The Long and Spectacular Life of Agnes Magnusdottir 13
1956 part 2
"Two buggers together. What do you say? It'll be jolly good fun."
The next time they met up, at another viewing of Casablanca, neither of them ever getting bored of this particular film, Vickers asked Edmund if he would like to go down to Brighton with him the following weekend.
"We can go to the Royal Pavilion. Visit some other sites. Then we can get drunk as lords. Apparently Brighton is famous for its watering holes."
Edmund liked the way Vickers talked, almost as if he was an old man or a soldier from the First World War. The truth was Vickers was only in his mid twenties, the same as Edmund, and he looked much younger. Sometimes when they were in a dusky pub and Edmund squinted his eyes it was just like they were friends at school again.
Edmund told Mary it was a conference on ’expanding oyster harvests’. Due to ongoing food rationing the government was always trying to popularise some new food or another in order to feed the hungry population so Mary had no reason to doubt him.
Vickers picked him up at the end of his road at eight o’clock on Saturday morning.
"Don't worry. I'll have you back be three o’clock on Sunday, showered, shitted and shaved."
Vickers drove like a madman, or at least how Edmund imagined a madman would drive. It was the first time he had properly been in a car and the sense of it left him breathless and unable to speak. It was as if he was roaring into the dark heart of the future.
"Yarrrrr!" yelled Vickers out of the window. "Yarrrrr!"
The landlady of the bed and breakfast Vickers had booked over the phone looked them up and down before saying, "It's pay up front. Breakfast is at eight. And no tarts."
Vickers lay on his back on one of the twin beds laughing. "Do you think she meant no tarts for breakfast?"
"I rather gathered that we’re not to bring any of our conquests back here," said Edmund seriously. He had yet to progress very far into the room and was standing nervously at the door.
Apart from the two beds there was little else but a decrepit wardrobe and a sink ’to piss in’ as Vickers said. The advertisement had claimed that all the rooms had ’sea views’.
"Poppycock," said Vickers. He brought his head back in from the window he was leaning out of. "Here old chap, I say, hang onto my legs and I'll lean a little further out. I don’t want to go tumbling down."
Edmund got on his knees and gripped Vickers around the thighs. It was only like a rugby scrum he told himself. No need to panic.
"I see it," called out Vickers. "I see the blasted sea. Should it be brown? All those oiks they let go in it I suppose."
When he came back in Vickers said, "This is rather like old times, isn't it? Me and you bedding down together."
They went out without getting changed and instead of the Royal Pavilion or any of the educational sites Edmund had envisaged, he had spent many hours justifying the trip in his mind, they were enticed by the bright flashing lights and the sounds coming from the pier.
Edmund, to his surprise, found that he was an ace shot. He won a Kiss Me Quick hat by shooting ducks at the Duck Shot and then it took him another three goes to win one for Vickers.
"What do we look like?" said Vickers. He put his arm around Edmund and pulled him towards him so their faces were staring back at each other from the window of a sweet shop. "Aren't we just having the best time?"
Edmund thought that he should bring Agnes here although he wasn't sure that she would like the crowds and all the noise. She was quite a solitary child. Maybe when she was older although he wasn't sure that humans, like leopards, ever changed their spots.
Vickers bought some mucky postcards from a seedy looking man in a pale blue anorak and then they bought some fish and chips and took them down to the pebble beach to eat. It was as they were finishing up when a man in a dark suit walked past quite slowly. Edmund and the man recognised each other at the same time. The man said Edmund’s name and Edmund said, "Wolf."
"This is not the coincidence you imagine it might be," said Wolf. He spoke in a low whisper indicating that he did not wish Vickers, who had momentarily gone off to dispose of their chip papers, to overhear. "We have a mutual friend. He is becoming rather agitated. Mary has not answered any of his correspondence. I'm sure she has told you about it. Please, meet me here at six and we will discuss."
As he said the word ’here’ he passed to Edmund a business card with an embossed flower on the front and an address and a phone number on the back.
"Who the blazes was that?" said Vickers returning from the bin with a puzzled look on his face. "He looked like a right queer sort."
Edmund found that his heart was beating fast. What correspondence was Wolf talking about? And why would anyone from the place where he worked have anything to do with Mary at all?
"He’s a Nazi," said Edmund, turning swiftly to
Vickers and speaking in a tight-lipped way that didn't show off his teeth. "He has information that our government would find very useful. For this he wants amnesty. For both him and his," and here Edmund made inverted commas in the air, "friend."
"So you really are a spy," said Vickers. "I thought it was, you know, so much rot."
The address on the back of the card turned out to be a club of sorts. It was strange because there was no sign or anything outside. When they knocked on the door it was opened swiftly and a man in a suit looked them up and down and said, "Good evening gentlemen, you do know the score don't you?"
"I'll say," said Vickers and smiled brightly. He was as excited as a schoolboy.
It was five o’clock, a full hour before the time specified by Wolf. Edmund chose a table from where they could see anyone else come in and out. When Vickers came back from the bar he also had with him a packet of cigarettes which they smoked one after the other.
"This is just the best fun," said Vickers. "Is this is what it is like for you every day?"
"This is exactly what it is like," said Edmund.
The past few years had been extremely hard. Every passing day the reality that he was not Agnes’s father became more and more incontestable. It wasn't only that she grew less and less to look like him, so much so that passing strangers would ask, ’take after her mother, does she?' but also that her personality was different too, imaginative whereas he was methodical, headstrong to his cautiousness.
He had a recurring nightmare in which Mary came back into the train carriage and that figure of the man from the dining car followed in behind her.
"I’ve put my seed inside her," he would say. "She's going to have my baby."
Edmund was haunted not only by his inability to be a good husband but also by his belief that Mary was not a good wife. The whole thing was a complete mess.
"I tell you what," said Vickers. "This is the best night of my life." Reaching across he put a hand over Edmund’s knee and squeezed. "I haven't forgotten the past you know. I really was quite fond of you at school. You think you will grow out of it but you don’t. That's why I booked that stupid room. If we push the beds together and keep it down then no one will ever know. I've even got some butter in my pocket. Nicked it from the fish and chip shop earlier. Silly cow behind the counter didn't even notice. You are up for it aren't you? Don’t say that I have made a terrible fool of myself. I've never put myself on the line so much."
It was at this point that Wolf entered. He was wearing a long black coat with the collar pulled up. The brim of his hat was pulled down. When he caught Edmund’s eye he gestured for him to stand up and come over.
"I better deal with this alone," said Edmund. "If I'm not back in fifteen come and get me."
He had every intention of being back in five. He was going to tell Wolf that whatever it was he thought was going on then he was mistaken. Mary had never received any letters. There was nothing of any interest in either his or Mary’s lives. Vickers' declaration had made him bold. He was somebody of note after all, somebody who could be loved and admired.
"I think we need to speak in private," said Wolf.
"It was you who arranged to meet in this bar," said Edmund. "Whatever it is you've got to say then say it quick and we’re done. But I'm telling you now there's nothing to say."
"Out back." Wolf leant in close so that Edmund could smell the garlic on his breath and see the whites of his eyes. "I'm warning you, come with me or they'll be an almighty stink. There's an alleyway. Follow me."
There were dustbins and it smelt of piss and vomit.
"Jónsson wants to see his granddaughter," said Wolf.
"Jónsson?" said Edmund. This was a name he had never heard before.
"Don't play the fool with me," said Wolf. "So far he has been more than patient. If you had a granddaughter wouldn't you want to see her?"
All Edmund could think of was that this Jónsson must be the father of the man on the train. He had found out that his son had had a child and he wanted to see her. That could be the only explanation. But how had he managed to trace them? Mary must have been carrying on with the man all this time. He felt a surge of both anger and humiliation run through him.
"I want you to arrange it," said Wolf.
"I won't do it," said Edmund. He was emboldened both by the alcohol and by Vickers’ belief in him. With Vickers right behind him he could achieve anything.
Wolf lurched forward, snarled. "If you won't do it then you will be sorry. How do you think your employer and your wife will react when they find out you are a stinking queer?"
Wolf took from his pocket a camera.
"We have pictures of you and your lover boy on the pier in matching Kiss Me Quick hats, seated side by side eating a chip dinner together and also entering a well known queer establishment."
The penny dropped. That was the kind of bar he and Vickers were in.
"You tricked me," said Edmund.
"Your government is still brave enough to castrate people like you," said Wolf. "Look at what happened to Alan Turing and he was supposed to be a war hero. How would you like to be a ball-less pariah?" Wolf gave a cruel smile. His teeth shone in the moonlight. Caught up in the situation he went further than Jónsson’s simple request that he be allowed to see the girl. "All you have to do is hand over your daughter and I will keep quiet. Your life can go on. Believe me she will be treated well."
Edmund didn't know what came over him then. He lunged forward putting both hands out against Wolf’s chest. Wolf was taken by surprise. Having been a member of the Gestapo for many years he expected to give an order and for it to be followed so the last thing he expected was to be attacked. Letting out a screech he fell backwards over the bin behind him.
"I'll kill you," said Edmund. "I’ll bloody well kill you. You're not taking my daughter."
If there hadn't been a rock on the ground he might not have carried through with his threat. He brought it down again and again on Wolf’s head. When finally he stood up, his hands and clothing thick with blood and gore, he saw Vickers coming towards him down the alleyway.
"I had to do it," said Edmund. "He was a Nazi. He was a fucking Nazi."
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