“You know the scandal rags.” Osla stripped off her own gloves so Mab could see the emerald. “Thank goodness my fiancé doesn’t give any credence to gossip columns.”
Mab admired the ring. “Pity green doesn’t suit you . . . Does your fiancé know the reason for this little jaunt?”
“Naturally not, darling. I’ll wager your husband doesn’t either. Just like he doesn’t know you chose him less for his smile and more for his assets.”
“I’m a practical woman, Os. You’re the one writing Tatler fluff. Fairy stories . . . only in those, doesn’t the girl usually get the prince in the end?”
The waiter chose that moment to return with tea and scones. Flowered Minton cups and saucers clattered in the charged silence. They sipped, staring daggers.
“Look, let’s stop talking slush,” Osla said finally. “Much as I would like to sit here trading unpleasantries, we have a decision to make.”
Beth hovered almost visibly at the table. Mab’s mocking expression shuttered, and her voice automatically dropped to a murmur inaudible to anyone but Osla. “I have trouble believing this guff about a traitor. If someone had been selling information to the Germans, the Luftwaffe would have bombed us flat. The fact that we went through the war without being targeted proves they never found out we were reading their bloody post.”
Osla had thought of that, too. “They could have been running counterintelligence, feeding false information to misdirect us.”
“Then they wouldn’t have lost.”
“Well, maybe it wasn’t the Jerries this traitor was selling to.”
“But the war’s over. Why is this still so urgent?”
“Don’t be dense; treason has no expiration date. And her note said this traitor is still very much a threat—”
“That sounds like a madwoman’s paranoia to me,” Mab stated.
“Paranoia, or just someone who worked at BP? Look at us.” Osla gestured around the tearoom with its dazzle of crystal and silver, its brocade drapes. “We picked the table furthest from the others, and even so we’re whispering and breaking off every time someone walks near. When I had a tooth worked on last year, I was so worried I’d mutter something classified while sauced on chloroform, I made them do the whole procedure while I was awake. It was agony.”
Long pause. “I wouldn’t take anything for pain when I gave birth.” Mab stirred her tea, looking like it killed her to agree with anything Osla said. “The same reason.”
“See? We’re all paranoid. It’s second nature by now. Beth’s being cautious, not necessarily lying.”
“Or she believes her own story. People who are insane tend to do that.”
Osla picked a scone off the untouched plate. “If she’s insane.”
“Remember how hysterical she was at the end? We both thought—”
“I know,” Osla admitted. “But looking back now . . . did she go mad or just get pushed to the brink? We were all strained to the limit by that point. I was on my beam ends, you were getting bottled every night—”
“I was not.”
“You were a blinking mess, and everyone knew it.”
Mab glowered, recrossing her legs under a swath of midnight-blue crinoline. “You think Beth’s sane, then?”
Osla looked at her scone, which she’d reduced to a pile of crumbs. “Until the day she was carted away, I’d have laid money that Beth Finch was the least likely person at BP to crock up. She was a perfectly functioning machine. And even if she did crock up, she might have got better. People can.” Osla remembered Philip’s telling her how his mother had recovered from her breakdown and been released from Bellevue. Iron will, he’d guessed. Who had a more iron will than Beth?
Mab looked at her. They took simultaneous gulps of Earl Grey, and Osla had the feeling they were both wishing it were gin. Maybe they should have met in a pub, not a tearoom.
“Even if she’s not mad,” Mab said finally, “I can’t swallow this idea that one of Beth’s friends in Knox’s section was a rat. They were supposed to be the best of the best. Who on earth could it be?”
“That’s why we have to ask Beth.” Osla looked her in the eye. “That’s why we’re going to Clockwell.”
Inside the Clock
The asylum nurses talked of nothing but the royal wedding.
“Eight bridesmaids, all dressed by Hartnell. Princess Margaret, of course—”
Shut up about the wedding, Beth would have liked to shout through the door of her cell. Talk about this surgery the new doctor here is so keen on, this lobotomy.
“—Princess Alexandra of Kent; Lady Caroline Montagu-Douglas-Scott—”
Beth turned over on her cot, trying to listen, pushing down the wet cough that had lingered since her springtime bout of pneumonia. She was trying to get an afternoon doze—last night had stretched empty and sleepless, with the relentless seeping cold and her bitter flashing back to the minutes she’d spent on her knees before the red-haired orderly.
“—you know the princess had to use clothing ration coupons for her wedding dress, just like any other bride. I remember my sister’s wedding during the war, she made a veil out of parlor doilies—”
Beth remembered Mab’s wedding in London. The dash to the registry office, Mab in her ivory satin pleats; the wedding breakfast at Claridge’s of ham salad and champagne followed by eggless cake; little Lucy twirling in a borrowed frock of pale pink lace as Mab and Francis were practically carried upstairs to the bridal suite . . .
That was a beautiful day, Beth thought, swallowing more coughs. No pompous Westminster ceremony could match it. Though ironically, Osla’s escort to Mab’s nuptials was the bridegroom of the upcoming royal wedding.
“Have you seen Prince Philip’s picture?” A sigh from one of the nurses outside. “So handsome.”
“He’s German, though. You’d think our princess could do better than a Hun.”
“I thought he was Greek . . .”
“He fought on our side. Besides, the Germans aren’t enemies now. I’d be a lot more worried if he was a Russky . . .”
Russia—the new enemy. When Beth wasn’t sifting through mental evidence on who Bletchley Park’s traitor might be, she pondered who they might have been working for. She was fairly certain it couldn’t have been Germany—the evidence she’d decrypted had been Soviet in origin, not German. Besides, if the Nazis had had access to the kind of information that passed through Dilly’s section, they would surely have targeted Bletchley.
Silence outside. The nurses had moved on. Beth gave way to a fit of coughing, the sound from her lungs wet and ugly. The pneumonia will come back this winter, she thought, hacking into her pillow. And this time it might kill me.
If this lobotomy surgery didn’t, whatever it was . . . but Beth pushed that thought away. She coughed up what felt like half a lung and finally turned over, mind limping in old, spent circles. Osla and Mab, cryptograms and traitors, Germany and Russia . . . the traitor had to have been working for the Soviets. The USSR and Britain had been allies back then, but that didn’t mean Churchill trusted them—Beth could well imagine Uncle Joe snooping for more information than his colleagues were willing to share. And BP had always had its share of Marxist sympathizers, political dabblers from Cambridge and Oxford who quoted Lenin and talked about the proletariat.
Which of my friends sympathized with Russia? she wondered now. And wished for the thousandth time that she hadn’t been so far inside the spirals of her work that she missed the discussions flying around her in Knox’s section.
Because the war against Germany might have been over, but the struggle against the Soviet Union was only beginning. And Beth, doubling over in another fit of hacking, couldn’t help but wonder if the traitor who had put her here was still sending information to the USSR.
Five Years Ago
* * *
FROM BLETCHLEY BLETHERINGS, FEBRUARY 1942
* * *
The madhouse has a new warden! Commander Travis has taken over from Denniston, at least on the Service side. Good luck to him controlling the inmates . . .
* * *
Not you again,” Commander Travis said ominously.
“Is that any way to greet your favorite naval section translator, sir?” Osla grinned.
The other men in Travis’s office—suited types, probably London intelligence men—gave censorious frowns, but Travis just sighed. “What is it this time? Sneaking an electric cooker ring into the signals cupboard so you could make toast on the night watch?”
“That was last week,” Osla said.
“Sneaking into the new block the minute the walls were half-constructed, riding the wheeled laundry bin down the hall into the gentlemen’s loo?”
“Two weeks ago.”