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Short Story: Queen of Spades

Short Story: Queen of Spades

Since her mother’s death due to a wartime bombing and her father’s subsequent withdrawal, Barb looked up to her principled, kind, older sister, Anne. Every night when Anne sneaked out to meet her pilot boyfriend, Barb would wait up for her to come home, but one night she didn’t return.

Short Story: Queen of Spades

War time is so sad. I can only remember a few bright moments. My best times were when I played games with my older sister. Anne was seven years older than me and she looked after me when my mother died. Mum died when she was visiting her sister in London and a bomb fell on the house. Both my mother and aunt were killed. My father never got over this, and he became old overnight, not taking any interest in my growing up, and so I became very dependent on Anne.

We played a lot of cards. In fact, most of our games were with an old pack of playing cards. We used to vary the games and make up our own rules, which made them more fun. The game we played most was Slippery Anne. The card you did not want to have in your hand was the Queen of Spades. I think we liked it because I used to call Anne, my Slippery Anne. It was our private joke.

At times it seemed as if Anne was my age. We shared secrets, hiding places and special names that our father did not know. The code was usually the words ‘Slippery Anne’. I don’t think Dad understood this at all. He did not comprehend how we had so much pleasure from a pack of cards. He just seemed to sit and mope.

Anne had left school and worked in the local munitions factory. She said it was what she could do for the war effort. It didn’t sound a very interesting job, so I was glad I was at school, but I often wondered what she would do when the war was over. She had a boyfriend, a Dutch pilot. She used to tell me about him, though I never actually met him. At least, she talked about him a lot though gave no details, like what he looked like, where he lived and what was his name. Perhaps that was her little secret. She hadn’t told Dad about him. That I did know. She was older than me and I did respect that. I thought when I was her age, I would have secrets that no-one else would know.

She often used to slip out at night to meet her pilot. I could hear her go and I stayed awake until she came back. I often wondered what they did together. We didn’t have a cinema, anyway, it would be too late for that; perhaps they just played cards. Maybe she taught him Slippery Anne and that she was the black queen! Sometimes it was quite late when she came back. I didn’t know what I would do if she failed to come back.

Anne not only did all the housework but also tried to maintain a garden. Her boyfriend had given her a rose bush. I don’t know where he got it, as there were no gardening shops around, and people only wanted to grow vegetables. She planted it with such care. It was in a special place away from the vegetables beside the privet hedge, so it had shelter. She really cared for it. Sometimes I would find her sitting and talking to it. It certainly meant something to her. Perhaps she was talking to Mum. She would have remembered more things about her than me.

One night I saw her go out and I waited up for her to return, but she took so long that I fell asleep and it was not until the morning I found out she had not come back. A policeman came around and wanted to talk to me. I couldn’t really understand what was going on. He gave me no information though I asked. He was just asking question after question. “When did I last see Anne?” “Who were her friends?” “What was she doing out at night?” “Was she meeting anyone?” Question after question. I tried to answer some of them.

I began to get frightened. What had happened to Anne? Why was she not here to protect me from all this questioning? Then they left. I asked my father what was going on. Where was Anne? He just mumbled and said he didn’t know. Frankly, I don’t think he cared.

A policewoman came back, and she was much nicer. She told me that they had found Anne. She had been killed. I wondered at first if the war had come here and she had found a bomb. The policewoman explained that Anne had been hit on the head by one of the little stone figures that we had at the bottom of the garden. She told me that it was not an accident. She asked if there was anyone that could have done this. I told her, as far as I knew, Anne had only one friend and that was the Dutch pilot who was stationed at the local airfield. I didn’t think she had friends at the factory. She asked questions about the pilot but I didn’t even know his name. I had never met him. What could I say?

The policewoman then asked if I knew that Anne had been stealing from the munitions factory. Had I seen any papers that Anne had been hiding? Did I know all the hiding places that Anne used? I wasn’t going to tell them everything. Anne and I had our secret places. She had stolen some papers. I was shocked. Not my Anne. This was new to me. I couldn’t help them  any further. 

They searched our room and left it an utter mess. The policewoman came down and asked if there was anything strange about this pack of cards. I looked. It was the pack we used all the time. We hadn’t played for a while as I had a bunch of homework to do. It looked as usual. Was there anything different? I looked again in more detail. I noticed the Queen of Spades was missing. I told them a card was missing. They then asked about the Queen of Spades. What was special about it? I burst into tears and refused to answer any more questions. They would not get our secret code word out of me. I rushed out of the room. 

When they left I decided to go to her rosebush and weed around it like I had seen her do; to care for it and talk to Mum like she did. As I pulled up some weeds, a piece of paper was visible. I picked it up. It was a playing card. It was the Queen of Spades, Slippery Anne. Maybe  Anne was the original Slippery Anne and she had kept this secret to herself. But it was not one of our cards, it had a different back and it was newer. Ours were well worn and some even bent. This was a new one.  But it was damp and dirty. 

I cleaned it a bit and discovered some writing on it. “Come down to the little statue and hide the papers under it. Hans.” I could not believe what I had just read. Was Anne a traitor? Was Hans her boyfriend? Was he a spy? This was dreadful. Should I go to the police or keep  the secret to myself? 

I decided to go to the airfield myself and see if I could talk to this Hans. When I approached the gates I was challenged and they would not let me in. I said that I had important information and I needed to see the person in charge. The sentries just laughed at me, this little 12-year-old girl trying to look important. This made me angry. My sister was dead and they did not care.

I told them I needed to speak to someone or I would go to the local newspaper with the information I had. After some discussion and then a phone call I was let in and accompanied to the offices. It was very daunting, but I thought, ‘I have to do this.’

I was shown into the commander’s office, and I told him all I knew. I was shocked when he told me that they had no pilot called Hans, and they had no Dutch pilots, only English, Canadian and Polish ones. Could I give a description?

I showed the commander the playing card. Then he took me seriously. He asked loads of questions but I couldn’t answer any of them. I just didn’t know, but now I was beginning to suspect the worst of Anne. He wanted me to leave the card with him, but I refused. It was all I had left of my sister.

I went back home and sat by the rosebush and did a lot of thinking. I felt hurt that Anne had kept some secrets from me. Some important secrets that caused someone to kill her. I didn’t know what to do so I just scrabbled in the dirt thinking of all the good times I had spent with Anne, and I found another card. This one was from our old pack. It was the Queen of Spades. The missing one! There was writing on this one too. This was how Anne and Hans communicated with each other. “Barb, look under the garden tools.” This wasn’t from Hans; it was for me. I didn’t understand. How did she know that I would be at her rose bush?

I went straight to the shed, and the tools. They were scattered everywhere. Where was I to look? They were normally in a tidy pile under the window, but the police had spread them all around. Had they found what was meant for me? But where were the tools supposed to be, and what did Anne mean?

Then I remembered, we had a place that no-one else would have known; it was a loose board right under where the tools were supposed to be. We used to hide treasures in there and carefully replace the board so no-one could tell it had been moved. I lifted it up and there was a leather pouch. I took it out and there was a letter addressed to Barb, me.

I took it out carefully: “Barb when you read this you will know that things have gone terribly wrong. I will be accused of all sorts of things but none of them is true. I did take some papers from the factory, but they were not important ones. I rewrote some of them to look as if they were secret messages to go with the munitions. I discovered quite early on that Hans was in fact a German spy and I went along with him to try to catch him out, but he is beginning to become suspicious of me being a double agent.

“The war ministry placed me in the factory to find out who was leaking information. It is Mr Grueber, who is pretending to be a Jewish refugee. Hans’ real name is Wolfgang Schmidt. He has a wife and two sons in Berlin. I now know too much and it may cost me my life. Be careful, my darling sister, with this information. I know you will take it to the right people. Do not be sorry for me. This is really what I am doing for the war effort. Take care of Dad. He needs care.”

I went to the police station and asked to see the detective in charge of finding Anne’s killer, and handed over the letter Anne wrote and our very own Queen of Spades. I have not played cards again. We have a card missing, a very special one: Slippery Anne. @

 

About the Author

Lola Gudsell was born in England, became a secretary working with a furniture firm, a race horse trainer and worked at the YMCA. She then migrated to Australia and in two years, saw virtually the whole country working at 30 places — her favourite being as a jillaroo on a sheep station in Tasmania.

She came to New Zealand, married a Kiwi, had four children and now has eight grandchildren. She has travelled to many countries, enjoying their different cultures and more recently, discovered the joy of creative writing.

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