Jinnie finally stumbled into bed at just after midnight, she was shattered not so much from the physical effort of the day but from the emotional effort, she had expended trying to make the restaurant launch night perfect. Jinnie had watched the last of the diners leave the restaurant and then joined the rest of the staff in the congratulatory back-slapping over the evening going so well. Alberto made a little speech thanking everyone and saying that despite expectations the new ordering/billing system had worked perfectly and the first indication was that the evening had actually been a financial success.
The partners had agreed that the evening was really a PR event and had expected to lose money on all the free food and drink that was being served to guests. However the paying diners had actually spent a lot more on alcohol than anticipated. People seemed to have ordered higher-priced wines with their meals than they had budgeted for. More customers had bought liqueurs and brandy after their meals than they had ever experienced before. The system had taken in all the outgoings and balanced it against sales and produced a number that showed a small profit. Of course, the profit was only provisional and they couldn’t bank on the increased alcohol sales for every service. But on the other hand they wouldn’t be giving away so many meals on a regular basis. The important thing now was to get some good publicity and restaurant reviews that would make or break the business.
Jinnie had left the restaurant for the short drive to her parent’s home quite ecstatic but halfway there the tiredness had hit her. She was thankful she only had a few minutes drive and had opted not to return to Cambridge until after her mum’s Sunday lunch. As she crept into the bedroom she tried not to wake Paolo but failed. He kissed her and said what a wonderful evening it had been but had promptly gone back to sleep. She had followed soon after.
Jinnie woke and looked at her watch, 08:37. Paolo was up and noises and cooking smells were emanating from downstairs. Surprisingly she realised she was hungry, so she forced herself to get dressed and followed the smell of frying bacon. The rest of the family were sitting around the table eating bacon sandwiches and drinking mugs of tea. Her mum was first to see her and jumped up and hugged her saying, “Darling, that was a wonderful evening. You worked so hard we thought we should let you sleep. Now there is plenty of bacon keeping warm in the oven and tea in the pot. How many sandwiches do you want?” Jinnie said, “Just one please.”
A couple of minutes later Jinnie had a doorstep sandwich made from two thick slices of heavily buttered crusty bread, four rashers of thick-sliced bacon, and brown sauce that was running out onto her plate. She looked at the beauty of it for a moment before taking a huge bite and getting a mixture of molten butter and HP sauce running down the chin. In next to no time it was gone and her mum asked, “Another?” As much as she would like to, she knew mum was planning roast chicken with pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, peas and carrots for lunch that she wanted to do justice to, so she said a reluctant, “No.”
Jinnie wanted to take Paolo to the pub she used to work at for a pre-Sunday lunch drink so she asked her mum what time lunch would be and was told, “1:30 on the dot.” Penny had been invited by Daniel’s parents for lunch so she disappeared to drive herself over to their house. She said goodbye to her parents as she intended to drive straight to Cambridge from there. Jinnie and Paolo enjoyed the short walk to the pub and the landlord greeted her like an old friend and chatted for a few minutes. He told them that he had already had two customers in who had been to Trattoria Trevi last night and a had raved about what a wonderful evening they had enjoyed. He pulled a copy of the Mail on Sunday from under the counter and showed her the picture on page 3 of the PM raising his glass to toast the restaurant with Jinnie sitting next to him. “You kept that quiet,” he said before disappearing to the other end of the bar to serve a customer.
Jinnie was delighted with the free advertising and desperate to read the article. She decided to borrow it and they retreated to a booth with their drinks. The writer had obviously been a customer in the new area of the restaurant and had greatly enjoyed their evening. Jinnie guessed the photo had been taken on a camera phone and wondered if a framed copy could be used in reception. The report talked about the speeches and said how well they had been received. It then when on to review the restaurant, commenting on how good the food had been, far better than the writer had expected in a suburban restaurant. It praised the service, and the senior management having the time to visit customers when they had two such important VIPs to entertain. The article ended up by saying that the reviewer would like to return at a later date to test the full menu instead of the understandably limited opening night menu.
Jinnie was very happy and returned the paper to the landlord. As she was about to sit down Gretel and her boyfriend walked in. Gretel spotted Jinnie, ran over to her and hugged her saying what a terrific evening she had last night and thanking Jinnie all over again. While her boyfriend was at the bar getting Gretel’s drink she told Jinnie how the PM had stopped at her table and spoken to her, Dirk and Willie. “He actually knew who I was,” she told them. “Did you point me out to him?” Jinnie said, “No. That man never ceases to amaze me with what and who he knows. I know he knew Dirk and possibly Willie but I have never mentioned you to him.” “He thanked me for all my hard work and told me we are going to get very busy soon,” said Gretel. Jinnie said, “Yes, he said the said the same thing to me, but I don’t know any more than that.”
There was a newsagents in the same parade as the pub so before walking home Jinnie bought a copy of the Mail on Sunday and after having a quick look at several of the Sunday papers also got a copy of the Telegraph when she spotted a photo and article on an inside page. When they arrived back at the Walsh’s, Mrs Walsh was just dishing up and they just had time to wash their hands before the chicken was on the table. Jinnie would really have liked to read the article in the Telegraph but reading and using phones at the meal table was totally forbidden in the Walsh household.
Over her post-lunch cuppa, Jinnie and Paolo read the article in the Telegraph while her parents read the Mail review. The more Jinnie read the greater her smile grew, this review was even better than the one in the Mail. The article was in two parts, a man covered the speeches just reported the facts and how well the PM and Ambassador had been received. Then a woman had comprehensively reviewed the restaurant, everything from the food and service to the decor and the quality hand wash in the ladies. She even mentioned the comfortable chairs. The reviewer said couldn’t fault anything and ended up saying to visit now before they got a Michelin Star and the prices went up.
Jinnie sat back smirking and wondered if Alberto and the other partners had seen the reviews? Her dad had just picked up the Telegraph when Jinnie’s mobile rang. It was Belinda saying her husband had just pointed out the article in the Telegraph to her and had Jinnie seen it? Jinnie said “Yes” and Belinda said she had intended, but had forgotten to ask, if she could send a photographer round to take some photos for her company website? Jinnie said, “I’m heading back to Cambridge later but I intend popping into the restaurant on the way. I’ll ask Alberto, I can see no reason for him to say no. Perhaps you could ring him tomorrow?” Belinda said she would and she would also be phoning the Mail and the Telegraph as she wanted to use quotes from their reviews.
Belinda and Paolo called in at the Trattoria on their way to Cambridge. Jinnie let them in through the staff entrance. The kitchen was busy prepping for the special evening service and Alberto was busy supervising setting up the dining areas. The partners all looked tired but happy, they had seen the reviews and Alberto said he wanted to get permission to put copies up in reception. Jinnie told him about Belinda’s request and he said, “Yes, I’m happy for that to happen. I was going to suggest we got a photographer in while everything was fresh and new but if we ask Belinda for copies of her’s we can save money!”
Alberto told her the special lunch service had been busy. They had even managed to squeeze in a few walk-ups who had got lucky when some of the early diners had eaten quickly and vacated tables in time to get a second, unplanned, sitting. The good news was that the phone had hardly stopped ringing and Jo had told Alberto they were now fully booked for the next three weeks and the following two weeks were about 85% booked already. Several of last night’s diners had even made reservations as they were leaving. Things were going better than anyone could possibly have hoped for.
As usual, Larry was in the window when they parked on the drive. The lady from three down had been feeding him and Jinnie had told him that they would only be away for one night so he hadn’t worried. But as soon as Jinnie came in the front door he smelt the slices of chicken breast Mrs Walsh had sent for his supper. He was all over her until she dropped the meat into his Christmas present bowl with his name on it. For a moment Jinnie watched him eat, before joining Paolo on the sofa in front of the TV. She seemed only to have been sitting down for a few seconds when Larry walked in licking his lips, jumped up on her lap and promptly went to sleep.
When Jinnie got to Vauxhall Cross on Monday morning a message appeared on her PC as soon as it booted up. She was summoned immediately by ‘C’ to attend a heads of departments meeting. It was to take place in one of the larger meeting rooms as there were around 30 attendees. Jinnie thought she already knew what this was to be about, the PM had warned her months ago, that all things being equal, the Army would soon be entering France to free it from German control. She look at Gretel and said, “Here we go.”
Once again there was a heightened level of security on the meeting room door and even though the security men knew her well they checked her security pass and had her use the mobile fingerprint reader. Unlike the Sunday emergency meeting, this was a working day and there was copious good coffee available as well as chocolate muffins. Jinnie found a seat and Emma came and sat beside her and said, “You didn’t tell me you were involved in a restaurant.” Jinnie said, “Well, I’m just an investor really.” And Emma replied, “I saw you in yesterday’s Mail, it got a good review, I might ask my husband to take me for my birthday.” Jinnie smiled and said, “Get him to make the booking quickly, all the publicity is booking us out for weeks in advance.” Before Emma could say anything more, ‘C’ entered the room and stood in front of a whiteboard. He cleared his throat and they fell silent.
‘C’ started by telling everyone that what they were about to hear was probably the biggest secret they would ever have to keep. It must not leak as it could cost thousands of lives if it did. He continued that the SIS was going to insert just about every French speaker they had into France in the spring and they were to train and lead resistance groups ready for a major action in early summer. The operation was going to involve a major effort by every department to plan the infiltrations and support the agents in the field. He said that, for reasons of security, what individuals would be doing would be between them and their controller. They would be briefed individually during the day, but those French speakers could expect to be in France for some time and should make arrangements accordingly. Support departments should brief their staff that they are going to be extremely busy for the next few weeks.
Although ‘C’ didn’t mention forces being landed in France, Jinnie knew that was what this was all about. Getting SIS agents in place to direct sabotage and harass the Germans on an invasion was what she could see herself being asked to do. Jinnie’s personal briefing was at 10 past 11 in ‘C’s office. She was delighted as she was tasked with going back to the South of France, building up and training Simone’s little group. Her sister was to assist her. ‘C’ explained that as a trainee she officially needed supervising but her command of French was so good that she had to put her on active service. They were to plan to be inserted into France in early May and the invasion was currently planned for June or July. They were to expect to plan to be away for an initial 3 months.
Italian and British forces would be landing in their section in a coordinated attack on numerous parts of France. Her team were tasked with making her and Penny’s arrangements, as well as agents being responsible for the plans for agents being inserted into four other French towns or cities. Both Jinnie and Penny were considered good enough shots not to need further training in that field but they were to receive instruction in demolition. The plan was to harass the German rear, preventing reinforcements and re-equipment by dropping bridges, blowing up railway lines and junctions, and attacking reinforcement columns.
Jinnie’s team got underway immediately and started planning. Gretel said to Jinnie that she had just managed to book them on a scheduled flight to Genoa and the initial plan was to insert the two sisters in a similar manner to her last mission. By the evening the team were making decent progress so there was no need to work late so she decided to head for Cambridge and have a chat with Penny as she was unaware if she yet knew of what was planned for her. On the tube she checked her watch and realised that with any luck she could just catch a train at Finsbury Park. She didn’t mind the change onto the tube at Finsbury Park in the morning, as it involved going down a spiral staircase, but the reverse in the evening was a fitness test, especially if you were hurrying for a train.
As Jinnie emerged onto the platform, the Cambridge train was there with its doors open so she jumped aboard and checked the overhead indicator that told her there were seats towards the front of the train. She had just sat down when her mobile rang. It was Paolo checking if she was going to be home at her normal time. She said yes and he asked her what time train she was getting. She told him she had just left Finsbury Park and he laughed, he was on the same train but at the back. As there were now people standing they decided to stay where they were.
Penny was back from college and anxious for her evening meal as it was one of her student bar nights, so she was the next person to ring Jinnie. Jinnie said there was homemade pasta sauce in the fridge and pasta in the cupboard so she suggested Penny could prepare that for when they arrived, it was quick and easy. As usual Larry was waiting for Jinnie when she got home and she bent down and stroked him saying, “I’ve got something to tell you after dinner. I think we better have a family conference in the TV room.” That got Larry a bit bothered.
They only had time for a quick conference before Penny had to leave for work but it transpired that no one had yet spoken to her about going on active service and she was split between doing her duty and completing her exams. Jinnie was careful with what she could say as Paolo was a foreign national, even if Italy was an ally. It was when Jinnie said that she and Penny could possibly be absent for up to 3 months that Larry’s stomach dropped and Paolo groaned. He said, “I didn’t know how to tell you but I have today been given a new task. I am going to be liaising between Italian and British forces so I will be spending a lot of time travelling and will not be in the U.K. much. It looks to me like all three of us will be away at the same time working on the same project.”
Larry let out a plaintive “meow” and Jinnie turned to him and said, “I would swear he understands every word we have been saying. There’s no need to worry my furry friend, Willie will still be here but I’m certain mum and dad will love to have you stay. You can think of it as one long holiday.”
Jinnie had been thinking about Penny’s end of year exams and decided to ring Dirk, he would know what to do. She carefully worded her conversation with Dirk as she didn’t know how much he knew and, of course, it was an open line. She could almost see Dirk smiling as he said, “Tell Penny not to worry, I have been briefed and I have already spoken to her course tutor and she is not expected in again this term. She is officially in hospital in London with a ruptured appendix. Her exam results will be based on her term work so you can congratulate her on coming top of her year.” He continued saying, “I know it’s not really my business but have you thought of selling the house. Is it worth keeping it on when you all are going to be missing for months? I have a spare bedroom in my flat and Willie could move in here.” Jinnie thanked him and said she would think about it but she had to consider her sister still had two years of university to go and would need somewhere to live in the autumn.
Jinnie and Paolo were still discussing what to do when Willie came in from work having stayed late training agents. He was absolutely shattered and it was just about all he could do to eat his pasta. He told Jinnie that he had fallen asleep on the train home and was grateful that the train terminated in Cambridge. He was sure that if the train hadn’t been terminating he would have slept on and landed up in God knows where. He said he had become very friendly with one of the secretaries at work and she had asked him to move into her Battersea flat. If he was going to have more days like today he thought that on two grounds he should consider it, the commute was going to kill him and he rather liked the girl. Jinnie told him not to worry, she was considering selling the house.
Jinnie and Paolo talked for a long time and finally decided that if Willie was going to move out they had two alternatives; just lock up the house for the duration of the coming war and move back in when it was all over, or sell the house and buy something nearer work. Jinnie favoured the Barnet / Cockfosters area, it was near her and mum and dad and within fairly easy commuting distance. But Jinnie still felt a responsibility for Penny, she wondered about buying a flat for Penny to live in until she got her degree.
The next week was hectic, Jinnie’s department had settled both her and Penny’s arrangements and had moved on the other agents they were responsible for, one going to Lyon, one to Amiens, one to Dijon and the final one to Reims. Penny was commuting into Vauxhall with Jinnie, Jinnie had got the house on the market, Paolo was busy in the Embassy and stayed over there several nights. Jinnie spoke to her dad and he told her that if they wanted to base themselves in Potters Bar between selling the house and buying a new one they were more than welcome and of course they would love to have Larry. On the Friday the sisters were told to report to Hereford for a demolition course on the Monday morning. Travelling home on Friday evening Jinnie’s phone rang, expecting it to be her husband she just said, “Hello darling,” and then cringed with embarrassment when she heard the PM say, “Hello Jinnie, I didn’t know cared.” She replied saying how sorry she was, she thought it was Paolo. He chuckled and said he hoped she wouldn’t mind but he had booked a table for Saturday night at the Trattoria Trevi. It was in an assumed name and there would be little security this time as no one, not even Alberto knew that he was Mr Robinson and his party who had reserved a table for four. He would like Jinnie, Paolo and Penny to join him for his treat. Jinnie of course agreed, but wondered what he wanted this time, there was always something behind everything he did.
The table was booked for eight o’clock and Jinnie, Paolo and Penny arrived at the restaurant 5 mins early. This time Jo recognised her saying, “Good Evening Mrs Du Luca, have you just popped in for a visit or were you hoping to eat because I am sorry to say we are fully booked for the next three weeks with a waiting list for cancellations.” As Jinnie explained, she was a guest of Mr Robinson who had booked a table for four. Alberto appeared at her side saying, “Hello Jinnie, let me take you to your table, Mr Robinson has not arrived yet.” Jinnie was tempted to say you will know him when he does, but didn’t. As she was seated at a corner table in the downstairs new area she was delighted to see the restaurant was packed and the Saturday night crowd were clearly enjoying themselves.
Jinnie whispered to Alberto and said in Italian, “Gosh it’s busy.” Alberto smiled and whispered back, “It’s still quiet, we have a few tables still to come. I can share with you that the computer says we are trading very profitably and the partners are delighted. It looks like we will have a good profit to share.” Alberto turned and spoke to the partner who had been the wine waiter in the old restaurant and was now the Sommelier with 2 assistants, who scurried off. The commis waiter for the section had barely presented them with menus when a commotion broke out near the entrance as ‘Mr Robinson’ entered the room followed closely by two Security Service men. By the time the PM reached the table the whole restaurant was on their feet applauding. With excellent timing, as Nigel sat down the Sommelier arrived with four glasses and a bottle of Bollinger La Grande Annèe 2012, a survivor from pre-war days when French Champagne was still imported.
The PM hadn’t forgotten his bodyguards, they had been booked a table with a view over the room and Nigel had told them they could have anything on the menu but no alcohol. The PM browsed the menu and choose Bruschetta as his antipasti, Paolo thoroughly approved and joined him while the sisters both went for the buffalo mozzarella and avocado tomato salad. They all skipped the pasta course and went straight for the mains. The PM went for the Bistecca al Pepe, sirloin steak in a cream brandy and cracked pepper sauce, roasted vegetables and sautéed potatoes, which he asked for medium-rare. Paolo choose veal, the Vitello Milanese, a breaded veal escalope with linguine in tomato sauce which he said reminded him of his mother’s cooking. The girls both chose Pollo Pescatore, sliced chicken breast, tiger prawns, mushrooms, tomato and cream with roasted vegetables and sautéed potatoes.
The service was fast and attentive. Jinnie hoped that it wasn’t just their table and tried to see how the service was on adjacent tables and was happy to see no one waiting ages or any food being sent back. Jinnie loved her chicken dish and seeing four empty plates at the table realised that everyone was of the same opinion. Nobody wanted a heavy dessert so Paolo suggested one of his favourites, Affogato. He explained it was vanilla ice cream served with a shot of expresso and if they really wanted to push the boat out to add a shot of Sambucca. That appealed to the PM so they all opted for that.
Over coffee, Nigel finally got down to business. He wanted to thank all three of them for their forthcoming missions. He knew they were risking a lot but he wanted them to report their war stories to him after the success he was certain was coming. He wanted to have their stories published in the press, of course it would be anonymously but he wanted the public to appreciate the risks people took on their behalf. Jinnie and Penny agreed but Paolo said he would like to say ‘Yes’ but he would have to ask for the Ambassador’s approval. Nigel replied do you really think I would have asked if I didn’t already have your Government’s agreement. “These stories are going to be huge,” he said, “not only will they be in the British press but the Italian press and I suspect the free world will pay a fortune for your stories.”
In Chapter 23 – Yet another trip to Nice.
© WorthingGooner 2022