo who said, “OK, let’s go with that, but let’s tie down what the “market rent” is as we might need to subsidise Penny.”
The following Monday, the sisters sat in the lecture theatre at Sterling Lines along with a dozen or so others from Vauxhall awaiting their trainers. She recognised a couple of the trainees from the canteen but actually knew none of them. The room fell silent as a captain entered and took the stage. He was followed by three sergeants, one of whom Jinnie recognised immediately. It was Steven Williamson and he now had a crown above his three stripes. He was now a staff sergeant. The captain introduced himself and the three sergeants explaining that this was to be a very compressed course due to the urgency of getting them into the field. He continued that the course would be run by Staff Sgt Williamson who had ample experience in the field and was one of their explosives experts and handed over to him before leaving the room.
Steven smiled at his audience and said, “Ok, we will split you into two groups, those sitting on the left and those on the right and each will have a sgt instructor in charge and I will be drifting between both. As most of this course is practical, I hope you are prepared to get dirty, as we will be crawling about a bit. Right, let’s get on with things.” And with that, the sgts led them outside. As they headed out Steven whispered to Jinnie, “I would appreciate it if you don’t reveal we know each other, I don’t want anyone accusing me of bias.”
The sisters enjoyed the course, blowing up things was fun. They were taught how to choose the right explosive for the target. How to estimate how much explosive to use. When to use a shaped charge. Picking the right detonator. Different fuses and how to decide on time delays with electronic timers or lengths of fuse wire. By Wednesday evening the girls were both confident that called on to blow something up they would succeed without killing themselves. Penny said she would probably use too much explosive but felt that was better than not enough.
While loading their bags into Jinnie’s Mini, Steven wandered over ostensibly to shake hands and say goodbye but out of the hearing of the other trainees Steven said, “I hear you are off to the South of France, I will be with the captain, taking a troop in on D-2 ready to cause mayhem behind the lines on D-Day with your guys. I understand you will be receiving us.” “It’s all news to me,” replied Jinnie.
Back in Cambridge, Larry greeted them noisily and Paolo told her he had been keeping on top of the solicitor. They were on target to exchange contracts on Friday and complete the following Friday. When Paolo had explained the rush because Jinnie was going abroad on Government business, the solicitor had suggested that they change the house into joint ownership so that he could sign the final papers if she wasn’t able to. If they popped in late on Friday they could sign both lots of paperwork at the same time.
Following the exchange of contracts Jinnie started rushing around letting people and companies know they were temporarily moving to her parent’s house in Potters Bar. The council, the bank, the milkman, the gas and electric suppliers, the list was endless. The old lady down the road was particularly upset as she thoroughly enjoyed Larry’s visits and admitted she was going to miss his company during the working day. Jinnie suggested she should visit Cats Protection and adopt her own moggy to keep her company. They had to sort out and pack all their personal stuff but as they had sold all the furniture and fittings with the house they were saving having to get removals men in.
Jinnie, Penny and Paolo had all arranged to take the “completion day” off so that they could fill their cars up with suitcases and bags full of clothes, personal thing and Larry before dropping the keys into the solicitors for completion that was set for noon. Jinnie pulled the front door shut at 11:45 and said goodbye to the house. Penny said, see you in September. Larry just looked forward to seeing his friend the skewbald mare.
As the bags kept coming out of the cars, Mrs Walsh just didn’t know where they were going to put everything. Penny really only had clothing and most of it had originally been in her wardrobe and drawers before she went to university so it all went back in the same spot but not only had Jinnie 4 years accumulated stuff there was also Paolo’s things. In the end, several suitcases full of winter clothes and things they decided they wouldn’t need until they found their new houses when they were safely back, went into the Loft. Larry was happy he had his cat basket, his blanket, his bowl with his name on it, his squeaky mouse and his Potters Bar cat flap collar. He had plenty of people to feed him and pet him and his friend the mare in the field. He had a long late spring and summer ahead of him.
On Monday morning Penny and Jinnie took up their old positions on the Potters Bar station platforms and were not in the least surprised when Gretel arrived just as the Thameslink train was pulling into the platform. Gretel looked at them and said, “This is just like old times.” Penny replied, “I wouldn’t bank on it lasting for long though, we are only waiting to be told to go.”
When they arrived in the office both Jinnie and Penny had messages waiting for them telling them that they were to report to Portsmouth for sterile clothing first thing on Sunday morning and to be prepared to fly to Genoa from Gatwick on Sunday afternoon. They would be inserted into France on Sunday night / Monday morning. Jinnie suggested Penny should take up a part-time job as a fortune teller. The sisters’ cover story was that they were independently wealthy sisters from Paris. They had inherited a large sum of money from their father, who had sold off his family manufacturing business that had grown fat on German military contracts. He had died a couple of years ago and the sisters were living off the investments they had made. They were in Nice for the summer and had rented a nice flat and had employed a maid and a cook. The story explained why they didn’t work and why they had plenty of money. The maid was of course one of Simone’s resistance group, and the money was all courtesy of the SIS who had created the back story, bank accounts and investments years ago for just this sort of eventuality.
The girls arrived at Portsmouth by train, Jinnie had rented an unused garage in a council block in the next street and tucked away her precious Mini for the duration. Mrs Walsh’s car was a wreck and Penny had suggested that her mother should use hers for work. She was only driving a few miles daily into Hadley village, to the primary school where she was now deputy head teacher. The Wrens, as usual, greeted Jinnie like an old friend, but only having dealt with Penny once before were a little more correct when dealing with her. They quickly had them fitted out with Third Reich fashions, but as they were on a scheduled flight to Genoa they retained their British clothing and papers. They expected to change at the GOI base where their British items would be held safely for them. However the girls were travelling light, they were planning to purchase additional clothing in Nice, two wealthy girls clothes shopping was excellent cover.
Jinnie looked around the business class lounge at Gatwick but couldn’t spot any other SIS agents or anyone who was a give away SAS trooper but then she would have been disappointed if she had recognised anyone. The flight was half empty, but the diversion out over the Bay of Biscay and round over Spain made it a long journey. Jinnie hoped that the flight home would be more direct.
The girls pressed their passports against the electronic readers which in both cases just bleeped and the gate opened, just as it should their British passports were in every sense real they were just not in their own names. They then picked up their rather nice suitcases and walked through the green channel without being challenged. Jinnie was rather happy not to have her bag searched by Italian customs, it might have been embarrassing to have to explain Third Reich papers in their baggage, even if the did have a memorised phone number in Rome that would have tidied it all up in moments.
The sisters emerged through the sliding doors into the arrivals hall where Jinnie recognised the GOI sergeant among the meeters and greeters despite him being in his civvies. He appeared to be genuinely delighted to meet Jinnie again and this time was very correct and business-like shaking her hand. He even carried their bags out to the civilian car in the multi-storey car park and headed for the adjoining military base. On the short journey he explained that his group would be escorting them to the beach where they would be met by the French Resistance who would see them safely to Nice. His troop would return to Genoa to prepare for, as he described it, “action”.
In Chapter 24 – A life of luxury.
© WorthingGooner 2022