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Ten Days in Madrid

by jmanton 

Posted: 27 October 2011
Word Count: 2343
Summary: Madrid, June 24th 1940...Wallis Windsor Flees to the Ritz Hotel... Nazi troops mass on the border...Spain seethes with intrigue. Beautiful Ines battles for independence in her family’s claustrophobic Madrid mansion. When the Duchess of Windsor employs her as an interpreter, Ines seizes the opportunity to buy her freedom by working as a Nazi spy. But her decision will have devastating consequences.

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Madrid, Saturday 22nd June 1940, 1300 hrs

When the maid said it was a call from the British Embassy, Ines Aletara ran down the corridor, gripped the receiver and prayed that the police hadn’t started to listen in.
‘My name is Dixon,’ the man said. ‘Please come at once. You’ll have to fight your way through the refugees.’ The line went dead and the receiver slipped in her hand before she could replace it.
An hour later, Ines sat in the entrance hall of the Embassy and arranged her things around her. She put her handbag beside her foot, her newspaper on the next chair and folded her gloves neatly in her lap. She took some time over this, turning from left to right to decide which chair to leave free, because establishing a pose gave her the confidence to meet people’s scrutiny - and now she looked around with interest.
Secretaries scurried back and forth with piles of paper under their arms or gingerly stepped up the stairs without a glance at the oil painting of the King and Queen in their coronation robes. A soldier checked passports at the door and directed visitors to four women at a trestle table who took notes and spoke on black telephones. The sound of barked orders and ringing bells muffled the murmur of the line of refugees that now wound around two streets because only British citizens got past the soldiers on the front gate.
Ines glanced at the newspaper headline in El Pais for a fifth time -‘Glorious German Victory in France. British Retreat.’
‘Señorita Aletara?’ A red-faced man in a morning coat and striped trousers called out her name.
Ines saw two women stop on the stairs, whisper to each other and gape at her.
‘Good Afternoon,’ she said in English and sat still, weighing him up. People always knew about her but she rarely knew about them and it put her at a disadvantage.
‘We spoke on the telephone.’ Mr Dixon’s brow was damp with beads of perspiration. He took a handkerchief out of his trousers and wiped his forehead.
Her lips curled up in a smile which lifted her cheekbones in such a way as to make her eyes appear too large for her face ‘I simply knew the Ambassador wouldn’t let us down.’ Ines spoke English with the slight lisp of the Spaniard and the British drawl of her mother that made ‘really’ sound like ‘rarely.’
‘Oh, you won’t be seeing His Excellency.’ Mr Dixon bent down and interrupted. ‘There’s no question of him seeing you, Miss Aletara. For obvious reasons, it’s out of the question, indeed yes, quite out of the question.’
Ines met his gaze without wavering and clasped her hands tighter in her lap. She’d emerged from her shell at the scent of kindness but now she tucked herself back in again and her cheeks began to flush.
‘You’d better follow me.’ Mr Dixon gestured towards an archway. ‘Please.’
Ines gathered up her things to cover her awkwardness, tucked her handbag under one arm, and followed him into an office at the rear of the Embassy with a view of the kitchens. The cramped room didn’t bode well but she knew that she mustn’t jump to conclusions because they might have a good reason to tuck her away like this.
She found herself facing two chairs upholstered in green leather with the British Coat of Arms on the back. A ceiling fan whirred above them and papers on a desk lifted and dropped. When she detected the not unfamiliar whiff of British disinfectant put down the drains, Ines thought of her mother who imported Jeyes Fluid by the gallon to disguise the smell. Her lips twitched with the start of a smile. Spanish drains. There was nothing like them in England.
‘Do sit down.’ He waved at one of the chairs.
Mr Dixon’s desk was clear but for a silver tray of pens and pencils and a manilla file tied up with red string which Ines assumed was stuffed with pictures of her family. There were all too many of them. Public poses. Newspaper photographs. And the more recent ones taken by the police. She sat back and crossed her legs at the ankle with the thought that if they’d gone to all this effort, they must understand her desperate situation - she supposed that was something.
Mr Dixon’s chair creaked when he shifted his weight. Sweat ran down his brow and he ran one finger around the inside of his wing collar before reaching into his pocket for a handkerchief. ‘This is for you...’ He held out a white envelope ‘...and His Excellency has asked me to remind your family that Britain is waging a war, not running a postal service.’ He wiped spittle off the side of his mouth after harshly pronouncing the s’ in ‘postal’ and ‘service.’
When he thrust the envelope towards her, Ines sat up, wary because his casual hostility was unexpected and there had to be a reason for a minor official - there was no denying it - blithely assuming that she wouldn’t complain to the Ambassador, Sir Samuel Hoare. She wanted that letter but she wasn’t going to be bullied by him. The more men bullied Ines, the more determined she became not to be flattened.
‘Please tell your Uncle not to use this route again.’ Mr Dixon dabbed at the drops of sweat running down his forehead and onto his face. The ceiling fan came to a halt with metallic, slow beats, one, two, three and the whirring stopped. ‘We suggest you don’t leave it around for the servants,’ he said, and glanced up at the fan. ‘The Germans have spies everywhere.’
‘What does it say?’ Ines looked him in the eye. ‘You have read it, haven’t you?’
‘Just take it, Miss Aletara,’ he said, unabashed, ‘and tell Major Jarvis not to use the diplomatic bag again. We know he does it in case your brother in law intercepts your mail but...well...we can’t afford to get on the wrong side of a man in General Franco’s government, can we? Try to understand our position.’
‘Of course...yes, I see.’ So, that was it - Luis. Luis the thug who’d swept her sister Debora into marriage and taken up residence in their family home was on the political ascendent. Ines reached her hand out for the letter and stopped in mid-air. No, she didn’t understand, not really. ‘I still have a British passport, you know.’
‘Your late father was a Spaniard so we consider you one at heart. You are, after all, the eldest daughter of a Grandee of Spain and, unlike our British system, you bear the title now that your two brothers
are dead but...’ he shrugged and looked satisfied ‘...a Spanish Marques won’t cut much ice in Britain. You should stay here...You’re what, twenty-five, six?’
Ines ran her tongue over her lips and took a deep breath. ‘Isn’t it in my file?’
She pulled the amethyst clasp of her pearl necklace around to the left of her neck and began to finger it in the knowledge that there was no choice but to swallow her pride because her mother’s life came first.
‘You have your whole life ahead of you.’ Mr Dixon held out the letter again. ‘Now, no more of these, do you understand?’
‘Perfectly.’ Ines took the letter addressed: ‘For The Most Excellent Senorita Ines Aletara y Jarvis, Marquesa de Castrejon. ONLY. Care of His Majesty’s Ambassador to Spain.’ Her fingers tenderly rubbed her Uncle’s handwriting before she put the letter into her handbag with a snap of the clasp.
Doors closed along the corridor. A woman’s heels clacked along the floor.
Mr Dixon cleared his throat. ‘How is your mother?’
‘The Marquesa is well, thank you.’ She sat very still and looked him in the eye. ‘But I’m afraid for her safety. That’s why I assumed you’d telephoned.’ Her finger tapped the newspaper on his desk. ‘The Germans are in France. If they surrender...’
‘They have.’ Mr Dixon arched his fingers. ‘They gave up the ghost this morning. Herr Hitler is near Spain’s borders and we want to keep him there.’
Ines pulled her chair forward an inch, steadfast in her decision to appeal to him. He was a man, he was British, there had to be a way. ‘My mother spoke out against Nazi support for the civil war...’
‘Indeed.’ Mr Dixon stifled a yawn. ‘One didn’t expect a Marquesa to support the Republicans and their communist friends against General Franco.’
‘She didn’t want Spaniards slaughtered on either side.’
‘But your brothers used Nazi guns to shoot the Republicans, didn’t they?’
Ines bit her lip, her neck reddened and she began to finger the amethyst clasp on her necklace again. All Spain knew about the death of her elder brothers - Alejandro and Eduardo - under fire, bearing up the Nationalist flag for ‘God, Spain and my King.’ She was sure that they’d expect her to help her mother. Right wing. Left wing. Monarchist or communist. What did it matter?
‘Look, my mother will be on some list in Berlin,’ Ines pressed. ‘You do know that, don’t you?’
‘A pity she gave up her British passport, then.’ He glanced over her shoulder at a wall clock. ‘We can’t help her...I’m sorry. You’ve seen the number of people waiting outside.’ Mr Dixon bent his head over the files.
Abruptly, Ines stood up and thanked him for his honesty because she didn’t see any point in arguing when it gave him the opportunity to embellish a story for his colleagues about cutting her down to size. She decided to get out before she lost her temper or begged because either would give him gratification. Of course, had her brothers been alive, he wouldn’t have dared to treat her like this - but they weren’t. She looked at him coldly and began to put on her gloves. Fine. She didn’t care what he thought.
‘My secretary will call your chauffeur.’ He pressed a brass bell on the desk.
‘I walk everywhere, Mr Dixon.’
‘Good God!’ he pushed his chair back. ‘On your own?’
‘On my own,’ she said. ‘There’s no need for a chaperone when nobody speaks to you.’
‘Miss Aletara?’ Mr Dixon pressed the bell a second time. ‘There is just one more thing.’
Ines smoothed her gloves on and began to button them at the wrist so that he didn’t catch the inkling of hope in her eyes.
He cleared his throat. ‘It’s in your mother’s interest if Spain stays neutral.’
Ines started on the left wrist. Her fingers shook when she pushed the button through and she tried three times before she succeeded.
‘If anything should come to your attention,’ he said, ‘something that might tip General Franco over to the Germans...we’d be grateful to know, very grateful.’
Ines smoothed the white cotton up her wrists. Just as she feared, the British didn’t understand what it was like to live in a police state. You didn’t get drawn into political discussion because anyone could inform on you and even a few coins thrown to a beggar might be followed by a visit from the police. Nobody took chances when the penalty for ‘political irresponsibility’ was death. She saw it was hopeless and the colour drained from her face.
‘There’s a man called Lazaar at the German Embassy,’ Mr Dixon ploughed on. ‘He leads the anti-British propaganda in the newspapers. You won’t miss him because he’s short, fat and wears a monocle. He’ll try to recruit you.’ He drummed his fingers on the top file. ‘We’d rather you worked for us.’
‘Work, Mr Dixon?’
‘There’s a man writing a report in your house...’ Mr Dixon stopped drumming ‘...he’s called Martin Rabal and he reports to your brother in law. We think he’s working on something of interest to the war effort.’
‘Mr Dixon...’ Ines put her hand on the base of her neck ‘...you’re not asking me to spy on my family, are you? I thought the British were such an honourable race.’
‘People do things differently here.’
‘Do they?’ Ines stiffened. ‘I must have missed that.’
‘I merely...’
The door opened and a secretary apologised for keeping them waiting.
‘Do think very carefully on what I’ve said, Miss Aletara...’ Mr Dixon paused and took a deep breath. ‘After all, you might need us in the not too distant future.’
Ines turned on her heel without a word and walked out past the bustling assistants and ringing nests of telephones into the searing afternoon heat.
At the end of the street, out of sight of the Embassy’s windows, she put one hand on the wall and got her breath back. Her pulse hammered and she took short, deep breaths. She’d pinned her hopes on getting help from the British and now she’d no idea what to do next or who to go to.
After a few minutes, she took a bottle of eau de cologne out of her bag and sprinkled drops on a handkerchief which she pressed on her brow. She closed her eyes and hoped that she’d see the funny side, one day...one day...but it was hard and getting harder to see the ‘funny side’ of things. Some mornings she was overwhelmed with grief but determined not to show it, not to give the world the satisfaction of getting her down. She dabbed her brow again. Chin up. Best foot forward. God she loathed those expressions.
When Ines looked up, she saw that one of the women queuing in the sun was watching her with envy. The cologne came from the Convent of Minimes in Provence; it was specially shipped into Spain for the family and the smells of orange, citrus and rosemary raised her sprits because they reminded her of her home in Andalucía. This bottle was the last. Ines put the top on the bottle, handed it over to the woman without a word, and began the walk home.

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