Dressed to Kill
Standoff at the Old Victorian B&B
Humboldt, West Virginia ~ 2003
Alerted by her collie, Shep, 82-year-old Molly Byrne Stewart peeked out the third-floor window of her fading Victorian house. Since the area around Humboldt declined, she had seen others prowling around her property, searching for anything they could find to sell for drugs.
None of her garden tools remained on the estate; they even took the rusty wheelbarrow with the flat tire. Some thieves were brazen enough to pry open the door to her shed – even though they saw this petite elderly woman watching from the window. Nothing was left inside the shed to steal, so they put a rock through her kitchen window.
This time she sensed that the four men boldly walking up her driveway weren’t interested in garden tools. Molly knew that this day was bound to arrive.
Shep ran up to greet the men as he did all of Molly’s infrequent visitors. It was evident that the dog posed no threat to the men. Yet, to her utter shock, one of the thugs pulled a gun from his waistband. Without hesitation, the heartless brute leveled the weapon at the friendly dog even as his tail wagged.
Two shots rang out, causing Molly to step back from the window, stifling a scream with her hands over her mouth. Shep never so much as cried out; his rear legs collapsed, followed shortly by his front legs; then, he lay still on the driveway.
Another of the thugs, as he passed Shep’s body, stopped long enough to kick him in the ribcage and head. Violence in such men is rarely satiated with thievery alone. They are compelled to inflict as much harm as possible.
Molly’s naivety dissolved when her husband died, and she found herself an aging widow with no living relatives, or friends for that matter. She alone was now responsible for her own well-being in an ever more dangerous area of Humboldt.
The thugs were clearly headed for Molly’s house.
Molly had anticipated something like this and, with help from her deceased husband, created a master plan. Although, she had no idea if it would work.
But, after her kind old dog’s ruthless and senseless slaying, she could find no room in her heart for mercy.
She hurried down the steps, checking each exterior door, making sure they were locked. Then she went to her bedroom, opened the closet door, and began dressing as if her life depended on it.
After all, it did.
London, England ~ October 11, 1944
Young Molly Byrne, of Northern Ireland, was a sight to behold. Barely five feet tall and weighing less than a stone* over 100 pounds with lush auburn hair and green-as-emerald eyes, she brought a smile from everyone she encountered.
Her remarkable attractiveness was not her only asset, far from it. Molly’s parents realized early on that she was brilliant and set aside much of the profits from their sheep and cattle farm so that she could attend a university.
Molly excelled in analytical mathematics at Queen’s University in Belfast and was soon teaching an evening class on cryptography as a postgraduate. Her exceptional skills did not go unnoticed by Britain’s MI5. Molly was quickly recruited to help the war effort as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park.
She loved her job and felt privileged to work alongside the likes of Alan Turing and Jane Fawcett. Knowing she was genuinely helping with the war effort was essential to Molly.
On a short leave to London in October 1944, Molly met a young American at the Science Museum, which was only open to students and credentialed scientists during the war.
Molly Byrne and George Stewart had tea together in the small tearoom in the basement of the museum, where each explained how they ended up in London.
Both were reticent to share too much about their jobs, as they were top secret. George only knew that Molly was working for the Ministry of Defense. Molly was intrigued to learn that George was from a state called West Virginia and was an unexploded ordinance disposal advisor with the American military.
Molly said that she had never heard of West Virginia. They both laughed when their descriptions of their childhoods on farms surrounded by mountains were nearly identical.
George commented that Molly would have to visit West Virginia some day. It never occurred to her at that moment that she would soon be living there.
Given the war, Molly met with George as much as their jobs would allow. Yet, even after their first meeting, she knew George would be the only man in her life. He was practical, funny, thoughtful, a little old-fashioned, and what today would be considered a bit nerdy.
Together, they would take on the world. But that would have to wait until this damn war ended.
They married May 9, 1945, the day after the war ended in Europe. As they left the chapel, they stepped out on the street covered with newspapers bearing the word PEACE in bold print. They kissed as a stray breeze lifted the papers into the air, swirling them around the newlyweds.
They both knew at this moment that their bond was for life – and it would be.
George would have to wait until the Japanese surrendered on September 2, 1945 before returning home to West Virginia. An only child, he was worried about his parents running the farm on their own.
Molly’s responsibilities to her duties at Bletchley were over on VE Day. She volunteered to go to West Virginia on her own and meet George’s parents. He resisted this offer, thinking it would be uncomfortable for her to arrive alone.
In response to his protestations, she told George, “I know your parents will like me. I already feel as though I know them. Plus, I do know my way around a farm.”
George had already learned that it was useless to argue with Molly.
After a week’s visit with her family in Ireland, she returned to London. A few days later, George got Molly on a flight from Gatwick to New York.
Humboldt, West Virginia ~ June 12, 1945
George’s parent’s picked Molly up at the Greyhound bus station in Charleston. She took the middle seat in the family’s old International Harvester farm truck, and there was no lull in the conversation on the entire drive back to Humboldt.
George’s parents could see what everyone saw in Molly – an intelligent and competent young woman, not averse to work. They arrived at the family farm just as the sun was setting.
Molly gasped when she stepped out of the truck and looked around her. She had never heard of West Virginia until a few months ago. And now she could see for herself that it looked so very much like her parent’s Highland farm in Ireland.
She would grow to love these mountains as much as she did her hills and valleys back home.
George finally returned home to his wife and parents in early October 1945. It was a wonderful reunion, and Molly and George stayed on at the farm until the following spring when they went house hunting.
The couple would spend each day working around the farm. There was always something that needed to be repaired or otherwise tended to.
After dinner, George and Molly would hike about the farm and hills, often returning on the dirt road that bordered a small stream.
One day they spotted a large buck on a hillside. George asked Molly if her father hunted back in Ireland.
She said he did hunt for pheasants and stags, but she was never invited to accompany him. And, he never discussed the details of the hunt with Molly or her mother.
George replied, “That’s too bad; you may have enjoyed the sport,” adding, “Perhaps you would like to try it next year?”
“You mean shoot a deer?” she asked. He shook his head yes.
“George, I have never shot a gun in my life. Actually, dear, I don’t think that I could kill anything. My father kept the two hunting guns out of sight, and I never saw the meat from any animal until it was on the dining room table.”
George was quiet for some time while mulling over Molly’s response. Then he said in the gentlest way possible, “My father did teach me to hunt but not without first teaching me to respect the animals and how to properly handle a firearm. He made it clear never to point a gun at another person unless you are prepared to shoot.”
“But, George,” Molly replied, “Why would you ever want to shoot another human being except, of course, in war?”
“Molly, my dear, there may come a time when we must defend ourselves. There are cruel and violent people out there,” said George.
“Well, said Molly, let’s hope it never comes to that. Even if I had a gun, I don’t think I could pull the trigger and take another life.”
It would be many decades from that moment walking down a country road with her husband, but Molly would eventually face the dilemma George feared for her.
To be continued in next week’s edition of The Pocahontas Times.