Travis sighed again, looking out the window where, distantly, off-duty codebreakers were ice-skating on the frozen lake. “Then enlighten me.”
“No pranks this time, sir.” Though Osla didn’t see what was wrong with a few hijinks. BP needed a little laughter to keep up morale—after the jubilation of December, everyone rejoicing in the joy of the Americans’ entering the war, the New Year hadn’t really started with a bang. The Yanks might have been in the fight but weren’t here yet, and the fall of Singapore last week with more than sixty thousand British, Indian, and Australian soldiers heading into Japanese POW camps had plunged the entire Park into gloom. And something dire was happening in Hut 8 with the German naval codes—Osla had no clue what, but Harry and the rest of his section were going around looking like absolute death. “I’m actually here to make a point, Commander Travis,” she said, bringing herself back to business.
Travis and the men behind him watched with bemusement, then embarrassment, then alarm as Osla fished discreetly among her clothes, removing a folded square of paper from her skirt waistband, another tucked inside her stocking top, and a third that had been wedged into a T-strap pump. She laid all three on Travis’s desk. “Nobody saw me smuggling these out of Hut 4, sir.”
His voice went from weary to cold. “What do you mean by sneaking decrypted intelligence out of your workplace?”
“Just blank scrap paper.” Osla unfolded each square, demonstrating. She wasn’t dim enough to try to illustrate her point here with real cryptograms. “I am proving to you that it is too blinking easy to get bits of paper out of one’s hut. Ever since I went to work as a translator, I’ve been noticing how simple it would be to smuggle messages out of BP. I thought if I brought it to your attention—”
“There is no one here who would think to misappropriate intelligence, Miss Kendall. Our people are thoroughly vetted.”
“I’m not saying it’s likely we’ve got a spy at BP, sir. But if the wrong person here was blackmailed or threatened into obtaining information, they could do it rather easily, depending on where they worked—it’s the simplest thing in the world to tuck a slip of paper in your brassiere when everyone’s yawning on night shift.” The men shifted at the word brassiere, and Osla nearly rolled her eyes. Point out a security leak and they shrugged; mention a woman’s underclothes and everyone got in a wax. “Obviously I only know about naval section, but areas like mine would seem the obvious places to tighten up. Where the information goes through the translators and is legible—”
“I don’t think we need security advice from a silly deb,” one of the intelligence men behind Travis said rather nastily.
“You clearly need it from someone,” Osla shot back.
“Miss Kendall, I’m sure you meant well, but the matter has been considered. Stick to doing your job,” Travis said sternly, “and writing your gossip-page fluff.”
Osla refused to ask how he knew she wrote Bletchley Bletherings. This was an intelligence facility, after all. “Just because I write gossip-page fluff”—And what on earth is wrong with fluff if it makes people laugh during a war, for God’s sake—“it does not mean I have fluff between the ears.”
“Your concern about our security is noted. But it was very foolish to smuggle anything out of your hut, even blank paper. Go back to your section, and do not pull a trick like this again.”
Osla stamped out, fuming. “In hot water?” Giles greeted her, leaning against one of the stone griffons flanking the mansion’s front doors.
“Yes, and this time I didn’t deserve it.” What would it take to ever, ever be taken seriously? Osla knew she was the best translator in her section; she maintained a cracking pace of work and still found time to dash off a weekly chin-wag that had the entire Park in stitches; she had brought a legitimate potential security problem to the attention of her superiors—yet she was still just a bit of Mayfair crumpet. “Why aren’t you ever in trouble, Giles? You take so many cigarette breaks, I’m amazed you get anything done at all.”
“I’m not on break this time.” Giles exhaled a stream of fragrant smoke. He refused to smoke anything but Gitanes; who knew what he paid for them on the black market. “My hut head told me to take twenty before he knocked my block off.”
Osla blinked. “What about?”
“I was at the NAAFI kiosk getting some tea and listening to Harry express the rather mild opinion that the Russkies might be doing a touch better against Operation Barbarossa if we actually shared information with them. Uncle Joe being an ally, after all.”
“How do you or Harry know we aren’t sharing it?”
“If the Russians saw half the stuff that passes through my hut, they wouldn’t be getting stomped quite so thoroughly on the eastern front.” Giles offered Osla a Gitane. “Harry got quite hot under the collar about it.”
“Maybe they aren’t properly using the information we give.”
“No, I suspect the PM is keeping his cards close. Doesn’t trust Uncle Joe.”
“Nothing we can do about that, surely.”
“That’s what I told Harry, but he was on a bit of a rant, and then my hut head said that was commie talk. Harry said you didn’t have to be a commie to want to help an ally, I said he had a point, and my hut head told me to take twenty or he’d pound me.” Giles rolled his eyes. “It was Harry’s rant, not mine!”
“Yes, but Harry’s enormous. No one’s going to threaten to pound him.” If I were Harry’s size and a man, they’d have taken me seriously in that office . . . Osla took a long drag, still hacked off at that contemptuous silly deb from the intelligence fellow. “I really cannot stand those MI-5 types.” She was going to absolutely roast them in the next BB.
“It’s mutual, I assure you,” Giles said airily. “Intelligence chaps hate that the information they rely on comes from the kind of people they used to bully at school. Namely women, weedy fellows who were better at maths than games, and pansies.”
“Who here’s a pansy?” Osla asked, intrigued.
“Angus Wilson, for one. You hear things about Turing, too.”
“Goodness, who knew?”
“Me, because I’m all-knowing.”
“You’re not all-knowing, you’re annoying,” Osla informed him.
“Granted, but you love me anyway.”
“Oh, do I?”
“Because I don’t slaver over you, and girls like you are so used to being slavered over, you’ll adore any fellow who just wants to be chums.”
Osla grinned. “Aren’t you perceptive?”
“Perceptive enough to know no one else is going to beat Prince Charming. Don’t waste any time nailing him down, that’s my advice. I dithered about too much and lost the girl of my dreams.”
“Giles, I never. Who is she? Maybe it’s not too late to take a puck at her.”
“Oh, it’s too late. The ink’s barely dry on Queen Mab’s marriage certificate.” Giles clapped a melodramatic hand to his heart. “I’m soft as a sponge about her. Daft as a basket. By the time I was ready to make my move, Mr. Sensitive Bloody War Poet swooped in.”
“You don’t seem too heartbroken, Giles. If I know you, you’ll console yourself with a string of Wrens.”
Giles snorted, Osla ground out her cigarette, and they parted ways. “I told you Travis would give you a set-down!” Sally Norton called over when Osla came back into Hut 4.
“I’m already missing Denniston,” Osla grumped, squeezing in at the crowded table of translators. The close quarters didn’t make it any warmer; they all sat shivering over their stacks of reports, wrapped in scarves and mittens against the hut’s arctic chill. Osla was snuggled inside the huge wool overcoat belonging to her Café de Paris Good Samaritan, Mr. J. P. E. C. Cornwell—who cared if it was like wearing a circus tent; it was warm. And it still smelled like him, some combination of smoke and heather . . . She might not know the man’s name, but just from wearing his coat she knew he had excellent taste in cologne and shoulders like Alps.
She blew on her hands, steeling herself to pick up the half-translated report waiting to be finished: a page of idle chatter between German radio operators who should have kept better discipline on air, but the Y-stations transcribed idle chatter as well as official traffic . . . and these men had been discussing the rumor that Jews were being murdered on the eastern front, lined up on the lips of ditches and shot as the German army advanced.