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Das Macht Alles So Einfach

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Alison stomped into the kitchen still holding the plate she’d eaten her breakfast from over an hour ago. She’d finally reached the kitchen after hours of putting out fires with the ghosts, responding to their every beck and call and dedicating her recent life to ensuring her dead housemates don’t kill each other once again.

As usual, she was followed by a veritable conga line of ghosts demanding her attention.

“Alison, it’s well past midday,” the Captain snapped as the gaggle entered the kitchen. “My cricket has already started, you’re making me miss it!”

“Fanny’s watching it, Cap,” she sighed. “I told you this, please!”

“Julian, you wanna play chess?” Robin asked.

“It is the Captain’s day,” Pat agreed.

“Sorry, Fanny was meant to be helping me in the garden with some of the others but look at the weather!” Alison gestured to the window where rain lashed against the glass caught up in the strong winds of a winter storm.

“Fair Alison,” Thomas simpered. “I believe you’ve forgotten to put my music on. ’Tis no bother but-,”

“Hey, Ally, have you seen this?” Mike called out to Alison, unaware of the raving crowd now surrounding him at the kitchen table.

“Yeah, give me a minute, Thomas,” Alison huffed and put her plate into the sink with a clatter before turning back to her husband. “Seen what, Mike?”

“‘Defence Department release documents indicating presence of German spies in England during Second World War,’” Mike read, quoting from the front page of the BBC News website open on his laptop. “I thought the Captain might find it interesting.”

“No need to hear about that, Michael,” the Captain said, standing up straight and rolling his shoulders with an air of confidence. “No spies could ever have stopped our victory. They don’t have the brains for it, you see, we’re much too smart.”

“He says he’s not fussed,” Alison said from where she was now washing up her plate in the sink. “And then he said something racist.” She shot a glare across at the Captain who simply cleared his throat and muttered ‘well’.

“We should have a rainy day!” Kitty cried. “Play games and watch films!”

“Aye, used to have those all the time with Daley,” Pat said. “We’d stay in pyjamas all day and bake something: chocolate brownies or the like. And then drink hot chocolate and cuddle up on the sofa. Good days, really!”

“Yes exactly!” Kitty said. “If only we could bake!”

“Alison I must insist, my cricket!” The Captain said. “If you don’t put it on, I’ll get Julian to. Then you’ll have to break up the fight between him and Fanny, hmm?”

“Yeah, I’ll fight her for it,” Julian teased. “I like my chances against Fanny Button!”

“I’d rather break up your brawl than fight Fanny myself, thank you very much,” Alison murmured.

“Julian, you’re hardly standing up for my cause!”

“Chess board ready…”

“Can you not fight your own fights, Captain?”

“I simply wish we could bake cookies or make tea or something!”

“If the words of Robert Smith aren’t echoing through this house within the next ten minutes-,”

“Guys, guys, s’il vous plaît!”

“Oh damn!” Mike said.

“What’s that, Mike?” Alison called loudly over the commotion. “Guys shut up, please! What is it Mike?”

“I think your Captain might be interested now!”

“Doubt it, Michael,” the Captain said before turning back to Alison.

“‘Thousands of documents have been published detailing the movements of several German spies operating in the UK between 1940 and 1945,’” Mike read. “‘Records from the War Office indicate the presence of notorious spy Johann Müller operating from a small town in Berkshire, in addition to an unknown operative working from inside the secretive Button House Weapons Development Centre.’”

“What?” The Captain and Alison said in sync. The ghosts fell silent.

“Ooooh, espionage!” Julian said. “What’s a government secret if someone isn’t telling the press on the sly? Keeps things fresh!”

“That’s nonsense,” the Captain said calmly.

“‘We spoke to espionage historian Jonathan Faulkner about the revelation,’” Mike continued, quoting the article. “‘These reports show the German regime had a rather detailed knowledge of the work taking place at Button House. In my opinion, details of the prototype weapons being developed at the base could only have been leaked by one of those high up in the command structure.’”

Mike continued to read in silence as Alison and the ghosts turned immediately to the Captain with accusatory glares. Pat looked up at him with an incredulous look, Julian chuckled through an open mouthed grin, whereas Kitty looked horrified.

“Just know that if I had control over my neck, I’d be looking straight at you too, Captain,” Humphrey called from where he was lying on the floor, facing the pantry forgotten after an earlier game of catch between Robin and Mary.

“It simply isn’t true,” the Captain said, locking eyes with each of the ghosts one by one. “It isn’t! A smear campaign! Aha! That’s what it is, it’s a smear campaign to make Button House look bad, yes.”

“It’s been 70 years, mate, don’t think anyone’s interested in ruining your reputation anymore!” Pat chuckled adjusting his glasses slightly.

“Yeah, Captain,” Alison agreed. “No one really minds if there were mistakes during the war now, it’s long passed and people just want interesting stories. Spies are interesting!”

“Yes they are! Can’t believe there was a spy here!” Mike chipped in.

“But there wasn’t one here, there couldn’t have been because I would’ve known about it,” the Captain pointed his stick aggressively toward Alison before tapping it against his own chest. “No one could’ve hidden anything here, not from me, not a chance.”

“If the Germans knew about this place though, then someone must have told them?” Alison questioned.

“There were only a handful of people who knew about Operation William, and I trust them all implicitly.”

“Sometimes the most inconspicuous of people are those you shouldn’t trust,” Thomas said wistfully.

“There’s got to be a way to prove my innocence,” the Captain shook his head.

“You could always try the attic?” Humphrey suggested. “Heather put a huge chest of documents up in the attic after the war. If you could find papers to prove the identity of all the soldiers at the House, then you could prove they were all who they said they were and then boom, no spy.”

“No!” The Captain says sharply. “Alison, I forbid you from looking through those.”

“Why? War’s over, and I’m sure that that historian from the article would be interested in anything we could find!” Alison said. She opened up the pantry and carefully took down the photo of the Captain and his men. “Come on then, can someone bring Humphrey?”

Alison made to leave the room but the Captain stopped her once more.

“Alison, please,” he said sincerely, voice dropped low so only Alison could hear. “There was no spy at Button House, I am sure of it. Please don’t go through anything.”

“Captain, it’s fine, seriously. If we can prove all your men were legitimate, then we can clear your name, yeah?”

***

The attic lay quiet and untouched, the only sound was the soft tapping of heavy rain hitting the tiles above. Dust swirled through the stagnant air as pages long forgotten by their authors were turned for the first time in decades. The ghosts all sat around the room, peering into weary cardboard boxes and tattered suitcases filled with ageing, yellow paper - well, all excluding the Captain who paced with unease about the floorboards.

Alison sat crouched beside a huge wooden chest as Mike ducked beneath beams carrying an armful of brown leather books towards the chair in the corner. He threw himself down into the armchair with a flourish and dropped the books onto the floor beside him, sighing as the pile cascaded to the side with a thud.

“After the war, most of the soldiers had their diaries confiscated to stop any information being leaked,” Humphrey told the room, seeing Mike had taken a pile of worn leather diaries of various styles and levels of decay. “Some of them were not best pleased, I seem to remember.”

“Have a flick through those books, Mike,” Alison said. “Might be some mentions of personal details, see if anyone seems off.”

“Michael, I demand you put those books down at once!” The Captain said. “Those are personal to the men, it would be simply improper to read them!”

Mike began flicking through the books one by one, his eyes hardly focussing on the scrawly lines of blue ink mostly discussing what the various soldiers ate for dinner, what they spent their rations on, what new song they’d heard on the radio, occasionally descriptions of the flawless beauties they had waiting at home for them after the war. Nothing seemed to stand out as particularly unusual, it was just as if he were reading through remnants in any war museum.

Mike reached down to his feet to pick up the final diary from his pile. It was a thick black leather book with a hard cover and an elastic band keeping it tightly closed. Mike snapped the elastic band open and flipped open the first worn, yellow page.

“‘Diary of Lieutenant William Havers,’” he read out loud.

“Michael, don’t you dare!” The Captain bellowed jumping up from where he had finally parked himself on the floor. “Alison, tell Michael to desist. I demand you stop!”

“Mike, pause on that one a second,” Alison stood up to take the book from him. She turned it over carefully in her hands before opening it slowly. “Captain, I’m not going to read it, okay? Just, is that his writing? So I can compare it to his conscription forms.” She angled the diary towards the Captain where he could see the small scratchy writing he could still recognise from the late nights filling out reports together.

“Yes, that’s his,” the Captain said quietly. “I didn’t know he kept a diary.”

“Would you like to read it?” Alison asked him. “I could turn the pages for you, I wouldn’t look I promise.”

“No of course not!” The Captain said aghast. “It would be incredibly invasive for me to even glance at it! I wouldn’t dare!”

“He’s long gone, Captain,” Alison said. “Surely if anyone were to read it he’d want it to be you?”

“He doesn’t want for anything, he’s dead Alison.”

“Well, we’re going to donate all this stuff to a museum so someone will read them eventually,” Alison explained. “I just thought you might want to… remove certain things that he… or you might not want the world to see?”

“Hmm,” the Captain coughed. “Well, yes. I think that might be… yes.”

The Captain shuffled himself across to beside Alison in front of the chest and allowed her to slowly turn the washed out pages for him to read, each page saw the words of his friend leap from the page to warm his long dead soul. The stories Havers told were fascinating to the Captain, the fact he could sit over 70 years after these stories took place and recall them so vividly jumping from the pages in front of him.

Saturday 15th June 1942

Base is quiet today, many of the men are on home leave at the moment. Took a short constitutional around the house gardens as the roses always look so beautiful this time of year. The dew beading upon the petals in the early morning give way to the busy bee by late afternoon - an elegant sight for sore, war-torn eyes. I ate also lunch in the gardens: corned beef sandwiches are a quiet luxury at this time but it was lovely to eat out in the fresh air.

Spent the afternoon and early evening with the CO. We have a series of reports due by the 20th (operations control can be quite demanding with the dates these days) therefore I wanted to get some work done before the rowdy officers returned. The Captain worked also his fingers to the bone as he always does, he works more than any man I’ve ever met sometimes I wonder if he can ever turn that brain of his off. I brought him four mugs of tea throughout the evening and was rather surprised he kept finishing them - it’s a good job I know how he likes it, one sugar and a drop of milk is not quite sweet enough for me.

The Captain smiled softly at Havers’ words.

“You okay?” Alison asked, as the Captain nodded.

“Next page please, Alison,” he said quietly. She moved to turn the page but failed to get a solid grip on the next sheet. She picked up the book and licked her fingers to turn it. The pages were stuck fast together.

“God, you can tell this thing is old!” She muttered. Pushing her two thumbnails between the pages she began to carefully tear them apart. Upon sliding her fingers in, she swiftly came into contact with the familiar cool touch of leather.

“Huh?” She opened the book to find a second, smaller diary enclosed among the pages. Someone had cut open a rough, scraggly hole in the very centre of Havers’ diary, perfectly sized to fit the little book inside.

“What’s that?” The Captain asked.

“I’m not sure?” Alison opened the smaller book, hardly larger than her palm, and began to read. “It’s-,”

“Wait Alison, no!” The Captain made a move to grab the book from her but failed as his hand fazed straight through her. “No, please. That’s personal! Alison, you can’t-,”

“I can’t read it,” Alison said, looking up at him.

“No,” the Captain sighed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, it contains sensitive details regarding Havers’ feelings about-,”

“No, Captain. It’s not English, so I can’t read it,” Alison showed him the pages of the book, where the writing lay slightly larger and messier than Havers’ distinctive scratchy prose but it was still clearly his hand.

“Here, Mike!” Alison carefully cast the book towards Mike who caught it in his lap. “You did GCSE German, see if you can decipher this.”

“It’s not-,” the Captain stuttered. “It’s not German, it isn’t. It can’t be, Havers doesn’t speak-,”

“It’s in German?” Pat asked from where he had been perched on the edge of a chair overseeing the entire operation.

“Oooh dear!” Julian chuckled. “Seems like your pretty boy was a bit of a troublemaker, huh?” He winked at the Captain who stared back at him with eyes brimming with fear.

“He wasn’t a- Julian, shut up. Havers was-,”

“Think I can get quite a bit of it,” Mike smiled. “Looks like that B grade is gonna come in handy for once!”

“I went to the - I think ‘Wald’ is forest but that might be wrong,” Mike translated. “And… met Müller, I assume that’s a person, and he had much- a lot of information about the work at… somewhere.”

“I expected somethings more interestings from a spy?” Mary said. “A walk in the forests, well I’ve done that and I’m no spies.”

“Indeed! Maybe Havers was simply practicing his German in case of interaction with the enemy.” The Captain adjusted his tie and sat up straight. “He was always so well prepared.”

His confident energy began to waver. His sat crosslegged but perfectly upright with wide eyes and a tight lipped grimace, much like a child perched on the carpet at school praying not to be picked on by the teacher. The contrast his military assuredness provided was deeply unsettling.

“We talked about the war and he said the Reich was making good movement, maybe progress would work better. Making good progress?”

“Good lord,” the Captain muttered, eyes fixed on Mike.

“He will, next week, go to France and send, I think, information to home,” Mike stammered over his words, language skills rusty after many a year of no use. “I said about the, well it says ‘Landmine’ so I can guess what that is. ‘Ich sagte auch’… I said also. I said also about the landmine and gave Müller drawings of the plan. Home will soon about the plans know.”

Silence descended upon the small attic room, it would have been easy to forget it was stacked full of typically loud and obnoxious dead people. All eyes watched the Captain as he twiddled his hands around his stick, the cogs in his brain whirring for an explanation, whirring so loudly anyone with a mile would’ve thought he were solving the enigma code.

“Well,” Thomas broke the silence. “he wasn’t a particularly efficient spy, leaving a paper trail such as this!”

“Rookie mistake,” Pat agreed, nodding wisely.

“That’s simply awful to be so betrayed like that,” Kitty commented, petting Humphrey’s hair gently in her lap. “And by your best friend as well.”

“Ah so that’s what he do when he see that man in the woods,” Robin nodded.

“You what?” Pat asked. The Captain looked up sharply.

“Havers man, he go into woods a lot and meet man and they show each other paper,” Robin said smiling. “Was always big mystery, now we know what he do!”

“You knew?” The Captain whispered, as Robin nodded. “You knew but never said anything, how could- how could you?”

“Well, I don’t know, do I? I no speak German!” Robin shrugged.

“You no speak English, Robin,” Thomas commented, before slapping his wrist and correcting himself.

“You knew-,” the Captain stammered.

“Now c’mon mate, I don’t think it’s fair you blame Robin,” Pat said reaching out the place a careful hand on the Captain’s shoulder.

“Not fair?” The Captain said surprisingly calmly. “I’ll tell you what’s not fair-,” He was cut off by Mike speaking again, completely oblivious to the disaster unfolding around him.

“Woah, this bit’s fascinating!” He said.

“Mike, no, maybe stop-” Alison started but Mike’s terrible German accent was already breaking free before she could do anything to stop it.

“Der Kommandant sieht nur das, was er sehen will,” Mike stammered. “Er sieht einen gut erzogenen Jungen vom Land, der Kricket und ein gutes Buch genießt. Er liebt mich, und das macht alles so einfach."

“What means you by that?” Mary asked.

“The Captain sees what he wants to see. He sees a well behaved country boy, who loves cricket and a good book.” Mike paused and glanced up at Alison, who stared back blankly. “He loves me and that makes everything so easy.”

And with that the Captain was up, his eyes threatening to spill over and run tracks down his cheeks, running from the room with speed that would put his 2.30 minute runs to shame. His footsteps echoed heavy and loud down the narrow staircase and along the still corridors of the house. The others listened in silence, tracking his path as far away from them as they could.

“Mike, you shouldn’t have-,” Alison stood to follow him before she was stopped still by Pat.

“He needs a bit by himself, yeah?” Pat said calmly. “If you follow him straight away, he gets overwhelmed and angry. Let him be angry by himself and then later, when he’s just upset, then go talk to him.”

The Captain reached his bedroom and fell through the door, stopping to stare at the drab and lifeless furniture he had been surrounded by for the past 70 years. His often unreliable knees began to fail as a wave of nausea overwhelmed him. He couldn’t bring himself to sit upon the bed beside him, the bed where he lay every night and dreamed of a world in which he had been slightly braver that day Havers left, so he stumbled across to the window seat. He dropped with little grace onto the soft cushion and turned to face out to the garden rather than having to see the room that reminded him of his unfaithful soldier.

He thumped his head back against the wall and watched as the rain drops raced down the steamy window in front of him. How had he never noticed? He wondered. There had never been any indication that Havers was anything but what he appeared.

Havers was polite, of course. Polite, well mannered, and patient to a tee. He always put up with the Captain’s nonsense, calming his nerves and protecting him from the scathing eyes of the officers, who would be sure to judge all the Captain’s oddities in a way his lieutenant never did.

It couldn’t be true. Havers was just… Havers. Intelligent, funny, wise beyond his years, and a cracking good shot. Just plain William Havers from a small village Sussex. He’d grown up there, the Captain recalled, with his mother and two older sisters. No father, no brothers, he was the man of the house. He went to boarding school in Hampshire. He’d liked it. He was popular amongst the boys. He was on the cricket team. He did Latin. He’d studied Latin and he’d liked it.

He was predictable, and dependable, and he cared. The Captain couldn’t help but think back to when a rogue bullet skimmed past his leg during a training exercise - Havers had been out like a shot from the house and by his side in moments, fussing about the growing red stain on his trousers. He’d sat the Captain at his desk and applied the antiseptic with great care, he’d bandaged around the small wound and checked it every day until it was merely a story and a raised little scar on his pale skin. He was just boring, wonderful William Havers. Was that even his real name? Or was he actually Hans, or Dieter? Was he Wilhelm?

There was no indication anything was wrong with him, so was it untrue or was he just that good? His speech, his writing, everything about him screamed boarding school educated English man who thought himself quite the poet, always waxing lyrical about the various colours of Button House gardens. The Captain’s gaze settled on the roses not far below his bedroom window as he thought back to Havers’ diary.

‘An elegant sight for sore, war-torn eyes.’ That they were, the roses. Havers was always quite fond of that garden, he’d sit for hours when he had a free afternoon and watch the wildlife - a man like that couldn’t be an enemy. ‘I ate also lunch in the gardens’.

‘Also’.

‘I ate also’

A quirk, that’s all it was. The Captain had noticed it, of course he had. He’d always considered himself a bit of an intellectual, he might say - so, of course, the repeated grammatical error of his close friend didn’t go unnoticed. ‘I also ate lunch’ versus ‘I ate also lunch’, it was hardly a difference, hardly worth noting. He had never corrected Havers, it was simply an interesting quirk that made him smile whenever he heard that little tic. It was an endearing oddity that even after all these years reminded the Captain of quite how human his long gone William had once been. A small and lovable eccentricity. Wasn’t it?

‘Ich sagte auch… I said also’. That’s what’s Michael had said, was it not? The Captain sat up sharply. Subject, verb, ‘also’.

A tiny quirk so sweet, so endearing falling eloquently from the mouth of a man he respected. A quirk he’d noticed a thousand times over and fallen for more and more each time. A quirk that was a mistake no boarding school boy would ever get away with in an elocution lesson.

The final grammatical quirk of a man translating his thoughts from German to English.

The Captain sat back against the window frame, a single tear fresh on his face. There was no use denying any further. Resigned to the fact he’d never truly know the truth, the Captain closed his eyes and lay back to rest from his terrible, terrible day. He pulled his knees up to his chest and listened as they both clicked in the usual dull pain that haunted him. Havers was long dead, probably. No one would ever truly know what he had been up to during his time in the country, that would stay forever between him and God.

“Er liebt mich,” the Captain whispered into the grey and stormy afternoon. “Er liebt mich, und das macht alles so einfach.”

He dropped his forehead to his knees and took a deep, heaving breath: finally allowing the reservoir of salty tears built up behind his composed façade to flood over the straining dam and pool in his lap. His chest heaved with the wracking sobs that echoed through the silent and empty room.

“Er liebt mich und,” he started. “Ich liebe ihn, und das macht alles so einfach.”