On Monday morning Greta showed Penny into Jinnie’s office. Jinnie asked her to shut the door, to help herself to a mug of coffee and to take a seat. Jinnie explained to her that in the department only Carole and Greta knew that they were sisters and she had decided it would be best if it stayed that way. Jinnie explained about Austria and Slovenia’s urge to leave the shrinking German Empire and the Allies’ need to not let them rush into anything while the military made plans to support them. She explained how the initial idea was to get SIS and SAS agents into resistance cells to make sure that they were well-trained and ready when the war came. Penny assumed that with her excellent German she would be heading to Austria and was amazed when Jinnie said, “No, We were thinking about Trieste. With your experience of the landings in Nice, we want to train the existing cell in the area to prepare the beaches for the landings.”
Penny thought for a moment and said, “But I don’t speak Slovenian.” Jinnie replied, “Neither do the inhabitants of Trieste! It used to be, and would like to be again, part of Italy. Most of the natives speak Italian or, thanks to the German education system, German. You should fit in perfectly. The current thoughts are to team you up once again with Steven. Your skills complemented each other very well in your last mission. There is an existing small resistance cell but it really needs expanding and licking into shape which is where Steven will come in. We have plenty of time as the current timetable has the beach landings in the middle of August.”
Jinnie continued, “The problem we have at the moment is communications. It all has to go through the Italian Secret Service as it is one of their cells. Trieste communicates with the AISE. They talk to the Italian Government, the Italian Government then tell Paolo in the London Embassy, he tells me and I pass the messages on to the rest of the SIS. The great fears are that with such a complicated system either something will leak or a message will get mangled. Do you remember that old party game where two lines of people competed to pass a message from the front to the back of the line by whispering it in the next in lines ear and how it always got corrupted?”
“Yes,” said Penny, “That sounds awful. But are you telling me Paolo is an agent?” “Not really,” replied Jinnie, “He is a trusted link in the chain. Both sides have cleared him and he is aware of the overall purpose of what is happening, but he doesn’t know any details, only what is in the messages he passes. The current plan is to get Steven out there as soon as possible with mobile communications kit. Probably a satellite phone so that he can communicate directly with GCHQ. Then we will get you out there to assist once back from your honeymoon, then you can help with the beach landings. We have loads of agents and SAS men to insert so we need as many hands as possible in the department starting with Steven, who will be here shortly.”
“Any ideas on the insertion method?” Asked Penny. Jinnie nodded yes and said, “I think for Steven it will be a simple submarine drop on a beach near Trieste, we are waiting for the cell to suggest suitable ones. It would be a waste of a submarine trip if it were for only one person so we are looking at inserting a dozen or so at the same time and getting them to other cells. But we have teams looking at other routes into Slovenia and Austria, but for security reasons only the team planning it has all the details. My deputy, Alan and I have an overview as does ‘C’, the boss and the PM. If the submarine route is still secure when it is your turn to travel that will be the method we will use for you.”
Jinnie said, “You will be attached to our SMG, working under Carole, but will be pulling in all sorts of help as we have so much to arrange. Dirk will be joining us, as will Brian and some SAS planners from Hereford. It’s going to be a madhouse getting everyone in as soon as possible and then a second wave when you will be going. But it works out well for your wedding and honeymoon and for my birth plans, everything should be in place by then and Alan will be covering while I’m on maternity leave and Carol will be stepping up as Deputy.” As she left the office Penny turned to Jinnie and said, “I love the choice of Nice seafront for the feature wall, I bet not many know why you choose that view.”
The following day was the first of Jinnie’s fortnightly maternity checks. Jinnie had deliberately chosen an afternoon appointment so she could leave work at lunchtime and travel to Barnet. Following the appointment, she intended to pop in for a cup of tea with her friends in the retirement home and invite them to eat in Trattoria Trevi. She had already organised a table for six and wanted to invite the 3 surviving oldies, Paolo so she could introduce him and Penny whom they all knew from her time working in the retirement home. Jinnie was driving the Jaguar a lot more these days it was much roomier and she had to admit that, despite her loving the Mini, it was getting rather uncomfortable driving it. Jinnie drove from Hadley Wood Station the short distance to Barnet Hospital and parked in the car park. She realised that she was a little early so she stopped by the cafeteria and bought a bottle of unsweetened apple juice thinking that it was healthy and unlike a sweet drink wouldn’t show up in a diabetes check.
The midwife said she was happy with all Jinnie’s tests and that the twins appeared to be growing as they should be, made Jinnie an appointment for 2 weeks and told her that if the blood or urine tests showed anything they would contact her. Feeling smug Jinnie drove to the retirement home and parked. As she climbed out of the car, observing the immaculate grounds she realised that she hadn’t told the oldies she was pregnant. She buzzed for admission. A voice she didn’t recognise asked whom she was visiting and what was her name. The voice invited her in and told her to wait. After a few minutes the matron, who Jinnie knew well, arrived. She greeted Jinnie and said it was good see her and the three oldies would be delighted to see her as they rarely had visitors. Jinnie explained that she wondered if the oldies would appreciate an evening out for a meal at her restaurant.
The matron looked quizzically at Jinnie, before saying, “It really is some time since you visited, Jimmy and Bert are both over 100 and Fred is nearly 100. Bert is confined to his bed but Fred and Jimmy come and sit in the sun lounge every day but are in bed by seven every evening. There is no way they would be able to visit a fine restaurant, in addition at 100 they would struggle to digest a rich meal.” Jinnie thought for a moment and then said, “I have a rough idea forming in my mind, can I go and have a cup of tea with them, then I will come and discuss my idea with you.” The matron said, “Of course, Jimmy and Fred are in the lounge now and I know they will love to see you, they often talk about you and your sister. I’ll organise tea and biscuits for you right now if you go to see them. They visit with Bert every day and I’m sure we can sort out a visit to him as well.”
Jinnie found Jimmy and Fred sitting in armchairs, with tartan blankets over their knees, by the side of open patio doors leading onto the garden. Both look well, if a lot more frail, since she had last seen them but their minds were as bright as ever. As she walked across the room to them Jinnie heard Fred say, “I told you it was her.” Apparently they had seen her park her Jaguar and walk to the reception. Fred had said it was Jinnie but she had got fat, but Jimmy had said it wasn’t her because she drove a little Mini. Jinnie explained that the reason she was “fat” was because she was expecting twins. There followed a round of questions about when, and was she expecting boys or girls, and like many people never considered she might be expecting one of each sex. However, the two old men were absolutely delighted she had come to see them and, refreshed with cups of tea and a plate of custard creams, talked about the “good old days” when, with Bert and Ethel, they had recruited her to the resistance. They fondly remembered the part they had played in convincing the public of the evils of the Nazi occupation with their numerous media interviews. They talked of Bert and asked if she would be visiting him, as his legs had failed him and he could no longer get out of bed. When she said “of course” they rang a bell and a carer appeared. They explained that although they both could walk a little it was easier to be pushed around the home in wheelchairs. Soon they had got themselves out of their armchairs and plonked down in their wheelchairs.
The oldies wanted to go into Bert’s room first and then surprise him with her. Jinnie agreed and as two carers wheeled them into the room she stood, out of sight of the open door in the corridor. First, she heard Bert grumpily asking why they were visiting him in the middle of the afternoon, interrupting his regular viewing of ‘Escape to the Country’. They told him they had brought him a special surprise visitor and unless he was a little more civil to them they would send the visitor away. Bert was also delighted when Jinnie entered the room and before she had a chance to explain her condition Jimmy and Fred had told him she was expecting twins.
Once again the conversation turned to the old days and Jinnie let them wander through their memories for a while before Bert asked her what she was doing now. Rather than say she was head of department at what they knew as MI6 she chose to tell them she was a director of a Michelin-starred restaurant group and then, just as she hoped it would, the conversation turned to food. The three oldies agreed that food in the home was decent but a little repetitive. Bert said he was a fish lover and always looked forward to Fridays when they served cod and chips but sometimes he wished they would be a bit more adventurous and serve salmon, asparagus and a poached egg or poached haddock. It was years since he had eaten either. The other two popped up with their favourites that they missed. Jimmy wanted steak and kidney suet pudding, while Fred talked about Irish stew. This was what Jinnie wanted to hear and her idea had now crystallised into a full-blown plan. Before bidding the oldies farewell she told them that as she and her husband had moved into a house fairly nearby she would try to come and see them more often.
Back in the matron’s office she explained to her that having seen her three friends she realised that the matron was right and they would never be able to eat at her restaurant but how would the matron feel if one lunchtime the restaurant came to them and they supplied all the residents and staff with a posh meal cooked in the restaurant and served in the home. Jinnie told the matron how they were planning an upmarket meal delivery service and this could be a test of the concept. As the restaurant was normally closed on a Monday how would it be if for a coming Monday she would produce a menu for the residents and staff to choose from and their choices would be cooked in the restaurant kitchen and served in the home’s dining room by the restaurant waiters using silver service.
The matron said it sounded wonderful but they had a few residents with special dietary needs. Jinnie said as a Michelin star restaurant they were used to that and it would not be a problem, all she needed was a list of any special requirements. They agreed to keep the event a secret until nearer the day and Jinnie said she would be back soon with a draft menu. As Jinnie walked back to her car she thought to herself, ‘What have I let myself in for?’ and ‘I do hope I can convince Alberto.’
Being Tuesday afternoon Jinnie realised the Trattoria would be preparing for early service, she decided not to put off discussing her plan with Alberto any longer and to drop in on the way home. Jinnie found Alberto in his cramped office trying to unscramble a delivery of vegetables that had gone wrong and no pomegranates had been received despite them being on the delivery note. Jinnie sat and listened while the supplier explained that they had got mixed up with another order to a restaurant in Edgware and that the driver would have them sorted out within the hour.
Jinnie told Alberto of her visit to her old friends at the retirement home she had worked at as a schoolgirl, missing out the bit about the resistance, but saying she had forgotten how long it had been since her last visit and her special friends were now unable to visit the restaurant so she would have to release the table for six reserved for 3 weeks time. Alberto said that was not a problem in the slightest, there were numerous people on the standby list who would jump at the opportunity to take up the table. Feeling a little better, Jinnie talked Alberto through her idea of taking the restaurant to the retirement home. At first, she thought he was going to say it was impossible, but as she explained further she could see his face lighten and finally burst out into a wide grin. When she finished talking, Alberto said, “Have you thought about the free publicity? We only need a little leak to the press and they will be all over the story. I suggest we might just mention that it is a trial of a new concept we are considering, high-class home deliveries for discerning customers holding dinner parties, and see what interest we get.”
The board of directors agreed that there was an enormous amount of free publicity attached to Jinnie’s proposal and that the costs of paying staff overtime and the cost of ingredients were insignificant by comparison. So with the first hurdle crossed Alberto called a staff meeting and offered double time to anyone who worked that Monday. A vote was taken and passed, so the proposal was on and Jinnie sat down with Alberto to write a special menu of easily digestible British dishes that could be made to look upmarket. Of course, the first 3 dishes on the menu were the 3 oldies’ favourites but then were added others including fillet steak, Lancashire hotpot, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, lamb shanks, minced steak Bolognese, several vegetarian dishes, reduced fat dishes and gluten-free dishes. Alberto said, “We must offer three courses, what do these old people like for starters and desserts?” And so cream of tomato soup, oxtail soup, prawn cocktails and pate joined the menu as did spotted dick and custard, apple pie with cream, ice cream or custard, syrup pponge and custard, bread and butter pudding and custard, treacle tart and custard and finally British cheeses and biscuits. Alberto wanted to know why every dessert seemed to come with custard.
A few evenings later Jinnie and Alberto called in to discuss the project with the matron and her nutritionist. They loved the menu but said they had several light eaters so ham, cheese, prawn and smoked mackerel salads were added to the mains and ice cream and sorbet to the desserts. Alberto then said they would also serve coffee and several blends of tea to finish off.
On the short trip from the retirement home to the Trattoria Trevi, Alberto suggested to Jinnie that perhaps they should get the Turner’s Hill branch to join in and make the event annual or perhaps twice annually across the chain. Jinnie thought a little about the suggestion and then said, “I would love to see Turner’s Hill join in, however, due to the work going on there at the moment it might be more opportune to wait until that is complete, then perhaps we could spread the scheme there. As for the frequency of the event, I think we should wait until we see if this is a success first. But there is one small item that for a long time I have wanted to speak to you about. As a Michelin star restaurant, I think we should be offering top-quality coffee. The current coffee we serve is quite good but I think we could offer better. Do you think we could have a coffee tasting?” Alberto said, “Yes, I think we could organise that, it’s the sort of thing that might stop an inspector awarding us a second Michelin star.”
Jinnie shared the news of the special meal at the retirement home with Penny, over a pre-work cup of coffee in her office. Penny said she would love to be there but Monday was a working day and she was trying to save her holidays for her honeymoon. Jinnie told her that as her boss, she would authorise a special day’s leave and she didn’t have to worry about her honeymoon, it had already been authorised by “C’. Jinnie told her a white lie saying that when she learnt Penny was to be activated as a full-time employee she had explained about her honeymoon and it had been agreed that it could stand.
Jinnie asked Penny how things were going in the SMG and she replied, “There is just so much to learn. As an agent you just have everything done for you, travel tickets, passports, ID Cards, cash, bank accounts, contacts. I never gave a thought to how it was all planned and put together.” Jinnie said, “You are now in the position I was 3 years ago.” Penny said, “I have been helping plan Steven’s mission, as I know him and will be joining him it’s important I get it right.” Jinnie laughed saying, “It’s important we get every mission right.”
Steven was flown out to Venice posing as a tourist as were 10 other SAS men spread across 5 flights over 2 days. Although he recognised a colleague at Heathrow, training kicked in and they completely ignored each other. They were met at the airport and transferred to a military camp to await the full party. After dark, a launch took them out to an Italian submarine for the short hop under the Gulf of Venice to a rendezvous with a number of Slovenian fishing boats. The 11 transferred to the fishing boats and all but Steven headed for small ports. Steven’s boat chugged into the Port of Trieste and quickly Steven realised that the Germans were using it as a naval base and there was no chance of a landing here without destroying the base first.
The captain of the fishing boat spoke German and explained to Steven that he was heading to the fish dock, close to the city centre. The Germans rarely bothered them, keeping themselves to the naval yard the other side of the headland. Once there he would be delivered into the hands of the local resistance. As the fishing boat chugged into the dock, in the early half-light Steven could pick out a number of vehicles parked on the dockside, with people unloading crates of fish from earlier arrivals. Vans and trucks were being loaded but several cars were also on the dockside. The captain pointed to what, Steven guessed in the murky light was a Volvo and said, “My wife.”
The crates of iced fish gone, the captain led Steven ashore and towards the Volvo where he could see the outline of someone in the rear seat. The captain opened the rear door and said to Steven, “Meet Maja, she has come in person to meet you.” Steven dumped his satellite radio and personal gear in the boot and climbed in next to Maja who offered her hand and said in German, “Pleased to meet you, but I am not sure why they have sent you here, there is no beach to land troops on and we are only a very small group.” Steven replied, “We are going to make you the biggest, best-trained cell in Slovenia and we will secure the port for mass landings.” “What? Right next to the biggest German naval base in the area,” said Maja. “It just makes a bigger target,” replied Steven.
In Chapter 20 – The Lunch.
© WorthingGooner 2022