From Secret Meetings

Chapter 1

Cornwall, England, Spring 1944.

There was nowhere to hide his gun and knives. Sam stood in the low doorway of the tavern room and surveyed his options. The only furniture was a single bed set against a wall, and a washstand. The uneven floorboards, deformed by centuries of weary bodies, looked easy enough to prise up, but too easy for the nosy landlady to do the same. Sam dropped his sailcloth duffle bag by the bed. The satchel containing his weapons stayed tucked firmly against his slight frame. He would have to keep it with him. Bone tired from weeks of tension and sleepless nights at sea, he was tempted to crawl into the bed fully dressed – but hunger and thirst sent him down to the bar.

“Pint of bitter,” he said, his voice wavering a little with the unaccustomed use of English.

“Have to be half a pint, sir,” the landlady replied, filling a mug with amber liquid. “There’s a war on, unless you haven’t noticed. Half pint’s the limit here. Where you been for the past five years?”

“Brittany, France.”

“France?” The landlady gave him a searching look. “Full of Nazis, they say.” Sam nodded. “You don’t sound French.”

“I’m not.”

“You won’t be going back, then?”


“Well, you’re safer here. Not that safe, of course. Jerry bombers are coming over in daytime now, trying to get what they can in the harbour.” The engine of a low-flying aircraft thrummed overhead on cue. The landlady gestured with her head and a ‘told you so’ look. When it was quiet again, she said, “Stay as long as you like. I’ll give you a good rate.”

“I haven’t got much English money,” Sam replied.

The woman eyed Sam warily and exchanged glances with an aged fisherman approaching the bar to stand beside him.

“Can’t have been easy crossing with all they U-boats lurking under the water,” the old man said. “Goin’ for our trawlers, they are now. Bar-stards! Can’t have been easy at all.”

“It wasn’t.” Sam shook his head. “Nightmare.” A nightmare wasn’t even close, but he wasn’t going to talk about it. He didn’t trust his English enough for that. Instead, he drank down his beer, wiped his mouth on a sleeve and said, “Put this on my bill, missis. I got enough to get by for a day or two.” Then, touching the peak of his cap with a nicotine-stained forefinger, he left the pub.

The landlady watched him go. “He looks like our old king,” she said.

“Bit thin, bit young for him,” the old fisherman replied.

“Not the one now, the one who abdicated, Edward – the Duke of Windsor. He was good-looking. Little, though. Leastways he looked little in the newspaper photos.”

“Obsessed with a woman, he was. Ob-sessed. Giving up a palace and his duty to his country for an American with two livin’ husbands. T’wasn’t right, Joyce. B’ain’t even legal, prob’ly, for people like we.”

“Do you think he’s a spy?” Joyce dropped her voice, “An enemy agent?”

“The Duke of Windsor?” The fisherman pulled a face. “Visited Hitler, he did. I saw it somewhere. They say he’s a Nazi-lover. Met Hitler. Goes to Germany for his holidays.”

“Not him! Not the Duke of Windsor. I mean that one who’s just left. He didn’t sound French to me.”

“Oh, him. Could be. Unfriendly bugger, whoever he is.”

“Handsome, though, in a craggy sort of way.”

“’Andsome is as ’andsome does, maid,” the ancient mariner grunted.

Joyce sighed and wiped a greasy cloth around a clean glass. “You never know who you’re talking to these days.”

“You better find out who he is, if he’s sleeping up there.” The fisherman indicated the yellowed ceiling above the bar. “Could be yer to sabotage our boats or see what our navy boys are doing down in the harbour.”

“I’ll look in his room when I go in to clean,” Joyce whispered. “I do the rooms some days.”

“Good idea,” the fisherman said, and returned to the shove-ha’penny game by the window.