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The Rose Code / (by Kate Quinn, 2021) -

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The Rose Code /   (by Kate Quinn, 2021) -

The Rose Code / (by Kate Quinn, 2021) -

1940 , -, . -, . , . , , . , -. , - .
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The Rose Code / (by Kate Quinn, 2021) -
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2021
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Kate Quinn
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Saskia Maarleveld
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upper-intermediate
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15:40:02
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Rose Code / :

.doc (Word) kate_quinn_-_the_rose_code.doc [3.92 Mb] (c: 4) .
.pdf kate_quinn_-_the_rose_code.pdf [3.75 Mb] (c: 3) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: The Rose Code

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{include file="engine/modules/cuttext.php?txt=
Prologue November 8, 1947 London The enigma arrived in the afternoon post, sealed, smudged, and devastating. Osla Kendall stood, twenty-six years old, dark haired, dimpled, and scowling, in the middle of a tiny Knightsbridge flat that looked as if it had been bombed by Junkers, wearing nothing but a French lace slip and a foul mood as she looked at the piles of silk and satin exploding over every surface. Twelve Days Until the Wedding of the Century! this mornings Tatler had gushed. Osla worked for the Tatler; shed had to write the whole ghastly column. What are YOU going to wear? Osla picked up a rose satin gown whorled with crystal beading. What about you? she asked it. Do you say I look simply smashing and I couldnt care less that hes marrying someone else? Etiquette lessons at finishing school never touched that one. Whatever the dress, everyone in the congregation would know that before the bride came along, Osla and the bridegroom were A knock sounded. Osla flung on a robe to answer it. Her flat was tiny, all she could afford on her Tatler salary if she wanted to live alone and be close to the center of things. Darling, no maid? No doorman? Her mother had been appalled. Move in with me until you find a husband. You dont need a job. But after sharing bedrooms with billet-mates all through the war, Osla would have lived in a boot cupboard as long as she could call it her own. Posts come, Miss Kendall. The landladys spotty daughter greeted her at the door, eyes going at once to the rose gown slung over Oslas arm. Oooh, are you wearing that to the royal wedding? You look scrummy in pink! Its not enough to look scrummy, Osla thought, taking her bundle of letters. I want to outshine a princess, an actual born-to-the-tiara princess, and the fact is, I cant. Stop that, she told herself as soon as shed shut the door on the landladys daughter. Do not fall in the dismals, Osla Kendall. All over Britain, women were planning what theyd wear for the most festive occasion since V-E Day. Londoners would queue for hours to see the flower-decked wedding carriages roll pastand Osla had an invitation to Westminster Abbey itself. If she wasnt grateful for that, shed be just like those ghastly Mayfair moaners blithering on about how tiresome it was attending the social event of the century; what a bother getting the diamonds out of the bank, oh, woe is me to be so tediously privileged. Itll be topping, Osla said through gritted teeth, coming back to her bedroom and chucking the rose dress over a lamp. Simply topping. Seeing London swanning about in banners and confetti, wedding fever whisking away November chill and postwar gloom . . . the fairy-tale union of Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary and her handsome Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten (formerly Prince Philip of Greece) would mark the dawn of a new age, hopefully one where ration laws were finally swatted down and you could slather all the butter you wanted on your scones. Osla was all in favor of ushering this new era in with a slap-up celebrationafter all, shed achieved her own fairy-tale ending by any womans standards. An honorable term of service during the war, even if she could never, ever talk about it; a flat in Knightsbridge paid for by her own salary; a wardrobe crammed with gowns all in the latest go; a job writing entertaining fluff for the Tatler. And a fianc? who had put a sparkling emerald on her finger; dont forget him. No, Osla Kendall had no excuse to get in a blue funk. All the business with Philip had been years ago, after all. But if she could have cooked up an excuse to get out of Londonfound some way to be geographically elsewhere (the Sahara desert, the wastes of the North Pole, anywhere)during the moment Philip bent his golden head and made his vows to Englands future queen, Osla would have taken it in a jiff. Ruffling a hand through disordered dark curls, she flipped through the post. Invitations, bills . . . and one square, smudged envelope. No letter inside, just a torn sheet of paper with a block of scribbled nonsense letters. The world tilted for a moment, and Osla was back: the smell of coke stoves and wet wool jumpers instead of furniture polish and tissue paper; the scratch of pencils rather than the hoot of London traffic. What does Klappenschrank mean, Os? Whos got their German dictionary? Osla didnt stop to wonder whod sent the paperthe old pathways in her mind fired up without a hitch, the ones that said, Dont ask questions, just get on with it. She was already running her fingers along the square of scribbled letters. Vigen?re cipher, a womans soft voice said in her memory. Heres how to crack it using a key. Though it can be done without . . . Not by me, Osla muttered. She hadnt been one of the boffins who could crack ciphers with a pencil stub and a little sideways thinking. The envelope bore a postmark she didnt recognize. No signature. No address. The letters of the cipher message were so hastily slashed, it could have been anyones handwriting. But Osla turned the paper scrap over and saw a letterhead block, as though the page had been torn from an official pad. CLOCKWELL SANITARIUM No, Osla whispered, no But she was already fishing a pencil stub from the nearest drawer. Another memory, a laughing voice intoning, These have knelled your fall and ruin, but your ears were far awayEnglish lassies rustling papers through the sodden Bletchley day! Osla knew what the messages key would be: LASSIES. She bent over the paper, pencil scratching, and slowly the cryptogram gave up its secrets. STONEGROVE 7602. Osla drew a breath in as the words crackled along the telephone wires all the way from Yorkshire. Astounding how you could recognize a voice in two words, even when you hadnt heard it in years. Its me, Osla finally said. Did you get it? Pause. Goodbye, Osla, her old friend said coolly. No who is thisshe knew, too. Do not hang up on me, Mrs.well, whatever your name is now. Temper, Os. Feeling out of sorts because youre not the one marrying a prince in two weeks? Osla caught her lip in her teeth before she could snap back. Im not faffing about here. Did you get the letter or not? The what? The Vigen?re. Mine mentions you. Im just home from a seaside weekend. I havent looked through the post yet. There was a distant rustle of paper. Look, why are you ringing me? I dont Its from her, you understand me? From the asylum. A flat, stunned silence. It cant be, the reply came at last. Osla knew they were both thinking of their former friend. The third point in their shining wartime trio. More rustling, a tearing sound, then Osla heard a breath and knew that far away in Yorkshire, another block of code had come out of its envelope. Break it, the way she showed us. The key is lassies. English lassies rustling papers through the sodden Breaking off before the next word. Secrecy was too much a habit with them both to say anything significant over a telephone line. Live seven years with the Official Secrets Act round your neck like a noose, and you got used to curbing every word and thought. Osla heard a pencil working on the other end and found herself pacing, three steps across the room, three steps back. The heaps of gowns across the bedroom looked like cheap pirates loot, gaudy and half-submerged in the wreckage of tissue and cardboard, memories and time. Three girls laughing, doing up each others buttons in a cramped spare bedroom: Did you hear theres a dance in Bedford? An American band, theyve got all the new Glenn Miller tunes . . . The voice came at last from Yorkshire, uneasy and mulish. We dont know its her. Dont be daft, of course its her. The stationery, its from where she Osla chose her words carefully. Who else would demand our help? Pure fury in the words that came spitting back. I dont owe her one bloody thing. She clearly thinks differently. Who knows what she thinks? Shes insane, remember? She had a breakdown. That doesnt mean she went loony. Shes been in an asylum nearly three and a half years. Flatly. We have no idea what shes like now. She certainly sounds loonythese things shes alleging . . . There was no way they could voice, on a public line, what their former friend was alleging. Osla pressed her fingertips to her eyes. Weve got to meet. We cant discuss this any other way. Her former friends voice was full of broken glass. Go to hell, Osla Kendall. We served there together, remember? On the other end of Britain, the handset slammed down. Osla lowered her own with shaky calm. Three girls during a war, she thought. Once the best of friends. Until D-Day, the fatal day, when they had splintered apart and become two girls who couldnt stand the sight of each other, and one who had disappeared into a madhouse. Inside the Clock Far away, a gaunt woman stared out the window of her cell and prayed to be believed. She had very little hope. She lived in a house of the mad, where truth became madness and madness, truth. Welcome to Clockwell. Life here was like a riddlea riddle shed heard during the war, in a wonderland called Bletchley Park: If I was to ask what direction a clocks hands go, what would you say? Um, she had answered, flustered. Clockwise? Not if youre inside the clock. Im inside the clock now, she thought. Where everything runs backward and no one will ever believe a word I say. Exceptmaybethe two women she had betrayed, who had betrayed her, who had once been her friends. Please, the woman in the asylum prayed, looking south, where her ciphered messages had flown like fragile paper birds. Believe me. Eight Years Ago December 1939 Chapter 1 I wish I was a woman of about thirty-six, dressed in black satin with a string of pearls, Mab Churt read aloud. Thats the first sensible thing youve said, you silly twit. What are you reading? her mother asked, flipping through an old magazine. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier. Mab turned a page. She was taking a break from her dog-eared list of 100 Classic Literary Works for the Well-Read Ladynot that Mab was a lady, or particularly well-read, but she intended to be both. After plowing through number 56, The Return of the Native (ugh, Thomas Hardy), Mab figured shed earned a dip into something enjoyable like Rebecca. The heroines a drip and the heros one of those broody men who bullies you and its supposed to be appealing. But I cant put it down, somehow. Maybe just the fact that when Mab envisioned herself at thirty-six, she was definitely wearing black satin and pearls. There was also a Labrador lying at her feet, in this dream, and a room lined with books she actually owned, rather than dog-eared copies from the library. Lucy was in this dream too, rosy in a plum-colored gym slip, the kind girls wore when they went to some expensive day school and rode ponies. Mab looked up from Rebecca to watch her little sister canter her fingers over imaginary fences: Lucy, nearly four years old and too skinny for Mabs liking, dressed in a grubby jumper and skirt, forever pulling off her socks. Lucy, stop that. Tugging the sock back up over Lucys foot. Its too cold to be running around barefoot like a Dickens orphan. Mab had done Dickens last year, numbers 26 through 33, plowing through chapters on her tea breaks. Blech, Martin Chuzzlewit. Ponies dont wear socks, Lucy said severely. She was mad for horses; every Sunday Mab took her to Hyde Park to watch the riders. Oh, Lucys eyes when she saw those burnished little girls trotting past in their jodhpurs and boots. Mab yearned to see Lucy perched on a well-groomed Shetland. Ponies dont wear socks, but little girls do, she said. Or they catch cold. You played barefoot all your life, and you never caught cold. Mabs mother shook her head. Shed given Mab her height, an inch shy of six feet, but Mab stretched into her height with lifted chin and squared shoulders, and Mrs. Churt always slouched. The cigarette between her lips waggled as she murmured aloud from an old issue of the Bystander. Two 1939 debs, Osla Kendall and the Honorable Guinevere Brodrick, had Ian Farquhar to chat to them between races. Look at that mink on the Kendall girl . . . Mab cast an eye over the page. Her mother found it all enthrallingwhich daughter of Lord X curtsied to the queen, which sister of Lady Y appeared at Ascot in violet taffetabut Mab studied the society pages like an instruction manual: what ensembles could be copied on a shopgirl budget? I wonder if therell be a Season next year, what with the war. Most debsll be joining the Wrens, I reckon. Its the Land Army or the ATS for folks like us, but posh girls all go for the Womens Royal Naval Service. They say they got the uniform designed by Molyneux, him who dresses Greta Garbo and the Duchess of Kent . . . Mab frowned. There were uniforms everywhere these daysso far, the only sign there even was a war. Shed been standing in this same East London flat, smoking tensely alongside her mother as they listened to the radio announcement from Downing Street, feeling chilly and strange as Chamberlains weary voice intoned, This country is at war with Germany. But since then, thered hardly been a peep from the Huns. Her mother was reading aloud again. The Honorable Deborah Mitford on a paddock seat with Lord Andrew Cavendish. Look at that lace, Mabel . . . Its Mab, Mum. If she was stuck with Churt, she wasnt ruddy well putting up with Mabel. Plowing her way through Romeo and Juliet (number 23 on Mabs list), she had run across Mercutios I see Queen Mab hath been with you! and plucked it out on the spot. Queen Mab. That sounded like a girl who wore pearls, bought her little sister a pony, and married a gentleman. Not that Mab had any fantasies about dukes in disguise or millionaires with Mediterranean yachtslife wasnt a novel like Rebecca. No mysterious moneyed hero was going to swoop a Shoreditch girl off her feet, no matter how well-read. But a gentleman, some nice, comfortable man with a decent education and a good professionyes, a husband like that was within reach. He was out there. Mab just had to meet him. Mab! Her mother shook her head, amused. Who dyou think you are, then? Someone who can do better than Mabel. You and your better. Whats good enough for the rest of us isnt good enough for you? No, Mab thought, knowing better than to say so, because shed come to learn that people didnt like your wanting more than you had. Shed grown up fifth of six children all crammed together in this cramped flat that smelled of fried onions and regret, a toilet that had to be shared with two other familiesshed be damned if shed ever be ashamed of it, but shed be doubly damned if it was enough. Was it such a terrible thing, wanting to do more than work in a factory until you got married? Wanting more in a husband than one of the local factory workers, who would probably drink too much and eventually run out altogether like Mabs dad? Mab never tried to tell her family they could make more of themselves; it was fine with her if they were happy with what they had, so why couldnt they leave her alone? You think youre too good to work? Mum had demanded when Mab protested leaving school at fourteen. All these kids around and your father gone Im not too good to work, Mab had flashed back. But Im going to work for something. Even at fourteen, laboring at the grocers and dodging the clerks who pinched her bum, shed been looking ahead. She got a clerks post and studied how the better customers talked and dressed. She learned how to carry herself, how to look people in the eye. After a years scrutiny of the girls who worked the counters at Selfridges, she walked through those double doors on Oxford Street in a cheap suit and good shoes that had taken half a years wages, and landed herself a job selling powder compacts and scent. Arent you lucky, Mum had said, as if it hadnt taken any work at all. And Mab wasnt done yet, not by a long shot. Shed just finished a scrimped-for secretarial course, and by the time she turned twenty-two early next year she intended to be sitting behind some shiny desk, taking dictation and surrounded by people who said Good morning, Miss Churt instead of Oi, Mabel! What are you going to do with all that planning? her mother asked. Get yourself a fancy boyfriend to pick up the tab for a few dinners? Ive no interest in fancy boyfriends. As far as Mab was concerned, love stories were for novels. Love wasnt the pointeven marriage wasnt the point, not really. A good husband might have been the fastest way up the ladder toward safety and prosperity, but it wasnt the only way. Better to live an old maid with a shiny desk and a salary in the bank, proudly achieved through the sweat of her own efforts, than end up disappointed and old before her time thanks to long factory hours and too much childbirth. Anything was better than that. Mab glanced at the clock. Time for work. Give me a kiss, Luce. Hows that finger? Mab examined the upheld knuckle where Lucy had run a splinter yesterday. Good as new. Goodness, youre grubby . . . Wiping Lucys cheeks with a fresh handkerchief. A little dirt never hurt anyone, Mrs. Churt said. Ill draw you a bath when I get home. Mab kissed Lucy, fighting irritation at her mother. Shes tired, thats all. Mab still winced to remember how furious Mum had been, enduring such a late addition to a family that already boasted five children. Im too old to be chasing after babies, Mum had sighed, watching Lucy crawl about the floor like a crab. Still, there hadnt exactly been anything they could do about it except manage. For a little while longer, anyway, Mab thought. If she landed a good husband shed wheedle him into helping her sister, so Lucy would never have to leave school for a job at fourteen. If hed give her that, Mab would never ask for anything else. Cold slapped her cheeks as she hurried out of the flat into the street. Five days until Christmas, but no snow yet. Two girls in Auxiliary Territorial Service uniforms hurried past, and Mab wondered where shed sign up if service became compulsory . . . Fancy a walk, darling? A fellow in RAF uniform fell into step beside her. Im on leave, show a fellow a good time. Mab shot him the glance shed perfected at fourteen, a ferocious stare leveled from below very straight, very black brows, then sped her pace. You could join the WAAF, she thought, reminded by the fellows uniform that the Royal Air Force had a Womens Auxiliary branch. Better than being a Land Girl, stuck shoveling cow shit in Yorkshire. Come on, thats no way to treat a man going to war. Let's have a kiss . . . He sneaked an arm around her waist, squeezing. Mab smelled beer, hair cream, and an ugly flicker of memory pushed upward. She shoved it down, fast, and her voice came out more of a snarl than she intended. Bugger off And she kicked the pilot in the shins with swift, hard efficiency. He yelped, staggering on the icy cobbles. Mab pried his hand off her hip and headed for the Tube, ignoring the things he called after her, shaking off the shiver of memory. Silver liningsthe streets might have been full of handsy soldiers, but plenty of soldiers wanted to take a girl to the altar, not just to bed. If there was anything war brought in its wake, it was hasty weddings. Mab had already seen it in Shoreditch: brides saying their vows without even waiting for a secondhand wedding dress, anything to get that ring on their finger before their fianc?s went off to fight. And well-read gentlemen rushed off to war every bit as fast as Shoreditch men. Mab certainly wasnt going to call the war a good thingshed read her Wilfred Owen and Francis Gray, even if war poetry had been deemed too indelicate for 100 Classic Literary Works for the Well-Read Lady. But shed have had to be an idiot not to realize that war was going to change her world beyond rationing. Maybe she wouldnt need to get a secretarial post after all. Could there be war work somewhere in London for a girl whod come tops in typing and shorthand, some post where Mab could do her part for king and country, meet a nice man or two, and look after her family? A shop door banged open, releasing brief strains of The Holly and the Ivy from a radio inside. By Christmas of 1940, Mab thought, things might be entirely different. This year, things had to change. War meant change. Chapter 2 I need a job. It had been Oslas first thought, returning to England at the end of 39. Darling, arent you supposed to be in Montreal? her friend Sally Norton had exclaimed. Osla and the Honorable Sarah Norton shared a godfather and had been presented at court a Season apart; Sally had been the first person Osla telephoned when she stepped back on English soil. I thought your mother shipped you off to the cousins when war broke out. Sal, do you think anything was going to keep me from finagling my way home? It had taken Osla six weeks, seething and furious, to scheme an escape after her mother had shipped her to Montreal. Some shameless flirtation with a few influential men for travel permits, some creative fibbing to her Canadian cousins, a tiny bit of fraudthat air ticket from Montreal to Lisbon had been much better off with Osla than its original ownerand a boat ride out of Portugal later, voil?. Goodbye, Canada! Osla sang, tossing her traveling case into the taxi. Osla might have been born in Montreal, but she didnt remember anything before arriving in England at the age of four, trailing behind a recently divorced mother along with the trunks and the scandal. Canada was beautiful, but England was home. Better to be bombed at home among friends than be safe and corroding in exile. I need a job, Osla told Sally. Well, first I need a hairdresser because that horrid boat from Lisbon gave me lice, and I look like a dogs dinner. Then I need a job. Mammas in such a pelter shes cut off my allowance, for which I dont blame her. Besides, weve got to poker up, as the Yanks might say, and do our bit for the war. The old sceptred isle in her hour of need, and so forth. You couldnt be booted out of as many boarding schools as Osla Kendall without picking up a good bit of Shakespeare. The Wrens Dont talk slush, Sal, everyone expects girls like us to join the WRNS. Osla had been called a silly deb enough times for it to stinga burbling belle, a champagne Shirley, a mindless Mayfair muffin. Well, this Mayfair muffin was going to show everyone a society girl could get her hands dirty. Lets join the Land Army. Or make airplanes, how about that? Do you know anything about making airplanes? Sally had laughed, echoing the dubious labor superintendent at the Hawker Siddeley factory in Colnbrook, where they applied several days later. I know how to take the rotor arm off an automobile to save it being stolen by Huns if we get invaded, Osla retorted pertly. And in no time at all she was clapped into a boiler suit, drilling eight hours a day in the factory training room beside fifteen other girls. Maybe it was dull work but she was earning a wage, living independently for the first time in her life. I thought wed be working on Spitfires and flirting with pilots, Sally complained across the workbench on New Years Eve. Not just drilling, drilling, drilling. No grousing, the instructor warned, overhearing. Theres a war on, you know! Everyone was saying that now, Osla had observed. Milk run out? Theres a war on! Ladder in your stockings? Theres a war on! Dont tell me you dont despise this stuff, Sally muttered, banging her Dural sheet, and Osla eyed her own with loathing. Dural made the outer skins for the Hurricanes flown by RAF squadrons (if RAF squadrons actually flew any missions in this war where nothing yet was happening), and Osla had spent the last two months learning to drill it, file it, and pot-rivet it. The metal fought and spat and gave off shavings that clogged her hair and nose so thickly her bathwater turned gray. She hadnt known it was possible to cherish a hatred this profound for a metal alloy, but there you were. Youd better save some swoony RAF pilots life when youre finally slapped onto the side of a Hurricane, she told the sheet, leveling her drill at it like a gunslinger in a cowboy film. Thank God we got tonight off for New Years, Sally said when the clock finally ticked over to six in the evening and everyone streamed for the doors. What dress did you bring? The green satin. I can slither into it at my mothers suite at Claridges. Shes forgiven you for bunking out of Montreal? More or less. Shes chuffed about everything these days because shes got a new beau. Osla just hoped he wouldnt be stepfather number four. Speaking of admirers, theres a gorgeous fellow I promised to introduce you to. Sally threw Osla an arch look. Hes the goods. Hed better be dark. Blond men simply arent to be trusted. They pelted laughing through the factory gate toward the road. With only twenty-four hours off every eighth day, there was no point wasting a minute of those precious hours heading back to their digs; they hitched a ride straight into London in an ancient Alvis, its headlights fitted with slotted masks to meet blackout regulations, driven by a pair of lieutenants who were already absolutely kippered. They were all singing Anything Goes by the time the Alvis pulled up at Claridges, and as Sally lingered to flirt, Osla skipped up the front steps toward the hall porter who for years had been a sort of butler, uncle, and social secretary combined. Hello, Mr. Gibbs. Good evening, Miss Kendall. Youre in town with Miss Norton? Lord Hartington was asking after her. Osla lowered her voice. Sallys fixing me up with someone. Did she give you a hint? She did indeed. Hes insideMain Lounge, Royal Navy cadet uniform. Mr. Gibbs looked judicious. Shall I tell him youll be down in an hour, once youve changed? If he doesnt love me in a boiler suit, hes not worth dressing up for in the first place. Sally came dashing up and started interrogating Gibbs about Billy Hartington, and Osla sauntered inside. She rather enjoyed the stuffy looks from men in their evening tails and women in their satin gowns as she breezed over the art deco floors in a grubby boiler suit. Look at me! she wanted to shout. Ive just finished an eight-hour day in an airplane factory and now Im going to do the conga round the Caf? de Paris until dawn. Look at me, Osla Kendall, eighteen years old and finally useful. She spotted him at the bar in his cadet uniform, turned away so she couldnt see his face. You wouldnt happen to be my date, would you? Osla asked that set of rather splendid shoulders. Mr. Gibbs says you are, and anybody whos ever been to Claridges knows Mr. Gibbs is never wrong. He turned, and Oslas first thought was, Sally, you rat, you might have warned me! Actually, that was her second thought. Oslas first thought was that even though shed never met him, she knew exactly who he was. Shed seen his name in the Tatler and the Bystander; she knew who his family was and the degree to which he was related to the king. She knew he was exactly her age, was a cadet at Dartmouth, and had returned from Athens at the kings request when war broke out. You must be Osla Kendall, said Prince Philip of Greece. Must I? She repressed the urge to pat at her hair. If shed known she had a date with a prince, she would have taken a moment to brush the Dural shavings out of her curls. Mr. Gibbs said youd be along right about now, and Mr. Gibbs is never wrong. The prince leaned against the bar, tanned golden, hair glinting like a coin, eyes very blue and direct. He took in her dirty boiler suit and gave a slow grin. Oh, my, Osla thought. Thats a smile. Absolutely smashing getup, he said. Is that what all the girls are wearing this season? Its what Osla Kendall is wearing this season. She struck a magazine pose, refusing to regret the green satin gown in her bag. I will not be confined within the weak lists of a countrys fashions Henry V, he said promptly. Oooh, you know your Shakespeare. They crammed a bit into me at Gordonstoun. He nodded at the bartender, and a wide-brimmed coupe frothing with champagne materialized at Oslas elbow. In between all the hiking and sailing. Of course you sail Why of course? You look like a Viking; you must have put some time in on an oar or two. Have you got a longship parked round the corner? My uncle Dickies Vauxhall. Sorry to disappoint. I see you two are getting along, Sally laughed, slipping up beside them. Os, our godfatherLord Mountbattenis Phils uncle, so thats the connection. Uncle Dickie said Phil didnt know anyone in London, and did I know a nice girl who could squire him around A nice girl, Osla groaned, taking a slug of champagne. Theres nothing more deadly than being called nice. I dont think youre nice, the prince said. Dont you say the sweetest things? Tipping her head back. What am I, then? The prettiest thing Ive ever seen in a boiler suit. You should see me pot-rivet a seam. Anytime, princess. Are we going dancing or not? Sally complained. Come upstairs and change, Os! Prince Philip looked speculative. If I made you a dare Careful, Osla warned. I dont back down from dares. Shes famous for it, Sally agreed. At Miss Fentons, the upper-form girls dared her to put itching powder in the headmistresss knickers. Philip looked down at Osla from his full six feet, grinning again. Did you do it? Of course. Then I stole her suspender belt, climbed the chapel roof, and hung it from the cross. She kicked up quite a shindy over that. Whats your dare? Come out dancing as you are, the prince challenged. Dont change into whatever satin thing youve got in that bag. Youre on. Osla tossed down the rest of her champagne, and they piled laughing out of the Main Lounge. Mr. Gibbs gave Osla a wink as he opened the doors. She took one gulp of the icy, starry night outsideyou could see stars all over London now, with the blackoutand looked over her shoulder at Prince Philip, who had paused to tilt his head up, too. She felt the champagne fizzing in her blood and reached into her pack. Am I allowed to wear these? She pulled out her dancing shoes: green satin sandals with glitters of diamant?. A princess cant conga without her glass slippers. Ill allow it. Prince Philip tugged the sandals away, then picked up her hand and placed it on his shoulder. Steady . . . And he knelt down right there on the front steps of Claridges to undo Oslas boots, waiting for her to step out of them, then peeling off her wool socks. He slid her satin sandals on, tanned fingers dark against her white ankles in the faint moonlight. He looked up then, eyes shadowed. Oh, seriously. Osla grinned down at him. How many girls have you tried this on, sailor? He was laughing too, unable to hold his intent expression. He laughed so hard he nearly toppled over, forehead coming for a moment against Oslas knee, and she touched his bright hair. His fingers were still braceleted around her ankle, warm in the cold night. She saw how passersby were staring at the girl in the boiler suit on the front steps of Mayfairs best hotel, the man in naval uniform on one knee before her, and gave Philips shoulder a playful smack. Enough swooning. He rose. As you wish. They danced the New Year in at the Caf? de Paris, tripping down the lush carpeted stairs to the underground club. I didnt know they did the foxtrot in Greece! Osla shouted over the blare of trombones, whirling through Philips hands. He was a fast, fierce dancer. Im no Greek . . . He spun her, and Osla was too out of breath to continue until the music relaxed to a dreamy waltz. Philip slowed, raking his disordered hair back into place before gathering Osla up with one arm about her waist. Osla put her hand in his, and they fell easily in rhythm. What do you mean, youre no Greek? she asked as couples bumped and laughed all around them. The Caf? de Paris had a warm intimacy that no other nightclub in London could match, maybe because it was twenty feet belowground. Music always seemed louder here, champagne colder, blood warmer, whispers more immediate. Philip shrugged. I was carried out of Corfu in a fruit box when I wasnt even a year old, steps ahead of a horde of revolutionaries. Ive not spent much time there, dont speak much of the language, and wont have any cause to. He meant he wouldnt be king, Osla knew. She had some vague knowledge that the Greek royals had regained their throne, but Philip was far down the line of succession, and with his English grandfather and English uncle, he looked and sounded like any royal cousin. You sound more English than I do. Youre Canadian and none of the girls I came to court with would ever let me forget it. But until I was ten, I had a German accent. Are you a Hun spy? He raised an eyebrow. I dont know any military secrets worth seducing me for, but I hope that doesnt put you off. Youre very ill behaved for a prince. A positive menace. All the best ones are. Why the German accent? My mother divorced my father and came to England when I was small. Osla revolved under his hand in a spin, came back into the curve of his arm again. She stuck me in the country with a German governess, where I spoke only German Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays, and only French Tuesdays-Thursdays-Saturdays. Until I went to boarding school, I only spoke English one day a week, and everything with a German accent. A Canadian who sounds like a German and lives in England. Philip switched to German himself. Which country really has a claim on the heart of Osla Kendall? England f?r immer, mein Prinz, Osla replied, and switched back before they really could be accused of being Hun spies in this room full of tipsy, patriotic Londoners. Your Germans perfect. Did you speak it at home? He laughed, but the laugh had a sharp edge. What do you mean, home? Right now Im on a camp bed in Uncle Dickies dining room. Home is where theres an invitation or a cousin. I know something about that. He looked skeptical. Right now I share digs with Sally. Before that, there were some dreadful cousins in Montreal who didnt want me. Before that, my godfather let me stay with him while I did the Season. Osla shrugged. My mother has a permanent suite in Claridges, where Im de trop if I stay longer than a night, and my father died years ago. I couldnt tell you where home is. She smiled, very bright. Im certainly not going to get in a flap about it! All my friends who still live at home are dying to get away, so whos the lucky one? Right now? Philips hand curled against her waist. Me. They waltzed in silence for a while, bodies moving in perfect ease. The dance floor was sticky with spilled champagne; the band dragged. It was near four in the morning, but the floor was still packed. No one wanted to stop, and that included Osla. She looked over Philips shoulder and saw a poster pinned to the wall, one of the ubiquitous victory posters that had sprouted like mushrooms all over London: WE BEAT EM BEFORE, WELL BEAT EM AGAIN! I wish the war would get going, Osla said. This waiting . . . we know theyre going to come at us. Part of me wishes theyd just do it. The sooner its begun, the sooner its over. I suppose, he said shortly, and moved so his cheek was at her hair and they werent eye to eye anymore. Osla could have kicked herself. All well and good to say you wished the war would kick off when you, being one of the gentler sex, wouldnt be the one fighting it. Osla believed everyone should fight for king and country, but she was also aware that this was a very theoretical position when you were female. I do want to fight, Philip said into Oslas hair as though reading her mind. Go to sea, do my bit. Mainly so people will stop wondering if Im secretly a Hun. What? Three of my sisters married Nazis. Not that they were Nazis when they first . . . Well. Id like to shut up the fellows who think Im slightly suspect because of the family sympathies. Id like to shut up the ones who think a dizzy debutante cant possibly do anything useful. Do you go to sea soon? I dont know. If I had my way, Id be on a battleship tomorrow. Uncle Dickies seeing what he can do. It could be next week, it could be a year. Make it a year, Osla thought, feeling his shoulder firm and angular under her hand. So, youll be at sea hunting U-boats, and Ill be banging rivets in Sloughnot too shabby for a silly socialite and a slightly suspect prince. You could do more than bang rivets. He gathered her closer, not taking his cheek from her hair. Have you asked Uncle Dickie if theres anything at the War Office for a girl with your language skills? Id rather build Hurricanes, get my hands dirty. Do something more important for the fight than bang typewriter keys. The fightis that why you finagled your way back from Montreal? If your country is in danger and youre of age to stand and defend it, you do so, Osla stated. You dont cash in on your Canadian passport Or your Greek passport and bunk out for a safer port of call. Its just not on. Couldnt agree more. The waltz ended. Osla stepped back, looked up at the prince. I should get back to my digs, she said regretfully. Im knackered. Philip motored Osla and the yawning Sally back to Old Windsor, driving as ferociously as he danced. He helped Sally out of the backseat; she gave his cheek a sleepy peck and negotiated her way across the dark street. Osla heard a splash and a yelp, then Sallys voice called back sourly: Mind your shoes, Os, theres a lake in front of our door . . . Better put my boots back on, Osla laughed, reaching for her diamant? buckles, but Philip swung her up into his arms. Cant risk the glass slippers, princess. Oh, really, now, Osla hooted, settling her arms about his neck. How slick can you get, sailor? She could almost feel his grin as he carried her through the dark. Oslas boots and evening bag dangled against his back, hanging from her elbow, and he smelled of aftershave and champagne. Philips hair was mussed and sweat-damp from dancing, curling softly against her fingers where her hands linked at the back of his neck. He splashed through the puddle, and before he could set Osla down on the step, she brushed her lips against his. Gets it out of the way, she said, flippant. So theres none of that terribly awkward will-we-wont-we on the step. Ive never had a girl kiss me just to get it out of the way. His mouth smiled against hers. At least do it properly . . . He kissed her again, long and leisurely, still holding her off the step. He tasted like a blue, sun-warmed sea, and at some point Osla dropped her boots into the puddle. At last he set her down, and they stood a moment in the darkness, Osla getting her breath back. I dont know when Ill go to sea, he said at last. Before I do, Id like to see you again. Nothing much to do around here. When we arent banging Dural, Sal and I eat porridge and muck about with gramophone records. Very dull. I dont imagine youre as dull as that. In fact, Ill wager the opposite. Ill lay odds youre hard to get over, Osla Kendall. Any number of light, flirtatious replies sprang to her lips. She had flirted all her life, instinctively, defensively. You play that same game, she thought, looking at Philip. Be charming to all, so no one gets too close. There were always people angling to get close to a pretty brunette whose godfather was Lord Mountbatten and whose father had bequeathed her a massive chunk of Canadian National Railway shares. And Osla was willing to bet there were many more people angling to get close to a handsome prince, even one tarnished by Nazi brothers-in-law. Come see me any night, Philip, Osla said simply, playing no games at all, and felt her heart thumping as he touched his fingers to his hat and walked back to the Vauxhall. It was the dawn of 1940, and she had danced in the New Year in a boiler suit and satin sandals with a prince. She wondered what else the year would bring. Chapter 3 June 1940 Mab was doing her best to disappear into her library copy of Vanity Fair, but even Becky Sharp flinging a dictionary out a coach window couldnt hold her attention when the train leaving London was so crowded, and when the man in the seat opposite was fondling himself through his trouser pocket. Whats your name? hed crooned when Mab dragged her brown cardboard suitcase aboard, and shed shot him her iciest glare. Hed been forced off to one side when the compartment filled up with men in uniform, most of them trailing hopefully after a stunning brunette in a fur-trimmed coat. But as the train chugged north out of London, the compartment emptied of soldiers stop by stop, and when it was just Mab and the brunette, the fondler began crooning again. Give us a smile, luv! Mab ignored him. There was a newspaper on the compartment floor, tracked with muddy boot prints, and she was trying to ignore that toothe headline screamed Dunkirk and disaster. Were next, Mabs mother had said as Denmark fell, Norway fell, Belgium fell, Holland fell, one after another like boulders rolling inexorably off a cliff. Then ruddy France fell, and Mrs. Churt gave even bleaker shakes of the head. Were next, she said to everyone who would listen, and Mab nearly bit her head off. Mum, would you mind not talking about murdering, raping Huns and what theyre going to do to us? It had been a terrible row, the first of many once Mab had tried to persuade Mum to leave London with Lucy. Just for a while, she said, and Mum retorted, I leave Shoreditch feetfirst, in a box. And that row had been so bad, it was just as well that Mab had received this odd summons a week ago about a post in Buckinghamshire. Lucy didnt really understand she was going away; when Mab had hugged her tight that morning before departing, shed just put her head on one side and said Night! which meant See you tonight! I wont be seeing you tonight, Luce. Mab had never been away from Lucy overnight, not once. Well, Mab would take the train back to London the first day she had off. Whatever this post was, there had to be days off, even in wartime. And maybe her living situation inwhat was this town called again?would be decent enough she could see about moving her family here to the country. Better the middle of nowhere among green fields than soon-to-be-bombed London . . . Mab shuddered and went back to Vanity Fair, where Becky Sharp was headed for a new job in the country too, not appearing to worry much about her homelands being invaded. But in Beckys day it had been Napol?on, and Napol?on didnt have bloody Messerschmitts, did he? Whats your name, lovely? The fondler had switched his attentions to the little brunette in the fur-trimmed coat, who was now the only other passenger in the compartment. His hand began to work away in his pocket. Just one smile, gorgeous The brunette looked up from her own book, flushing pink, and Mab wondered if shed have to intervene. Normally she abided by a Londoners strict rule of keep your nose out of other folks business, but the brunette looked like an absolute lamb in the woods. Just the sort of female Mab both slightly resented and also enviedexpensively dressed, pampered skin that a gushy novel would describe as alabaster, the sort of pocket-sized figure all women wanted and all men wanted to take a bite out of. The kind of silly overbred debutante, in short, who had grown up riding ponies and wouldnt have to lift a finger to bag herself a husband of means and education, but was otherwise completely useless. Any Shoreditch girl could handle a train compartment lothario, but this little bit of crumpet was going to get munched right up. Mab laid down Vanity Fair with a thump, irritated with the fondler and rather irritated with the brunette too for needing rescuing. But before she could even snap Look here, you . . . the brunette spoke up. My goodness, look at the tent in your trousers. I cant say Ive ever seen anything quite so obvious. Most fellows do something incredibly creative with their hats at this stage. The mans hand froze. The brunette put her head to one side, eyes widening innocently. Is something wrong? You arent in pain, are you? Chaps always act like theyre in such pain at this point, Im nobbled if I know why . . . The fondler, Mab observed, was red as a beet and had withdrawn his hand from his pocket. . . . Really, do you need a doctor? Youre looking absolutely in the basket The man fled the compartment with a mutter. Feel better soon! the little brunette called after him, then looked over at Mab, eyes sparkling. That fixed him. She flung one silk-stockinged leg over the other with evident satisfaction. Nice work, Mab couldnt help but say. Not such an easily munched bit of crumpet after all, even if the girl didnt look a day over eighteen. If I have to get rid of a fellow like that, I rely on a good icy stare or a kick in the shins. I cant do an icy stare to save my life. This face simply wont glower. If I try, fellows tell me I look adorable, and theres nothing to make you flip your wicket like being told youre adorable when youre furious. Now, youre clearly tall, and youve got eyebrows like an empress, so Im sure you have a very impressive glare? Tilting her head in invitation. Mab had been about to retreat into her book, but she couldnt resist. Arching one brow, she looked down her nose and let her lip curl. Now thats a slap-up stare to freeze the marrow! The brunette put out a hand. Osla Kendall. Mab shook it, surprised to feel calluses. Mab Churt. Mab, thats topping, Osla approved. I was going to guess Boadicea or Scarlett OHara; someone who could drive a chariot with knives or shoot Yankees on staircases. I got stuck with Osla because my mother went to Oslo and said it was too too utterly divine. What she meant was that I was conceived there. So now Im named after a city that is being crawled over by Germans, and Im trying not to take it as a prediction. Could be worse. What if youd been conceived in Birmingham? Mab was still trying to make sense of the girls work-roughened hands in contrast to her Mayfair drawl. Surely those calluses didnt come from finishing school. From building Hurricanes at the Hawker Siddeley factory in Colnbrook. Osla saluted. Who knows what Ill be doing now. I was called to interview in London, and then the strangest summons arrived telling me to go to Bletchley station But thats where Im going. Startled, Mab dug out the letter in her handbag, much puzzled over when it had arrived in Shoreditch. Turning, she saw an identical letter in Oslas hand. They held the sheets side by side. Oslas letter read: Please report to Station X at Bletchley station, Buckinghamshire, in seven days time. Your postal address is Box 111, c/o the Foreign Office. That is all you need to know. Commander Denniston Mabs was more officialI am desired by the Chief Clerk to inform you that you have been selected for the appointment of Temporary Clerk . . . you should attend for duty in four days time, traveling by the 10:40 a.m. train from London (Euston) to the third stop (Bletchley)but the destination was clearly the same. Curiouser and curiouser. Osla looked thoughtful. Well, Im dishednever so much as heard of Bletchley or Station X. Me either, said Mab, and wished shed said Nor I. Oslas polished voice and breezy slang were making her self-conscious. I had an interview in London, toothey asked me about my typing and shorthand. They mustve got my name from the secretarial course I took last year. They didnt ask me about typing at all. This hatchet of a woman tested my German and my French, then told me to run along home. About two weeks later, this. Osla tapped the letter. What can they want us for? Mab shrugged. Ill put my hours in for the war doing whatever they want. What matters to me is earning a wage to send home, and being close enough to London to visit every day off. Dont be so prosy! We could be walking right into our own Agatha Christie novel here, The Mystery of Station X . . . Mab adored Agatha Christie. Murder at Station X: A Hercule Poirot Mystery . . . I prefer Miss Marple, Osla said decidedly. Shes exactly like every spinster governess I ever had. Just with arsenic instead of chalk. I like Poirot. Mab crossed her legs, aware that her shoes, no matter how carefully shed shined them, looked cheap next to Oslas hand-stitched pumps. At least my legs are just as good as hers, Mab couldnt help thinking. Better. That felt rather petty and mean-spirited, but Osla Kendall was so clearly a girl who had everything . . . Hercule Poirot would give a girl like me a fair hearing, she went on. The Miss Marples of the world take one look and decide Im a tart. When the train drew to the third stop at last, Osla whooped Tallyho! but Mabs hopes soon waned. Half a mile of suitcase dragging from the dreary, crowded station led them to an eight-foot chained fence topped by rolls of barbed wire. The gates were manned by two bored-looking guardsmen. Cant come in here, one said as Mab rummaged for her papers. Got no pass. Mab brushed her hair out of her face. This morning shed set it into perfect waves with kirby grips, and now she was sweaty and annoyed and her waves were falling out. Look here, we dont know what were supposed to Come to the right place, then, said the guard in a country accent she could barely understand. Most of em here look as if they didnt know where they was, and God knows what theym doing. Mab gave him the icy stare, but Osla stepped forward, all wide eyes and trembling lips, and the older guard took pity. Ill escort you up to the main house. If you want to know where you are, he added, youre at Bletchley Park. What is that? Mab demanded. The younger guard sniggered. Its the biggest bloody lunatic asylum in Britain. THE MANSION LOOKED out over a rolling green expanse of lawn and a small lakeredbrick Victorian with a green copper dome, stuck all over with windows and gables like a Christmas pudding studded with glac? cherries. Lavatory Gothic, Osla shuddered, but Mab stared enchanted, unable to keep herself from wandering off the path toward the lake. A proper country house and grounds like Thornfield Hall or Manderley, the kind of house that eligible bachelors were always renting in novels. But even here, war had placed its ugly mass-produced boot firmly on both mansion and personnel. Hideous prefabricated huts dotted the grounds, and people rushed haphazardly across the pathsfewer men in uniform than Mab was used to seeing in London, and certainly more women than she was expecting. They hurried between the huts and mansion in tweeds, knits, and abstracted expressions. They all look like they strayed into a labyrinth with no exit, Osla observed, following Mab toward the lake as the guard stood looking impatient on the path. Exactly. Where do you think we They both halted. Crawling out of the lake, soaking wet, plastered with reeds, and clutching a tea mug, was a naked man. Oh, hullo, he called cheerfully. New recruits? About bally time. You go on back, David, he called up to the waiting guard. Ill take em up to the mansion. Mab saw with some relief that the man wasnt entirely naked, just stripped down to his drawers. Above them he had a freckled, concave chest; a face like an amiable gargoyles; and hair that even soaking wet was clearly as red as a telephone box. Im Talbot, Giles Talbot, he explained in an Oxbridge drawl, wandering over to a heap of clothes on the bank as Osla and Mab murmured their introductions and tried not to stare. Took a jump in the lake after Josh Coopers tea mug. He chucked it into the reeds, working through some problem or other. Trousers, Giles Talbot muttered, shaking out his clothes. If those buggers in Hut 4 hid them again Can you tell us where were supposed to go? Mab interrupted, irritated. There has to be someone in charge of this madhouse. Youd think, wouldnt you? Giles Talbot buttoned his shirt, then shrugged into an old checked jacket. Commander Denniston is the closest weve got to a warden. Right-ho, follow me. Hopping first on one foot and then on the other to pull his shoes over bare feet, he set off toward the mansion, shirttails flapping over wet drawers and bare white legs. Mab and Osla looked at each other. Its all a front, Osla whispered. Were going to be drugged as soon as we set foot into that hideous house and then sold into durance vile, just you wait. If they were trying to lure us into durance vile, theyd send someone more appetizing than a half-naked stork, Mab said. What is durance vile, anyway . . . The mansions entrance hall was oak-paneled and spacious, with rooms branching off each side. There was a pegboard with a copy of the London Times pinned up, a Gothic-looking lounge, a grand staircase visible through a pink marble arcade . . . Giles whisked them upstairs into what looked like a bay-windowed bedroom turned private office, bed replaced by cabinets, everything reeking of cigarette smoke. A small harassed-looking man with a professorial forehead looked up from the desk. He didnt sputter at the sight of Giless naked legs, just remarked, You found Coopers tea mug? And some new recruits, fresh off the London train. Arent they getting prettier? Miss Kendall here could whistle a chap off a branch any day of the week. Giles beamed at Osla, then looked up at Mab, who topped him by half a head. Lord, I love a tall woman. Youre not pining for some RAF pilot, are you? Dont break my heart! Mab pondered getting out the icy stare but put it away unworn. This entire atmosphere was simply too strange to offend. Youre a fine one to talk about looks, Talbot. Ive never seen anything as unappetizing as you lot of skinny Cambridge boffins. Commander Dennistonat least, thats who Mab presumed it wasshook his head at Giless bare white legs, then looked at Osla and Mabs identification and letters. Kendall . . . Churt . . . My godfather might have been the one who put my name forward, Osla prompted. Lord Mountbatten. He brightened. Then Miss Churt will be the one from the London secretarial pool. He gave back their papers, rising. Right. You have both been recruited to Bletchley Park, the headquarters of GC and CS. Whats that? Mab wondered. As if reading her mind, Giles volunteered, Golf, Cheese, and Chess Society. Commander Denniston looked pained but plowed on. Youll be assigned a hut, and your head of hut will fill you in on your duties. Before that happens, my job is to impress upon you that you will be working in the most secret place in Britain, and all activities here are crucial to the outcome of the war. He paused. Mab stood frozen, and she could feel Osla at her side equally motionless. Bloody hell, Mab thought. What is this place? He continued. The work here is so secret that you will be told only what it is necessary for you to know, and you will never seek to find out more. Besides respecting internal security, you will be mindful of external security. You will never mention the name of this place, not to your family or friends. You will find that your colleagues refer to it as BP, and you will do the same. Above all, you will never disclose to anyone the nature of the work that you do here. To reveal the least hint might jeopardize the whole progress of the war. Another pause. Are they training us to be spies? Mab wondered, astonished. Should anyone ask, you are doing ordinary clerical work. Make it sound dull, the duller the better. Osla piped up, What work will we be doing, sir? Good God, girl, have you listened to a single word Ive said? Impatience crept into Dennistons voice. I dont know what you will be doing, in any specific way, and I dont want to know. He opened a desk drawer and took out two sheets of yellowish paper, laying one in front of each of them. This is the Official Secrets Act. It clearly states that if you do any of the things I have warned you against, if you disclose the slightest information which could be of use to the enemy, you will be guilty of treason. The silence was absolute. And treason, Commander Denniston finished mildly, makes you liable to the most extreme penalties of the law. Im not sure at the moment whether thats hanging or firing squad. It couldnt get any quieter, but Mab felt the silence congeal. She took a deep breath. Sir, are we allowed torefuse this post? He looked startled. Theres no pistol to your head; this isnt Berlin. Refuse, and you will simply be ushered off the premises with strict instructions never to mention this place again. . . . And Ill never know what really goes on here, Mab thought. He laid two pens before them. Sign, please. Or not. Mab took another breath and signed across the bottom. She saw Osla doing the same. Welcome to BP, Commander Denniston said with the first smile of the exchange. Just like that, the interview was over. Giles Talbot, still with his damp shirttails flapping, steered them out into the hall. Osla gripped Mabs hand once the door shut behind them, and Mab wasnt too proud to grip back. Wouldnt take it too seriously if I were you. Incredibly, Giles was chuckling. That speech is a knee-weakener the first time you hear itDenniston was out when it was my turn, and I got the whole harangue from a wing commander who pulled a pistol out of his drawer and said hed shoot me if I broke the sacred secrecy of et cetera, et cetera. But you get used to it. Come along, lets get your billets sorted Mab halted at the staircase, folding her arms. Look here, cant we get a hint now about what this place actually does? Isnt it obvious? He looked surprised. GC and CSwe call it Golf, Cheese, and Chess Society because the place is packed with Oxford dons and Cambridge chess champions, but it stands for Government Code and Cypher School. Mab and Osla must have looked baffled, because he grinned. Were breaking German codes. Chapter 4 The day the Bletchley Park boarders were due to arrive, Beth Finch lost half an hour down the center of a rose. Really, Bethan, Ive been calling and calling. How long have you been sniffing that flower? I wasnt sniffing it, Beth thought, but didnt correct her mother. Sniffing a rose was at least normalroses smelled nice; everybody agreed on that. Not everybody looked at a rose and got entranced not by the scent but by the pattern of it, the way the petals overlapped like stairs winding inward . . . inward . . . shed run her finger gently along the spiral, moving toward the center, only in her mind there wasnt a center with stamens. There was just the spiral, going on and on toward infinity. It sounded very poeticWhat lies at the center of a rose?but it wasnt the poetry that entranced Beth, or the scent. It was the pattern. And before she knew it shed lost half an hour, and her mother was standing there looking cross. Theyll be here soon, and look at this room! Mrs. Finch took the bud vase from Beth, placing it on the mantel. Wipe down the mirror, now. Whoever these girls are, they wont have anything to complain about in this house. Though who knows what kind of girls are boarding away from home, anyway? Leaving their families for a job Theres a war on, Beth murmured, but Mrs. Finch had been on a tear since learning that, being in possession of a spare bedroom with two narrow beds, they would be required to billet two females working at nearby Bletchley Park. Dont tell me its the war. Its flighty girls taking any excuse to bolt out on their families and get into trouble. Mrs. Finch moved about the room in small quick motions, straightening the bedside-table doily, tweaking the pillowcase. She and Beth had the same mouse-fair hair, the same nearly invisible brows and lashes, but Beth stood round-shouldered and slight while her mother was imposing, handsome, her bust like a prow. What kind of war work are they going to be doing in the middle of Bletchley? Who knows? The war had sent such ripples through their sleepy little village: blackout preparations, the call for Air Raid Precautions wardens, Bletchley Park just down the road suddenly a hub of mysterious activity . . . everyone was curious, especially with women coming to work there as well as men. Women were flinging themselves into all sorts of new ventures these days, according to the papersjoining the FANYs to be nurses or shipping overseas with the womens Royal Navy. Every time Beth tried to think herself patriotically into one of those roles, she broke out in a cold sweat. She knew shed be expected to do her bit, but shed volunteer for something behind the scenes, something even utter idiots couldnt muck up. ARP First Aid, maybe, rolling bandages and making tea. Beth was hopeless at most things. Shed been hearing that all her life, and it was true. These boarders had better be decent girls, Mrs. Finch was fretting. What if we end up with two tarts from Wapping? Im sure not, Beth soothed. She didnt even really know what a tart was; it was her mothers all-purpose condemnation for any female who wore lipstick, smelled of French scent, or read novels . . . Guiltily, Beth felt the weight of her latest library paperback in her pocket. Vanity Fair. Run out to the post office, Bethan. Mrs. Finch was the only one to call Beth by her full name. I can feel one of my headaches coming on . . . Massaging her temples. Rinse out a cloth for me first. Then after the post office, the corner store. Yes, Mother. Mrs. Finch patted her shoulder fondly. Mothers little helper. Beth had been hearing that all her life, too. Bethan is so helpful, Mrs. Finch loved to tell her friends. What a comfort to think shell be with me when Im old. She might still marry, the widow down the street had said at the last Womens Institute meeting. Beth had been making tea in the kitchen, but the old womans whisper carried. Twenty-four years oldthats not utterly hopeless. She hardly has two words to say to anyone, but that doesnt bother most men. Someone might still take her off your hands, Muriel. I dont want her taken off my hands, Mrs. Finch had said with that brisk finality that made everything seem preordained. At least Im not a burden, Beth reminded herself. Most old maids were just a drain on their families. She was a comfort, she had a place, she was Mothers little helper. She was lucky. Tugging at the thin mouse-fair plait hanging over one shoulder, Beth went to put the kettle on, then wrung out a cloth in cold water the way her mother liked. Bringing it upstairs, she darted back down and set off on errands. All Beths siblings had settled out of town when they married, but not an afternoon passed when Beth wasnt dispatched to post a letter full of maternal advice or a package with a maternal decree. Today Beth posted a square package to her oldest sister, whod just delivered a baby: one of Mothers samplers, a wreath of pink roses round the words A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place. An identical sampler hung over Beths bed and over the bed of every new baby born to the Finch family. It was never too early, Mother said, to instill proper notions about ones place. Have your boarders arrived yet? the postmaster inquired. Theyre peculiar fellows, some of them. Mrs. Bowden at the Shoulder of Mutton inn, shes got a pack of Cambridge dons coming and going at all hours! That wont please your mother, eh? He waited for a response, but Beth just nodded, tongue-tied. Something not right with that last Finch girl, the postmaster whispered to his clerk as she turned away, and Beth felt herself flushing crimson. Why couldnt she manage ordinary small talk? It was bad enough being slow-witted (and Beth knew she was), but did she have to be so flustered and awkward as well? Other girls, even the dimmest, seemed able to look people in the eyes when spoken to. It was one thing to be quiet, another thing to freeze in every social gathering like a frightened rabbit. But Beth couldnt help it. She dashed home just in time to lift the kettle off the heat. At least the Finch household had been assured it would be girls boarding, not men. If life were a novel, the mystery boarders would have been dashing young bachelors who would then immediately have vied for Beths hand, and Beth couldnt imagine anything more terrifying. Beth, Mr. Finch called absently from his armchair, doing the crossword. A freshwater fish of the carp family, five letters. Beth flipped her braid back over one shoulder, laying out the tea things. Tench. I thought bream Bream puts a B into Seventeen Down. Beth reached for the teapot, perfectly able to envision the crossword, glimpsed this morning when shed set the paper by her fathers breakfast plate. And Seventeen Down is codify. Seventeen Downto organize into a system, as in a body of law, six lettersright, codify. Her dad smiled. I dont know how you do that. My one talent, Beth thought, rueful. She couldnt cook, she couldnt knit, she couldnt make conversation, but by God, she could finish the Sunday crossword in eight minutes flat without a single mistake! Unlucky or ill-fated, seven letters Beths dad began, but before she could say hapless, footsteps sounded outside, and their boarders were being ushered in with a clatter of suitcases. Mr. Finch held the door, Mrs. Finch shot downstairs like a ferret into a rabbits burrow, and by the time Beth had taken care of the kettle, introductions were flying. Two girls, both clearly younger than Beth, entered the spotless kitchen and immediately seemed to take up all the air. Both were brunettes, but that was where the similarity ended. One was dimpled and beautiful and wrapped in a fur-trimmed coat, chattering in a very posh accent. The other was about six feet tall with severe features, perfect red lipstick, and black eyebrows arching like cavalry sabers. Beths heart sank into her shoes. These girls were just the sort who made her feel clumsy, slow, and, well, hapless. So pleased, Mrs. Finch managed to say through pursed lips, to welcome you to my home. Her gaze traveled up and down the tall brunette, who returned the stare coolly. Tart, Beth knew her mother was thinking. Who knew about the dimply girl, but the one with the eyebrows had without a doubt been classified as a tart before she spoke a single word. We are so chuffed to be sent here, the dimply girl gushed, curly lashes working up a breeze of enthusiasm. One can always tell nice people, cant one? I knew the moment I saw your absolutely topping vegetable garden . . . Beth could see her mother thawing at those polished Mayfair vowels. We hope youll be teddibly comfortable here, she said, her own accent hitching north. Youll share the room beside my daughter, first floor. The toiletthe loo, that iscan be found at the bottom of the garden. Outside? The smaller brunette looked startled. The tall one shot her an amused look. Youll get used to it, Osla Kendall. Ive never lived in a single flat with a loo inside. Oh, shut up, Queen Mab! Mrs. Finch frowned. What is it you young ladies will be doing over at Bletchley Park? Clerical work, Osla said breezily. Such a snore. Another frown, but Beths mother left it for now. Lights out at ten. Hot baths every Monday, no dawdling in the tub. We have a telephoneproudly; few homes in the village didbut it is for important calls only. If youll come upstairs . . . The kitchen seemed to echo when the newest additions to the household swept out. Dad, who hadnt said a word after shaking hands, sat back down with his newspaper. Beth looked at the tea tray, scrubbing her hands up and down her apron. Bethan . . . Mrs. Finch swept back into the kitchen. Dont just stand there, take up the tea. Beth made her escape, glad to be spared the dissecting of the two lodgers she was certain her mother was about to deliver. She paused outside the spare room door, mustering the nerve to knock, and heard the rustling of suitcases being unpacked. . . . one bath a week? Mabs voice, crisp and scornful. I call that stingy. Im not demanding hot water; I dont mind a cold-water scrub, but I want clean hair however I can get it. Weve a washstand at leasthello again! Osla Kendall exclaimed as Beth came in. Tea, how scrummy. Youre a darling. Beth couldnt remember ever being called a darling. Ill leave you, she muttered, but she saw a copy of Vanity Fair unpacked from one of the bags and exclaimed despite herself, Oh! Thats a good one. Youve read it? Beth flushed to the roots of her hair. Dont tell Mother. Wouldnt dream of it! Osla plucked a scone off Mrs. Finchs second-best china. No one should tell their mother more than one-third of anything they get up to. Curl up with us and have a chin-wag . . . Without knowing how it happened, Beth found herself perched on the end of Oslas bed. It wasnt much of a conversation; she hardly said two words as the other girls nipped back and forth about Thackeray and whether they should start a literary society. But they both smiled at her periodically, all encouraging glances. Maybe they werent quite so intimidating after all. Are not there little chapters in everybodys life, Beth had read in Vanity Fair only that morning, that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of history? Too soon to tell . . . but perhaps this was, in fact, going to be one of them. Twelve Days Until the Royal Wedding November 8, 1947 Chapter 5 Inside the Clock Three girls and a bookthat was how it all began. Or so it seemed to the woman in the asylum, lying in her cell, fighting the cocktail of lethargy that had been pumped into her veins. Our institution is very progressive, a balding doctor had said when she first arrived, spitting and struggling, at Clockwell Sanitarium. Nearly three and a half years ago6 June, the day of the Normandy invasions, the day that began Europes liberation, and her own imprisonment. You may have heard horror stories about patients chained to walls, hosed with ice water, and so forth. We believe in gentle handling here, mild activity, sedatives to calm the nerves, Miss Liddell. That is not my name, she had snarled. He ignored her. Take your pills like a good girl. Pills in the morning, pills at night, pills that filled her veins with smoke and her skull with cotton woolwho cared then about mild activity? There were blunted tools for working in the rose garden around the big gray stone house; there was basket-weaving in the common hall; there were novels with missing pagesbut very few patients made use of these things. Clockwells inmates dozed in armchairs or sat outside blinking at the sun, eyes dulled and dreamy from the fog they swallowed every morning in tablet form. Progressive treatment. This place didnt need chains or electrical shocks; it didnt need beatings or ice baths. It was still a killing bottle, an eater of souls. Her first week here, shed refused to swallow anything the doctors gave her. She got the syringe instead, orderlies holding her down for the needle prick. Afterward she stumbled back to her cellthey could call it a room, but any room with locks on only the outside was a cell: window barred with mesh, bed bolted to the floor, a high ceiling so she couldnt reach the light fixture to hang herself. She thought of hanging herself that first week. But that would have been giving in. Looking well today! The doctor beamed, popping in on his daily rounds. Still a bit of a cough from that springtime bout of pneumonia, eh, Miss Liddell? The woman registered under the name Alice Liddell no longer bothered to correct him. She swallowed her pills obediently, then as soon as he left went to the plastic basin that served as a chamber pot at night. Forcing her fingers down her throat, she threw the tablets up in a wash of bile, then reached an indifferent thumb into the mess and ground everything together so the nurses wouldnt guess. Shed learned a few things in three and a half years. How to vomit up her medicine. How to fool the doctors. How to slide past the orderlies who were spiteful and cultivate the ones who were kind. How to keep her sanity in the midst of madness . . . because it would be easy, so easy, to go authentically mad here. Not me, thought the woman from Bletchley Park. She might have been sitting gray-faced and coughing in a madhouse cell, but she had not always been this. I will survive. I will get out. Not that it would be easy. The walls circling Clockwell were high and barbed; shed walked them a thousand times. Every entrancethe big gates at the front, the smaller access doors used by the grounds crewwas locked, the keys kept under guard. And even if she could get past that wall, the nearest town was miles away across barren Yorkshire moors. A slippered woman in an institutional smock stood no chance; shed merely wander the gorse until she was recaptured. Shed known from her second week here that if she was to get out, she would need help. Shed smuggled her ciphered messages out last week. Two desperate missives launched into the void like messages in bottles, sent to two women who had no reason to help her. They betrayed me, the thought whispered. You betrayed them, the whisper said back. Had they received the letters yet? If they had, would they listen? London Osla stood in her lace slip and robe, looking at the message that had thrown such a spanner into her day. The echo of the telephones furious slam on the other end of the line in Yorkshire still reverberated, along with her former friends choked voice. Go to hell, Osla Kendall. A clock ticked in the corner, and a blue satin dress slid off the heap on the bed. What she would wear to watch Princess Elizabeth marry her own former boyfriend now seemed the stupidest bit of bobbery in the world. Osla flung down the cipher message, and sunlight bounced green sparks across the lines of code, reflected off the big emerald ring her fianc? had put on her left hand four months ago. Any other woman, Osla reflected, would have run to her husband-to-be if she got menacing letters from a madhouse inmate. It was the sort of thing fianc?s liked to know, if the women they loved were being threatened by lunatics. But Osla knew she was not going to tell a soul. A few years at Bletchley Park turned any woman into a real clam. Osla sometimes wondered how many women there were in Britain like her, lying to their families all day, every day, about what theyd done in the war. Never once saying the words I may just be a housewife now, but I used to break German ciphers in Hut 6 or I may look like a brainless socialite, but I translated naval orders in Hut 4. So many women . . . by the end of the war in Europe, Bletchley Park and its outstations had four women to every man, or so it seemed when you saw the swarm of Victory-rolled hair and Utility frocks come spilling out at shift change. Where were all those women now? How many men who had fought in the war now sat reading their morning newspapers without realizing the woman sitting across the jam-pots from them had fought, too? Maybe the ladies of BP hadnt faced bullets or bombs, but theyd foughtoh, yes, theyd fought. And now they were labeled simply housewives, or schoolteachers, or silly debs, and they probably bit their tongues and hid their wounds, just like Osla. Because the ladies of BP had certainly taken their share of war wounds. The woman who had sent Osla the Vigen?re square wasnt the only one to crock up and end in a madhouse, gibbering under the strain. Get me out of here, the ciphered message read. You owe me. The cipher message said a lot of other things, too . . . The telephone shrieked, and Osla nearly jumped out of her skin. She snatched up the handset. Did you change your mind about meeting? It surprised her, the thrum of relief that went through her. No love lost between herself and her old friend, but if she had someone to face this problem with Meeting whom, Miss Kendall? The voice was male, insinuating, oilier than Brylcreem on a Cheapside shoe salesman. Where are you off to? Private rendezvous with the royal fianc?, perhaps? Osla straightened, jangling nerves subsiding in a rush of straightforward loathing. I dont remember which scandal rag you write for, but stop talking slush and bugger off. She banged down the handset. The sheet sniffers had been haunting her doorstep ever since the royal engagement had been announced. It didnt matter that there wasnt anything to find; they wanted dirt. One hour ago, shed been looking for any excuse to get away from them, from the wedding hysteria, out of London altogether . . . She heard the furious voice through the telephone again: Go to hell, Osla Kendall. Oh, plug it, Osla said aloud, making a sudden decision. Im coming to talk to you whether you like it or not. Because nothing about the woman in the madhouse could be discussed by telephone, and the only person she could talk to about it lived in York now. A long, long way from London. Two birds, one stone. Seven Years Ago June 1940 Chapter 6 Dear Philip: I work in a blinking madhouse, Osla imagined scribbling to her fair-haired princenot that she could give him details about her new job in those letters posted to Philips ship, but shed got into the habit of talking to him in her head, spinning the straw of daily life into entertaining gold anecdotes. Its a small madhouse tucked inside a larger one. The large one is Bletchley Park, the small one is Hut 4. Hut 4 simply defies description. Shed turned up for her first shift promptly at nine the morning after signing the Official Secrets Act, thrilled to her bones to be doing something more important than pot-riveting seams. All she wanted in this world was to prove herself, prove once and for all that a Mayfair giggler whod curtsied to the king in pearls and plumes could poker up in wartime and serve as well as anyone else. Could do something important, even . . . Well, banging Hurricanes together might have been useful, but this was in a different class. Osla had already vowed shed stick it out here, no matter how hard it was. She was only sorry she and Mab wouldnt be working together. Dear Philip: The girl Im billeted with is simply divine, and I forbid you to ever meet her because you would probably fall in love on the spot and then I would have to hate her. Not youyou wouldnt be able to help yourself; Mab would wing a superb eyebrow at you and that would be thatbut I cant afford to hate her because its clear I will need allies if I am to survive in the house of the Dread Mrs. Finch. More about her later. Osla and Mab had sauntered to the gates of Bletchley Park in the bright June morning, where Mab was shunted to Hut 6 and Osla to Hut 4. Well then . . . Mab perched her little chip hat at an aggressively chic angle. Show me just one eligible bachelor, Hut 6, and well get along fine. Osla hoped Mab was met by a more appetizing specimen than the fellow who answered her own knock: a stocky balding fellow in a Fair Isle jumper. German naval section, he greeted Osla as she stepped into the long green-painted building squatting next to the mansion like a frog. Youve got the German, then? You mean have I got a German tucked in my handbag? Osla quipped. Fraid not, darling. He looked blank. She sighed, spouting some Schiller in her impeccable Hochdeutsch. He waved for her to stop. Good, good. Youll assist with the registration, the W/T sorting, the teleprinted traffic . . . He whisked her inside the hut and showed her through: two large rooms separated by a door, a small room at the end, another little room after that which had been subdivided even smaller. Long tables heaped with papers and atlases, swivel chairs, pigeonholes, green steel filing cabinets . . . it was stiflingly hot, the men in shirtsleeves while the women patted perspiring faces with handkerchiefs. With a distracted Have a go! he passed Osla over to a motherly middle-aged woman who took in the new arrivals evident confusion with a smile. It wouldnt be any clearer if he tried to explain. These Oxbridge types are hopeless at explaining anything. Dear Philip: My entire introduction to the world of codebreaking was Have a go! The middle-aged woman introduced herself as Miss Senyard and made introductions to the othersa few girls like Osla, all Mayfair diction and pearls; a few girls with university stamped all over them, all efficient and friendly as they showed the new girl the ropes. Some were sorting wireless telegraphy forms; some were collecting unknown German naval codes and identifying call signs and frequencies with slashes of a pencil. Osla received a towering stack of loose papers and a punching machineTake these signals and bind them up properly, dear. Its the early naval Enigma traffic; poor Mr. Birchs cupboards are positively overflowing and weve got to get it filed. Osla studied a sheet: a report of some kind, translated German broken and patchy as if parts of the sentence hadnt come through. Why is this in German and not that? she asked the girl next to her, nodding at the cards with their keys and call signs, much of it gibberish. This is the undeciphered stuff. We log it, register it, then it goes out to the naval section boffins to be broken. The boffins are the brainy ones. Admiringly. Who knows what they do or how they do it, but the undeciphered stuff comes back to us broken into readable German. Oh. That was where the important work was done, then. Osla wrestled with the punching machine, fighting a sense of deflation. Punching holes to bind papers together and stick them in cupboardswas this really the best use of her language skills? Had she managed yet again to land in a place where the real work was being done by someone else? Not that she was going to get in a wax about needing to be important, she just wanted to be used well . . . Never mind that, she scolded herself. Its all important. And its only your first day. What do we do with all these reports and signals, then? Once they come back broken into German. Its all translated, logged, analyzed. Miss Senyards box files have copies of every German naval and naval air signalperiodically we get someone in a tearing hurry, requesting a copy of this report or that one. And we send the raw decrypts to the Admiralty, as well as reporting by telephone. Weve got a direct line; Hinsley rings since hes liaison, then they give him the brush-off and he goes about muttering insults for the next hour. Why do they brush him off? Would you believe it if some reedy Cambridge student from the middle of nowhere called to tell you where the U-boat wolf packs were, and when you asked how that information was obtained, his reply was You dont need to know? Dear Philip: The Admiralty currently making decisions for your beloved navy lurches along on shrugs, shoeboxes, and ignorance. Is this entire war run by idiots? That would explain why were on the verge of being invaded. Not that she ever would have written Philip anything so defeatist. Osla kept her letters cheerful; the last thing a man at war needed was gloom from the home front. But to herself, in her own head, she didnt mind being pessimistic. It got difficult keeping your chin up, all the while imagining what London would look like once the Jerries had nailed German street names over the signs to Piccadilly and St. Johns Wood. It could happen. Not that anyone said it, but everyone was in a pelter worrying that it would happen. The Americans werent coming to the rescue. Most of Europe had fallen. England was next. That was the bleak reality. I might see the news here first, Osla thought, reaching for a new report. She might know before anyone else in the countrybefore Churchill, before the kingwhen they were being invaded, because the next decoded German report might be orders for a pack of destroyers to sail for Dover. Just because the brainy boys here could decode what the Nazis said to each other, that didnt mean they could stop it. I dont know what youre doing in there, Osla thought to the boffins breaking codes for the U-boat packs that hunted ships like Philips, but do it faster. That made her wonder. If this is naval section, can we look up our own ships in the decrypted reports? See if the Germans have flagged them in their radio traffic? Like HMS Kent, currently bearing a certain fair-haired royal midshipman toward Bombay . . . Or are we not allowed to ask about such things? The orders had been no talking to anyone outside Bletchley, and no talking to anyone outside or inside about ones work, but those instructions still left quite a few gray areas. Osla had no intention of breaking the Official Secrets Act on her very first day. Dear Philip: Im going to be hanged for treason, or possibly shot by firing squad. We all talk in-hut, the reassuring answer came. Its all right as long as everything you learn stays in-hut. You can try looking up a ship if youve got a fellow on board, but you cant pass on anything you find to his mum. That wouldnt be a problem, Osla reflected. Philip never mentioned his mother. Hed talk about his sisters, the ones who had married Nazis and to whom he could no longer write; hed talk about the sister who died in a plane crash with her entire family a few years ago; hed even mention his long-estranged fatherbut never his mother. So, your shipboard friend A nudge. Fianc?? Oh, just a boyfriend, Osla murmured, banging away at the punching machine. Shed had boyfriends since she was sixteen, casual crushes conducted over late-night dancing and the occasional kiss in the back of a taxi. Nothing serious. Philip had gone to sea in February; theyd barely known each other six weeksdancing at the Caf? de Paris when Osla got a night off from the Hurricane factory; long evenings when hed drive to her shared digs and lie with his head in her lap as they listened to gramophone records and chatted the night away. Are you falling for your handsome prince? Sally Norton teased one evening after Philip ambled out after midnight. Hes not my prince, Osla retorted. Hes looking for a girl to splash out with before going to war, thats all. For me, hes just another boyfriend. Except Philip was the only one who made her bones burn. The first kisses of her life that felt dangerous. The last night before hed shipped out, hed gripped her hand tighter than usual and said abruptly, Write to me, Os? If you do, Ill write to you. I havent anyone to write to, really. Ill write, Osla had said, no jokes, no teasing. He leaned in for another of those long, heated doorstep kisses, the ones that went on and on, his hands moving across her back, her fingers deep in his hair. Before he pulled away, he pressed something into her hand and then leaned down and crushed his lips to her folded fingers for a long moment. So long, princess. Shed opened her hand and seen the cool glitter of his naval insignia like a little jeweled pin. As she fastened it to her lapel like a brooch, she warned herself again, Careful. Her mother spent all her time making a mug of herself over unsuitable men, and Osla was determined to be the apple who fell a long way from that tree. Someone came over, a scholarly type in an unraveling jumper, interrupting Oslas musings. Give me a hand, girls? I need this report . . . And he rattled off a series of numbers. Make him out a copy, dear, Miss Senyard directed, pulling the report, and Osla obeyed as the man nearly danced on his toes with impatience. Osla remembered red-haired Giles saying the Park was stuffed with Oxford dons and Cambridge chess champions, and wondered where he workedif he was one of the brainy ones working the middle stage of this process: taking the raw gibberish from German radio traffic, the stuff they were registering and logging, and breaking it apart until it was something that could be read, translated, analyzed, and filed in sections like this one. Thanks. The man flew off with his copied report, leaving Osla feeling both pleased and deflated, and she went back to binding and filing signals. She had absolutely no idea what had just happened, why that one report had been needed, and she never would know. That was all right; it was important to someone, and shed played her part . . . but there wasnt any doubt this job was a lot simpler than shed hoped for. The pace might have been frenetic, but anyone with a teaspoon of brains and a little attention to detail could bind and file. Dear Philip: Am I an ungrateful cow if Ive gone from wishing I could do more for the war than bang sheets of Dural, to wishing I could do more for the war than wield a punching machine? My jobs a yawn, so lets hear about yours, Osla told her billet-mate that night. Mab had just slipped in from the outdoor loo, and Osla lay across her narrow bed in slip and knickers, trying to get in a chapter of Vanity Fair before lights-out. Day onehow was it? Not bad. Mab stripped out of the robe shed donned to go downstairs, standing in her own slip and knickers. Cant say much more than that, can I? All this secrecy; are we even allowed to ask each other Hows work? Mabs slip was nylon and very worn. Osla, in peach silk with French lace inserts, remembered the girls of her deb season tittering about the poor girls, by which they meant the ones who wore the same frock twice in one week . . . shed watched Mab unpack exactly four dresses from her suitcase into their shared wardrobe, all perfectly pressed, and felt self-conscious unpacking more than four of her own. Mind you, Mab went on, picking up her hairbrush, I dont think our nosy landlady cares about secrecy. Did you see her pursing her lips over supper when we wouldnt answer every question? And good luck to anyone else trying to get a word in. Osla had tried to ask the washed-out daughter a thing or two, but the poor mouse hadnt uttered a peep around her mothers peppering questions. Osla still wasnt sure if the girls name was Beth or Bess. She wondered if she could get by with darling through the entire war. Ill tell you one thing about my hut. Mabs hair crackled as she stroked the brush vigorously through it. Its got my future husband in it somewhere. Ive never seen so many eligible bachelors in my life. Oooh. Glamour boys? I said eligible, not glamorous. Mab gave that grin of hers, the one that cracked the cool, guarded expression on her rather severe face and made her look like a pirate who had spotted a Spanish treasure galleon on the horizon. HMS Queen Mab, out to chase and board the unsuspecting bachelors of Bletchley Park, thought Osla. Anyone in your hut catch your eye? Oh, Im not looking for a fellow, Osla said airily. Dear Philip: Its a madhouse, and maybe my jobs a touch undemanding . . . but I think I like it here. Chapter 7 June 1940 If Bletchley Park had a motto, Mab thought, it would be You dinnae need to know. Are the other huts set up like this one? Mab asked as she was whisked through the central corridor of Hut 6. You dinnae need to know, said her new supervisor, a middle-aged woman with a crisp Scottish voice. Youre assigned to the Decoding Room . . . And she ushered Mab into a box of a place, all lino and blackout curtains, filing cabinets and wooden trestle tables. But it was the two machines that made Mab stare: awkward composite things bristling with three rows of keys, a set of wheels on one side, big spools of tape somehow attached. Mab thought they looked like a cross between a typewriter, a shop till, and a telephone switchboard. A woman sat hammering at one of the machines, hunched like Quasimodo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame had been number 34 on 100 Classic Literary Works for the Well-Read Lady). Miss Churt, is it? The Scotswoman led Mab to the unoccupied machine. Most of our girls are Newnham College or Girton College; where did you graduate? Claybourn secretarial course, top of my class. Take that, Girton College. Mab wasnt going to be embarrassed by her lack of schooling any more than she was going to be embarrassed by her nylon underwear in the face of Oslas French lace slips. I suppose it disnae matter, the Scotswoman said dubiously. This is your Typex machine. Its mocked up to decipher the encrypted messages the Germans send by radio to their officers in the field. Each service of the German armed forces sends those messages using a service-specific key, over their own wireless networks, and the settings of that key are changed daily. Our listening stations across Britain and abroad intercept these messages, transcribe them, and send them to BP. By the time they make their way to the Decoding Room, they are given to you as coded messages. She held up one finger. You will be given settings, a different setting for each keya second fingeryou will align your machine to those settingsa third fingerand you will punch the coded messages into the machine so they can be decoded into German. Do you understand? Not really. Yes, of course. Youll get an hour at noon for dinner, and there is a toilet block outside. This hut works round the clock, Miss Churt. Fourteen days on the nine-to-four, then fourteen days on the four-to-midnight, then twelve days on the midnight-to-nine. The Scotswoman bustled off to some other compartment of Hut 6. The girl at the other Typex machine, snail-hunched in a pebbly jumper, slid a stack of papers over as Mab took her seat. Thats the rest of the days Red, she said without preamble. Bit late today. The boys in Hut 3 get tetchy if we havent got it for them by breakfast. Heres the setting. She showed Mab how to fix up her Typex machine for decoding Red traffic: the order for the three wheels; then something she called the Ringstellung, rattling off numbers that each equated to a letter of the alphabet . . . Mab followed along, head swimming. Then a check to be sure the setups correct; set each of your three wheels to A and type out a keyboard alphabet. If it corresponds exactly letter for letter, youre ready to start. See? Not really. Yes, of course. Now you just bang through each message as fast as you can. Indicating the big spools of tape attached to the Typex. Type in the encrypted stuff, and itll feed out in plain-text letters. If it looks like German, pass it on. If it looks like rubbish, put it aside and one of the more experienced girls will take a second crack at it. I dont speak German You dont have to. Just recognize it. The tricky part is looking past the five-letter clumps everything is sorted into, but youll get the knack. Mab stared at the stack. Well never get through all of this. Up to a thousand messages a day in Red since France was overrun, the girl said, which made Mab feel no more confident. Slowly she picked up the first message. Blocks of letters: ACDOU LMNRS TDOPSon like that for a whole page. Mab looked at her partner, hunched over her own identical sheet of nonsensical five-letter groups, and wondered what Lucy was doing, back home. I shouldnt have left you for this, Luce. Youre alone with Mum in a city thats going to get bombed any day, and Im stuck in a hut typing ruddy nonsense. But there wasnt any use whining about it, so Mab squared her shoulders, typed a few letter groups that the other girl had said were the introduction and signatory, then began on the main message: ACDOU LMNRS TDOPS FCQPN YHXPZ . . . To her surprise, the letters came out different: KEINE BESON DEREN EREIG NISSE. Keine besonderen Ereignisse, said the girl to Mabs left. Youll see that one now and then. I know a bit of German by nowit means no special developments. Mab stared at the message. No special developments. So this message wasnt too important, then . . . or maybe it was. Maybe it came from an area where developments were expected. Maybe that was critical news. She kept typing, and the machine kept spitting out five-letter clumps of German until the end. What do we do with these when Write the final position of the wheels under the message setting, sign it, stick the original decrypt to it, and put it in that tray. Keep going through your stackthings will get slow later, but were in a rush now to get all the Red decoded. What is Red? If I can ask. Reds the key for German air force communications. Why Red? Mab asked, fascinated. A shrug. It was the colored pencil the boffins were using when they were first figuring out how to crack it. Weve also got Green, Blue, Yellowall different keys for different traffic. Who are the boffins? The brainy boys who make the initial breaks. They work out the setting for each cipherif they didnt, we wouldnt know how to set our machines to decode all the messages. Patting the Typexs three wheels. The Jerries change the settings every day, so every night shift as midnight ticks over, the boffins start all over again, figuring out the new setting for everysinglekey. How? Who knows? However they do it, we decode it and then it moves off to Hut 3 for translating and analysis. Mab supposed that was what the German-speaking girls like Osla did: take this mess of German in five-letter blocks and turn it into nice legible English reports. Air force communications, army communications, intercepted at distant listening stations (whatever those wereMab imagined men in headphones listening in on German radio channels, jotting Morse madly), then whirled through the various Bletchley huts so university boys could crack them open, so typing-pool girls like Mab could decode them, so bilingual girls like Osla could translate them. Like a conveyor belt at a factory. Were reading your post, Mab thought, picking up the next report. Take that, Herr Hitler. She hammered another message out on the Typex, taped and processed it, reached for another. By noon she had the knack of scanning those five-letter clumps, seeing which were rubbish and which were German. Her back hurt from curling into a C, her fingers were sore from hammering the stiff keys, but she was smiling. Look at me, she thought. Mabel from Shoreditch, decoding ruddy Nazi intelligence. Mum would never have believed it, even if Mab had been able to tell her. It was two more days before Mab got a look at the men her seatmate called the boffins. This box of pencils and supplies is for the boys in the next room. Miss Churt, take it over. Mab obeyed, dying for a look at the other denizens of Hut 6. Stalky, red-haired Giles Talbot answered her knock. Oh, its you! Divinely tall goddess Tennyson, she said, pleased to recognize the quote. He grinned up at her. Dont tell me you ended up in our ring of the Inferno, Miss Churt? Decoding Room, Mab answered, reflecting that it was strange to see Giles in trousers, not just white legs stuck all over with duckweed. Do make it Mab, not Miss Churt. If youll make it Giles, O faerie queene Spenser! And yes, I will. Mab handed the box of supplies over, looking around. Another stuffy room crammed with men hunched over desks, every surface heaped with scraps of paper, pencil stubs, and jumbled strips of letters. The fog of concentration in the room was as thick as the fug of cigarette smoke as the men muttered and scribbled. They looked like they were at the absolute end of their tether, like theyd fallen off another planet. But Mab would eat her hat if these werent the brainy boys who cracked the keys . . . and shed bet they were all Cambridge or Oxford boys, too. Her hopes rose. University degrees werent exactly thick on the ground in Shoreditch. Of course, a good university didnt mean a good man. Mab of all people knew that. She shoved that particular memory away before it could curdle her stomach into an icy ball, down, down, bloody go awayand smiled at the roomful of potential husbands. Just let one of you be nice as well as educated and gentlemanly, and I will make you the best bloody wife you ever dreamed of. Whats a girl to do for fun round here when shifts over? Mab asked Giles with a dazzling smile. There are more recreation clubs here than you can shake a stick at. Highland dancing, chess Im not one for reels or game boards. Do you like books? Osla Kendall and I are starting a literary society Love a good yarn. Im your man. Maybe you are, thought Mab, who had made up the literary society on the spot. Not the lure shed have used for the lads back home, but in this crowd . . . First meeting Sunday next. Bring the boys. She aimed another smile round the room and went back to her Typex. Im knackered, Osla groaned when Sunday next finally arrived. The works not hard, but every day it feels like the pace doubles. My hut, too. If it had been peacetime, the frenetic rate of the work would have given Mab thoughts of transferring elsewhere, but with a war on, all you could do was grit your teeth. She reached up to fluff her hair. Forget the work for a night. Its time for fun. The Shoulder of Mutton inn was to host the first meeting of the Bletchley Park Literary SocietyGiles said their fish and chips werent to be missed, and after Mrs. Finchs leaden stews, fish and chips sounded like heaven. I nabbed a fellow for tonights meeting, by the wayjust for you. Osla too sounded like she was determinedly putting her very long week behind her, along with the war and everything else unpleasant. Hes Hut 8, simply scrumptious. The tallest thing youve ever seen; positively made for a six-foot wife. You wont be stuck in flats your entire life. I dont mind men who are shorter than me. I mind men who are touchy about being shorter than me. What about Giles, then? Hes too much the jester to get in a wax about anything, much less tall women. Something tells me hes the bachelor type . . . well see after tonight. Mab grinned. The nice thing about meeting men here is that they cant drone about what they do. They actually have to talk about books or the weather Or, God forbid, ask you a question or two about yourself. Osla grinned back, swinging her crocodile handbag. Are you heading chez Finch first to change? Yes, red print frock. Youll look slap-up. I dont think Ill bother changing, just nip straight there all scruffy and ink stained, and no one will look at me when you swan in. Osla could roll in a gutter and still everyone would look at her, Mab thought. Even at the end of a very long shift, she looked rumpled and adorable rather than frazzled and exhausted. It should have been easy to resent Osla, but Mab couldnt quite manage it. How could you resent a girl who scouted men over six feet tall for another girls husband pool? There you are, Mrs. Finch greeted Mab as she came into the scrubbed kitchen. Working on a Sunday, I see. No rest when theres a war on, Mrs. F. Mab tried to slide past, but Mrs. Finch blocked her way. Now why wont you just give us a hint what you do? she said with a little laugh. What do you all get up to behind those gates, my goodness Really, its too boring to talk about. You can trust me! Mrs. Finch was clearly not giving up. Her voice was cozy, but her eyes had a certain gleam. Just a hint. Ill dole you a bit extra from the sugar ration. No, thank you, Mab said coldly. Such a careful one. Mrs. Finch patted her arm, gleam in the eye hardening, but she moved out of the way. Mab rolled her eyes at the retreating back, not realizing until she heard the nearly inaudible voice that Mrs. Finchs colorless daughter was sitting in the corner of the kitchen, shelling peas. You should just tell Mother something. She wont be satisfied till she knows. Mab looked at the other girl. Hardly a girl; she was twenty-four and she volunteered with the Womens Voluntary Services when she wasnt being run off her feet by her motherbut she gave the impression of a girl, with that colorless skin that showed every wash of emotion and those eyes that never rose from the floor. Mab couldnt help a flash of annoyance. Im not here to satisfy your mothers curiosity, Bess. The girl flushed dull red. Beth, she said almost inaudibly. She sat shoulders rounded, like a puppy whose cringing practically invited a certain kind of person to give a good kick. As she carried the shelled peas to the counter, Mab could see the outline of a paperback hidden in her skirt pocket. Done with Vanity Fair yet? Beth flinched, fiddling with her plaits stringy ends. You didnt tell Mother, did you? Oh, for Mab swallowed some less than polite words. A woman of twenty-four should not be apologizing to her mother about a library habit. Grow a spine, Mab wanted to say. While youre at it, put a lemon rinse on that hair and try looking people in the eye. If there was anything Mab couldnt stand, it was limp women. The women in her own family were hardly perfectin fact, most of them were flint-hard cowsbut at least they werent limp. Beth sat back down at the kitchen table. Shed probably sit here the rest of the night until her mother told her to go to bed. Get your coat, Beth, Mab heard herself saying. W-what? Get your coat while I change. Youre coming to the first meeting of the Bletchley Park Literary Society. Chapter 8 The Shoulder of Mutton reared its thatched head at Buckingham and Newton roads, the bar cozy and bright, the private sitting room low beamed and inviting. It was everything Beth feared about social gatherings: tight quarters, loud noises, cigarette smoke, fast conversation, strange people, and men. Anxiety choked her throat, and she couldnt stop fiddling with the end of her plait like it was a lifeline. you billet here, Giles? someone was asking the lanky red-haired man. Blimey, you got lucky. Dont I know it, Mrs. Bowdens a gem. Not much bothered by rationing; I swear shes queen of the local black market. Weve got the private room, get your drinks . . . Beth found herself clutching a sherry she didnt dare sip. What if her mother smelled liquor on her breath? Swig that down, Mab advised. W-what? Beth was eyeing the group piling around the table. Osla, laughing as an army lieutenant lit her cigarette . . . several gangling academic sorts gawping at Mab like puppies . . . red-haired Giles and a truly massive black-haired man who had to duck under the rafter . . . all of them worked at the mysterious Bletchley Park, so what was Beth doing here? She didnt know what to make of these peoplesome looked so shabby in their patched tweeds that her mother might have taken them for tramps, but they talked in such overeducated drawls she could hardly understand a word they said. Relax, Mab said. She had a glass of beer, and shed thrown one leg over the other in casually elegant fashion. Were only here to talk books. I shouldnt be here, Beth whispered. Its a literary society, not a bordello. I cant stay. Beth set her sherry down. My mother will pitch a fit. So? Its her house, her rules, and I Its your house, too. And really, its your fathers house! Beths words dried up. Impossible to explain how slight a presence her father really was in the Finch household. He never put his foot down. He wasnt that kind of husband, that kind of father. The finest of men, Beths mother always said smugly when other women in the village complained of overbearing husbands. I cant stay, Beth repeated. The greatest tyrants over women are women, Mab quoted. Have you read that far in Vanity Fair? She arched one brow, then addressed the men across the table. So, shall we vote on a book every month? How shall we tally up Popular vote, one of the skinny academics was saying. Or the ladies will have us all reading romantic tosh Romantic tosh? Osla demanded, squashing in on Beths left. The last thing I read was Vanity Fair! Thats about girls, isnt it? Giles objected. Its written by a man, so thats all right, Mab said tartly. Why do you men get the swithers if you have to read anything written by a female? Osla wondered. Arent we a century out from poor Charlotte Bront? signing herself Currer Bell to get published? Fish and chips arrived, leaking grease. Beth didnt dare touch hers, any more than the sherry. Nice girls did not eat in public houses; nice girls did not smoke or drink or argue with men . . . Oslas a nice girl, Beth thought, marshaling arguments for later. Nothing Mab did was going to find approval with Mrs. Finch, but Osla was another story. Shes been presented at court; you cant say she isnt a lady, Mother! And here Osla was crunching up chunks of fried cod, swilling sherry, and arguing with Giles about Lewis Carrolls Through the Looking-Glass, obviously having a grand time. Somehow Beth didnt think that argument was going to weigh much with her mother, either. Mrs. Finch wasnt going to care about anything except that Beth had gone out, without permission. I vote for Conan Doyle, the huge dark-haired man on Beths right was saying. Who doesnt like Sherlock Holmes? Youve already read everything Doyle ever wrote, Harry . . . He didnt look like a Harry, Beth thought, trying not to stare at the man. He wasnt just enormousnearly a head taller even than Mab; broad enough hed nearly turned sideways through the doorbut he was black haired and swarthy, almost dark skinned. Beth could imagine the village ladies whispering, Is he a wog or an Eyetie? but he didnt sound like a foreigner. He had exactly the same university drawl as the rest. Maltese, Arab, and Egyptian, he said, catching Beths eye. She flinched. What? My fathers family is originally from Malta, my mother was born to an Egyptian diplomat and the daughter of a banker from Baghdad. He grinned. Dont be embarrassed; everyone wants to know. Im Harry Zarb, by the way. You speak English very well, she managed to reply. Well, my branch of the familys been London based for three generations, I was baptized Church of England, then went through Kings College in Cambridge like my father and grandfather before me, so . . . be rather embarrassing if I didnt speak English well. IIm so sorry, Beth whispered, mortified. Look like me and everyone thinks you were born in a tent on a sand dune. He shrugged, but Beth was too embarrassed to answer. She let the talk pass over her head, reaching for the newspaper abandoned at the next table and turning for the crossword. It was half obliterated by grease stains but she fell into it gratefully, doing it up with a pencil stub. You went through that like a Derby winner, Osla laughed, but Beth just stared down at her feet. Would this night never be over? ONE LOOK AT her mother, sitting at the kitchen table with her Bible, two bright spots of color flaring in her cheeks, and Beth shriveled down to her bones. Now, you mustnt put yourself in a pucker, Mrs. F, Osla attempted with her winning smile as they filed into the kitchen. Its not Beths fault We dragged her out, Mab added. Really Hadnt you better get to bed, girls? Mrs. Finch looked at the kitchen clock. Lights out in twenty. There wasnt anything the other two could do but go upstairs. Mrs. Finchs nose twitched at the smells of cigarette smoke, beer, sherry. Im sorry, Mother Beth began, but that was all she managed to say as her mother seized her arm. The whole village will be talking. Did you think about that? Mrs. Finch didnt shout, she spoke sorrowfully. That made it so much worse. The ingratitude, Bethan. The disgrace. She held out her Bible, open to Deuteronomy. If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them Mother Did you think that didnt apply to daughters? They shall say to the elders of the city, This daughter of ours is stubborn and rebellious, she will not obey us, she is a glutton and a drunkard I didnt drink a drop Mrs. Finch shook her head sadly, holding out the Bible. Beth took the heavy book and held it straight out, tear-blurred eyes fixed on the page of Deuteronomy. The longest shed ever had to hold it up was thirty agonizing minutes. Surely it being so late, Mother wouldnt Youve disappointed me, Bethan. A hard pinch to the inside of Beths arm as the Bible began to droop, then the gentle disapproval flowed on. Beth had behaved shamefully. She had disgraced her mother, who took care of her when she was too slow-witted and head-in-the-sky to look after herself. Beth was lucky shed never marry and have children, so shed never know how they broke your heart . . . Fifteen minutes later, Beth was hiccupping with sobs, tears dripping off her hot cheeks, arms shaking and burning with the effort to keep the book level with her eyes. Of course I forgive you, Bethan. You may lower the Bible. A pat instead of a pinch to Beths arm as she dropped the book. This is bringing on one of my headaches . . . Beth flew teary eyed for a cold cloth, a footstool. It was half an hour before she was allowed to go to bed. Her arms hung loose as noodles, muscles aflame. Finally daring to massage the tender flesh inside her elbowMrs. Finch had strong fingers; they pinched so hardBeth reached the first landing and heard voices through Osla and Mabs door. poor Beth, Osla was saying. She could grow a spine, Mab responded tartly. If my mother went at me like that at my age, Id dish it right back. Shes not you, Queen Mab. Ive never seen anybody so perfectly, hopelessly Fanny Price in my life. Mab made an inquiring noise. You know, the dishrag heroine in Mansfield Park, who goes about looking like a dogs dinner and raining on everyones fun? Dont tell me you havent read Austen Beth didnt wait to hear any more. Tears sliding from her eyes all over again, cheeks burning with dull humiliation, she stumbled into her bedroom. How idiotic, how pathetic, thinking that because the Bletchley Park girls threw her a few nice words like a bone to a dog, they actually liked her in the slightest. Even more idiotic and pathetic to think that just because the redbrick mansion down the road had become a hive of wartime activity, life would change. Nothing for Beth was going to change, ever. Chapter 9 June rolled into July, and Osla was dying for a project. Work in German naval section might have carried on at a frenetic pace, but it was about as intellectually taxing as noughts and crosses. I need a challenge, Osla thought, yawning as she helped Miss Senyard notate unknown German codes to be passed up the ladder for identification. Or at least I will when Im back on days . . . The nine-to-four shift wasnt bad, but when the shift change rolled around to the four-to-midnight, Osla had to fight to keep herself from falling in the dismals. It was one thing to trip home after midnight because youd splashed out at the Caf? de Paris. It was quite another to fall into bed at one in the morning after a night spent making preparations for when the enemy invaded. There are plans to organize a mobile section of GC and CS, Miss Senyard told her girls, quite matter-of-factly. Those members of German naval section chosen will be supplied with special passports in preparation for hasty departure. So they can bunk off into the hills and keep up the fight once the Germans have taken over here, Osla thought with a sick twist of her stomach. Until now shed been able to contemplate her countrys takeover in the abstract, a black cloud on the horizonbut to see practical preparations being made for the day German tanks came rolling through Bletchley village . . . If Miss Senyards announcement had come during day shift, Osla might have been able to toss her head in defiance: We will never need a mobile GC and CS to flee into the hills, because youll never pull this invasion off, Herr Hitler. Youll have to run your tanks over my dead body and the dead bodies of everyone else in Britain first. But in the eerie, stuffy blackness of night, Miss Senyards announcement and its implications seeped into Oslas bones like poison. If documents were being issued and orders passed down, it was fairly obvious Germany would be invading very soon. Dear Philip: If you stop getting my letters . . . At least were not on night shifts yet, one of her fellow indexers yawned, noting Oslas long silence. The brainy boys work a midnight-to-nine shift too, because the Jerries change all the cipher settings at midnight. I wonder how they do itbreak the ciphers. Osla wondered if she could learn to do it herself, get a transfer from filing and binding to something more taxing. Something to keep her mind from the invasion. Not that one would ever ask; you just know Commander Denniston would have you dragged out behind the mansion and shot. But one cant help wondering. They must be fearfully clever fellows. Not only fellows. The answer surprised Osla. Theres a whole clutch of girls in Knoxs section, that little outbuilding by the stable block? The harem, they call it, because Knox only recruits women. Let me guesstheyre all slap-up lookers, and none over twenty. Osla wasnt eager for that kind of transfer, much as she wanted more useful work. No, its not like that. Hinsley was raving a month ago how Knox poached a German-speaking girl he wanted for our section, a girl named Janewell, Ive seen Jane and shes got a bill like a duck. No one trying to stack his office with lookers would pick her. Shes brainy, though. The brainy girls go to Dilly Knox. No idea what they do. That was the thing about the Park; gossip ran fluid as a river, but no one knew anything for certain. Midnight had descended black and cloudless as Osla yawned her way out of Hut 4. Codebreakers and linguists were fleeing for home and bed, as another stream of rumpled academics and girls in crepe frocks trudged in on the dreaded night shift already looking absolutely knackered. If Mrs. F knocks on our door at six in the morning again, Ill pitch a fit, Mab grumbled, sauntering to join Osla. I need my beauty sleep tonight. Im going for lunch with Andrew Kempton before tomorrows shift. Is that the third man asking for a date, Queen Mab? Fourth. Mab didnt sound smug, just matter-of-fact. He was born in Whitstable, read German philosophy at Cambridge, no parents Feel his withers and examine his teeth while youre at it. Are you taking a dead set at the delicious Harry Zarb, too? Hes married, Mab said, regretful. At least he dropped that in right away. Most men only tell you theyre married after trying to get a bit of the old you-know. Married, what a shame. You two would have had the worlds tallest children. All the marriage talk made Osla think of the perennial spinster in the Finch household, and the lurking desire for a project reappeared after the nights horrified preoccupation with the German invasion. We need to do something about Beth. The Dread Mrs. Finch has her thoroughly nobbled. You cant help people if they wont help themselves. She wont even look us in the eye since the literary society meeting. Osla was quite certain, after that night two weeks ago, that shed seen bruises all over the inside of Beths arm. The kind made by strong, pinching fingers targeting the sensitive skin inside the elbow, like a bird pecking at the tenderest part of a plum. Introducing a little fizz and fun into Beths life without putting her mother in a puckernow, that was a project worth tackling. Osla and Mab were rounding the corner through Bletchley village, walking down the center of the road to avoid the muddy ruts on the verge, when a set of headlights reared behind them. Osla shrieked and leaped into a bush, and Mab staggered and fell into a deep rut. The car ground to a halt, the drivers door flying open. Are you all right? A man came round the bonnet, his shadowed shape hatless and stocky. By the flare of the cars headlights, he lifted Osla easily out of the bush. I didnt see you till I rounded the bend. Partly our fault, Osla said, getting her breath back. Mab Stiffly, her friend picked herself up. Osla winced. Even in the indirect glare of the masked headlights, she could see that Mabs crisp cotton print was mud from collar to hem. Reaching down, Mab slipped her left shoe off and examined the snapped heel, and Osla saw her face crumple in the shadows. Every night she watched Mab polish those cheap shoes before bed, no matter how tired she was, to give them a Bond Street shine. Im sure we can fix it, Osla began, but Mabs crumpled expression vanished. She drew back and hurled the broken shoe straight into the chest of the man whod nearly run them off the road. What are you doing taking a turn at that speed, you bloody bastard! she bellowed. Are you blind, you stupid bugger? Clearly, the man said, barely catching the shoe. He stood half a head shorter than Mab, a shock of russet hair falling over his forehead as he shaded his eyes to look at her. My apologies. We were walking in the middle of the road, Osla pointed out, but Mab stood on her one shod foot in the mud and let the stranger have it. He let it rain down, expression more admiring than horrified. Blew your tire, Mab finished with a withering look. Guess youll have to get down in the mud and change it out. Would if I could, he replied. Ill just leave the car and head for the station. Are there any trains this late? Mab folded her arms, cheeks still scarlet with indignation. Easier to put the spare on, if youve got a kit. Havent a clue how. Mab slipped out of her other shoe, whizzed it into his hands, marched in her stocking feet through the mud to the cars boot, and hurled it open. Have my shoes properly mended, and Ill change your ruddy tire. Deal. He looked on, grinning, as Mab began yanking out tools. How do you know how to change a blinking tire? Osla wondered. I havent the foggiest. A brother who works in a garage. Mab rolled up her skirt at the waist to keep it out of the mud. Her flat stare promised the stranger slow, painful death if he ogled her legs. Have you got a torch? Shine it over so I can see what Im doing. He deposited Mabs ruined shoes on the bonnet and switched on his torch, still grinning. You two are BP workers? Osla smiled politely, not answering that question on an open road. Are you, Mr. . . . ? Gray. And no. Im in one of the London offices. Intelligence, Osla thought, approving of his vagueness. Or Foreign Office. I was running some information to Commander Denniston personally, from my own boss. He was late getting me a reply, hence the midnight drive. Osla offered a hand; he shook it over the beam of the torch. Osla Kendall. Thats Mab Churt, cursing at your tire. Ill need help winching up the car. Mabs irate voice floated up. Not you, Osno sense both of us ruining our stockings. Osla watched as Mr. Gray lent a hand. He stayed to lug the spare through the dark and pass a few more tools, until Mab snapped, Youre in my way, now; just hold the torch. Pity you dont work at BP instead of London, Mr. Gray, Osla said as he straightened. Hard to tell in the dark, but he looked thirty-six or thirty-seven, his face broad and calm and creased with smile lines. We need more fellows in our literary society. Literary society? He had a country voice, soft midland vowels. He spoke to Osla, but he was watching Mab do something incredibly capable to the spare tire. I thought you BP girls were all maths-and-crosswords types. Something niggled at the back of Oslas mind. Something about crosswords . . . There. Mab straightened, pushing her hair off her muddy cheek. That should get you to London, Mr. Gray, then you can get the other patched. Her eyebrows lifted. Ill expect my shoes back good as new. You have my word, Miss Churt. He shouldered his blown tire so he could sling it into the boot. I dont want to be found dead in a gutter. Mab nodded grudgingly, turning to look at Osla. Coming, Os? You go, Osla said as Mr. Gray nodded farewell in the dark and slipped back into his car. The bit about crosswords had dropped in her head with a click. Ive had an absolutely topping idea. She hadnt been back inside the mansion since her first day; even at midnight, it hummed like a beehive with exhausted men in their shirtsleeves. Osla couldnt get in to see Commander Denniston, but red-haired Giles was in the conservatory flirting with a typist, and Osla nipped her hand through his arm. Giles, dyou know if Dennistons still recruiting? Crikey, yes. The rate traffics mounting, they cant vet people fast enough. I remember hearing something about crosswords . . . Theres a theory that crossword types, maths types, and chess-playing types are good at our sort of work. Personally I think its bollocks. I certainly cant tell a rook from a bishop Osla cut him off. My landladys daughter is an absolute whiz at crosswords. That mousy little thing you brought to the Shoulder of Mutton? Are you mad, you dim-witted deb? Her name is Beth Finch. And dont call me that. Osla remembered how fast Beth had finished the newspaper crossword at the pub. Osla Kendall, not only are you not a dim-witted deb, you are a genius. Because maybe what Beth needed was a peroxide rinse, a new dress in the latest go, and a date with an airman or two, but she wasnt going to get any of those things if she never got out of the house. Even sitting behind a typewriter or binding signals on night shift had to be better than toiling for the Dread Mrs. Finch until the Nazis came goose-stepping into Bletchley. Take a puck, Giles, and put in a word with Denniston. Beths going to fit right in at Bletchley Park. Chapter 10 August 1940 Youll do. Beth stared in utter horror. Were you worried, Miss Finch? The tired-looking manPaymaster Commander Bradshaw, as hed introduced himself at the start of Beths interviewstamped something on the file in front of her. Its not all Oxford graduates here, you know. Your background came in clean as a Sunday wash, and being a local girl, we wont have to billet you. Start tomorrow; youll be on the day shift. Youll need to sign this . . . Beth didnt even hear the dire imprecations of the Official Secrets Act as they were rattled off. They werent supposed to take me, she thought in a blur of panic. It had never occurred to her that Bletchley Park would hire her, even when the summons came a week ago. It only says to present myself for an interview, Beth had reassured her mother, who had slit Beths letter open when it arrived and demanded explanations. Shed present herself as called, but the Park wouldnt have any use for her. Far too stupid, she thought, wondering how theyd got her name at all. And the interview, conducted in a muggy back room behind the redbrick mansions staircase, had seemed utterly routine: questions about typing and filing, which Beth couldnt do; education, which Beth didnt have; and foreign languages, which Beth didnt speak. She whispered one-word answers, mind half on the strange things shed seen while trudging up to the mansion: a man cycling through the gates wearing a gas mask as though he expected an attack any moment; four men and two women playing rounders on the lawn . . . Even as she walked up the drive, Beth had already been relieved at the thought of going home and telling her mother it was all over. Then, suddenly: Youll do. S-surely theres a mistake, she managed to stammer. But Mr. Bradshaw was shoving a pen at her. Sign the Act, please. Dazed, Beth signed. Excellent, Miss Finch. Now for your permanent pass Mr. Bradshaw broke off as a commotion resonated outside. Good Lord, these codebreakers are worse than quarreling cats. Out the door he went. Beth blinked. Codebreakers?! Following him out toward the entrance, she saw a weary-looking gentleman in shirtsleeves addressing a grizzled professorial type who was limping up and down the oak-paneled hallDilly, old thing, do stop roaring. No, I will not, roared the man with the limp. To Beth he looked like the White Knight in Through the Looking-Glass, which Osla and Mab were reading for the first literary society book pick: long, gangling, faintly comical, eyes snapping behind horn-rimmed spectacles. Denniston, I wont have my work passed off half-done Dilly, you havent got the personnel, and you keep turning down the new ones I send you. I dont want a yard of Wrens all looking the same We havent even got any Wrens and I dont want any debutantes in pearls whose daddies got them into BP because they knew someone at the Admiralty This one might do, Dilly, Mr. Bradshaw interrupted, and Beth shrank as every eye in the hall turned to her. I was going to put her into administration, but you might give her a trial first if youre shorthanded. Eh? The White Knight turned with a glare. His eyes behind the glasses raked Beth, and she stood frozen. Youre good with languages? No. Beth had never felt so shy, slow, stilted, and stuck in her life. From Commander Dennistons grateful glance at Bradshaw, she knew perfectly well this was a diversionchucking her into the line of fire to avert further shouting. Her face burned. What about linguistics? Literature? the White Knight fired off. Even maths? No. Then for some reason, Beth whispered, IIm good at crosswords. Crosswords, eh? Peculiar. He pushed his glasses further up his nose. Come along. Miss Finch hasnt got her official pass yet Has she signed the Act? Let her start. As long as you can shoot her if she blabs, who cares about the pass? Beth nearly fainted. Im Dilly Knox. Come with me, the White Knight said over his shoulder, and led her through the looking glass. What is this place? Trailing after Mr. Knox as he limped out of the mansion toward what appeared to be a converted stable block, Beth couldnt stop Lewis Carroll from chaining together in her whirling head. Her brain did that sometimes, went flashing down an association and kept linking others to it to make a pattern. Glancing up at the bronze-faced clock mounted on the half-timbered upper tower, she wouldnt have been surprised to see the hands running backward. Why hadnt Osla and Mab warned her? But they couldnt say anything; theyd signed an oath . . . and now, so had Beth. Whatever happened here now, she wasnt going to be able to tell her mother a thing. Her stomach swooped. Mother is going to be furious. Beyond the old stable yard was a compact single-storied block: three brick cottages joined together in a single whitewashed unit, with two doors. Mr. Knox struck open the rightmost. We work here, he said, beckoning Beth through a corridor. Its like a great factory, the rest of BP. Heres where we do proper cryptography. Cryptography, Beth thought. I now do cryptography. There was no Wonderland inside the desk-crammed, chalk-dusty room where he led her, just five or six women hard at workshort and tall, pretty and plain, looking as young as eighteen or as old as thirty-five in their jumpers and skirts. None looked up. Were you shouting at Denniston again, Dilly? an older woman with straw-fair hair asked. I was sweet as a lamb. I told him just last week that he couldnt Dilly darling, no. The woman was manipulating a set of cardboard strips in a pattern Beth couldnt follow. You didnt tell Denniston anything last week. Didnt I? He scratched his head, all his earlier rage seemingly dissipated. I rather thought last week one had said the right thing . . . One hasnt said anything before today. One hasnt spoken to Denniston at all for two weeks. The straw-haired woman exchanged smiles with the younger girls. That would explain why he looked so puzzled. Mr. Knox shrugged, turning back to Beth. Meet my ladies. He gestured to the room. Dillys Fillies, they call em at the mansion. Utter rot, but around here, if it rhymes, it sticks. Ladies, meet He looked at Beth. Did you tell me your name? Beth Finch Ladies, Beth Finch. Shes . . . He trailed off, patting his pockets. Where are my glasses? On your head, at least three of the women said, without looking up. He located his spectacles and draped them over his nose. Take a desk, he said, waving at Beth. Have you got a pencil? Were breaking codes. He flung himself down at a desk by a window, fumbling for a tin of tobacco and seemingly forgetting Beths existence. Most of the girls went right on working as though this were a perfectly normal state of affairs, but the small woman with the straw-fair hair rose, extending a hand. Peggy Rock. One of the older women, thirty-five or thirty-six, a plain face that sparkled with intelligence. Ill show you the ropes. Thats Dillwyn Alfred Knox, she said, pointing to the White Knight, and he was breaking German codes back in the FourteenEighteen War. Dillys team here researches the stuff that has to be lockpicked rather than brute-force assembly-lined through the other huts. Right now were working the Italian naval Enigma Whats Enigma? Beth said, utterly bewildered. The machine the enemy uses to encrypt most of their military traffic, Peggy said. Italians and Germans, naval traffic and air traffic and army traffic, and every cipher has a different setting. The machine has, well, lets just say a dizzying number of setting combinations, and the settings change every day, so that should make whatever they encrypt with Enigma unbreakable. She gave a small smile. Not as unbreakable as they think. Did Osla know all this? Beth wondered. Did Mab? We tend to get a bit more of the big picture here than the others at BP, Peggy added as if reading her mind. Theyre such fiends for compartmentalization heremost people just see the bit in front of them, and maybe they put a bit together from what they see going in and out of the other huts, but thats all Utter rot. Dillys voice floated from his desk. I want my girls to have a large, unhampered range. You benefit from seeing the whole picture, not bits and pieces of it. Why? Beth asked. Because we do the tricky part. Peggy Rock spread her hands. The traffic gets registered and logged elsewhere, and once its broken it gets translated and analyzedbut we do the important bit in the middle. The prying-it-all-open bit, every message individually. We use a technique called rodding to identify the start position of the message as seen through the window indicator setting. Let me show you I wont understand it, Beth blurted out. Im not clever, you understand? I cant do Rodding. Cryptography. This. Her chest was tight; her breath heaved; the walls pulsed around her. It paralyzed her to stray even a few steps outside her usual routine, and here was a whole new world. Any moment now she was going to panic. Ill hold you back, she insisted, close to tears. Im too stupid. Really? Peggy Rock looked at her calmly, fanning out a handful of those curious cardboard strips like a winning hand of cards. Who told you that? Chapter 11 I miss you, Os. I miss you a shocking lot, to be honest. Philips handwriting was clear, no flourishes. Seeing it always made Oslas heart thump. Shut up, heart, she scolded. Mrs. Fs really having a go. Mab was eavesdropping unashamedly downstairs, head poked into the dark landing. Beths first shift at Bletchley Park had been today, right after her interview, and Mrs. Finch had been twitching. Now Beth was back, not that they could hear her. Just her mother s insistent voice, quoting something from the Bible about For son treats father contemptuously, daughter rises up against her mother Should we pop down? Osla looked up from the bed where she was curled rereading Philips old letters. Interject various patriotic things like Let your daughter work, you meddling cow, theres a war on? Well only make things worse, Mab said. Mrs. Fs on Ezekiel now. Gnawing her lip, Osla turned back to Philips salt-stained letter from May. Being transferred to the Kent when I was just getting used to the Ramillies; that was a bit of a letdown. None of the ratings here are all that keen on having royalty aboard, even third-rate royalty like me. You should have seen the eyes rolling when I first came on. Whisper is were off to hunt for some action soon. Dont worry, darling girl He hadnt seen any action with the Kent, but now he was being transferred again, to her sister shipwho knew where it would take him? Osla shivered. U-boat wolf packs roaming the sea, and of course he'd want to charge right into the thick . . . Here she comes, Mab whispered as Beths footsteps came up the stairs. Osla slid off the bed, tucking Philips letter into her copy of Through the Looking-Glass. When Beth appeared on the landing, Osla and Mab whisked her into their room and shut the door. Well? Osla checked Beths armsno bruises, thank goodness. Your mother cant refuse, surely! You know, I thought it might take longer when I put your name in. Sometimes the vetting takes weeks So you did recommend me. Beths voice was flat. Yes. Osla smiled. I thought you might need an excuse to get out of the house You thought. Osla had never heard Beth interrupt anyone, but she cut Osla off now. Her cheeks flared scarlet. You know what I think? I think I wanted to be left alone. I think I want my mother not to be angry with me, or make me hold the Bible up for twenty minutes. What I dont want is a job with strange people doing work I dont understand. We were just as lost the first few weeks, Mab reassured. Youll get the hang of it. We were just trying to You want me to grow a spine. Beths imitation of Mabs voice was savage. But maybe you two should have thought that somebody like mesomeone perfectly, hopelessly Fanny Pricewould have been happy to stay home where she belongs. She whirled out of the room. Her bedroom door banged a moment later. Mab and Osla looked at each other, stunned. I should have asked before I put her name up. Osla sank down on the bed. I shouldnt have stuck my nose in. You didnt mean to boss her about like her mother does? Mab sighed. Dear Philip, Osla thought. I have, if you will pardon the phrase, made a royal muff of things. Chapter 12 September 1940 Hallo, can we sit here? Two weeks ago, Beth would have jumped out of her skin. Now she felt so weary and low, all she did was nod at the two young men who joined her table in the mansion dining hall. I know you. The massively built fellow with the black hair paused as he set down his tray. You were at the first meeting of the Mad Hatters. . . . What? The literary society. We did Through the Looking-Glass, and at the second meet-up, Giles brought bread and margarine, moaning how Alice at least got butter when she had tea with the Mad Hatter. Weve been the Mad Hatters Tea Party ever since. Less pompous than the BP Literary Society. The black-haired fellow snapped his fingers. You were only at the first meet-up, werent you? Dont tell me . . . Beth Finch. A grin. Im good with names. Beth managed some kind of smile, pushing her food around her plate. It was two thirty in the morning, middle of night shift, and the converted dining room smelled of Brylcreem, stale fat, and kidneys on toast. All around, night-shift workers were grabbing seats, some half-asleep, some bright eyed and joking as if this were midday break at any ordinary job. Beths stomach still wasnt used to cafeteria-style cooking, and after nearly a month her skin should have stopped prickling when she was surrounded by strangers, but it just wouldnt. Mr.Zarb? she managed to say as he and his friend slung in opposite. Call me Harry. This is Alan, he added, indicating the young man beside him, who stared at the ceiling as he munched. Alan Turing. We all call him the Prof, because hes such a clever bugger . . . Everyone here seemed to go by nicknames or first names. Everyone here seemed eccentric, toolook at Mr. Turing (Beth couldnt bring herself to think of a man shed just met as either Alan or the Prof), with an ancient tie holding up his flannel trousers instead of a belt. These kidneys are abysmal, Harry Zarb went on cheerfully. Not fit for a dog. If my son were here, hed say we need to get a dog, so the kidneys wouldnt go to waste. All conversational roads lead to requests for a puppy, at least in my house Beth had always wanted a dog, but Mother wouldnt hear of it. Fleas . . . I saw you headed into the Cottage yesterday, Harry went on, addressing Beth. Knoxs section? You must be a clever one. Dilly only takes the brainy girls for his harem Beth burst into tears. Steady on Harry fumbled for a handkerchief. Im sorry, I shouldnt have said harem. No one means anything off-color by it. Dillys a good chap Excuse me, Beth sobbed, and ran out of the room. Bletchley Park at night might have been the dark side of the moon: every hut window blacked out to block the smallest chink of light. Beth fumbled her way across the lawn, tripped over a wooden bat left over from someones afternoon rounders game, and finally just stopped, worn out to the bone. It was exhausting, spending your day being stupid. Over three weeks shed been working at the Cottage: staring at blocks of Enigma code, trying to manipulate her cardboard rods the way shed been shown, trying to make sense of the nonsense. Hour after hour, day after day. Beth knew she was a dolt, but youd think with three weeks of solid concentration she might achieve something. There was something on the other side of the curtain of code, she could feel it, but she couldnt get there. She was stymied. Thoroughly dished, darling, as Osla would have drawled. Utterly nobbled. Completely graveled. Youre obsessing too much, Peggy Rock had said. Think of it as a word game. I dont understand it You dont really have to. Doing this work is a bit like driving a car without having a clue whats under the bonnet. Just have at it. Peggy had been very encouraging; so were all the other girls. But they had their own mountain of work; none of them could stand looking over Beths shoulder all day. They sat with their crib charts and Italian dictionaries, flipping lettered rods about, and periodically someone would say something inexplicable like Got a beetle here . . . , and someone else would say, Ive got a starfish, and send Beth even deeper into despair. Its all Greek to me, she burst out her first week, and Dilly Knox had chortled, Mdear, I wish it were! Hes a distinguished scholar of ancient Greek, Peggy whispered, also laughing, and Beth shriveled in her chair. Dilly was very kind, but he got so wrapped up in his own work that he barely seemed to know where he was, much less anyone else. The only reason Beth could think why she hadnt been sacked by now was because everyone was too busy to realize what a dismal flop she was. And then to go home every single day and face her mother, so hurt she wouldnt even speak to Beth, even when Beth turned over her entire Bletchley Park salary as Mother insisted . . . You have no idea what youre doing to her, Dad had said yesterday, shaking his head. Osla and Mab were giving Beth a wide berth; Beth flinched when she remembered how shed hissed at them, but she wasnt sorry. Osla shouldnt have meddled. Beth Finch didnt belong here, and that was a fact. Im packing it in, she thought. Tomorrow. Three weeks ago she wouldnt have dreamed of marching up to the imposing Christmas-cake fa?ade of the mansion and resigning, but now she knew she could screw up the courage. Only a few girls were inside the Cottage when Beth slipped back insidemost worked days alongside Dilly. Sliding out of her cardigan, Beth sank behind her desk looking at the mess of paper slips. The thing about the Enigma machine, Peggy had said (though Beth hadnt even seen an Enigma machine), is that its got a great big gap we can exploit. You press the A key on the keyboard, an electrical current passes through the three wheels and a reflector, which sends the current back through the wheels and lights up the bulb of a different alphabet letter on the lampboardA scrambles out as, say, F. Press the A key again, and another current goes through, and this time it scrambles out as Y. Theres no direct equivalent, A wont always equal FA always comes out different; thats why Enigmas so hard to crack. Except for one thing, thank goodness. The machine wont let A ever come out as A. No letter can ever be encrypted as itself. Thats a gap? Beth had said, utterly adrift. About as wide as the English Channel, duckie. Look at any block of encrypted letters: ADIPQ. Well, you know A is any letter but A, D is any letter but D . . . Peggy had paused to light a cigarette. Most messages that are encrypted have common phrases or wordscribs, we call them. For Italian Enigma, most messages start out with the officer the message is intended for: Per Comandante. So, slide through each block of letters looking for a string where not one letter matches up with P-E-R-X-C-O-M-A-N-D-A-N-T-Ethe X for the space between the wordsand there you are; its a match. Im not saying its easy, she added. Weve been banging our heads on Italian Enigma for months, trying to figure out if its the same machine they used in Spain in the thirties when Dilly broke their codes before. But this is how its donethis is how you find your way in. Peggy saw Beths despairing look. Look, its a bit like playing Hangman in a foreign language. You have a phrase thats all blank spaces, you guess a letter thats common in most words, and maybe it fills one or two slots in the phrase. Then you guess another letter, and the more you get, the more of the phrase you can see. She smiled. What Im saying is, stop focusing and let your mind play. WIQKO QOPBG JEXLO began the code in front of Beth, five-letter block after five-letter block. She looked at the clock. Three in the morning. Without any hope at all, she put in PERXCOMANDANTE for the machines right-hand wheel and began trying different positionsrodding, Peggy called it, because of the slim cardboard rods with letters printed along them in the order they appeared in the wiring of each Enigma wheel. Peggy had shown Beth how to slide the rods under the encoded text to try to find a point where the text of those all-important common phrases began to appear. Cribs, Beth reminded herself, not phrases. Everything has a special name here. It sounded easy, looking for places where there was no letter overlap, but there were seventy-eight different trials to make in order to cover all twenty-six positions of each of the machines three wheels . . . Her eyes were aching by the time she found something. The first three letters paired up with the rod, P-E-R . . . but it gave the fourth letter as S, not X. She nearly switched over to the next, but paused. Is there another crib starting PERS? Beth wavered, then swiped Dillys Italian dictionary and flipped to P. Persona . . . personale . . . Jean, she asked the nearest girl, could personale be a crib? It was the first time shed addressed anyone in the Cottage unprompted. Maybe? came the distracted answer. Beth swiveled in her chair, flipping her plait over one shoulder. Personale, she muttered. Meaning Personal for. Surely the Italian navy had occasion to mark things Personal for ____. It gave her five more letter couplings to check: she had P-E-R-S; now to try for O-N-A-L-E Clicks. Shed heard the other girls tossing that word around for weeks, and now she saw why, because things were going click right on the rods in front of her. Direct clicks when both letters of a crib phrase came up side by side on the same rod; Dilly called them beetles for some reason. Then cross-clicks when one crib letter came up on one rod, and the other on a second rod; Dilly called those starfish, and Beths breath stopped when she realized she had one. She hadnt been able to see it before, it hadnt made sense, but suddenly this bit right in front of her came swimming out of the rows of letters. Well, if it was personal for, then it stood to reason that next there would be a name, a rank, an honorific . . . She pulled out two letters, N-O. Beth dropped her rods and went pawing through the cribs again. Signor? Painstakingly she pulled S-I-G-out of the mess, then the R, then gobbledygook that was probably a mans name. But she had enough, she could go after some of the missing rod couplings now . . . Her braid fell over her shoulder again, getting in the way, and she twisted it up behind her neck and pushed a pencil through it. Another click . . . Beth, one of the other girls said. Go home, your shifts over. Beth didnt hear. Her nose was almost touching the paper in front of her, the letters marching along in a straight line over her rods, but somewhere behind her eyes she could see them spiraling like rose petals, unspooling, floating from nonsense into order. She was working fast now, sliding the rods with her left hand, elbow holding the Italian dictionary open. She lost an hour on a crib that didnt work, then tried another and that was better, the clicks started coming right away . . . Dilly Knox came in, already looking exhausted. Anyone seen my baccy? The new shift of girls went on the usual hunt for his tobacco tin. What are you still doing here, Misswhats your name again? I thought you were on the night shift. Beth just handed him her worked-out message and waited, pulse racing. Shed never felt like this in her life, very light and remote, not entirely back in the present. Shed been going at it six straight hours. The message was a mess of scribbles, still gobbledygook in patches, but shed broken it open into lines of Italian. Her bosss smile made her heart turn over. Oh, well done! he all but caroled. Well done, you! Bess? Beth, she said, feeling a smile break over her face. Whatwhat does it say? He passed it off to one of the other girls, who spoke Italian. Probably a routine weather report or something. Oh. Her cautious, dawning pleasure sank. It doesnt matter what it says, dear girl. Just that you broke it. Weve had such trouble cracking Italian Enigma since they entered the war. This might be the best break weve had in ages. . . . It is? Beth looked around at the others, wondering if theyd think she was showing off. But they were grinning; Peggy clapped. It was an accident Makes no difference. Thats how it happens. Now we have this, well get the rest quicker. Until the Eyeties change things up, at any rate. He gave her a swift assessing look. You need breakfast, a proper one. Come with me. DILLY DROVE HIS Baby Austin out through the gates of Bletchley Park like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were after them and was soon tearing up Watling Street with absolutely no regard for either tank traps or passing traffic. At any other time, Beth would have been sure she was about to die in a ditch, but rather than clutching the door and whimpering, she sat statue-passive in the passenger seat. She was still coming down from another world, electric and distant, spirals of letters turning lazily behind her eyelids. Dilly didnt seem to expect conversation. Hands only now and then connecting with the wheel, he careened them down Clappins Lane and then a long woodland drive, pulling up at last before a gracious, gabled manor house. Courns Wood, he announced, swinging out of the car. I call it home, though with the war on, Im hardly here. Olive! he called, moving into a dim paneled hall. A plump graying woman appeared, dusting flour off her hands. My wife, Dilly said, somewhat unnecessarily. Olive, meet Betha budding cryptanalyst in need of sustenance. Hello, dear, Mrs. Knox greeted Beth tranquilly, as if utterly unsurprised to find a disheveled young woman trailing behind her husband after what had very clearly been a long night. If you were married to Dilly Knox, perhaps you got used to living in a perpetual Wonderland. Could you eat an omelet? she said, then answered her own question, clearly seeing Beth was beyond speech. Ill bring two. Library, dears . . . Somehow Beth found herself in a disorganized study lined with books and warmed by a roaring wood fire, gin and tonic in her hand. Drink up, Dilly said, mixing one for himself and settling into a leather chair opposite. Nothing like a stiff gin after a hard night with the rods and cribs. Beth didnt stop and think, What would Mother say? She just lifted her glass and drank half. The gin fizzed like sunshine and lemons. Cheers. Her boss raised his own glass, eyes sparkling. I think youll be a good addition to the Cottage, mdear. I thought I was going to be sacked. Nonsense. He chuckled. Now, what did you do before coming to BP? Nothing. I was justthe daughter at home. University? Beth shook her head. Pity. What are your plans? What plans? After the war, of course! There were tank traps the length of Watling Street, and every headline was full of German Messerschmitts poking their snouts over the coast. Are the Germans going to give us an after the war? Beth heard herself wonder. It was the kind of thing no one said aloud, but Dilly didnt chide her for letting down morale. Theres always an after. Just depends what it looks like. Finish that drink; youll feel worlds better. Beth lifted the glass again, then stopped. She realized in a sudden rush of returning caution how this looked: a girl of twenty-four drinking gin at ten in the morning with a man in his fifties, alone in his private library. What other people might think. He seemed to know what was flashing through her mind. You know why I only want gels for my team? he asked, eyes no longer vague behind the glasses. Not because I want pretty faces around me, though heaven knows youre all nicer to look at than a lot of university swots with horse teeth and dandruff. No, I take gels as my new recruits because they are far better, in my experience, at this kind of work. Beth blinked. No one had ever told her young ladies were better at any kind of work than men, unless it was cooking or sewing. These young mathematicians and chess players in the other hutsthey do similar work to what we do, rodding and cribs, but men bring egos into it. They compete, they show off, they dont even try to do it my way before theyre telling me how to do it better. We dont have time for that, theres a war on. And Ive been doing this work since the last oneI helped crack the Zimmermann telegram, for Gods sake. Whats that? Never mind. What Im saying is, I dont need a lot of young cockerels chesting about, competing with each other. WomenDilly leveled a finger at Bethare more flexible, less competitive, and more inclined to get on with the job in hand. They pay more attention to detail, probably because theyve been squinting at their knitting and measuring things in kitchens all their lives. They listen. Thats why I like fillies instead of colts, mdear, not because Im building a harem. Now, drink your gin. Beth drank it. Mrs. Knox brought their breakfast, retreating with another tranquil smile, and a wave of hunger nearly flattened Beth. I dont know if I can do it again, she found herself admitting even as she balanced the plate on her lap. No food had ever tasted so good. Yes, you can. Practice makes perfect. Ive turned more schoolgirls into first-rate rodders than I can count. I didnt exactly get much training when I started. Dilly chewed a forkful of his own omelet. Thats because I want you coming to it fresh and inventive, not with every instinct and impulse trained out of you. Imagination, thats the name of the game. Its not a game. Beth had never contradicted a superior in her life, but in this cozy library overlooking a tangled garden, none of the ordinary rules seemed to apply. Its war. Its still a game. The most important one. You havent seen an Enigma machine yet, have you? Monstrous little things. The air force and naval machines have five possible wheels, which means sixty possible orders depending on which three are picked for the day. Every wheel has twenty-six possible starting positions, and the plugboard behind it has twenty-six jacks. That makes one hundred and fifty million million million starting positions . . . and then the Jerries change the settings every twenty-four hours, so every midnight we have to start over. Thats what were up against. The Italian Enigma machine isnt quite such a beastno plugboardbut its quite bad enough. Dilly toasted her with a tilted smile. Its odds to make you weep, which is why we must think of it as a game. To do otherwise is sheer madness. Beth was trying to figure out how many zeroes there were in one hundred and fifty million million million, and couldnt do it. They kept spiraling behind her eyelids in five-block chunks, 00000 00000 00000, down into the roses heart. If the odds are that bad, we wont ever do it. But we are. The Polish cryptanalysts were reading German Enigma traffic since the early thirties, and breaking back in after every change until 38wed be nowhere without them, and now weve picked up the torch. Another silent toast for the Poles. Bit by terrible bit, were doing it. Do the Germans really have no idea? None. Our fellows are very careful at the top level, how they use the decrypted information we give them. I understand there are rooms of intelligence chaps here who do nothing but mock up plausible ways our information could have been found by some other source than breaking Enigma. Dilly waved a hand. Not our business, that part. But they must be doing it right, because the Jerries dont seem to have realized were reading their post. German arrogancetheyve got their perfect machine, their unbreakable system, so how could anyone possibly be getting around it? Especially a lot of scrubby English lads and lasses in the middle of the countryside, going at it with nothing more than pencil stubs and a little lateral thinking? Whats lateral thinking? Thinking about things from different angles. Sideways, upside down, inside out. Dilly set his empty plate aside. If I was to ask what direction a clocks hands go, what would you say? Um. Beth twisted her napkin. Clockwise? Not if youre inside the clock. Pause. See? He smiled. . . . Yes, said Beth Finch. THERE WERE NO smiles the following day when she reported for her next shift. Dilly looked preoccupied, shoving Beth some new crib charts. No Italian Enigma today. The Hut 6 lads need help getting through this lot; its piling up and its critical. German Enigma, mostly the Red traffic . . . Beth automatically coiled her plait up on the back of her head, jamming another pencil through to keep it off her neck, waiting for the nerves to swamp her as they had every day for weeks. The terrible fear that shed fail, that she was stupid and useless and wasting everyones time. The fear came, the worry, the nervesbut much diminished. What Beth primarily felt was hunger: Please, God, let me do it again. Chapter 13 September 1940 Your shoes, Miss Churt, proved broken beyond repair. I hope you will allow me to replace them, with my apologies for ruining their predecessors. F. Gray Mab let out a surprised hmph, footsteps slowing as she came into Bletchley village. A package had come in her batch of post, which like everyone elses was delivered to Bletchley Park from a PO Box in London, then sorted and sent to each hut section to be picked up after shift. Mab had torn open the envelope from Lucy first (another crayon drawing of a horse, this one with a purple mane), then turned to the package with its brief cover note. She caught her breath as she lifted out a pair of shoes: no staid replacement for her now-deceased sensible pumps, but patent-leather slings with a French heel, not too fancy for day, but perfectly gorgeous. Apology accepted, Mr. Gray. Mab grinned at the shoes. Pity I didnt have you lovely things last night. Shed had a dinner date with Andrew KemptonHut 3, sweet fellow, bit of a bore, getting quite starry-eyed. Mab thought hed make a very decent husband, the sort who wore starched pajamas and made the same jokes over every Sunday roast. Shed allowed a good-night kiss after dinner, and if things kept progressing, she might allow him a button on her blouse . . . No more than one, unless things proved serious. A girl couldnt let herself be carried away in the heat of the momentthat was for men, who had nothing to lose. Mab was humming Bing Crosbys Only Forever as she came into the house. The sound of the radio drifted from the parloreveryone was gathered round, Mr. Finch fiddling with the dial. The voice of Tom Chalmers over the BBC filled the room. . . . can see practically the whole of London spread around me. And if this werent so appalling . . . Osla was standing with enormous eyes, arms wrapped around her own waist. Beth leaned against her mother, who clutched her hand rather than pushing her aside as shed been doing lately to punish Beth for getting a job. Mab took another step, staring at the radio. The whole of the skyline to the south is lit up with a ruddy glow, almost like a sunrise or a sunset Osla spoke in a monotone. The Germans are bombing London. THE PRIME MINISTERS bulldog voice, coming through the radio: No one should blind himself to the fact that a heavy, full-scale invasion of this island is being prepared with all the usual German thoroughness and method . . . Churchill sounded so calm, Mab thought. How could he? The iron hammer of the Luftwaffe had turned away from the RAF airfields to pound London into glass. Over the radio Mab had listened frozen to descriptions of flame billowing, buildings collapsing, wave after wave of German bombers pulsing overhead dropping incendiaries on the East End docks from London Bridge to Woolwich. There was nothing there of military value, nothing. Only Londoners. Those monsters, Mab thought. Those monsters. Churchills voice bulled on: Every man and woman will therefore prepare himself to do his duty . . . Duty? Mab thought. Over four hundred dead had been reported after the morning of the first raid alone. Her knees had given out when she was finally able to put a call through to her family and hear Lucys bright chattering voice. It was loud! Mum and I ran underground Did you? Mab had slid down to the hall floor, back against the wall. Oh, Lucy, why didnt I bring you with me? Why didnt I make Mum leave? And now here they were, days later, and Churchill was intoning, This is a time for everyone to stand together, and hold firm . . . Bugger that, thought Mab. No, said Hut 6s head of section, the moment Mab accosted him the next day. Leave will not be granted for you to go to London to see if your boyfriend is safe. Its my mother and sister, not my boyfriend, and I dont need a full day. Just half You think everyone else isnt asking for the same thing? Go back to work, young lady. If youre hoping the chief staff officer will overrule your hut and grant you leave, Harry Zarb greeted Mab as she stamped toward the mansion, he wont. Mind-reader, are you? Mab snapped. Lucky guess. Harry was standing just outside the mansion, gazing over the lawn, cigarette smoldering between his big fingers. Ive been here a while smoking most of a pack, and people keep going in looking hopeful and coming out swearing. Mabs temper subsided. She liked Harry, after alla wry, funny regular at the Mad Hatters Tea Party. Can I have one? Nodding at his cigarettes. He passed her a fag. Mab remembered being sixteen, going to films to study how the American stars smokedhow to let your hand linger around a mans as he struck a match for you. Another bit of methodical self-improvement like her reading list, like polishing her vowels. How ridiculous it all seemed. Mab didnt bother cupping Harrys hand as he lit her cigarette, just sucked down the smoke as fast as she could, like any man recently off a hard shift of war work. Youre lucky, Harry said at last. Her anger flared again. Ive a sister and mother in the East End, which is getting flattened by Heinkels. You have a wife, you saidis she in London? Have you got family in any of the zones being pounded? No, I got a billet close by when I came to BP. Sheilas in Stony Stratford with Christopher. A flash of quiet pride in his voice. Thats our little boy. Theyre safe in the country, and Im glad. But my familys not. So no, I dont think Im lucky. A tense pause. I was trying to see if I could get released from here to enlist, Harry said at last. I got the brush-off from Denniston; it was Giles who told me why. None of us fellows will ever be allowed to enlist. Not one, no matter how great the need. Because what if we get captured, knowing about all this? A gesture at the lake, so peaceful with its paddling ducks; the ugly huts buzzing with secrets. So Im here for the duration. Harry looked at her over a vast shoulder. You know what people think when they see a young strapping fellow like me not in uniform? At least no one thinks worse of you for being here. Mab was used to the size of him by now, but reassessing the long limbs and broad chest, the massive frame that could fill a doorway, she could well imagine the glares: Harry Zarb was exactly the physical specimen made for a uniform. Its not like this works less important, she said, lightening her tone. And your little Christopher would rather have his dad at home, not at the front. Ill tell him that, next time some grandmother spits on me at the park when I take him to spot planes. Harry dropped the butt of his cigarette, trying for a smile. Listen to me whingeId better get back to my hut. See you at the next Tea Party, Mab. Hold firm, eh? Hold firm, Mab quoted back. Bloody Churchill. She finished her cigarette in the dusk, fingering Lucys latest drawing in her pocket. The horse with the purple mane. Hold firm. She managed almost an entire week. It was near ten oclock; Osla stood before the mirror yanking a comb through her hair, and Mab lay paging through Oslas copy of Through the Looking-Glass. The Mad Hatters were reading The Hound of the Baskervilles now, but Mab hadnt managed to finish the Carroll. I hate this book, she heard herself saying, suddenly and viciously. Everything upside down and nightmarish, who writes a book like that? The whole bloody world is already like that! Her voice cracked. Shed had such a terrible fight with her mother over the telephone yesterday, first begging, then shouting at Mum to put Lucy on the next evacuee train out of London, anywhere out of London. Mrs. Churt wouldnt hear of it; she maintained that the Jerries werent making her move one foot out of her home, nor Lucy neither. All very well and good for morale, that kind of attitude, but Lucy was a child. People were saying over a hundred London children had been killed in that terrible first raid alone She fired Through the Looking-Glass across the room into the hall. Bugger you, Mr. Carroll. Bugger you and your Jabberwocky Her voice broke. Mab hadnt wept since that one terrible night when she was seventeen, the night very thoroughly buried in her memory, but now she curled up on her counterpane, shuddering with sobs. Osla sank down beside her, arms folding around Mabs shoulders. Through tear-choked eyes Mab saw Beth in a hideous flannel nightdress, standing awkwardly in the open doorway. Your book, she said, holding out Through the Looking-Glass. She didnt seem to know whether to leave or to come embrace Mab too, so she shut the door and stood by Mabs bed. Mab couldnt stop sobbing. All the tension and dread that had wound her tighter than a clock since war had been announced unspooled in one violent fit of weeping. She looked up, tears falling, as Osla squeezed her shoulders and Beth shifted from foot to foot. How long? She said it brutally, not caring if it was defeatist. How long before we have Panzers rolling down Piccadilly? Because even if the bombs missed Mum and Lucy in Shoreditch, the imminent invasion wouldnt. It might not happen, Osla said hopelessly. The invasion cant go if the tides arent The invasion was postponed. The words flew out of Beth as if fired from a rifle. Mab and Osla both stared at her, plain prim Beth in her nightdress buttoned to the throat, flushing so crimson she nearly glowed. Beth Mabs mind flashed with all the things she was and wasnt allowed to ask, knowing theyd already transgressed those bounds. How do you know . . . She couldnt make herself finish, but she couldnt make herself take the question back either. Her heart pounded, and the room was so quiet she almost thought she could hear Beth and Oslas hearts thudding too. The lights went out all at onceMrs. Finch turning everything off at the main below, determined no one would keep a light on past her curfew. Mab nearly jumped out of her skin at the sudden blackness. An instant later, Beths small cold hand found her wrist, presumably Oslas too, because in the pitch darkness she pulled the three of them together, so close their foreheads touched. The invasion has been postponed, Beth repeated in a nearly soundless whisper. At least, I think it has. Some of my section were sent to help Hut 6 work on overflow German air force traffic. The message was broken at the desk next to mineit was about airlifting equipment on Dutch airfields being dismantled. There was more, I dont know what, but the way the hut head reacted . . . If the loading equipment was dismantled, the invasion is being pushed back. The words burst out of Osla as though Beths confession had shattered a dam. That could explain the messages I saw in German naval section, going out to all naval networks But in my section were still getting messages on the buildup of forces, Mab contributed, feeling her own dam break. So surely its just a deferment, not a cancellation But it probably means next spring at the earliest, Osla finished. No one would want to launch invasion barges in winter tides. They all took that in, still frozen together with their foreheads touching in the blackness. Who else knows about this? Mab whispered at last. A few hut heads. Mr. Churchill, surelyhe cant make it public; he probably wont rule out invasion this year until hes utterly certain. But he and the people at the very topthey know. Osla gulped. And us. This is why they dont want us talking to each other, Mab thought, remembering Commander Dennistons strictures. We all just see one piece of the puzzle, but when we start talking and put them together . . . You cant tell. Beths words rushed. You cant tell anyone were safe until spring, no matter how scared they are. I shouldnt have told you. I Her breath hitched. Denniston could sack us, put us in prison He wont find out. And we cant be the first to compare notes, no matter what they threaten You know how many girls ask me to look for whatever ship their boyfriend or brothers on, because Im in German naval section? Osla said softly. They arent supposed to, but they do. The invasion postponed. It didnt mean safety from bombing; it didnt mean safety next spring . . . but it had been so long since they had heard any good news at all, it felt like a much bigger weight lifted than it really was. Yes, there would still be air raids. Yes, the Germans might cross the channel next year. But who knew where theyd all be next year? All you could think about in wartime was today, this week. There wouldnt be any German barges rolling into Dover this week, and knowing that, Mab thought she could go back to work and hold firm. I swear right now, Mab whispered, I wont say a word to my mum or anyone outside this bedroom. No one here will get in trouble with Denniston because of me. I still shouldnt have told. There was an agony of shame in Beths voice. Mab surprised herself by pulling Beth into a ferocious hug. Thank you, she muttered. I know you wont do it again, butthank you. When a girl has broken national security to ease your mind about your familys lying in the path of an invasion route, she has officially become a friend. Eleven Days Until the Royal Wedding November 9, 1947 Chapter 14 London Marry for friendship, not love, Osla had heard her mother quip. Friends listen better than lovers! So what did it say when you got engaged to a friend and he didnt listen a whit? Darling, Osla said, trying to keep her voice even. Ive asked you repeatedly not to call me kitten. Ive told you nicely that I dislike it; Ive told you firmly that I despise it; Im telling you now that I loathe it with every fiber of my being. Even more than she loathed being called a silly deb. Claws in, kitten! He chuckled down the telephone line, still in bed by the sound of him. Why the early call? Osla gave a measured exhale. Ill be out of town for a few days. Old friend in a bit of a flap. I thought you were coming over tonight. His voice lowered. Staying over. Im sure you can find someone else to fizz your sheets while Im gone, Osla thought. He certainly hadnt given up other women since their engagement, and Osla supposed it didnt matter. They had an understanding, not a great love. Lets give it a go, Os, had been his marriage proposal. Romance is for bad novels, but marriage is for palspals like us. Why did I say yes? she sometimes wondered when she looked at the emerald on her finger, but a scolding reply always followed fast on that thoughts heels. You know perfectly well why. Because it had been July, the whole world positively kippered over Princess Elizabeths recently announced engagement to Philip, and Philips wartime girlfriend had turned overnight to an object of pity. Suddenly it didnt matter that Osla wrote for the Tatler, loved her work, and splashed out at the Savoy every Saturday night with a different beauall that mattered after the royal engagement was that she was a pathetic ex-debutante, jilted by the princesss future husband and still unmarried. A week of pitying glances and sheet-sniffing journalists, and Osla had quite simply crocked up. Shed walked into the next party wearing a black satin frock slashed practically to the waist, ready to say yes to the next halfway suitable man who took a dead set at her, and an old friend had sidled up and said Lets give it a go. And really, it was all going to be fine. They wouldnt be like those deadly old-fashioned couples who lived in each others pockets. They werent in love, and who needed to be? It was 1947, darling, not 1900. Better to marry a friend, even one who called her kitten, than expect some grand romance. A friend whose presence at the royal wedding would assure all onlookers that Osla Kendall was a radiant fianc?e, not a bitter old maid. Sorry to snaffle your plans, darling, but Ill be back before you miss me. Osla rang off, then whisked downstairs with her traveling case. A taxi screeched to a halt, and soon Knightsbridge fell behind her. The thought of her fianc?s eyes was replaced by the memory of a womans serious blue gazethe eyes of the woman who had disappeared three and a half years ago into Clockwell. The last time Osla had seen those eyes, theyd been wide and bloodshot as she simultaneously wept and laughed, rocking back and forth on the floor. Shed looked utterly on her beam ends, like she belonged in an asylum. The cipher message crackled in Oslas pocket. You owe me. Maybe I do, Osla thought. But that doesnt mean I believe you. Believed the other half of that desperately scribbled message, the very first line, which Osla had read and reread in shock. But she remembered those blue eyes, so painfully earnest. Eyes that had never lied. What happened to you? Osla wondered for the thousandth time. What happened to you, Beth Finch? Inside the Clock Into the garden, Miss Liddell! We want our exercise, dont we? Beth caught herself rocking again, back and forth on her bench, as she wondered what was going on in the world outside. At BP shed been better informed than anyone outside Churchills cabinet. Living here in this wool-padded ignorance With an effort, Beth stilled herself. Only madwomen rocked back and forth. She wasnt mad. Not yet. Miss Liddell The matron hauled her up, voice dropping from sugary to sharp as the doctors bustled out of earshot. Outside, you lazy bitch. The thing Beth hated most here: anyone could touch her whenever they wanted. She had never liked to be touched unless it was on her own terms, and now every day there were hands: at her arms to steer, at her jaw to pry her mouth open, touching, touching, touching. Her body was no longer her own. But she moved out into the garden, because if she didnt shed be dragged. That Liddell gives me the shivers, Beth heard the matron mutter an hour later, sharing a cigarette in the rose garden with another nurse. Underneath that empty stare its like shes thinking how to take you apart. Correct, Beth thought, maintaining her vacant look as she wandered the roses. Who cares what theyre thinking, as long as theyre quiet? The nurse shrugged. At least we dont have the dangerous ones like at Broadwell or Rampton. Theyre docile here. Theyre docile, all right. The matron reached over to the vacant-eyed old woman who had been wheeled out to the garden in her bath chair and tapped hot cigarette ash onto her wrist. No response, and both matrons giggled. Endure. Beth picked up the discarded, half-smoked cigarette after they wandered away, taking a welcome drag. Just endure. She left the rose garden and wandered the high outer wall, which had been cleared of trees or shrubs or anything that might provide help climbing upward. A trio of burly orderlies walked the perimeter every hour, looking for knotted sheets or makeshift ropes flung over the walls. Not looking too seriously; it had been years since anyone tried to make a break for it. I intend to be the next, Beth thought. And then I will come for the person who put me here. Three and a half years, and she still wasnt entirely sure who that was. Shed told her former friends as much in her cipher message: Osla and Mab There was a traitor at Bletchley Park, selling information during the war. I dont know who, but I know what they did. I found proof it was someone who worked in my sectionbut whoever they are, they had me locked up before I could make my report. You may hate me, but you took the same oath I did: to protect BP and Britain. That oath is bigger than any of us. Get me out of this asylum, and help me catch the traitor. Get me out of here. You owe me. Everyone in, now! Exercise over. The same hard-faced matron called across the garden, sounding impatient. Pick up your feet when I talk to you, Liddell. Giving Beths arm a hard, careless twist as she passed. Beth lifted the still-smoldering cigarette shed managed to conceal between two fingers and planted the burning end on the matrons hand. Not. My. Name. Two orderlies dragged her to her cell, face stinging with slaps. Beth fought every step of the way, clawing and spitting as they buckled her into the straitjacket. She tried to lie low, oh, she did, but sometimes she couldnt stop herself. She snarled as she felt the needles prick, felt her veins filling with smoke, felt herself heaved like a hay bale onto her cot. The furious matron lingered as everyone else left, waiting until she could spit down Beths cheek. It would dry and be mistaken for drool, Beth knew. You can lie in those sheets till youve pissed them, you little cow. Then you can lie in them a while longer. Go to hell, you starched bully, Beth tried to say, but a fit of lung-rattling coughs erupted, and by the time she was done hacking, she was alone. Alone, straitjacketed, drugged to the gills, with nothing to think about but the traitor of Bletchley Park. Mab and Osla would surely have the letters by now, Beth thought dizzily. The question was, would they dismiss her claim as a madwomans paranoid fantasy? Or would they believe the unbelievable: that a traitor had been working at Bletchley Park and passing information to their enemy? Six Years Ago March 1941 BLETCHLEY BLETHERINGS BPS NEW WEEKLY: EVERYTHING WE DINNAE NEED TO KNOW! March 1941 Bletchley Bletherings has it on good authority that some unknown prankster smeared Commander Dennistons office chair with strawberry jam during night shift. Waste of good jam, says BB! This months Mad Hatters Tea Party is discussing The Great Gatsby. It is officially Giles Talbots turn to bring the topperfor all you gigglemugs who have not clapped eyes on this monstrosity, picture a Dickensian stovepipe festooned with false flowers, ancient Boer War medals, Ascot plumes, etc. The topper is worn in dunce cap fashion by any Mad Hatter to propose the Principia Mathematica for the monthly read (thats you, Harry Zarb), preface every statement with Im sorry (ahem, Beth Finch), or otherwise wet-blanket the proceedings. BB doesnt see stovepipe toppers catching on any time soon in Vogue . . . Speaking of fashion trends, London continues to sport 1941s enduring, classic combination of shattered buildings and bomb craters, topped with eau de Messerschmitt and a dashing plume of smoke. Bomb away, Krautsthe boffins and debs of BP will still flood into London every night off and dance defiant in the rubble. Theres a war on, after all, and tomorrow we might be dead! Anonymous Chapter 15 Osla crawled along the floor, blinded by blood. Daisy Buchanan is one of those girls who goes about pretending theyre ever so fragile, Mab proclaimed, and really theyre as tough as old boots. I thought she was a bit sad, Beth ventured. Im sorry, I didnt mean to Beth said Im sorry again! A chorus of laughter from the Mad Hatters, and the ancient festooned hat was lobbed toward Beth . . . That wasnt right, Osla thought dimly, feeling blood run into her hair. She wasnt at the Mad Hatters Tea Party anymore. That had been this afternoon, everyone wrapped in their coats against the March chill but determined to discuss The Great Gatsby in the spring sunshine on the lakes shore. Mab with her legs elegantly crossed, Harry stretched full-length leaning on an elbow in the grass, Beth primly upright with her tea mug. Youre very smart today, Os. That had been Harry, packing away the hat and the books postTea Party. Night off? Im catching the evening train to London. Osla patted her bag, which shed crammed that morning with her favorite Hartnell evening dress: emerald green satin that sluiced over her skin like water. Ive got an old friend on leave from his ship; were going to splash out at the Caf? de Paris. The Caf? de Paris . . . Osla looked around, blinking blood out of her lashes, but couldnt see anything through the splintered darkness but rubble and overturned tables. Humped forms lay along the floor. Her eye refused to recognize them, what they were. Therethe famous nightclub staircase, taking you from the street to the intimate underground splendor of cocktail tables and champagne dreams. Osla tried to seize the bannister and haul herself upright, but she tripped over something. Looking down, she saw a girls arm, its dainty wrist still looped with a diamond bracelet. The girls corpse sat slumped and armless in a blue chiffon gown at the nearest table. Oh, Osla whispered, and threw up into the rubble. Her mind was full of broken glass, her ears rang with sirens, and it was all coming back. She looked around at the carnage that had, minutes ago, been Londons most glamorous nightclubthe safest in the city, its manager boasted. The Blitz couldnt touch you here, twenty feet belowground, so dance the night away. Philip, she heard herself whispering, Philip . . . Ken Snakehips Johnson and his band had packed the floor, the Caf? de Paris jammed with dancers as the trumpets blared. Even when the area between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square was being strafed by German bombers aboveground, here you could forget the air raids. Here you were safe. Perhaps it seemed heartless or foolhardy to dance when the world above was pounded by fire, but there were times you had to either dance or weepand Osla chose to dance, her hand in her partners strong tanned one, his arm in its naval uniform snug about her waist. Marry me, Os, he said into her ear, spinning her through the tango. Before my leaves up. Dont talk drip, Charlie. She executed a flashy turn, smiling. You only propose to me when youre half-sauced. Osla couldnt help but wish she were doing the tango with Philip tonight, but he was still out to sea. Charlie was an old chum from her deb days, a young officer heading out into the teeth of the Atlantic. No more marriage proposals, I mean it! That Canadian heart of yours is frozen solid Snakehips and the band swung into Oh, Johnny, Oh, Johnny, Oh! and Osla threw her head back to sing along. Winter was over and warmth starting to creep back over Britain; the government might still have been on alert for a German invasion, but Osla hadnt heard a peep in BP about any such operation moving forward. Maybe the headlines were still bleak, and maybe Osla was still bored to tears filing and binding in Hut 4all right, not just bored but smarting from some drawling comment shed overheard about Miss Senyards flock of dim-witted debs in pearlsbut there was, overall, a great deal more to sing about in this dawning spring of 1941 then there had been in the autumn of 40. Snakehips sang away, dark skinned and slender in his white jacket, dancing with all the fluid grace that had won him his nickname. He warbles it better than the Andrews Sisters, Osla half shouted over the music, jitterbugging away in her green satin pleats, and she never heard the two bombs that hit the building aboveground, then rattled down the ventilation. She only saw the blue flash exploding before the bandstand, and in the instant before everything went away, saw Snakehips Johnsons head blown from his shoulders. And now here she was, rocking back and forth on the floor, evening dress covered in blood. There was more light now, torches blinking on as survivors picked themselves up. A man in RAF uniform, trying to stand when one leg had been blown off at the knee . . . a boy who barely looked old enough to shave, trying to lift his moaning dance partner off the floor . . . a woman in a sequined gown crawling through the rubble . . . Charlie, Osla thoughtthere he was, faceup on the dance floor. The blast had exploded his lungs out onto the front of his naval uniform. Why had the bombs killed him and flung her clear? It made no sense. She tried to stand, but her legs wouldnt move. Someone buffeted down the stairs, shouting, and suddenly there seemed to be a rush of feet and bouncing torch beams. Please, she tried to ask the man who had run past, who was now moving from body to body. Can you help But the man wasnt here to help; he was yanking bracelets off a womans bloodied arm, then moving to a disembodied torso by the stage and rummaging for a wallet. It took her a long moment to see it for what it was. Looting, he was looting the bodiesa man had come into a room full of dead and wounded, and he was looting their jewelry You Osla struggled upright, fury like glass shards in her mouth. Youstop Gimme that A young man with sandy hair reached out, and pain bolted down Oslas spine as she felt her earring torn away. Gimme that too, he said, fingers fastening around Philips jeweled insignia. You canthave it, Osla heard herself scream, but her limbs were moving with jerky uncertainty, and she heard the strap of her dress tear. Then a voice snarled, Get the hell off her and a champagne bottle swung in a short arc through the flickering dark. There was a sound like a china plate hitting a brick floor, and Oslas attacker dropped where he stood. She felt a gentle hand on her arm. You all right, miss? Philip, she whispered. She still had the naval insignia, clenched so tight in her palm she could feel its edges cut. Im not Philip, sweetheart. Whats your name? Os she began, and her teeth chattered so violently she couldnt finish her own name. Like Ozma of Oz? The mans voice was light, soothing. Sit down, Ozma, and let me see if youre hurt. Then well get you back to the Emerald City, right as rain. He had a torch; he guided her to the nearest chair. Her eyes were blurring so badly she couldnt see what he looked like. She had a vague impression of lean height, dark hair, an army uniform under a greatcoat. Whos Ozma of Oz? The man who had attacked her lay limp among the rubble. Ishe dead? Osla jerked. I dont care if he is. Christ, the blood in your hair . . . I cant see if youve got a wound under there. He picked up the champagne bottle hed swung against the looters skull, popped the cork, and poured gently over Oslas hair. Pinkened bubbles streamed down her neck, still cold from the ice bucket. She shivered, starting to weep. Philip . . . Is that your boyfriend, Ozma? The man was examining the back of her head now, sorting through her champagne-soaked curls. It doesnt look like this is your blood. Keep still, theres aid workers on the way Philip, Osla wept. She meant poor Charlie, but her tongue wouldnt produce the right name. She tried to standshe should be helping, finding bandages for the others, doing somethingbut her legs still would not move. Keep still, sweetheart. Youre in shock. The dark-haired man shrugged out of his coat and draped it around her shoulders. Ill try to find Philip. Hes not here, Osla thought. Hes in the Mediterranean, being shot at by Italians. But her Good Samaritan disappeared before she could tell him, moving to bend over an RAF captain who lay against the wall. The dark-haired man yanked a tablecloth off the nearest table to wad against the other mans wounds, then a line of chorus girls in feathers and sequins hid him from sight as they stumbled past weepingthey must have been shielded in the wings when the bombs went off . . . Time slipped sideways for Osla. She was on a stretcher suddenly, still huddled in the greatcoat, and aid workers were lifting her up the stairs to the street above, where someone made another examination. We can take you to the doctor, miss, but youll wait hours while they see the bad cases first. My advice is go home, clean up, see your doctor in the morning. Is there someone at home waiting for you? What do you mean, home? Philip had said that at the Caf? de Paris on New Years Eve. Home is where theres an invitation or a cousin. Osla, standing in her bloodied dancing slippers on the rubble-strewn street, had no idea where her own home was. She was a Canadian living in Britain; she had a father under a gravestone and a mother at a house party in Kent; she had a billet in Bletchley and a thousand friends who would offer her a spare bed, but home? No. None. Claridges, she managed to say, because at least she could have a hot bath in her mothers empty suite. Shed have to catch the dawn milk train to get back to Bletchley in time for her shift. Once at the hotel, it was a long time before she could get undressed. She couldnt bear to touch the bloodied fastenings of her favorite, utterly ruined gown, couldnt bear to shed the overcoat, which was soft and worn and held her in its warm arms. She didnt even know her Good Samaritans name, and he didnt know hers either. Sit down, Ozma . . . well get you back to the Emerald City, right as rain . . . Who does this belong to, Miss Kendall? Mrs. Finch asked the following day. Beth was usually the one she pounced on post-shift, saying reproachfully that if she was finally done with her very important work, there were spoons to be polishedbut today it was Osla she was waiting for, holding out the greatcoat Osla had worn home and hung on the peg. Mrs. Finch squinted at the name tape inside the collar. J. P. E. C. Cornwellwho is he? I have no idea, said Osla, taking the coat and hobbling upstairs like an eighty-year-old woman. Every joint in her body hurt; she had not slept at all and gone straight from London into her day shift. The scent of blood and champagne lingered in her nostrils. Whats wrong? Mab said, following her in and slipping out of her shoes. The way youre moving Osla couldnt bear to explain. She muttered an excuse and crawled into her narrow bed, trembling somewhere deep inside, hugging the coat, which smelled like heather and smoke. I want home, she thought nonsensically. It wasnt enough anymore just to fight, to do her part for this country she loved and take her fun where she could. Osla Kendall was exhausted and scared, aching for a door to walk througha door with welcoming arms inside. She wanted to go home, and she had no idea where to find it. Chapter 16 FROM BLETCHLEY BLETHERINGS, MARCH 1941 BP fellows, if youve got two girls on a string and are trying to keep them from finding out about each other, exercise caution. In other words, dont take your secretarial-pool blonde to the Bletchley Odeon, where you also take that brunette amazon you met by the lake on your tea break, or the amazon in question will rumble your game . . . Lousylittletoad, Mab muttered, striking each key on her Typex with special venom. Months shed been going to films and dinners with Andrew Kempton, nailing a fascinated expression on her face as he went on about the lining of his stomach and his chilblains. Maybe he was a little dull, but shed thought he was kind, sensible, honest. Someone to offer contentment as well as stability. Hed said he wasnt seeing anyone else; hed hinted about introducing her to his parents. And all the time, a mansion typist on the side! Well, so much for honesty. Hed clearly seen Mab as nothing but a girl to play with. Men all think that about you, a poisonous whisper said at the back of her mind. Cheap stupid slut. For a moment she could feel his breath in her ear, the man whod said that. Then she shoved him back in the dark corner where he belonged and bent over her Typex again, setting her wheels in todays configuration for Red. Mab still had plenty of candidates in the marriage pool, men who would be kind and sensible and honest, not just making a show of it. She finished her message and taped it up, pausing to blow on her hands. The in-hut temperature was arctic; every woman in the Decoding Room was huddled over her Typex in coat and mufflerand there were several more machines now, from the days it had just been two. Thank goodness they no longer had to run outside to get their decrypted messages out for translation and analysis; that work had moved to the hut right next door, and the boffins had been quick to rig a shortcut for passing information between the two. Mab took up the broom leaning against the desk, banged it briskly against the wooden hatch now seated in the wall, then slid the hatch open and called, Wake up over there! into the tunnel. Someone at the other end in Hut 3 shouted, Bugger off, and then with a series of clanks, a wooden tray was yanked into the room. Mab dumped her stack of papers in, tugged the wire to send it back, then returned to her Typex. The next report came out with a gap of gibberish in the middle, but Mab was long past the days of having to give the dud reports over to someone more experienced. Machine error, or radio signal fading out during interception . . . She put a request through to the Registration Room, asking them to check the traffic registersif the message had been intercepted and recorded twice, you could often get the missing code groups from the second version . . . A harried-looking man in a Fair Isle sweater blew into the Decoding Room. I need the tallest girl youve got, he said without preamble. The new operation in Hut 11weve been sent seven Wrens for operators, but we need an eighth, and shes got to be five eight at least. Whos the tallest here? Eyes went to Mab, who straightened to her full five eleven. Splendid. Grab your kit. Is this a temporary reassignment, or Who knows in this madhouse? Quick, now. Mab gathered her things, frowning. She wasnt sure she wanted to leave the Hut 6 Decoding Room. The pace was killing, but after nearly nine months she was good at her job. They were more than just typing-pool girls here, shed come to realizeit took imagination and skill to take a corrupted message and juggle wheel settings until it came clear, or to work through potential Morse errors and find the one that had thrown a message off course. Shed come to feel a certain thrum of satisfaction watching a block of five-letter gibberish sort itself under her fingers into tidy blocks of German. Well, it didnt matter what she found satisfying; shed work wherever she was told. Mab hurried across the gravel path toward Hut 11, squinting in the pale spring sunshine. It was Lucys birthday soon; shed arranged for the day off and was planning to take a cake to Sheffield, where Lucy was now thankfully living with their aunt, at least while London continued to be pounded by the Luftwaffe. Poor Luce didnt like Sheffield or their aunt, who had four children and hadnt wanted to take on a fifth (at least until Mab promised to send a weekly chunk of her BP wage). But even if Lucy was lonely, she was safe. Mum refused to move from Shoreditch, and Mab woke every day with the knowledge that this might be the morning she learned a bomb had flattened her mothers building. Good, the replacement. Mab found herself yanked into Hut 11 by a fellow she recognized from standing in line for tea at the kiosk set up by the Naval Army and Air Force InstitutesHarold Something. Hut 11 was airless and cold, smaller than Hut 6, and not subdivided, one big room that managed to be both cavernous and claustrophobic. Along one wall stood a row of Wrens, all staring at the monstrosities in the middle of the room. Ladies, said Harold Whoever, meet the bombe machines. They were bronze-colored cabinets, massive things at least six feet high. The front held rows of circular drums, five inches in diameter, letters of the alphabet painted round each one. In this dark hut they loomed like trolls under bridges, like giants turned to boulders by sunlight. Mab stared, mesmerized, as Harold continued to speak. Youre here to help break German codes, ladies, and the bombe machines have been designed by some of our cleverer chaps to help speed that process up. Itll be tedious work keeping these beasts going, and precision is essential, so Ive been authorized to share a bit more than usual about what they do. He patted one of the massive cabinets like a dog. Every cipher has a great many possible machine settings, and we cant get any further on the decoding till we have the settings, and its slow going getting those by hand. These beasts will speed everything up, and thats where you ladies come in. The brainy fellows will send over something like this. Harold held up a complicated diagram of numbers and letters like nothing Mab had ever seen in Hut 6. Called menus Why, sir? one of the Wrens ventured. Probably because menu sounds better than worked-out guess. Harold pushed his spectacles up. You take the menu, plug up your machine accordinglythe plugs in the back correspond to the positions on the menu. Then start the machine up, and let her rip. Each wheel on the bombehe indicated the rows on the nearest machinegoes through thousands of possible settings, faster than anyone could do by hand. It finds a possible match for the wheel wiring and ring setting, as well as one possible match for a plugboard letter. That leaves, oh, a few million million possible settings to check the other plugboard possibilities. When the machine finally stops, youll use the checking machine to match the stop position of the bombe, make sure you havent got a false positive, and so forth. Assuming you havent, you alert the boffins back in their huts that youve broken their setting for that key, then plug your machine up for the next menu and the next key. Questions? About a thousand, Mab thought. But that wasnt how it was done here; at BP it was just button up the questions and have a go. Miss Churt and Wren Stevens, Im putting you on this machine here. Someone named her Agnus Dei, or maybe just Agnus Aggie, Mab thought, already disliking her. The machines back looked like a knitting basket crossed with a telephone switchboarda mass of dangling plugs and great crimson pigtails of plaited wires like snarled yarn, snaking down through rows of letters and numbers. Wren Stevens looked similarly nonplussed. I thought Id ship out somewhere glamorous if I joined the navy, she whispered to Mab as Harold began showing them how to keep the wires apart with tweezers. Out to Malta or Ceylon, getting my drinks poured by lieutenants. Not buried in wiring in the middle of Buckinghamshire! Good luck getting out now youre in, Mab said, still staring up at Aggie. Nobody transfers out of BP unless you fall pregnant or go crazy, so take your pick. Servicing Aggie was like ministering to some cranky mechanical deity. Mabs arms ached after an hour of hoisting heavy drums into their slots; her fingers were pinched red from the heavy clips that snapped each drum in place. Plugging up the back was a horror: wrestling with a mess of wires and coupling jacks, trying not to set sparks off, squinting at a menu that looked like an arcane diagramming exercise or maybe a spell for raising the dead. Mab jumped, fingertips buzzing, as a prickle of electricity shocked her for the fourth time, and set the machine going with a muttered curse. With all the bombes at full roar, the din of Hut 11 was incredible, pounding her ears like hammers. Work at the other drums while you wait for the machine to stop, Harold shouted over the noise. Mab pried open the drums to reveal circles of wire inside, going at the nest with tweezers to make sure not even a single one brushed against another and shorted the electrical circuit. Within the hour her eyes were smarting from the concentration and her reddened fingers pricked by copper wire. What happens if the wires touch? she called over the din. Dont let the wires touch, Harold replied simply. Mab worked, sweat collecting between her aching shoulder blades, cuffs and wrists growing greasy from the bombes fine spray of oil droplets. Pushing limp, sweaty hair off her forehead, she straightened as Aggie stopped dead, every drum frozen. Did we break it? Mab asked as the other machines whirred. No, shes telling you its time to check her results. Harold showed Wren Stevens how to take the reading from the other side of the bombe, run it through the checking machine. Agnus found the setting. Jobs up, strip her down, load the new drums, get the next menu going. Well done. He pushed another diagram into Mabs hand. She knew it was for an army key because shed seen the name on reports coming through her Hut 6 Typex, but everything else on the menu was a mystery. This was an earlier part of the BP information loop than she was used to seeingthe part that helped spit out those blocks of five-letter-grouped reports that landed on the desks of the Decoding Room women. Mab couldnt help a shiver. Working in the Decoding Room had a sheen of normality to it; a roomful of women hammering at Typex machines wasnt so different from a roomful of secretaries in an office, chattering about wasnt Gone with the Wind a swooner and have you seen the film yet? No one could chat in this din; no one would be admiring each others frocks when they were all dripping sweat in the windowless fug of machine oil. Mab had worked since she was fourteen, and she already knew there wasnt a job in the world that could make this one seem normal. She finished plugging up Aggie and stood back. Start her up. BREAK TIME, HAROLD called sometime later, tagging half the girls. Relieve your partner in an hour. Mab didnt want food, she wanted air. The Wrens headed for the NAAFI kiosk for tea, but Mab flopped on the lakes grassy bank. Her ears rang dully from four hours of Aggies din; her fingers were pricked and stinging. She sucked down a cigarette and pulled her newest book out but gave up after five minutes. The Mad Hatters had picked a poetry collection for this months readMired, it was tersely and ominously called, a volume of Great War battlefield versesand the rhythmic iambic pentameter beat in the same clackety-clack pattern as the bombe machines drums. No, thank you, she said aloud, tossing the book onto the grass. I dont much like that book either, a male voice remarked behind her. Mab tilted her head back, looking up the rumpled suit to the broad face with its laugh lines. He looked vaguely familiar . . . It was very dark when we first met, he said, smiling. You changed my tire on a midnight road. Did the shoes fit? Beautifully, thank you. Mab smiled back, placing his face if not his name. You really didnt have to send them. My pleasure. Dont suppose you could spare a cigarette? Mab was down to her last one and had a feeling shed need it badly at the end of shift. He produced a cigarette case. I thought you didnt work at BP. No, London. Got sent over on a bit of business. Foreign Office? MI-5? Unnamed London fellows were always coming and going with their document cases and specially issued petrol coupons. Mab cast an appraising eye up at the chestnut-haired fellow, who gazed over the lake in silence. Good shoes, silver case for his cigarettes, rather lovely smile. What was his name? She didnt want to admit shed forgot altogether. Dont care for poetry? she said, nodding at her discarded volume. A shrug. Francis Gray isnt terrible. Educated London men liked girls who could talk about the use of metaphor and simileyou just had to be slightly less knowledgeable than they were. The skyline, scarred with stars of rusted wiregood lines, really, its just that the overall themes a bit obvious. I mean, equating a wartime trench to a sacrificial altar isnt exactly original, is it? Hackneyed, he agreed. More silence. Its this months pick for the Mad Hatters, Mab tried again. The BP literary society. She got another of the lovely smiles, but no reply. Didnt this one talk at all? She cut her losses, stubbing out her cigarette. Thats the end of my tea break, Im afraid. Do you really dislike Grays poetry? the chestnut-haired man asked. Or are you pulling my leg? I dont dislike him. Hes just no Wilfred Owen. Not his faultwasnt he an absolute child when he wrote this? One of those fellows who had lied about his age and enlisted far too young, Mab recalled vaguely, shoving her book into her handbag as she rose. I didnt know anything about poetry at seventeen. Sixteen. Pardon? He was sixteen. Look, I dont suppose youd fancy going for a curry your next day off? I know a very decent Indian restaurant in London. I like curry as much as the next girl. Shed never tasted it. He stood looking up at her with that faint smile, apparently unfazed by the fact she was half a head taller. Wasnt that unusual for short fellows. Whens your next day off, Miss Churt? Monday next. And Im ashamed to admit I don't remember your name. Mab really did feel embarrassed about that. Francis Gray. He tipped his hat. Foreign Office official and mediocre poet, at your service. Chapter 17 FROM BLETCHLEY BLETHERINGS, MARCH 1941 BB doesnt dare say a word about recent rumblings of upcoming action in the Mediterranean, therefore the biggest news of the week is the roach found in the night-shift pudding served at the dining hall . . . Mother, Im going to be late If you could wring out another cloth for my forehead . . . It feels like a spike is going through my temples. Mrs. Finchs eyes were shut tight in the darkened bedroom. Beth flew for a cloth. I really do have to go now You do your best, Bethan. Feebly. I understand you dont have time for your motherits just so hard being left all alone . . . Beth was nearly crying in frustration by the time she managed to get free. Her father shook his head as she struggled into her cardigan. Who is going to make your mother a nice cuppa, with you off at work? You could put a teakettle on yourself, Dad, Beth couldnt help thinking, even as she slipped out. But by the time she burst into the Cottage with a Sorry Im late, sorry the frustration and anger were gone, her brain wiped clean as a slate. It happened so fast now: in the time it took to run out her own front door and through the Cottage door, Beths mind shut an entirely different door on everything at home and simply locked it away for later. Were shorthanded till midnight, Peggy said from the next desk. Jeans home with flu, Dillys having another row with Denniston, so have at it. Beth pulled out her crib chart and her pocket Italian dictionary, fiddling with the end of her plait. Something going on in the Mediterranean, maybe something big. If only the Italian naval stuff werent so quirkyand there was so little of it; hardly enough to work with . . . Lining up her rods, Beth got a set of easy breaks, then groaned when the next message came out of the basket. A short onethe short ones were always nasty. Ten in the evening before it clicked into place. Normally the messages meant nothing, just Italian she couldnt read, but she could make this one out. Peggy, Beth whispered, suddenly cold. Peggy came over. She froze when she read the words in Beths pencil scrawl, translating the Italian. Today 25 March 1941 is the day minus three. The words stung Beths lips. She looked up at Peggy. Whats happening in three days? WERE SWAMPED WITH urgent traffic. Beth forced herself to look the head of Hut 8 in the eye. We need anyone you can spare. Peggy was on the Cottage telephone ringing Dilly, calling in Jean flu or no flu, summoning the whole team, and shed sent Beth across to Hut 8 to beg reinforcements. They borrow our people; now its time to return the favor. Normally Beth would have stood hunched in an agony of shyness getting the words out, but the code still had her in its spiral grip, the one that took her outside her own awkward self. Please? Oh, for The hut head strangled some impolite words. You can have Harry Zarb. I cant spare more. Beth nodded, arms wrapped around herself in the chilly spring night, waiting until Harry came shouldering out in his shirtsleeves. Hallo, he said cheerfully. Need a hand with the dago traffic? I can say dago, he said, noticing Beths wince. I get called a dago often enough, if not a wog. Its your inevitable fate if youre any darker than paste in Merry Olde England. Here Hed been about to shrug into his disreputable jacket but dropped it over Beths shoulders instead. She started to demur, but he brushed that aside. Whats the rush in Dillys section? Beth filled him in as they crossed the dark grounds. She was used to seeing Harry among the Mad Hatters, where he was wry and relaxed, leaning on his elbows in damp grass by the lake or scattering toast crumbs on his book, but he was a different man on the BP shift clock, alert and focused, brows mobile as he listened. He let out a low whistle at Today is the day minus three, stride lengthening until Beth had to trot to keep up. As Harry ducked into the Cottage, Peggy was on the telephone snapping, dont care if your nose is running like the Thames, get back here . . . So this is the famous harem? Harry glanced around, looking enormous and disheveled in the cramped clutter of desks. Hugh Alexander owes me tuppence; he made a bet youd have mirrors and powder rooms. Where can I work? It sounds like itll be a full house. Share my desk. Thank goodness Hut 8 had given her someone familiar, Beth thought, not a stranger who would take over her space and freeze her solid with nerves. He pulled up a stool on the other side of Beths desk, black hair flopping, reaching for pencils that looked like twigs in his huge hands. Cribs? Beth pushed a crib chart over. Italian for English, cruiser, submarine. Here are the rods Inglese, incrociatore, sommergibili, he read off the slip. Christ, listen to us butcher the poor Italian . . . They reached simultaneously for the stack of messages and fell headlong into the spiral. TODAY IS THE day minus three. Every time someone got up from their desk, they chanted it aloud. And then it became Today is the day minus two because none of Dillys team left the Cottage, not for so much as a cup of Ovaltine. I brought you some clothes. Osla passed Beth a package at the door, peering over at Peggy, who was coming downstairs from the attic yawning. Are you all sleeping here? We take turns on the attic cot, when we sleep at all. Beth had done ten hours straight in her chair, fifteen hours, eighteenshe could barely even see Osla, pretty and worried looking. Beth muttered her thanks, going to the loo to tug on a new blouse and underclothes, then staggered right back to her desk, where Harry passed her a cup of chicory coffee and her rods. Something big. They all knew it, and nine of the Cottages eighteen women had been seconded to it, working like madwomen. Dilly had disappeared so far down into his rods he was barely even presentBeth saw him try to stuff half a cheese sandwich into his pipe instead of his tobacco as he muttered his way through a new message. She merely removed the pipe from his hand, pulled the mangled sandwich out, placed the tobacco in his palm instead, and returned to her desk. Jean was running a fever by now, honking through pile after pile of handkerchiefs as she rodded and rodded and rodded. Sometimes someone would doze off at her desk, and then someone else would chuck a blanket over her shoulders and let her doze ten minutes, before giving a nudge and a reminder of Todays the day minus one. Whos our CIC in the Mediterranean? one of the girls asked. Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, Peggy said. Dilly said hes been notified something will be coming down. If we can find out what. Beth reached for her next stack, only to touch the bottom of the wire basket. Dillys Fillies paced like racehorses in their stalls then, waiting for the sound of wheels in the stable yard, which meant the dispatch riders had arrived with saddlebags full of new Morse code messages to decrypt. Beth? Harry touched her arm, and she blinkedshed got so used to his taking up the other side of her desk, she barely noticed he was there. Im sorry, but Ive got to gomy sons peaky and Ive got to help my wife. Just a few hours Beth nodded, chewing a thumbnail, her mind still tumbling among the blocks of Enigma. Was there ever anything more aptly named . . . Youre good at this. Harry shrugged into his jacket. Very good. Im working at a gallop, keeping up with you. She blinked again. Ever since realizing she wasnt so terrible she was going to be sacked, she hadnt stopped to wonder if she was good. Shed never been good at anything in her life. I like it, she heard herself saying, voice hoarse from going hours without saying a word. II understand it. Me too. Harry had circles under his eyes and a distant, absorbed expression. Beth guessed he wasnt seeing her much more clearly than she was seeing him. I could do this all day and be fresh at the end. Its just the old mortal frame that gets in the way. Pity we arent machines like the ones they say are in Hut 11. Beth nodded. The physical needs that got in the way of work had annoyed her these last two daysthe need to bolt a cup of tea, the need to stretch her aching back. Irritably, she realized she was starving. I could do this all day, too, she found herself confessing. All day and all night. And its a good thing we can. Its the most important commodity of all, isnt it? What, codes? What the codes protect: information. Because it doesnt matter if youre fighting a war with swords, with bombers, or with sticks and stonesweapons are no good unless you know when and where to aim them. Hence, us. Beth smiled. Harry glanced at his watch, looking torn. Ill be back in a few hours, but my hut head wants me back at my usual work, not here. I hate not seeing this through . . . Beth pulled herself out of the mental teleprint with an effort. Well send word if we need to borrow you again. For now, go home. Just long enough to take Christophers temperature, give him a bath, and explain again why he cant have a puppy. Harry grimaced. Poor sprat, I hate disappointing him. What father doesnt want to give his son a puppy? But with me on night shifts and his mum at the WVS canteen, its just not on. I always wished for The sound of motors came rumbling from the stable yard car park then, and Beth broke off. She and the other girls were on their feet in a flash, logjamming in the doorway, exhaustion-lidded eyes suddenly sprung wide. They nearly clawed at the saddlebags to get at the new messages, even as the dispatch riders laughed, Its got to be registered, ladies . . . By the time they trooped back to their desks, Harry had gone and the wire baskets were filling up again. A very long message came among the new arrivals, so long they all stood staring as it unrolled over Dillys desk. Battle orders, he said quietly. Stake my pipe on it. They looked at each other, nine worn-out women with ink-stained fingers and no nails left to gnaw. Everyone took a section back to her desk, and then, Beth thought, they all went a little bit mad. She didnt remember the following day and night, none of it. Only the rods sliding back and forth and her mind clicking away, looking up and realizing the sun had moved halfway down the sky or gone down altogether, then back to the rods and the clicks. It was nearly eleven at night before Dilly called a halt. Show me what youve got, ladies. Were out of time. Beth looked at Peggy, haunted. Peggy looked back, equally stricken. Out of time? In dreadful silence, they collected around Dillys desk again, putting their bits of message together. A frizzy-haired girl named Phyllida was sobbing. There was a whole block I couldnt get into, not a single click Peggy put an arm round her. Dillys hand moved at speed as he translated the decrypted lines from Italian to EnglishBeth could see the linguist and professor hed once been, in the days before when hed translated ancient Greek texts rather than military secrets. At long last, he looked up. Not that youre usually told details, he said matter-of-factly, but given the work you gels put in . . . the Italian fleet is planning a major hit on the British troop convoys in the Mediterranean. The stillness was absolute. Beth looked at her pencil-smudged fingers. They were trembling. Cruisers, submarines, planned locations, times of attack . . . Dilly flung down his pen, shaking his head. Its nearly the whole battle plan. Youve done it, ladies. Youve done it. Peggy pressed a hand over her eyes. Phyllida kept crying, but in a kind of exhausted relief. Beth blinked, her mouth dry, not certain at all how to react. Youve done it. She couldnt take that in. Our Beths not too bright . . . Pity that Finch girl is so slow . . . Ill take this over. Dilly staggered as he rose, and they all reached out to steady him. He looked exhausted, Beth realized, unshaven and unsteady after so many hours at work. More than exhaustedill. Ill take it, Beth said. This needs to be transmitted on the Admiralty teleprinter straightaway, Dilly called. Dear God, let Cunningham not muck it up . . . Beth went out into the dark, not realizing until she felt water on her face that it was pouring rain. She didnt feel the cold or the raindrops; her feet flew as she ran under the clock tower along the path, battle plans in hand. She didnt know where the Admiralty teleprinter was, so she sprinted to the mansion and with both hands heaved the double doors open. The night shift looked up as Beth Finch blew into the hall on a black gust of rain, hair plastered to her face, grim as death, holding the Cottages precious work. Her work. Get the watchkeeper, said Beth, giving the first direct order of her life. Get the watchkeeper now. SHE DIDNT GO back to the Cottage for her coat and handbag. She had her BP pass in her pocket, and she stumbled straight from the mansion to the Park gate and out, down the pitch-dark road through the rain. Exhaustion crashed through her in waves, battering ocean swells like those long Mediterranean rollers pushing all those Italian subs and cruisers through the night as they aimed for those precious British ships . . . but it was someone elses job to think about them. Admiral Whoever. She couldnt remember his name. She couldnt remember anything that didnt come in five-letter blocks. The sound of a whimper came quietly through the dark. Beth barely heard it, but her feet paused. She felt her way forward in the rain, toward the chemists shoplong shut up of course; it had to be near midnight. The whimper sounded again from the shop steps. She crouched down, peering through her soaked hair, and realized the small huddled bundle was a dog. Beth stared at it, exhausted. It glared back, shivering, showing its teeth feebly. It tried to bite when she lurched forward and picked it up. Beth ignored that, feeling the animals shuddering bony ribs against her arm. The rain was coming down harder, and she turned to trudge the last dark quarter mile to her house. A light burned in the Finch kitchen. Beths mother was sitting at the table in her dressing gown, hands folded round a cup of Ovaltine, Bible at her side. When Beth squelched through the kitchen door, Mrs. Finch burst into tears. There you arethree days with no word! I She brought herself up short, seeing the bundle in Beths arms. Whats that? Beth, still numb, tugged a pristine stack of towels from the drawer and began rubbing the dog down. A schnauzer, she saw as the gray fur began to stand out in drying tufts. My good towelsthat thing is sure to have fleas Mrs. Finch floundered. Get it out of here! Beth opened the icebox. Inside was a plate with a slice of Woolton pie, probably her supper. She put it on the floor and, in a remote stupor, watched the half-starved schnauzer attack it. He had a little square head and a wiry beard like a tiny kaiser, and he kept glaring around him even as he wolfed down the pie. That animal is not eating off the second-best china! Mrs. Finch looked more shocked than Beth had ever seen her in her life. She reached for her Bible as if it were a lifeline. This lack of respect, BethanThe eye that mocks a father and scorns a mother . . . Proverbs, Beth thought. Mrs. Finch held the book out, but for the first time in her life Beth didnt take it. She was too tired to hold the Bible in front of her until her arms trembled and her mothers rage was mollified. She just could not do it. With one indifferent hand she pushed the book away and stood watching the dog clean the plate. Mrs. Finchs mouth opened and closed, saying something, but Beth couldnt listen. Her mothers dutiful little helpmeet wasnt here, wasnt back yet from three days sunk in Enigma. Tomorrow, shed apologize. Or maybe she wouldnt. and that dog is not staying! her mother concluded in a stifled shriek. You put it out right now! No, said Beth. She picked up the not-noticeably-grateful schnauzer and lugged him up the stairs past Osla and Mab, who were eavesdropping wide-eyed on the landing, and into her bedroom. She made a nest of blankets for him, observing without much interest that he did, in fact, have fleas. Then Beth and her new dog slept like the dead. Eleven Days Until the Royal Wedding November 9, 1947 Chapter 18 Inside the Clock Clockwell was a place of the living dead, Beth thought. The doctors might fiddle about with recreation therapy and hypnosis treatments, but the patients of the womens ward rarely seemed to recover and go home. They stayed here: docile, drugged, fading, and gone. Bletchley Park had broken German codes, but the asylum broke human souls. Some of the patients were mad as hatters; some suffered such violent swings of emotion they couldnt cope with the outside world . . . but there were others, Beth had discovered over the years. The woman who had been left money her brother wanted, and hed got her certified and locked up before she came of age to inherit it . . . The woman who had been diagnosed with nymphomania when she confessed to her new husband that shed had a few lovers before they married . . . And the silent woman who did nothing all day, every day, but play board games. Backgammon, Go, chess with chipped queens and rooksBeth had never played any of them before Clockwell, but shed learned fast opposite the sharp-eyed woman who played like a grand master. Does the name BP mean anything to you? Beth had asked once over a chessboard. Bletchley Park had recruited many chess players. But the woman checkmated her without responding. This afternoon they were playing Go in the common room, a game Beth found trickier and more interesting than chess, advancing fast and vicious against each other as Beth thought about who the Bletchley Park traitor might be. The years shed spent brooding on the question should have sanded its anguish away, but hadnt. It was someone who worked in Dillys section, after allwhich meant one of her friends had betrayed her. Which? Beth looked at the Go board full of black and white stones. Three and a half years pondering the question, and she still wasnt sure who on the Knox team had been the black stone among the white. It wasnt her, and it wasnt Dillyeveryone else was suspect. Examination time, Miss Liddell. Come along. Puzzled, Beth left the common room with the nurse. She hadnt been scheduled to see the doctor that day. Whats this for? she asked the doctor as he examined her skull, but he only chuckled. Something that will make you feel much better! That mind of yours is overactive, my dear. You need a calm, untasked brain if youre to recover. Untasked? Beth nearly spat. She had lived with an untasked brain the first twenty-four years of her life, a black-and-white film of an existence. She didnt want a calmed, soothed mind; she wanted impossible work that her brain converted to the possible by the simple process of wringing itself inside out until the job was done. Every day for four years her brain had been tasked to the breaking point, and she had lived in glorious Technicolor. What do you mean, untasked? she asked the doctor. He just smiled, but a certain mutter caught Beths ears later as she was released back into the common room. glad when that one has the procedure. A sniff from the matron whose arm Beth had burned with a cigarette. They usually stop being troublesome after a lobotomy . . . The rest was lost as the woman whisked away. For the first time in weeks, the thought of Bletchley Parks traitor was utterly wiped from Beths mind. Slowly, she sat down at the Go board again; her partner slid a black piece forward as though shed never left. Do you know what a lobotomy is? Beth asked, stumbling over the unfamiliar word, flesh crawling with unease. She wasnt expecting an answer, but the woman on the other side of the Go board raised sharp little eyes and drew one finger like a scalpel across her temple. York Mab massaged her forehead as a familiar voice drilled through the telephone, finishing-school vowels hitting her ear like crystal spikes. What do you mean, youre here? Just biffed in from London, Osla said. Only arrived in York an hour ago. Mabs hand dropped, making a fist in the burgundy folds of her skirt. I told you when you rang yesterday, I dont want to meet. Oslas voice out of the blue, the Vigen?re squareit had all unsettled Mab badly. Shed burned the message from the madhouse, told herself to forget about it, and busied herself settling two sandy, clamoring children back home after a weekend running up and down the beach under Bamburgh Castle. Im here, Osla repeated implacably. I know youre hacked off about that, but we may as well meet. Im too busy, Mab lied. Im putting supper on. Shed been in the dining room, in fact, determinedly not thinking about Beth Finchs cipher message, planning the party she was hosting in honor of the royal wedding. A dozen friends would come in their best frocks, and theyd pooled their butter and sugar rations so they could have scones and a Bakewell tart while listening to the BBC broadcast. Mab knew her husband would laugh at the royal wedding fever, but he and the rest of the men would secretly hang on the broadcast, too. Planning the party hadnt entirely distracted Mab from the worry of hearing Beths name for the first time in years, but it made for the kind of morning Mab didnt think shed ever stop cherishing, after having lived through a war when parties had such a desperate edge. And now the afternoons peace had shattered. Look, I havent dragged myself all the way north to get snubbed like a Utility frock in a New Look Vogue spread, Osla said. Ive got a room at the Grand Of course youre at the poshest hotel in York. Well, I didnt see you volunteering your spare room with spontaneous cries of welcome so we could braid each others hair at night and trade secrets. Prickly silence fell. Mab realized she was gripping the hall table to stay upright. She knew she was overreacting, but she couldnt help the panic bubbling in her throat. She had so thoroughly buried everything that happened at the Park, damn itonce the war was done, shed bricked those experiences up behind a wall in her mind. But now Osla was on the other end of the telephone, and Beth had returned through the lines of a cryptogram. You never backed down from a fight in your life, Mab told herself. Dont start now. So she met her own eyes in the gilt-framed mirror over the telephone, imagining she was meeting Oslas gaze. I dont know what you thought coming here would accomplish. Thats a bit steep, darling. You know we have to talk face-to-face about Beth. Pause. If she really was put in that place unfairly If shes sane, the doctors would have released her. Doctors already think normal women are potty because we have monthlies. When was the last time your doctor gave you more than an aspirin unless you had a note from your husband? Mab remembered giving birth to her son, how her doctor had said in the middle of her contractions that she was making too much fuss and it had been scientifically proven that labor pains could be entirely controlled by appropriate breathing. Mab had been in too much agony to rip his ears off and tell him to control that pain with appropriate breathing. What Im saying, Osla continued, is if shes asking us for help, after everything that happened, it means shes absolutely dished and has no one else. Mabs mouth was dry. I have a family now. Im not putting them at risk for a woman who betrayed me. She says we betrayed her, too. And shes not entirely wrong. You owe me. What do you think of the rest of her letter? Mab blurted out. Do you believe it? It hung unsaid: Do you believe there was a traitor at BP? A long silence. Bettys tea shop, said Osla. Tomorrow, two oclock. Well talk.
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