SEPARATE TABLES

She was sure she had seen him somewhere before. The way he had looked at her from the table was disconcerting and unnerving.
Who?
Age was having an effect, although not on all her abilities, she smiled inwardly. She still noticed things, sensed opportunities and acted!
As the Head Waiter guided her to her table past that very expensive blazer draped carelessly across the back of the chair, pocket bulging, a glint of gold. Its owner in shirtsleeves. Shirtsleeves at the Dorchester! What had things come to?
A light collision, her knitting bag spilling a tangled ball of blue wool, a knitting needle, her purse. A confused apologetic scramble and all returned to the depths of her bag. Silly, confused, delicate old lady, she hadn’t lost her touch. The young man, flushed “All my fault, in the way, sorry!”
She hadn’t lost her touch, these little souvenirs would keep her going, allowing her time for her work.
WHO? She sipped her tea.
It was as if he had sensed her interest. He stood up, inclined his head and glided, no, shuffled daintily towards her.
WHO? The mists thinned, no, surely not?
“Madame , so sorry ,mademoiselle.” He was at her table.
A small man, waxed moustache, well built one could say charitably. Immaculate in a soft, double- breasted suit that just shouted Saville Row. Small feet, shoes patent, shining, and curiously , for summer, indoors, fine grey gloves.
Their eyes met.                                                                                                                              Hers, practiced, innocent, demure, gazing up through her eyelashes.
His, clear, piercing, a hint of sadness, a memory of pain implied by the small creases radiating from their corners.
“Forgive me. I am sure we have met before but,” she paused.
“You can’t quite remember.” Was that a French accent? No not quite.
“May I?”
Giving her no chance to reply he sat across from her.                                                          “Some petit hints perhaps.” He lent towards her.She was conscious of a light fragrance of lavender. “Huys? Le Touquet? Berlin, The Adlon and Paris. Paris and a flight home.”
The mists lifted. She rocked slightly in her chair and saw him then-sitting at the back of the Dakota, away from the rest of them clustered round a hamper of smoked salmon, caviar, champagne. My God they even had crystal glasses. That sour faced Captain Muggeridge was with him fussing over his bandaged hands and feet, the toes weeping blood.
She found herself gazing at the grey gloved hands resting on the table unaccountably thinking of that last night with Ludwig. Her Ludwig! Sitting at the end of the bed clad only in his black uniform jacket, silver lightning flashes catching the lamplight.
“Had a tough little Belgian bastard in this morning.” He smiled knowing that his ‘tales from the office’ would rouse her for a second course. “Finger nails out. Hard man. Hammered his toes, that got him screaming. Passed out. Didn’t break. What do you suggest for his morning treat liebchen?”
A question unanswered due to the arrival of the Free French and a very quick exit of Obersturmbanfuhrer Ludwig Keisl.
Things had looked bad for her until the arrival, miraculously, of Muggeridge and his little group of SOE thugs. Armed to the teeth, decked in British flags, roaring round Paris with a very special list, filling up the truck with old friends and some new faces-Chevalier, Chanel. Wodehouse and, for gods sake, how had SHE got here!
Mrs. Simpson, sorry the Duchess of Windsor, clutching a bag, jewels and papers, letters!
An offer of comfort, a friendly word, a kiss on the cheek and a bit of insurance tucked into her blouse.
The memories provoked a little sigh,,aware suddenly of the little man leaning towards her.
“So, Miss Marple. We meet again. We meet at last. “ He looked down at his gloved hands. “They still hurt, they still hurt!”
He opened one hand and dropped something shining onto the table top.
Twin lightning flashes.
Her heart contracted, something was happening to her breathing.
“From the Obersturmbahnfuhrer , Miss Marple. He resisted for a long time. Hercule Poirot is not without some imagination.
Peter Turnbull.
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