A Wing and a Prayer

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Chapter 19

The next few weeks in the run up to Christmas passed uneventfully on the island as the day to day routines were largely unbroken. George and Beverley kept an ear open on the telephone exchange to listen out for any forewarnings of trouble from the mainland. Andy and the rest of the participants in the scrap metal scam carefully monitored the movements of Jake and the Police at Ardrossan, but apart from the odd search, here and there, nothing ever came of their investigations. They were relieved to find out one day that there had been a couple of soldiers smuggling petrol, and it was thought that they may have been trying to hide it on an island such as Arran. While Jake never let on to McCulloch and Iain Menzies the true nature of his officious searches, it was a relief, indeed, for the islanders that the Police activity eventually disappeared. It turned out that the soldiers had actually taken the smuggled petrol down to Dumfries, in the Borders, hoping to sell it down south.

The frustration at not being able to spend any of the money reached a dramatic climax, one day when McCulloch called everyone to the pub one morning to discuss what they were going to do next. They all trooped down to McCulloch’s, to contemplate a dilemma – they were wealthy, and yet couldn’t spend anything! As they all sat around the bar area, McCulloch began by telling them about a call he got from Iain Menzies on the mainland.

“Iain called in a bit of a panic last night,” he said,

“Harkiss and Woodleigh got an early morning visit last week from the Inland Revenue. It seems that their luck just ran out and there is ongoing investigation into fraud. Apparently their accounts show that a great deal of money is missing.”

Andy then said,

“That wouldn’t include some twenty eight grand by any chance?”

McCulloch continued,

“Since it was in cash, and they basically just emptied the safe, there is no proof of where it went to, and besides, it’s hardly going to help their case if they are found to have been buying metal from an unknown crashed German aircraft! It’s better for them to keep very quiet about that, after all it will be viewed upon as an international arms deal – with an enemy nation, of all things. Since it’s not the first time they’ve dabbled in that, they know they’d throw the bloody key away!”

Klein then added,

“What will they say about it then?”

“They’ll just say the lost money is a result of bad book-keeping or something. They certainly have plenty to compare it to, judging by their track record in this area and other things they have lost in the past! Anyway, I’m sure they have stashed cash all over the place for themselves, for when they come out of jail – it will be a nice little nest egg for them! I’m quite sure we didn’t get everything they had!”

Sandy and John were concerned now about being able to spend their money.

“So what do we do now?” asked Sandy,

“We can’t keep it forever!”

McCulloch recognised their frustration and suggested,

“You can always buy stuff from the black market, but you can forget cars, or anything like that for a few years after the war is over. I would suggest that you spend it carefully, but also wisely. I doubt if the Revenue will try and track down the missing cash, after all they have enough on the Company to get their money back with it’s assets alone. On the bright side, though, you shouldn’t want for much, now!”

Clark was more concerned about having the money in the house,

“I don’t like the idea of having that cash here. Apart from the fact that it incriminates us if anyone was to discover it, the Revenue might get a hold of the serial numbers of the notes, then it won’t be worth anything!”

McCulloch turned to Sandy and said,

“What about some of your pals in Ireland? Could they launder it for us?”

Sandy shook his head, and wasn’t keen on them knowing about the money,

“Well, aye, they could. I suppose I could go over with them and open accounts over there for us.”

“Right – that’s the answer then!” cried Andy,

Sandy turned to him and shook his head again,

“Naw, naw, we’ll end up having to pay them off as well! By the time we’re finished, here, the only person not in on this deal will be bloody Hitler!”

Mags and Beverley, however, were thinking of a more discreet way of laundering the money through Sandy’s fishermen pals. Beverley stood up and said,

“Why not just take the money over, open the accounts and not tell them what you are doing?”

Mags added,

“You don’t have to tell them that your carrying twenty eight grand, and you don’t even have to take it all at once. I’m sure you could come up with some excuse for a few trips over there.”

Sandy thought about it for a minute and then replied,

“Aye – maybe. I’ll think of an excuse for a few trips.”

McCulloch reiterated his warning about being careful with the money,

“For christ’s sake, though, mind and be sensible with any spending here. We can’t afford to be flashy with it.”

The appeal, for the group though, was not to buy cars or any of the fancy goods that might appeal to the general population on the mainland, but more practical things like having their houses and machinery in the best condition possible. While people on the mainland would dream of owning the latest model of car, or be able to eat in top class restaurants and travel First Class on the railways, the farmers initial thoughts were of getting the house renovated and some new parts for the tractor! A new radio, a new wardrobe of clothes, or fitted carpets would be a welcome luxury, but the more ostentatious trappings of wealth were not what any of them wanted.

None of the group ever contemplated running around in new cars, having large boats or anything like that, however they did like the idea of being able to live comfortably and to replace items when they wore out and to update their houses and surroundings. It was this attitude to their local environment that would ultimately protect them from close investigations of any authority.

Among the general mayhem of all their activity, thoughts of Christmas were never very far away from everyone’s minds, not least Klein’s. For the young airman it was a difficult and emotional time as his thoughts returned to his home and family back in the suburbs of Hamburg. The family Christmas that he knew before the war involved a gathering of friends and relatives on Christmas Eve, sometimes they would all gather at the local park and have a bonfire. There would midnight masses at churches all over Germany, and friends and neighbours would all try and use this time to forget about the war and think about a possible future under allied occupation. They daren’t think about the consequences of the Russians moving in first. He wondered what kind of a Christmas his family would be having without him, if they were even celebrating it at all. His frustration at not being able to contact them, to let them know he had survived, was tempered by the thoughts of what kind of a Christmas that Mags and Andy would be having. After all, their son was presumed dead, too, and it was very likely that he actually was. For Klein it would draw a parallel that would help him to help them have as good a time as they could possibly have. Klein wanted to keep some hope in them that Jim was, perhaps, still alive. He desperately wanted to give them the idea and hope that there was a chance that Jim had survived, after all, the official reports could be questioned and Klein knew the state that Germany was in by this stage in the war. The military efficiency that once drove the nation forward in the 1920’s was in seriously short supply by October 1944. Klein was acutely aware that Mags and Andy were putting a front on the season and there seemed to be a lot of false happiness around. It was almost like they were trying too hard to

put a brave face on things and Klein picked up on it immediately.

Along Whiting Bay’s ‘main street’ there was no village square, or any place to congregate for the village folk, other than a clearing of land on a corner, where an old house once stood. All that remained of the house, now, was the dry stone wall, or dyke, that surrounded the land. It was here that the villagers would gather, with lanterns and candles and a brazier to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Already there was an awkward atmosphere about the season, as the locals knew that Mags and Andy were the only ones on the entire island who had no reason to celebrate this year. It would be hard for any kind of celebration to take place, when there were two of the most well known characters in the town not taking part. The tradition in the town was, like most things in daily life, that everyone contributed something, no matter how small. McCulloch, of course, generally provided all the drinks, and Mags would provide some warming food while Andy would provide a lot of the vegetables from their plot.

As Christmas Eve arrived, the little garden square began to take shape as locals would add ‘their’ parts to the decorations. The brazier was in place, the torch lanterns and hay bales were set up and wallpaper pasting tables appeared, where they would strain under the weight of food and drink that would be placed upon them. Klein came back from some errands one day to find Mags in the kitchen making what looked like a huge pot of mashed potatoes. He immediately sensed that the false happiness had suddenly gone, and it was replaced by the sombreness that you would expect of a mother whose only sibling was lying in a foreign grave. Andy was sitting at the table, peeling more potatoes with a completely blank and expressionless face, almost as if in trance. Klein was looking at two people who were simply going through the motions of celebrating.

“Are you alright?” Klein asked.

Andy looked up and Mags turned and gave a brave smile and replied,

“Aye – we’ll be o.k. It’s just a bit hard, you know, with Christmas and all.”

“I understand,” Klein said.

Andy put down his potato peeler and said,

“We were actually thinking that your folks must be going through the same thing. The only weird thing is that you are alright and living here and we can’t tell anyone.”

Klein sat at the table and as he thought about his parents he said,

“Yes, they will be very sad too.”

Mags stopped stirring her concoction in the pot and sat down to join them and said,

“But we are still going to carry on as normal, otherwise it will just eat away at us all – right?”

Andy and Klein looked at each other and just nodded,

“Aye, I guess so,” said Andy.

Klein, treading carefully with his words, said,

“I still like to think that perhaps he may have survived. I cannot help thinking about my situation here, and how I would like to think my parents would never give up hope.”

Mags smiled at Klein in a way that was reminiscent of the kind of smile that you would give to a child making an ill-informed suggestion and said,

“You’re very kind, son,” she said,

“But we have to believe the evidence we have.”

Mags’ eyes began to fill up again as she dropped her head down slightly.

Klein added,

“I do know that Germany is as good as finished. Many of the forces will be looking to save themselves, now. They are terrified of the Russians invading. They will not be concerned about reporting stranded allied airmen. I think if Jim is still alive, he will make it back to you. I am convinced. The individual Units left will want airmen like Jim to survive – if only to save them from the Russians.”

Mags was fighting back tears as she struggled with the reality of a Christmas without Jim in their lives.

“I thought we could be braver than this,” she sobbed,

“But every time I look at you, you remind me of everything we have lost. I fight with the emotion of hating you as a German

one minute and wanting to love and protect you like another son. I feel like I’m betraying Jim, just by wanting to look after you and see you alright.”

Klein felt similar emotions as a displaced combatant in a hostile land, not knowing if he would ever see his family again – even if he did get back to Germany.

“I do know what you feel,” he said,

“I have also lost much, and I also feel like I am a burden to you. I can’t move, but I also may have lost my family. I look upon you as my family, now, and I want to make you feel better – not worse.”

Mags wiped tears from her eyes before she stood up and ran her hand over Klein’s head,

“But I do know that we must make sure you get home. That is our focus in life, now - To get you home, alive and well.”

Andy picked up his potato peeler again and said,

“But for now, we have to make Chistmas as normal as possible. We have to do our ‘bit’. We can’t let the rest of the folks down!”

Klein smiled and simply nodded and sat back in the chair as Andy started peeling again.

Mags went back to stirring the potato mash in the pot.

“What are you making?” asked Klein, getting up to see what was being stirred so vigourously.

“Stovies,” replied Mags.

“Schto . . Stovees?” questioned Klein.

Andy laughed and clarified,

“Aye, Stovies. It’s basically shredded meat, onion and potato, all mixed up and heated. Rare and warm in the winter!”

Klein peered into the pot as if he was expecting something awful to jump out and gently inhaled the steam that was coming up from it. His expression changed dramatically when the smell of potato, onion and meat with some seasoning filled his nostrils.

“This smells good!” he exclaimed.

Mags laughed at him and replied,

“Well you’ll just need to wait until Christmas Day!”

That night, Klein made an excuse to Mags and Andy, saying that he was going for a walk down to the town. He was

well enough known, by now, that there wasn’t anyone in Whiting bay that didn’t know him, or his circumstances, and he was able to move around freely. He headed down the lane and on to the main street towards McCulloch’s pub, where Iain Menzies’ van was parked outside and the scrapman was enjoying a cold ‘B17’ with Anne, Gordon and some of the regulars. As Klein greeted them all, he turned to Iain and said,

“Did you get it?”

Iain put his beer bottle down and replied,

“Aye, I did indeed! It wasn’t easy to get, mind, but I got one!”

Klein smiled and said,

“It is very important to me. I hope the price was right?”

Iain stood up and replied,

“Aye, although it would have been a lot cheaper five years ago! It’s in the van. Come on.”

When they got out to the van, Iain opened up the back doors and pulled out a cardboard box about a metre square and said,

“There you go! He wanted much more for it, initially, but I managed to get him down to about half of what you gave me.”

Iain gave Klein a small wad of notes, wrapped up with an elastic band, to Klein’s astonishment.

“Thank you!” he said enthusiastically,

“This is even better, yes?”

“Oh, aye!” replied Iain,

“You never give anyone what they ask for – haggle, a bit, you know!”

Iain then lifted the box up and put it in Klein’s arms and closed up the van.

“Do you want a hand up the road with it?” he asked.

“No, thank you,” replied Klein,

“I have to be very careful in getting back into the house with it.”

“O.k,” replied Iain,

“Good night, son. We’ll see you tomorrow!”

Klein struggled up the road towards the farm, stopping frequently to put the heavy box down to rest his arms and get his breath back. When he got to the farm, he put the box down outside and went in to check where Mags and Andy were. As the front door creaked open, he grimaced at the sound as he

stealthily crept into the house and closed the door. As soon as he came in to the house, Andy called out,

“Ah, there you are! There’s a beer out in the crate!”

Klein seized on the opportunity to go back and retrieve the box, now, as the supplies of the infamous ‘B17’s’ were always kept outside to keep them cold.

“Ah, yes, good idea!” said Klein, adding,

“Would you both like one?”

There was a unanimous ‘yes’ from Andy and Mags as Klein quickly went back out and brought the box into the room where he was sleeping and nipped back out to get three beers from the crate. Before he went into the living room with the beers, Klein put the box on the bed and removed the item inside, which had a brown paper wrapping. He placed the item on top of a chest of drawers and cursed the manufacturer for using, what appeared to be the noisiest brown paper in the world!

“Are you alright in there?” called out Andy, as Klein carefully tore away the last of the paper to reveal a very smart, and very up to date Pye radio. The cabinet was beautifully made from a dark, exotic wood that resembled tiger stripes in its grain and was finely polished to a magical lustre. The dials were of cream bakelite, and the brass mesh grille in front of the speaker was trimmed with mother of pearl inlay that shimmered different colours as it caught the light. Klein made sure that the volume dial was turned all the way down before plugging it in. As he switched it on for the first time, the frosted glass indicator face flickered into life and as it warmed up, Klein headed into the living room with the beers.

Klein walked into the living room to see Mags and Andy standing by the fireplace, the fire roaring away, a glass of McCulloch’s wine on the table for him, as Mags and Andy raised theirs towards Klein,

“Happy Christmas, son!” they said cheerfully and held their glasses up.

Klein smiled and immediately picked up the other glass of wine and held it up to Mags and Andy,

“Happy Christmas!” he replied, adding,

“To my best friends!”

Andy nodded slowly towards Klein in acknowledgement, while Mags excitedly drew Klein’s attention to the back of the living room door behind where Klein stood. Hanging up on the door was a smart, brown, three- piece suit, with a silver watch and chain in the waistcoat pocket. There was also a pair of matching shoes, a mustard coloured shirt and a reddish-brown tie.

Klein turned around to see Mags and Andy smiling broadly,

“Happy Chistmas, son. You can’t go back to your family in that misfit collection of clothes we’ve got you so far!”

Klein was lost for words and stepped forward, put his wine glass down and came over and hugged them both,

“Thank you, Mags and Andy!” he said,

“Thank you so much.”

Klein turned and lifted the suit off the hanger and admired it, turning it into the light before hanging it back up again. He then stepped back and said,

“It would appear that you are not the only one’s who have been hiding things today.”

Klein opened the living room door and beckoned them to follow him into the bedroom, where he presented them with the radio. The radio valves had warmed up and the glow from the indicator face reflected in the faces of Mags and Andy as they stood closer together and held each other while Klein leant forward to turn up the volume. Mags and Andy both smiled broadly as the sound of a Big Band drifted out from the speaker, playing the popular music of the day from a ballroom in the cities, or, perhaps a studio at the BBC. As the music played, Mags and Andy both heartily thanked Klein for his gift and for his thoughtfulness. Mags hugged the young airman and thanked him again, and Andy laughed,

“Aye, Menzies was a crafty bastard hiding this from us, wasn’t he?”

Klein looked puzzled as Mags replied,

“He must have brought this over from the mainland, today, along with your suit!”

Andy added,

“I probably leant on the damn box it came in to count out the money to pay him!”

They all laughed at the thought of the coincidence, before heading back into the living room to toast in Christmas.

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