A Proper Little Charlie: A Charlie Bellman Story
Antonia T. Tiger
a short time after the events of "A Funeral in Berlin"
Saunders' people had retired to Bournemouth and, going by the postcards which trickled back to Berlin, Saunders stuck it out for almost three weeks, before shaking the dust of the genteel South Coast from his paws, and heading for Cornwall. Newquay, to be specific, and what sounded to be a den of somewhat dissolute artists. And, reading between the lines, Saunders was enjoying not having to live up to the image of a Gentleman.
Good food, no need to dress for dinner, arguments about the strangest things. I can sit on the dockside with a pad of paper and a pencil, sketching the local fishermen, or just lounge on the beach. You'd hate one half, sometimes give that icy stare of yours when somebody says something vulgar, and there are some dashed nice girls hanging around who are wasted on this crowd. A chap was saying that if there was a war, he was damned if he'd fight. War turned men into animals, he said. I said he didn't need a war for that, and had he been in Germany lately. Filthy Jews, he said, and I lost my rag, much as you would. First the cold, calm, fury, when you cannot quite believe that a fellow has said what he has said. And then you ask him if he's ever seen an old man kicked to death on the street by a bunch of brown-shirted thugs, The fool must have been drunk, because he said the old follow must have deserved it. And he said the Brownshirts were fine fellows, and Hitler was doing what was needed.
Things went downhill from there, rapidly. I don't quite recall all of what happened, but they told the people at the hospital-the rest of the party told them, that is-that the fellow had fallen downstairs. I think I must have helped him back to the top a few times.
But I still want to get some of those Brownshirts on their own down a dark alley, and show them some of the things they teach at the Manor. Killing an old man because he's a Jew, that's just not proper.
Nobody said anything afterwards, and I got the feeling that the chap I biffed was a bit of a wanker, but after a couple of days I decided to move on. There were some very impressed ladies, but I'm not sure that they're the sort of lady to get involved with, What sort of girl gets excited by seeing a man hammered into a pulp. Next you know, they're watching somebody kicking a Jew to death.
So now I'm staying in a hotel at Torquay, watching a mediocre band play dance music a little slowly, so that nobody gets out of breath, and sipping a cup of tea. Tell Kathy that I prefer her tea. And I can see a palm tree outside.
I want palm trees. And people who don't insist on dressing for dinner. And people who, if they came across a Nazi kicking a Jew to death, would do something.
Bellman had leaned back in his chair, and smoked a pipe of tobacco, and remembered that day. He wasn't sure what Saunders had actually done, out on that Berlin street, but there had been lurid headlines about a crazed Jewish Bolshevik gunman. Saunders had looked a little embarrassed, that evening in their shared sitting-room, as he had cleaned his revolver.
"Not enough bullets," Bellman had asked.
"Five for five," said Saunders. "The rest ran."
"And the old chap?"
"Already dead. I've given the police all the excuse they need to shake down every Jewish weasel in Berlin." He'd looked heartbroken.
"And what do you call five dead Nazis," Bellman had asked. Saunders had looked up, a little puzzled. "A good start," said Bellman.
"And it was so dashed undiplomatic," said Saunders.
"William Tell rides again," said Bellman. "Just be careful around greengrocers."
And back to London, ready for work. So the Brigadier sends me back to the Manor, where I shall be for a couple of months. Another language course. Teaching some students from my experience, the usual tradecraft refreshers, in which I have every expectation of embarrassing all concerned. And maybe I ought to get around to paying the fee for my MA. It didn't seem to matter when there was a war on, one week Cambridge and the next bundled off to the Embassy in Switzerland, and what my father fondly thought was honourable safety. And I would have been perfectly prepared if the Foreign Office had been watching the Roman Republic war with the ancient Greeks.
Don't laugh, Charlie. You might have been the scruffy little oik, but you still have the King's Commission, and you can play the gentleman far better than I can take the part of the peasant. I mean, I know which end of a cow is which-they're like horses, aren't they.
I think I am going to be sick of the sight of cherry trees.
Bellman had to ask the significance of cherry trees.
And life went on in Berlin. Hitler made speeches. Soldiers, and party members, paraded. There was another party rally in Nuremberg. Jews were driven out of business. Jews tried to meet the rules to get into England. Bellman cheerfully signed and stamped his approval of petty lies that would save a family's life.
I have my posting. Some apparently God-forsaken place in the middle of the Pacific, called the Spontoon Islands. A good harbour, on steamship routes, and people go there on holiday. Sun, sand, palm trees, and pretty girls in grass skirts-you remember the calendar-as well as being rather well placed if there should ever be a war.
It's a strange place, used to be a colony in the last century, and there were all sorts of people brought in as workers. Then the plantations couldn't compete with such things as Egyptian cotton, and when the Colony boys forgot them, they decided to set up their own independent government. I reckon you'd like the place, they sound like your sort of people.
Oh, the heck with it. They sound like my sort of people.
Turns out the Ambassador is somebody I worked with in Switzerland, so I expect we'll be gossiping about the old days.
Bellman had found himself smiling while he read that letter, feeling the relief, and the anticipated thrills of what sounded almost a cliché. A tropical paradise? It was likely a bit shabby, and the pretty girls would mostly be old women. But he could imagine Saunders retiring, sometime in the 1960s, and dressing for dinner, and maybe thinking the Spontoons had been his best posting.
Bellman spent the afternoon in the Embassy library, reading up on the Pacific nations. It didn't need a Double First to see that there was trouble in the wind. The Spontoons seemed to be a client state of that weird Rain Island place, who would probably have a lot better reputation if people bothered to look, instead of running scared from the slightest hint of Communism. Though, with what had happened in New Haven, maybe they were right to be scared.
And, late in December, a calendar arrived, from half a world away. And three of the pictures were signed. Saunders had found his pretty girls in grass skirts, and he'd remembered his old friend.
Kathy had poured tea, and admired the pictures. "They look real, Mr. Bellman, if you know what I mean. They look as if they live in clothes like that." Bellman had waited. "If they didn't, they'd look like you do when you dress for an Embassy party."
For Bellman, that made sense.
"Besides, you say you're a country boy, Mr, Bellman. Those places aren't faked for the photographer."
Bellman looked again and had that warm fresh-baked bread recollection of being in the kitchen as a pup, watching his mother bake, only he was looking at a picture of a young, pretty, young woman on a tropical island, showing rather more fur than would be considered proper in Lincolnshire. He almost tried to smell the bread, and sighed. "Kathy, I think you're right."
"Mr. Bellman, I think you'd like it there far better than you like it here. I think I'd like it there. "
Bellman grinned a little quirkishly. "I think you could still look all right if you dressed like one of those women."
"Ooh, I couldn't do that, Mr. Bellman."
"Well, you're not-what's the word-you're not a Spontoonie, but if that's the way they're used to dressing, then they're used to people like you dressing like that. And you are far better suited to that look than the Ambassador's Lady, now aren't you. You're still a shapely woman."
Kathy's face looked almost impish as she smiled. "I wouldn't disagree with that, Mr. Bellman." Her expression sobered. "It's the children I worry about. They don't go to a German school, but they see all that Nazi filth. You can't avoid it. They're speaking good German, as you know, and Toby has picked up a lot of French and Italian, but is this the right place to raise children."
"No, Kathy, it isn't. And if you transferred to another Embassy, I would be very happy for you and your children. I think you'd be making a good choice."
Kathy looked at the calendar. "I think Mr. Simpson might enjoy it too."
"You will have to wear those clothes."
"Mr. Bellman!" She smothered a laugh, and slowly shook her head. "He'd just look, I'm sure." She chuckled. "Though there's more to a place than calendar pictures."
Bellman nodded. "I've been reading up on the place. They have good schools. Looking at some of the shocked comments from the Foreign Office wallahs, I think they have the attitude that if you can do the job, it doesn't matter whether you're a man or a woman. I've seen your Toby and Alexandra with that Meccano set."
She refilled his teacup. "I think I shall write to Mr. Saunders."
Bellman scribbled an address onto a notepad, tore the sheet off, and handed it to Kathy. "That's the address. I'm sure he'll be clad to hear from you."
"He'll be very busy, I'm sure."
"But not too busy for you. Or Mr. Simpson." No, Saunders wouldn't be too busy. He'd find the time and, besides, advising somebody on what living in a country was like was a part of the job. And, Bellman was sure, he'd agree about getting Toby and Alexandra out of Germany. Not that it was likely that a small Embassy like that would have a job for either of the Simpsons. "It's a small Embassy, you know."
"I know." She sighed. "Still, there are a lot of places besides Germany. There'll be somewhere."
"Yes," said Bellman.
Christmas came and went, and Bellman had a slightly odd card, showing just how customs mutated as they spread across the world. Sandy Claws? But it was still a time for families, and gift giving, and celebrating the survival of the sun, even with all the Christian festivity.
Joe was doing well at school, and starting to think about what to do next. His teachers were suggesting that he try for University. Bellman's brothers were suggesting all sorts of options, such as accountancy and even being, eventually, a solicitor. George and Albert, unsurprisingly, were suggesting the Police, and Bellman knew that they wouldn't do that if they thought the lad couldn't do it.
As for his wife, there was the usual card from Bracebridge Heath, with the usual half-familiar signature, and the note from the doctors. No easy answers there.
He hung the calendar on his office wall on the first day of January, and seemed to spend half the day just looking at the picture. Not so much at the pretty young woman, a grey tabby with an orange flower in her hair, but at the place she was in.
He had, he thought, all the information he would ever get about the people who had killed Arabella. He even had a copy of their files, officers in the SS, working for the Gestapo, and he knew where they had been sent and had matched it to where things had happened.
It was State Terror, and even more warped than the files in the library suggested. It wasn't just that anyone might be an informer. It wasn't just torture and imprisonment. It was the background noise of horrific death. The young woman in Leipzig had been the niece of a University Professor who had said things about the burning of books.
They had not found all of her corpse either.
She was not the only one.
And then on a chill Wednesday evening, a Fraulein Kliest, a senior clerk in a certain government office in Prinzalbrechtstrasse, had been tragically killed on the U-bahn, falling onto the track in front of a train. Bellman had left certain signs in certain places, warning his agents. They knew that, later, somebody else would leave certain other signs in certain other places, and they could, if they wished, continue to be spies. Half of him hoped they would. Half of him hoped they would just walk away.
There was a coded signal to an office in London.
Agent dead. Not accident. Cover likely blown. Other agents warned off and hopefully safe. Preparing excuse for return to London.
There was somebody in the Embassy who knew what he really was. And Bellman, making his preparations, left a sealed package with him.
If they knew what he had been doing with Fraulein Kliest, they'd know who he was looking for, and they'd set a trap. He wasn't trying for suicide. But there were no looming parties where he could insult high-ranking Nazis. Besides, that Himmler chap didn't come to Embassy parties.
A pity, really.