Penny was still in a daze when the presidential limo, the Beast, dropped the party back at the hotel. Following the formal presentation, everyone had mingled on the sunny lawn with the guests. Penny couldn’t believe that Carol and Jason had known what was happening and hadn’t let anything slip in the over 3 weeks they had been together. The first person to congratulate Penny she recognised, it was the US Ambassador to the Court of St James, whom she had previously met in No 10. Then the champagne was served and Carol whispered in her ear, “Don’t drink too much we are invited to lunch.”
The lunch had been fabulous and Penny had sat next to the president and had met the first family. When she heard the president didn’t drink and was enjoying a Diet Coke with his lunch she asked the waiter if she could join him, thinking she needed to stay sober and alert. Obviously the first family knew the story and were able to discuss things with her and she finally managed to relax.
The first thing Penny did when she and Daniel were back in their suite was phone Jinnie. After hearing all about the twins she asked, “How long have you known?” Jinnie said, “Oh, about seven months, we planned it like a military operation, but it was hard at times having to lie to you and Dan.” Penny said, “I am desperate to get home and see the twins, one more day in Washington, then we fly to New York and pick up the Queen Ann. I can’t wait to see them and hold them.”
The Queen Ann was very much like the Queen Mary 2, but more modern. The suite was just as sumptuous, the food just as wonderful and the White Star service just as attentive. However travelling on a new ship made them realise that the QM2 was due a refit, as the curtains, carpets and chairs were just a touch older and shabbier. Mum and Dad were there to pick them up and Carol’s mum was there to meet her and Jason. Mum hugged and kissed Penny and Daniel while Dad hugged Penny and shook hands with Daniel. Mrs Walsh wanted to know all about the ships, the honeymoon and in particular meeting President Trump.
It was over halfway home before Penny managed to steer the conversation to the twins. Mrs Walsh was now in her element, they were gorgeous. Willie was three minutes older than his sister. He was born with a mop of fair hair and had blue eyes and a light complexion like his mother. Millie had dark hair and big brown eyes and a darker complexion like her father. She described how they had to sleep next to each other or they cried. Penny could hear her father chuckling and asked why? Mr Walsh replied, “Your mother is a doting first-time granny. Yes, they are good babies, but they only seem to sleep, eat and poo.” Penny said, “Well I’m going to be a doting aunty, I can’t wait to hold them both.”
Penny told her parents that after that wonderful honeymoon, she was not looking forward to going back to work and even less doing up the house that she and Daniel had bought a few weeks before the wedding. They planned to stay on with Mum and Dad for a while until the house was liveable in, so we’re shocked when Dad pulled up outside their new house, that was only half a mile from Mum and Dad’s. The first thing Penny saw was that all the old sash windows had been replaced with new double glazing and had a new bright blue composite front door with stained glass panels. Penny asked, “Where did that come from?” Mr Walsh replied, “That’s part of your wedding present from Jinnie and Paolo. As your honeymoon was all paid for by the US Government they had to get you something else and thought you might appreciate this.”
Mrs Walsh handed over new door keys and said let’s go inside. Penny opened the new front door and walked into a freshly decorated hallway with new carpets. Dan said, “Oh this is lovely it’s far better than I could have done, this is has been done professionally.” Mr Walsh opened the living room door to reveal another freshly decorated room with a smiling Jinnie sitting in the middle of a new sofa with a twin asleep either side of her. Penny hugged and kissed her sister and asked, “Are you responsible for all this?” Jinnie replied, “Well yes, but I didn’t do the work. Belinda lent us her decorator, Jason, and recommended her usual carpet fitters. I think they have all done a fine job as have the plumbers and the kitchen fitters.” “What?” said Dan, “You have sorted the whole house?” “Yes,” said Jinnie, “But we have left the garden for you!”
Penny turned her attention to the twins while Daniel went off with Mr Walsh to see the rest of the house. “Can I hold them?” She asked, “Of course,” said Jinnie, “As we want you and Dan as his godparents how about holding William first.” Penny picked up Willie, managing not to wake him, gently cuddled him saying, “Oh, he is just scrumptious.” Mrs Walsh picked up Millicent and cradled her cooing over her. Jinnie watched her mother and sister fussing over her twins and the tears of joy rolled down her face.
The following morning Penny and Dan arrived at Vauxhall Cross 20 minutes before starting time and while Penny headed up to her desk in Mission Planning, Dan was escorted to a meeting room for his induction. As Penny entered the office several of the staff congratulated her on her marriage and asked about the honeymoon, it seemed that everyone knew she had been to America but they didn’t know the real purpose of the trip. Carol was already at her computer and was chatting with Greta who said, “Welcome back, I was just asking Carol about the trip and admiring her tan, but I think yours is better.” Penny replied, “Thank God my cover story for Slovenia has me as working in a market garden”.
Hearing them talking Alan appeared from what Penny thought of as Jinnie’s office and welcomed her back and then said, “I hear the twins have arrived.” “Yes,” replied Penny. “They are absolutely beautiful, but as their aunt, I would say that wouldn’t I?” Chuckling, Alan continued, “I am under strict instructions to take you up to ‘C’s’ office as soon as you arrive, no matter how early you are. So I suppose we better go and see what the fuss is about.”
Emma was at her desk in the outer office and glancing at her phone. She said, “Hello, would you mind taking a seat over there? The boss is on the phone, but I am to show you in just as soon as he is free.” They took seats in what Jinnie had told Penny was the ‘waiting corner’. While waiting, Emma asked Penny what she thought of the twins. Penny once again said, “They are absolutely Gorgeous.” Emma replied, “Exactly my view, I have popped in a few times for a cuddle, did you know Freddie and I are to be Millie’s godparents?” “Yes,” said Penny, “Dan and I are going to be Willie’s godparents. I hear Jinnie and Paolo are talking about more but I don’t know whom. It seems the church lets you have as many godparents as you like.”
A light winked on Emma’s phone and she leapt up and said, “Come on let’s get into his office before he makes another call.” Emma tapped gently on the glass door and went straight in. ‘C’ looked up from his computer and waved them to the coffee table in the corner of his office saying, “Please pour the coffee Emma, I will be with you in a second, I just need to finish answering this e-mail.” When ‘C’ joined them he started by saying, “Congratulations on the medal Penny, it was well deserved, it’s only a pity we can’t go public on it, but I’m sure you understand.” Taking a sip on his coffee he continued, “I’m sorry to have to rush you, but we need to get you out to Slovenia as soon as possible. We have had to advance the D-Day to the end of the month as we are worried there might have been a leak and that if the Germans are on the ball might indicate to them our initial date of the second week in August. So far we aren’t too badly inconvenienced, nearly everyone is happy to advance the date but we have one or two transport problems. We had already arranged a submarine insertion for two more SAS troopers and a final load of equipment for Steven tomorrow night so I would like you to join them. I know it’s short notice, but can you do it.”
“I think I can,” said Penny. “Of course, I need to tell my husband I am going to be away for a few weeks but he has started his induction this morning so I can tell him just as soon as this meeting is over. Can I tell my sister, she may need to change the Christening date? And one other thing. I need a sniper rifle to take with me.” “You have my permission to tell your sister and your husband. Your sister knows all about the mission and I can trust you to tell your husband only what is necessary. I know he has signed the Official Secrets Act but this is need-to-know stuff. As for the rifle, where can we get one at short notice and how are we going to get it to Italy?”
“I wonder if one of the troopers could bring one up from Hereford, they are bound to have some,” Said Penny. “The system will break down into a sports bag. Could we get it tagged as a diplomatic bag so I could carry it on the commercial flight to Italy? I wouldn’t want it to go as hold luggage and if it were a diplomatic bag we can avoid it being x-rayed. I don’t mind handing it over to the captain of the submarine they are used to it and they can’t run away with it when we are underwater!” “I think that could work,” replied ‘C’, “Emma please make a note and a phone call to Hereford straight after this meeting. Now Penny, I think I ought to explain, the generals liked Steven’s plan but felt he needed some support. So the two troopers you are travelling with are to command the attack on the dockyard and the port while Steven looks after the airport. You have a job to do at the airport otherwise I would have suggested you commanded the attack on the port.”
Penny knocked on the meeting room door where the induction course was being run and entered. She approached the man running the course and said quietly to him, “I have just come from a meeting with ‘C’ and I urgently need to speak to my husband on an operational matter.” The lecturer grunted and said, “Well I suppose I can’t refuse ‘C’, but can you be as quick as possible please.” Penny took Dan into a close by empty room and explained that as of tomorrow she would be out of touch for about a month as she had to go on a mission. Dan didn’t ask any awkward questions but wished her luck. She asked him if he would stay at the new house while she was away and he said yes it would give him a good opportunity to start on the garden. Penny kissed him and said thank you for being so understanding.
That evening Penny and Dan drove over to see Jinnie and the twins. While Jinnie took Penny up to the baby’s room, Paolo and Dan settled down in front of the TV with a beer. Penny looked at the twins sleeping peacefully side by side and whispered to Jinnie, “That is so sweet, they look angelic.” Jinnie said, “You should have been here an hour ago when they both needed changing and were bawling.” Penny went on to tell Jinnie that she was being sent to Slovenia for a month or so the next day and that she wouldn’t be able to be a godmother. Jinnie told her not to worry, the Christening was not arranged yet and they had been thinking about September anyway so to make it late September or even October would be simple.
The next morning Penny drove into the Portsmouth dockyard and parked in the same spot as Jinnie had previously used. The two Wrens were on duty as always and helped Penny select a selection of clothes etc. suitable for a Slovenian market garden worker. By lunchtime, Penny had a German hold-all containing everything plus a second empty sports bag. She drove directly from there to the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport, parked in the long-term car park and caught the shuttle bus to the terminal building. She lugged her hold-all out of the bus and looked for the ‘Sun Glass Shack’ where she was to meet the trooper with the ‘diplomatic bag’. Penny tried on several pairs but had decided that she wasn’t willing to part with the kind of money they were asking when a voice from behind her said, “Not them, they definitely don’t suit you.”
The man couldn’t have looked less like what Penny expected of an SAS trooper. He looked like a typical businessman, he was wearing a pinstripe suit, glasses and his hair was far too long. But he was carrying the sports bag she was expecting. Penny asked, “Is that bag for me?” He nodded dropped the bag at her feet and melted away into the general melee that was departures. Jinnie picked up the bag, tucked in the diplomatic seal on the lock and headed for check-in for the flight to Venice. She presented her business class ticket, her newly printed diplomatic passport and the letter that introduced her as a diplomatic courier.
The girl on the BA check-in desk called her supervisor over and he quickly scanned her documentation and smiled before saying, “Good afternoon Miss Williams, everything looks to be in order. Are you checking in your ordinary luggage or would you prefer to keep both with you?” Penny said, “I think I should keep them both with me, thank you,” and before she realised what was going on a BA uniformed ground steward was escorting her to the gate avoiding the standard security checks. She was hustled through the gate onto the aircraft before the flight was officially open for boarding and was settled with a glass of sparkling wine before the other passengers started boarding.
At Venice she approached passport control with a bag in either hand causing the officer to look her up and down suspiciously. When she presented her diplomatic passport with the letter identifying her as a diplomatic courier. Her passport was quickly stamped and she moved on. As she didn’t have to collect checked baggage she headed straight through the green channel where, as the first person off the flight, a customs officer stopped her. Again she proffered her diplomatic documents and was quickly waved on. An embassy driver met her in the arrivals hall and speedily drove her around the bay and across the causeway to the port where she was taken to a large meeting room. An embassy intelligence officer and an Italian naval officer were waiting for her. She entrusted the diplomatic bag to the intelligence officer and nipped into the ladies to change into Slovenian clothes, putting her British clothing, passport and personal items into her spare bag. By the time she got back to the meeting room the two SAS troopers had arrived and they too went to change. They were quickly back and like Penny handed their bags containing their British items to the intelligence officer. They introduce themselves as Graham Pearce and Dave Fenton and asked Penny if she had been on active service before. Penny said, “Many times and if you don’t believe me ask Steven”.
The Italian naval officer then told them the plan, once it was dark a navy launch would take them out of the Lido to the submarine that was laying off. It would take them on the short hop under the Bay of Venice to the rendezvous with the fishing fleet in the Bay of Trieste. As there were still a few hours to darkness he suggested that they might like to indulge in a decent meal before travelling!
Jinnie had just got the twins to sleep when her mobile rang. She had decided to put it on vibrate so as not to wake them and grabbed it quickly as it rattled around on the tabletop. It was Alberto, he was asking after the twins and updating Jinnie on the business. Firstly, he told her that the Turner’s Hill restaurant was booming. Like Potters Bar it was now booked solid for several weeks in advance and had been visited not only by local reviewers but by several of the national newspaper’s reviewers. The chef’s table had got particularly good reviews. The general opinion was that it was every bit as good as the original.
Alberto then moved on to report progress on the dark kitchen. Belinda’s team had completed all the demolition work and started on the build. The rooms were taking shape and the electricians and plumbers had started work. Peter was busy laying out all the supporting wires for the false ceiling grids while Richard was starting on the partitions. The electricians had started their first fit that morning and had started running the distribution cables from where power came into the building to where it was required. The plumbers had finished their first fit and had run all the under floor water and drainage, although it was yet to be pressure tested. The decision had been taken to air condition the building as it met the modern ‘green’ requirements of the building regulations. And Alberto couldn’t get over how much insulation had gone into the walls and roof. Belinda had been on site that morning and was delighted with progress which she said was bang on schedule.
Jinnie said she wished she could get to see what was going on and Alberto asked, “Why can’t you?” “The twins of course,” replied Jinnie, “Can’t you put them in the double baby carrier and drive over?” asked Alberto. “Well I could do that, but a building site is not really a place for new babies,” replied Jinnie. “I know,” said Alberto, “if you bring them in on Friday morning, Belinda is here and I know the receptionist would just love to look after them for a while and I know the directors will love to be introduced. I know I will and I bet if I tell Belinda she will bring Melissa and Andrew”. “OK,” said Jinnie, “They are good in the car and the motion nearly always makes them drop off.”
Penny wasn’t terribly enthralled by the rides she had taken in Italian submarines. Previously her experience of submarines had been in British nuclear boats. They were new, much bigger and the only smell was cooking. The boats were completely silent and everyone spoke in a whisper. By contrast the Italian boat smelt overpoweringly of diesel, was old and the crew loud and don’t seem to be as disciplined as the Royal Navy. Still it was only a short journey.
The two troopers had picked up weapons in Italy and took the opportunity to inspect and clean them, although the submarine’s Captain had insisted that all the ammunition be surrendered to him until they joined the fishing boats. They all went down the scramble nets into the fishing boat and three hold-alls swiftly followed. Then came Penny’s diplomatic bag and several boxes and crates followed that the fishermen complained were extremely heavy and were left on deck under a large tarpaulin as they chugged to port.
In Chapter 26 – The build-up to D-Day.
© WorthingGooner 2023