Jinnie’s team worked exceeding hard on sorting out the trip to Berlin. Dirk did his bit and contacted Hanna. Since the disaster when the Berlin resistance had been infiltrated and only four members had escaped capture she had been working with the Poles to set up a new group. She knew that the infiltrator was neither her or Willie, so that left two suspects. One had been with the group for years and Hanna was inclined to dismiss the idea that it could be him as he had been involved in numerous missions and had killed many Nazis. But to be on the safe side when she moved back to Berlin she took up residence on the opposite side of the city and avoided any possible contact with either of the two who had both gone to ground.
The Poles had aided Hanna by loaning a couple of men who found the two following an intensive search. The one Hanna thought was clean was working as a labourer on a building site under an assumed name that had been on his escape paperwork and appeared to be keeping himself to himself and living on his modest wage. However, the man she suspected, was living in a big house and the Poles reported he had armed protection and rarely went out except to a job in the Ministry of Propaganda.
Hanna had decided to take the chance and approach the labourer, Wolfgang or Wolfe as she had known him. One evening, on the tram home from the site, after making sure neither of them was being observed she sat down beside him and said quietly to him, “Hello Wolfe, can I buy you dinner this evening.” Wolfe was initially stunned, but quickly recovered when he saw who it was. They got off the tram and Hanna was pleased to see one of the Poles was 50 metres behind them. They found a small bar restaurant and found a quiet corner. Hanna saw the two Poles take a table at the other side of the room where they could watch her and Wolfe.
Like Hanna, Wolfe had been a university lecturer, so being a lowly paid labourer was tough and he was happy to have a decent meal. Over their dinner, Wolfe told Hanna his story. He had got a tiny warning that something was wrong when he had seen the Gestapo arrive at the university. He was between lectures and without ado slipped away and boarded a tram outside the university. He had made several changes, all the time checking for pursuers, but had seen no one. He had not returned to his digs but had headed to where he had buried his escape paperwork. At the station the Gestapo watchers were obvious so Wolfe decided not to run but to stay in Berlin and change his identity to that on his escape papers. He had done several labouring jobs and as far as he knew he had escaped detention. He had lots of questions, who had turned them in to the Gestapo, who else had got away, how had she found him?
Hanna explained that she knew the name he had on his escape papers so that gave her a good start in her search. She then explained that as far as she knew only four of the cell had survived, herself, him, Willie and Martin. Wolfe shook his head, thought for a moment and said, “Well it clearly isn’t you and me or we wouldn’t be sat here eating and talking with your minders over there. So that leaves Willie and Martin. I can’t believe it was Willie, he had been Dirk’s right-hand man for years, we had been on many missions together and I would have trusted him with my life, in fact I did on several occasions.” He continued, “That leaves Martin, I never really trusted him, in fact I was careful to avoid him as much as possible and I never disclosed anything about my escape package to him.”
Hanna nodded and said, “Well, Willie was lucky, he was left to run by the Gestapo to try to get him to lead them to another cell. By chance he bumped into a British agent he knew just as he was about to walk into a trap and she got him to England. I too saw the Gestapo’s arrival and escaped in my car. Like you, I had kept my escape plans secret and got into Poland where I was hidden in a number of safe houses until the hue and cry had died down. I have now been tasked by London to rebuild the cell and you are my first recruit if you are interested.” Wolfe said, “Yes, of course I am, but what about Martin?”. “Well,” said Hanna, “he is currently living under light protection, so I think we will have to leave it until we can get to him safely. It may not be soon, but we will take him out one day when he feels safe and least expects it.”
Hanna had got paperwork from London that identified her as a teacher qualified to teach French at a ‘gymnasium’ and had managed to land a job as head of department in a large school. She managed to get Wolfe a teaching job at the school and together they started to rebuild the cell. This time they were very careful to divide the cell into sub-cells of three or four with cutouts between them. Slowly Hanna and Wolfe rebuilt the group. Hanna was very careful who she trusted, the Poles, Wolfe, Dirk and London were on that list. As the cell was built up and the latest arms arrived from the U.K. the group started to undertake small missions but all the time Hanna was careful not to overreach their ability.
When Dirk contacted Hanna with the request to try to locate the spy she was happy to agree. Her first thought was that at least this job didn’t involve risking her group’s lives. Then she thought if I was the Gestapo where would I house this spy? Do they want to hide him or are they happy to house him with a bit of protection? She decided that they would think that he was safe in Berlin, so he was probably living fairly openly but with protection. She started her group looking around where Martin was living, extremely carefully spreading the search outwards from his home until one of the cell walked past a car with two men sat in it outside a large house. He carried on walking and sent a message back up his reporting chain.
Hanna decided to check the car out and initially got cell members to walk past at various times and in various directions. Men, women and couples observed the guards outside that house and although Hanna had no proof this was the man she was looking for it had to be someone important. The breakthrough came when a couple with a small child were walking by the house and a car came out with the spy in the back seat and disappeared down the road. The couple had seen the spy’s photo and both were certain it was him. Hanna immediately called off the rolling search and messaged Dirk. As soon as Dirk heard from Hanna he told Jinnie. The spy’s house had been found, but how to exterminate him was the next problem and that was to be down to Penny and Steven to sort out once they had got there.
For Jinnie the problem was getting her sister into Berlin as quickly as possible and then getting her home once the hit had been carried out. The hit itself would be down to Penny to sort out with Hanna. At the same time, Jinnie was delighted that the morning sickness had disappeared as quickly as it had arrived and for some odd reason she felt wonderful. Paolo said that it was being pregnant, it suited her, she wondered if it was because she was happy, she had the man she loved, was expecting twins, had a lovely home, a job she loved, was enjoying her restaurant investment and was comfortably off. Oh, and she had a cat she adored and who seemed to be able to understand every word she said.
Jinnie phoned Alberto to book a table for Boxing Day evening. He said he had already reserved a table in her name as he had guessed she would want one and even if she had not wanted it, he could sell it at the last minute 20 times over. The table was booked for six, Jinnie and Paolo, Penny and Daniel and Mr and Mrs Walsh. Alberto then said would she be free one evening soon as he said they needed a board meeting as they had something that had to be discussed. The board meeting was arranged for two days later.
It was decided to use the route into Germany via neutral Sweden and Poland, as neither Penny or Steven had travelled that way before so the German watchers on the ferry ports shouldn’t know them. This time they were to make the crossing from Ystad to Swinoujscie as Ystad was near Malmö and Swinoujscie was only just over 100 miles from Berlin. They were then to take the train from the Central Station to Züssow and change there for Berlin. After the mission they were to come back the same way. They were to fly from Heathrow to Malmo where they would be met by an in-country SIS agent who would drive them to Ystad and hand them a change of paperwork in the car. One of Hanna’s cell was to meet them in Berlin and take them to a safe house.
Once the route had been planned, the SPG set to work organising the paperwork. British passports were required for the flights to and from Malmö. German paperwork was needed for Poland and Germany; tickets for the planes, ferries and trains, German and Swedish cash, German clothing. The list seemed to be endless. A trip to Portsmouth was arranged for German clothing which was forwarded to Sweden in the ‘diplomatic bag’ along with paperwork and tickets. Penny and Steven’s ‘legend’ was written for them and they set about learning it. Jinnie supervised everything and although sorry she wasn’t going, she was excited for Penny who was to be Magda for the length of the mission.
Meanwhile in Berlin, Hanna had been working hard to gather information on the spy. They had established themselves in a nearby house which had a view into the garden of the spy’s home and its front door. They had organised a relay of cars to follow the spy’s car and that was when they established he was working at the Ministry of Propaganda. His car disappeared into its underground car park every morning and emerged every evening for the trip home. Hanna passed all this on to Dirk, who immediately told Jinnie.
Jinnie attended the board meeting wondering what was going on. The staff car park had several new cars she did not recognise and the original six partners were in a happy mood as everyone gathered in Alberto’s small office. As was usual, Alberto took the lead and called the group together. He explained that they had several things to discuss but most importantly they nearly all revolved around finances. Jinnie’s heart sank, ‘We are in financial trouble,’ she thought.
Alberto continued, “Firstly can I put your minds at ease, the problems are all good, but we need to take some actions. Over the last few months business has been phenomenal at both our businesses and as you know we have paid back all the original directors’ loans.” Jinnie looked around the room and saw a sea of smiling faces, ‘that explains the cars,’ she thought. Alberto then said, “Not only that, we have paid back the loan from the Italian bank six months before we projected. That leaves the only loan we still have is with Jinnie and she has made it clear that she is happy to let it ride as long as needed. Well, we are now in a position to pay that back immediately and I will put it to a vote later. But please let me finish my news first.”
There was a murmur around the room before Alberto added, “A couple of months ago our accountants approached me and pointed out that our income was exceeding our outgoings by around £200,000 per month and that we needed to look at our banking arrangements. I have had discussions with Barclays and we now have a business account for all our normal banking, income, payments, wages, tax, all normal things pass through this account. The bank has set up a second, interest-bearing account which is fed by and can feed the ‘A’ account. The ‘A’ account has a fixed maximum balance of £250,000 and it is skimmed every evening and anything over is automatically transferred to the ‘B’ account. If the ‘A’ account were to drop below £250,000 money would move in the opposite direction. I am happy to say this has yet to happen and in the 2 months this system has been running it has worked perfectly. But we now have a silly problem as we have over £500,000 in the ‘B’ account and as I said it has been growing at about £200,000 a month.”
A raft of questions were addressed to Alberto. But he held up a hand for silence and continued, “Now that we have repaid most of our loans I fully expect to build the ‘B’ account even more quickly. Consequently, I have a few proposals to put to you all. Firstly Jinnie’s loan. We are clearly in a position to pay it back in full immediately but with Jinnie’s indulgence, I propose that we start paying it back in monthly instalments of £50,000 a month and pay her interest at 2% over Bank Rate on the outstanding sum. Why I am making this proposal will become clear in a moment or two.”
Jinnie smiled to herself, with twins on the way she was certain to be spending a lot more money but she didn’t really need it. What with her new wage and Paolo’s wage and expenses and what was left of her inheritance she already considered herself well off. ‘Oh well,’ she thought, ‘I am going to have to see if Dad knows a good accountant.” Alberto was continuing to speak. “Secondly, I propose we immediately increase all salaries by 8%. I mean ALL salaries in both restaurants from the lowest trainee in the kitchen up to us.” Looking at Jinnie he said, “I think it’s about time we start paying you a wage as well but I’m coming to that next as you already have a full-time job and, from your friends in high places, I suspect we don’t want to know what you do.”
Jinnie laughed and said, “I could tell you all, but if I did I would have to kill you all.” When the laughter died down Alberto spoke yet again. “The accountants are worried about our tax position both as a company and individuals. As a company, they recommend that we become a limited company and we all become shareholders. For speed and cost, they suggest that we buy an off-the-shelf company for a few hundred pounds and issue new penny shares in it which we purchase. We then sell our partnership to the new company, vote to change its name to Trattoria Trevi Ltd and we all become directors. It is a little more complicated than that legally but that is the basic process. We land up as share holding directors of the company and can pay directors salaries and declare a dividend.”
Jinnie said, “I think that is a good idea and I would like to make a couple of related comments. I suggest that everyone who hasn’t already should immediately get a personal accountant and be sure they are unrelated to the company accountants as that would be a conflict of interest. I would also like to suggest that if we agree on the new set up we create a scheme to reward long-term employee loyalty, something like awarding shares.” Alberto nodded and made a note on the pad in front of him saying, “We don’t have a huge turnover in staff, we pay better than average wages, conditions are good and the level of tipping in both our restaurants is high. However, we do occasionally lose a member of staff and it is nearly always for promotion. If we can do anything to encourage the best staff to stay it’s a good thing. I will look ask the accountants for options and report back.”
Alberto then continued saying, “I think the time has come much more quickly than I expected to look at the expansion of our new restaurant. It is trading way ahead of expectations and is proving extremely popular. We foresaw the need for possible expansion when we refurbished it so we took steps and applied for and received preliminary planning permission for an extension. The time has now arrived to call in Belinda and get the project underway.” There was a general agreement and Jinnie was asked to contact Belinda as she had a developing friendship with her. Alberto then said, “I think we also need to start planning for our next expansion. We have a few options, find somewhere to buy and improve it like the new restaurant, find premises and convert them into a new restaurant or strike out in a new direction. As you might know, Guido has recently returned from a visit to family in New York and he has an interesting suggestion.”
Guido stood and addressed the partners saying, “First I want to tell you a story. There were 15 of us in my Nonna’s Bronx apartment for her birthday and we decided to get some food delivered. Like all families we wanted all sorts of things, some wanted pizza, some wanted Chinese, some wanted burgers and some even wanted Italian! Well, we grabbed a load of menus she had in the kitchen and rang up four or five numbers for deliveries and sat back waiting to see who arrived first. When the doorbell rang I was amazed to see a single panel truck, as they call vans, delivering all the food at once. I spoke to the driver and he explained that the food came from a “dark kitchen”. I had never heard of this and he explained that each food company took the food order and credit card payment and passed the order electronically to the kitchen, much like we do in our restaurants. It is cooked and delivered to the customer. In our case, the kitchen was big and had various stations each dedicated to different types of food and they had contracts with a number of restaurants and cooked their menus. For example, he explained they cooked Chinese for four different restaurants and depending on the size of the order it went out by bike, motorbike, or in our case van.”
Guido said that he had thought about the concept and realised it could transfer to the U.K., in fact he thought it was a way to go for them. They had the cooking skills and experience with receiving the orders electronically. It was a new concept to the U.K. and he suggested that there was a lot of money to be made for the first people into the business. He then distributed a paper to his fellow partners that indicated initial costs for acquiring premises, converting it to kitchens with storage facilities and offices. He had spoken to two local pizza parlours and two Chinese restaurants and they had all expressed an interest as had a local delivery company.
Jinnie now saw why Alberto had been reluctant to return her loan immediately. She thought the concept was good and saw no reason that if it worked in New York there was no reason that it would not work in London with maybe a few variations. However, she knew that some of the big chains were already delivering the likes of pizzas and that many of them would be reluctant to let their recipes go. She was particularly thinking of some of the big takeaways that had sprung up since Liberation and asked Guido how that worked. He explained that many of the chains delivered frozen products to their shops and all they did was warm them up for the customer. He then suggested that one thing that had been missing from the American model was an upmarket offering. He asked them to imagine a Trattoria Trevi delivery where customers could get a high-class 3-course meal with wine delivered to their home for a dinner party.
The discussion went on for a while, but it was finally agreed that the concept was sound but they needed to investigate it more and try to establish a firmer cost. Alberto wondered if it was too early to talk to Belinda and Jinnie pointed out that until premises had been located it was almost impossible to reach a half accurate costing. She said that she understood Belinda had contact with a business agent who specialised in locating premises, so she would have an informal word with Belinda. At this point, another of the partners, Angelo, pointed out that there was a small disused factory immediately behind their staff car park with access via the same service road. Jinnie asked if its freehold was for sale or was it for lease? Angelo said he thought the agent’s board offered both options and Jinnie promised to mention it to Belinda.
On arriving home Jinnie’s head was spinning, she had a lot to do both at work and at home so she sat and made a list of home tasks. She was too careful about security to write down work tasks. She rang Belinda, catching her as she and Brian were enjoying a nightcap. Belinda listened carefully to Jinnie’s first request and explained to Jinnie that her company did not itself undertake earthworks or building work, but she had contacts who did and that they could undertake all the other work including coordination and getting final planning permission and build regulations approval. She promised to set things moving in the morning and to get back with a specification and costs as soon as possible.
Belinda said good night and was about to ring off when Jinnie said she needed to talk about a second, longer-term project. Jinnie talked her through the idea and explained that it was a bit sketchy at the moment but it would be difficult to firm anything up until they had located a site. Belinda said she knew just the right person to talk to and asked if they had any idea yet on the size of building they needed. Jinnie told her that at the moment the thought was five or six industrial kitchens but with space to double in size if it was a success. Space was also needed for dry storage, fridges and freezers, changing rooms, rest room/cafeteria, offices and possibly a board room as the company was growing fast. Belinda asked if they had considered doing the deliveries themselves because if they did they would need garage space and perhaps drying rooms for the delivery men’s wet weather gear. Jinnie said, “Give us the option, we need to consider all possible costs before we can decide if the project is financially viable. In fact, if you think of anything else, please put them in your costing and clearly identify them as options.”
Once again Belinda explained that for much of the work her company would have to work as coordinator. Things like industrial kitchen design and equipment was beyond her company’s direct abilities, as were industrial fridges and freezers but she had specialist subcontractors she had worked with on numerous occasions and they would be brought in as necessary. Belinda promised that once she had got the restaurant project moving she would start the premises search.
In the office the next day, Penny’s mission was quickly coming together. Steven was now in Vauxhall Cross and working hard with Penny to learn their legends. They were to be a young married couple so they had to know each other quite well and talk to each other in German. The cover story had Steven working for a Swedish ore miner and Penny (Magda) had moved to be with him, they were supposed to be returning to Berlin to spend a long Christmas break with her parents. Three days after Hanna had notified Dirk they had found the spy, Penny and Steven were on the plane to Malmö.
In Chapter 11 – A new Trattoria Trevi.
© WorthingGooner 2022