“Good afternoon.” I breezed into the ward at the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary to be greeted with a less than welcoming response.
“What’s good about it?” Jacqueline Blane retorted from the confines of her bed. “This bloody thing’ll keep me out of action for weeks!” She rapped at the plaster covering a significant portion of her right leg below the knee with a pen she’d been using in an attempt on the Daily Telegraph crossword.
“Should have watched where you were going.” The voice, that of her long-suffering husband, David, joined the conversation from the corner of the room where he sat, glum-faced, in a plastic chair. “I’m off for a coffee now that you’re here, Mike.”
“Have a seat,” she sighed. “He’s like a bear with a sore head. You’d think he’d be happy; he hates that dancing school I run with Alison.”
Jackie Blane and Alison Bond had been holding dance classes at the Riddings Park Community Centre for a little over a year, and in that time had gathered around them a considerable number of pupils. Now, due to a fall in Derby whilst out shopping, she was confined to a bed at the DRI suffering from a fractured tibia. Pamela and I had been amongst those beginners, and the numbers had subsequently swollen as the weekly lesson extended into a two-hour social.
“So, what’s happening in the world outside?” she asked, clearly unhappy at the incarceration. “I really need to get out of here, but David’s adamant that I rest up. I could sit and watch, you know.”
“Not jealous, is he?”
“Hates the bloody classes; I’ve asked him to come along, but... you know.” She shrugged.
“You can’t have it all your own way,” I said, flicking through the pages of that day’s copy of the Daily Mirror. “Talking about dancing, have you seen this?” I folded the paper over to one of the inside pages and tapped at the story at the top of the page. “Looks like a body’s been found in the basement of an old dance hall in London.”
“Let’s see before David comes back.” She took the paper, put on her glasses, and began to read.
Jackie’s face became pale and she put the newspaper down on the bed covers. “What’s up?” I asked. “Seen a ghost?”
“It’s the Cinderella Dance Club in Putney. I used to go there in my teens with some mates from work.”
“Didn’t know you were a cockney.”
“I’m not; you have to have been born within the sound of Bow bells to belong to that club. No, just a Londoner; I moved up here after the war when David found a job at Rolls Royce. We’d not been married long…”
There was an awkward silence, and David’s return to the room ended all hope I had of gleaning any more information from Jacqueline. She smiled at him, and the topic died as conversation returned to a more mundane level. I thought it would be weeks before I was destined to discover the full story behind her sudden change of demeanour.
I was quite wrong – a few days later, a Tuesday evening in fact, she hobbled into the hall at the Riddings Park centre on a pair of crutches, and wearing a smile that told all present of her victory over the medical staff at the DRI. David, for once, was not far behind – the look on his face could not have been more different from that of his wife if he’d tried.
“Silly sods thought they could keep me in there,” she beamed. “Soon showed them, didn’t we my love?”
“Yeah, right,” David replied in a flat tone which told me all that I needed to know about any discussions which clearly had passed between them. “Just take it easy, though, Jackie,” he pleaded.
“Ok, ok; keep your hair on,” she said, making her way past Pamela and I and towards the stage at the far end of the room. She stopped, suddenly, and turned to face us. “Need a word with you, Mike; we have a little unfinished business.” A wink had me intrigued as to the content of the ‘word’.
“What was all that about?” Pamela asked as Jackie hobbled away and up the room.
“Not sure; she made some cryptic comment about a story in The Mirror when I went to see her at the DRI. I suppose she’s got a story up her sleeve that she wants me to write. She’s been on about it since my last book came out.
I’d been writing fiction for eight years, and when Jackie found out a steady trickle of ideas had been coming my way on Tuesday evenings at the dance class. I got the feeling, though, that this one was a touch out of the normal run of things. It was towards the end of the evening, approaching half past ten, that she beckoned the two of us over to the end of the room where she sat with Alison compiling the play list for that evening’s class.
“Sit here,” she patted the chair next to her and waved Pamela to one opposite. “What I’m going to tell you both has been kept under wraps for quite a while.” She paused to call out ‘bye’ to the last of the evening’s participants as they made their way out of the room. “That story you read out from The Mirror, Mike, the one about the Putney dance club; want to know why I froze?”
“Can’t write it into a story if it’s confidential,” I replied.
“We’ll cross that bridge later; for the moment just listen. Remember dance classes when we learn any new routine going up the right hand side…?”
“And then you confuse us all by making us do it along the other side? Yes, I do; it’s tricky when you lose your bearings. What is it that you call it?”
“Dancing on the dark side; it’s away from the windows – a bit darker, see?”
“So, there’s a story I’m going to tell you about how I came across that phrase; got plenty of time this evening?”
I looked across at Pamela, who had become transfixed by the tale. “Looks like it; go ahead.”
“It was back in 1943,”she began. “David and I had only just met; I was out for an evening’s dancing at the Cinderella Dance Club with some friends, and he was there with a few of his mates.”
“The one in Putney, in The Mirror?”
“The very same, now stop interrupting.” She smiled and continued. “It was the week of the bombing, and neither of us expected things to develop the way they did.”
“With you and David?”
“No,” her face darkened. “It was far more serious than that. MI5…”
“You and David were spies?” I cut her off mid-sentence.
“No, not really, well… just keeping eyes and ears open,” she sighed, exasperated at another interruption. “Just listen. During World War II, MI5 had success uncovering enemy agents and feeding misinformation to the Germans, a lot of it helped with Operation Overlord.”
“The D-Day Landings in 1944.”
“Yes,” she said. “But it could have gone horribly wrong if people like me and David hadn’t been keeping our ears to the ground. There was this chap, Dancing, Robert Dancing, and we’d both known him from our school days. He was a bit of an oddball, and his dad had been involved with Moseley’s black shirts at the battle of Cable Street in 1936. The father was a right-wing extremist, and I suppose that’s where Robert learned all his sympathies.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Are you saying that this guy was a Nazi?”
“I hope you have a good memory, because I’m not repeating any of this. Tell you what, let’s all go back to our place and stick the kettle on; I think we’re being shown the door.” She nodded to the end of the hall where the caretaker stood, keys in hand.
Pamela and I followed Jackie and David in our Corsa, away from Riddings and into Alfreton. We pulled onto their drive soon after they had arrived, and were soon ensconced in a comfortable lounge where David was uncorking a bottle of Merlot.
“Now look,” Jackie said, as she took her glass from her husband. “What I’m going to tell you has been buried for quite some time.” She looked at me. “Don’t want any of this finding its way beyond these four walls.”
“Okay.” I nodded, took a swig from my own glass, and sat back.
“All right, then,” she said. “Like I told you, David and I hadn’t known each other for that long, but we’d been working separately at MI5 since our early twenties in minor roles – you know, information gathering. There was this character called Juan Pujol García who spotted our talents, and pulled us out of the general pool of operatives.”
“Wasn’t he the famous Agent Garbo?” I tensed, sensing a really good story.
“Yes, and quite close to Churchill himself if the rumours were correct,” she sighed at another interruption. “Anyway, he put us onto to a fascist cell working in the East End, and we were given a watching brief on a couple of names. I didn’t realise right then that they would lead us all the way to Robert Dancing. It was on a Friday evening at the Cinderella Club that the balloon went up…”
Sunday, 7th November 1943
“Come on, David. If you don’t get a move on we’ll miss the bus.” I stood at the bottom of the stairs in our two-up, two-down, terrace in Putney waiting impatiently.
“Okay,” he said, hurtling down them, tie half fastened. “Where’s the fire, woman?”
“If you don’t mind missing the first dance, that’s your lookout, but I intend to get my money’s worth out of this evening.”
We had been dancing together for a few weeks after discovering a mutual passion at work, and it was now unusual for us to miss an evening at the Cinderella Dance Club. The band was a local one, and very good, and they had all of the new music from across the Atlantic in their repertoire.
I locked the door and pulled up the collar on my coat against the cold autumn evening, as David finished getting dressed as we made our way down the street. We made it to the Cinderella Club just as the band were starting up, and both our coats ended up on the first available chairs as a quickstep heralded the start of the evening’s entertainment. We were three dances into the proceedings when a figure across the far side of the floor caught my attention.
“Hey,” I nudged David. “Isn’t that Robert?” I said.
David followed the direction of my finger and gazed across the dance floor. “Certainly is,” he said, frowning. “Looks a bit shifty, that one; never really liked him.”
True enough, I thought. They’d had their ‘run-ins’ a few times in the past, mainly due to Dancing’s radical right wing views. He and his father, Sid, had been involved with Oswald Moseley’s Union of British Fascists in the thirties, and both had taken part in the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. Robert had got into a bit of bother with the police after a nasty personal confrontation with one of the Jewish contingent of the opposition forces that day. One young East End member of the Jewish community had been killed during one of the skirmishes and, while nothing was ever proven, it was rumoured that Sid Downing had taken a pickaxe handle to the man.
We walked across the floor in the general direction of the table where Robert was seated, and he saw us coming. David would not have caused a scene in the room, and Dancing should have known that, but he rose suddenly from his chair and made for one of the exits leading to the upstairs rooms.
“What’s that all about?” David said, puzzled. “Only wanted a chat.”
Knowing my husband’s vernacular, the ‘chat’, whilst not involving violence, would nevertheless have contained some rather pointed questions. Robert Dancing had owned the Cinderella Dance Club for a number of years and, with his connections in the East End, was suspected of being in cahoots with some of the more disreputable members of its society. The police had raided the place a number of times looking for black market stuff, but to date had found nothing. He had been on the MI5 radar due to his association with Moseley.
“No idea,” I replied. “You go after him… and watch your step.” I added as an afterthought. “I’m going to take a look at that.” I pointed to a briefcase under the table recently vacated by Dancing.
With David in careful pursuit of our disappearing suspect, I sat down at the table and opened the case. There was nothing inside apart from a brown folder with the words ‘Top Secret’ stamped across it. Opening the cover, the words ‘Operation Overlord’ sent a shiver down my spine – all of us at MI5 were aware of the secret operations mounted by the Allies against Nazi Germany, and as I flipped through more of the pages, maps of beaches on the coast of France came to my attention. Suddenly aware of the danger into which David may be walking, I hurried after him. He was coming down the stairs at the back of the property as I tiptoed through the door from the dance hall.
“He’s nowhere upstairs,” he whispered. “There must be a basement. What’s in that?” He nodded at the briefcase under my arm.
“Something way above our heads,” I replied, my voice trembling with fear. “I think we’ve got a tiger by the tail.”
“Follow me, then.” He beckoned. “Best not to talk – we don’t know where in hell he is.”
The property was a labyrinth of corridors and steps, going up and down between levels, and more than once an ominous creak from the floor boards caused us to halt and listen for any tell-tale sounds from further on. We had passed a few doors leading off one of the corridors when we came across a half-open one which led down a flight of darkened stairs. There were sounds of activity coming from below.
“Has to be Dancing,” whispered David, and we silently descended the stairs.
At the end of our descent, we could see a dim light coming from a room at the end of a dank and dirty corridor. David pointed to the door and waved me to one side of it, indicating that he would be first to enter the room. Through the crack between door and frame, I could see our quarry adjusting the dials on a short wave radio transmitter. David pointed back down the corridor where we devised our plan.
“He’s sending messages to the Jerries,” he said. “God knows how long he’s been doing it, or how many lives it’s already cost. We have to end this right now. I’m going in to confront him – follow me when you get the chance.”
Retracing our steps to the door, David pointed me to the other side as before and opened it fully, stepping into the room. Dancing, hearing the footsteps, whirled round to face my husband.
“Stay right where you are!” he snapped, a pistol appearing in his left hand. “You can keep those files; I know exactly what’s in them and have committed everything to memory. In a matter of minutes, the Reich will be aware of the Normandy landings, and the British and American forces will be slaughtered where they land.”
Dancing backed off towards the wall, his right hand twisting the dial on the transmitter, searching for the correct wave band. David had moved away from the door and to his left; Dancing tracked him with the pistol – all we needed was a diversion. The tableau seemed frozen in time as Dancing operated the radio. The sound of static was suddenly replaced by a voice in German asking for security clearance. It was now or never.
With David pinned by the gun, I pushed open the door. Dancing’s eyes were drawn to the unexpected movement and David seized his chance. Dancing’s pistol had, momentarily, left its target, and David lunged forwards, grabbing Dancing’s left hand with his own, and throwing a right cross with his own free hand. He landed only a glancing blow to the spy’s left temple, and they crashed to the floor, the gun spinning away into a corner of the room.
“David!” I shouted to my husband, coming to his feet with his back to the centre of the room. “He’s got a knife!”
Dancing had pulled a dagger from inside his clothing and lurched towards him. David saw the blow and parried the hand away, but fell to one side in doing so. The fall brought him into contact with the edge of the table holding the radio transmitter, and he went out like a light. Dancing, intent on his scuffle with David, stood over my husband with the knife. One strike would be all that he would need.
“Robert,” I said, calmly. He froze, then looked up slowly and turned towards me. He smiled at the gun which he had carelessly dropped.
“You wouldn’t know how to use that,” he sneered, clearly unaware of our status within the security service.
“Try me.” I smiled back, but his face never changed. He stepped forwards and reached for the pistol.
We had been told during basic training that the drawing of a firearm must have only one consequence – its use. Whilst exercises could never prepare for the actual scenario, enough had been done at those sessions to prepare all of us for the ‘life and death’ decision which now faced me.
“And then what?” I asked, after draining my glass.
“Refill?” Jackie asked, reaching for the Merlot. I nodded, sensing that the evening was by no means over.
“You were saying…” I persisted.
“I shot him, of course,” Jackie said, her eyes suddenly losing the glint which had been there throughout the rest of the story. “He was a danger to the war effort. Of course David and I knew nothing of the D-Day Landings at that time, but clearly Dancing had been able to get his hands on the plans for the invasion. As he said, one message over the radio and the game would have been up.”
“It was you or him.”
“Yes. David was out of the equation, lying unconscious on the floor, and if Dancing had got his hands on the gun we’d both have been killed.”
“So,” Pamela came into the conversation, “the body discovered in Putney, the one in The Mirror…”
“May well be Robert Dancing,” Jackie said. “The bomb exploding two floors above us would have concealed the sound of the gunshot, and when the dust settled David and I managed to scramble our way out of the rubble and away from the area. We were very lucky – when we read the news that eighty-one people, mainly youngsters, had died in the blast, and that a further two hundred and forty-eight were seriously injured, it brought home to both of us how fortunate we were to have been in the basement when it happened. The entire building collapsed shortly after we’d left, concealing Dancing’s body under tons of rubble… until now.”
“And you killed him,” I said.
“If it actually is him, yes, I did.”
The room fell into silence as we all stared into our glasses. David Blane had remained silent throughout his wife’s retelling of the wartime drama, but now spoke up.
“You have to understand the time we were living in down in London back then. The capital had been laid waste in the Blitz of 1941, and now the Jerries were throwing all they had at us in one last effort. The war had begun to turn with the Russian victory at Stalingrad, but if those secret files had found their way across The Channel… well. I shudder to think of the consequences.”
“Still,” I said, “you could have arrested him. He’d have gone to The Tower – they did that with William Joyce.”
“Lord Haw-Haw, yes, they did,” David said. “But he was just a mouthpiece; Dancing was a real danger. Jackie had no choice.”
“So, Chief Inspector Pamela Grace,” Jackie asked, turning to my wife, wrists extended. “Is it the cuffs for me?”
Decisions, decisions, I thought. Being married to a DCI at Ripley certainly had its perks within the Amber Valley community, but association with the arrest of a well-known local figure might not have been something which I would be proud of in later years.
“Shouldn’t think so,” my wife said, holding up her now empty glass. “The paperwork would be horrendous, and the inquiry… well, I hate to think how long that might go on. No, I reckon we let sleeping dogs lie. If it is Robert Dancing, he would be just one of thousands suffering similar fates at the time. I think we’ll have another round and forget the entire matter.”
“You sure about that?” Jackie asked.
Pamela looked at her across the tops of her spectacles. “You know, this Merlot has a curious effect on my memory; the more I drink, the more I seem to forget. Where’s that bottle?”
“So it’s definitely male?” Dennis Marks looked up from the autopsy table where the skeletal remains from the former site of the Cinderella Dance Club lay.
“Oh, most certainly,” George Groves said, removing his glasses. “I can go through the criteria for you if you wish…”
“No, no need for that. Any means of identifying who it might have been?”
“Well,” Groves sighed. “I’d say he’s been down there for a good while – maybe sixty years or so, but I can’t be precise.”
“That would make it wartime.”
“Yes, and from what I’ve been able to discover, the property was hit by a German bomb in November 1943, so that could give you a time frame for any investigation.”
DCI Dennis Marks had been with the Metropolitan Police for longer than he cared to remember, and George Groves, senior pathologist with the Home Office had worked alongside him on a large number of cases.
“Cause of death?”
“Bullet wound to the chest took out the heart, and it would have been lights out very quickly.”
“Quite likely, although you shouldn’t rule out self-defence, but you’d have a hard job tracking down the perpetrator after all this time, unless…”
“Unless? What have you got up that sleeve of yours?”
“Well fingerprints would go a long way towards helping you, and we do have the weapon. Presumably the killer dropped it whilst escaping from the building.”
“You got a print?” Marks held his breath.
“Just one – a thumbprint from the right hand side of the gun; your killer is left-handed.”
“It would be nice to get a match.”
Groves smiled – it was a facial feature to which Marks was accustomed. “You know, during the war, anyone working for the police and security services would have had their fingerprints taken.”
“Come on, George, don’t keep me in suspense; have you got someone?”
“This person,” Groves passed across an old manila file, “worked for MI5 back in the forties. The print from the gun wasn’t perfect, but our experts managed to enhance it. We’re pretty confident that this is the killer.”
Marks looked at the photograph in the file and frowned. It was a black and white image of a young woman in her twenties. “She’d be in her eighties now if, that is, she’s still alive.”
“MI5 keep very detailed records of all of their staff.” Groves’ face was blank. “She moved north after the war, but as to where she’s now living that’s where the trail goes cold; our contact at Thames House was very helpful. Your suspect may even have changed her name. Anyway, that’s where George Groves leaves off, and Dennis Marks begins, isn’t it?”
“Jacqueline Blane.” Marks mused, looking at the image again “Where are you now? I wonder if our IT guys can do something with this on their image ageing software.”
“Best of luck with that,” Groves said. “I think you’re going to need it.”
“Bloody loose ends!” Marks cursed softly. “I hate the damn things!”