You were wrong, Beth thought now, breath catching painfully.
But it didn’t matter. What was the point of telling now, when the damage was done?
So she gulped a breath, took the secret, and mentally filed it away as she stood beside the frozen lake. She had begun to find it quite easy, dividing life into compartments. There was the code and everything that came with it. And there was everything else—her friends, her family, Harry, everyone—who had to come second.
The code came first.
When Coventry and all its losses were neatly boxed up, Beth waved to the hockey players and picked her way across the icy lake path, pausing midway as she saw a mass of Hut 8 cryptanalysts spilling across the lawn, cheering at the top of their lungs. Brilliant Joan Clarke, whom Dilly wished he’d poached for his section; Rolf Noskwith drinking directly out of a wine bottle—and Harry, veering away from the pack and picking Beth up, swinging her over the frosty grass.
“We did it, we bloody did it! A pinch off U-559—we’re back in. We’re back in the bloody U-boat traffic!”
“Harry!” She kissed him jubilantly, every worry that had been consuming her falling away. “I knew you’d get in.”
People were spilling out of huts and blocks, letting out cheers as the news spread. The U-boat blackout had gone on too long not to be common knowledge at BP, even if no one outside Hut 8 knew details. “Christ, Beth,” Harry was whispering into her hair, still holding on to her like a lifeline. “I wish I could tell you how we got in. I wish you’d been there.”
“You can’t tell me anything, it’s all right, I don’t care—”
He kissed her again, hands pulling through her hair, and Beth heard ripples from the people around them. It would be all over Bletchley Park in hours: little Beth Finch and Harry Zarb who had a wife and child at home. She didn’t care what people thought. It wasn’t an important secret.
Not like the one she’d just buried.
Ten Days Until the Royal Wedding
November 10, 1947
Inside the Clock
Beth wasn’t released from the straitjacket until after supper. Chafing her numbed hands, fighting the hangover of the injections, she wandered into the common room looking for a game of Go and her partner. But the board sat abandoned, the sharp-eyed woman nowhere in sight. “Didn’t you know?” another of the women said. “She was taken off this afternoon. Surgery.”
Beth fought a swell of unease. “What kind of surgery?”
Shrug. Beth sat behind the game board, fighting her disquiet. A matron came in with a list of tomorrow’s visitations, but Beth ignored her. In three and a half years she’d only had one visitor.
That was why it had taken so long to smuggle her coded letters out to Osla and Mab.
So many dead ends . . . Trying to sneak the cipher messages out with the asylum post. Trying to bribe an orderly to post them off-grounds. Wheedling a fellow inmate into sealing a letter inside one of theirs. She’d been shut down or caught every time—Miss Liddell, no post in or out for you! When she’d been sent here, MI-5’s instructions had clearly been strict: an inmate like Beth with her headful of secret information was not allowed to exchange news with the outside world.
Only a few weeks ago had she finally been able to send her ciphered call for help.
“Visitor, Miss Liddell!” the nurse had sung out, shocking Beth speechless. Three and a half years with not a single visitor from the outside world . . . Harry? she’d thought, pulse ratcheting as she approached the visiting room.
“Bethan.” Her father stood in the middle of the room, which could have been her mother’s parlor except that all the knickknacks were bolted down to stop hysterical inmates from hurling them at their visiting loved ones. Seeing her father’s horror as he registered her chopped hair and gaunt face, Beth wouldn’t have minded slinging a vase or two. “Are you—all right?” he ventured as the orderlies left them alone.
“Do I look all right?” Beth had answered coldly.
“You look . . .” He trailed away. “Are you improving? I’d love to have you home again.”
“Why? Mother wouldn’t.”
“Of course she would! Well, not that she said—that is, she doesn’t know I’m here.” An unnecessary statement if there ever was one, Beth thought. “She’s visiting your aunt in Bournemouth, and I thought I’d—”
“Sneak out behind her back?” Beth’s throat burned constantly from throwing up her pills twice a day; looking at her father, it felt like she was choking out hot coals along with words. “More than three years, Dad. Not one visit.”
“Your mother didn’t think . . . that is, we decided to give you time to heal.” His eyes darted across her smock, her chapped lips. “They said it was a good place.”
“Mother was only too happy to believe that, I’m sure. A place where I’m no longer underfoot, embarrassing her.” Beth choked herself off. She could rage at her father forever, but all that would do was drive him away. Don’t waste this chance.
“Thank you for coming,” she said, making her voice gentler.
He relaxed then, telling family news, answering questions she kept innocuous. No, he didn’t know what had happened to Boots . . . Beth choked down bitter disappointment but kept nodding.
“I’d get you out if I could,” her father had said at last, hesitant. “The Bletchley fellows said parental rights didn’t have sway here. You’re committed as an employee of the government, by order of the government, for your own good and for the sake of security.”
“I know.” Perhaps the right person could make enough fuss to get her case reviewed, but her father didn’t have it in him to kick down doors in London. He had barely summoned the nerve to visit her today behind his wife’s back. Her contempt nearly choked her, but at the same time she wanted to cry, remembering how he’d let her help with his crossword when she was small. Oh, Dad . . .
Then she remembered how he’d stood by her entire life while her mother bullied her.
“Dad, I need you to do something for me.”
“Bethan, I can’t—”
Her voice cracked across the room like a whip. “You owe me.”
And he’d walked out with two scribbled cipher messages in his pocket, promising to post them to Mab and Osla wherever they might now be living.
He promised he’d do it, Beth thought now, two weeks later, staring at an empty game board. He’d promised.
But no one had come.
Mab couldn’t sleep.
Go to Clockwell, or not?
It was near midnight when she slipped out of bed and tiptoed downstairs to sit in the dining room’s big window. The table was stacked with damask napkins—Mab had brought them out to iron for her royal wedding listening party. There had been a certain amount of hilarity when her husband caught her practicing folding them into swans.
I used to decode Nazi battle orders, Mab thought, and now I’m folding napkins into swans.
The switch her life had made sometimes astounded her. She’d be going through the market squeezing pears for ripeness, or sharing a gossip with her neighbors, and it would hit her all over again: just a few short years ago she would have been surrounded by racketing machines, exhausted and oil stained and pushed to her limit, but doing something that mattered. Now she had peace, prosperity, all the things she’d dreamed of during the war years, and sometimes it felt . . .
Mab searched, but there wasn’t a word. It wasn’t that life now didn’t matter—by God, it did. Being able to bring up your children in peace, praying the peace would last, was a gift she would never cease treasuring. Looking at the stack of napkins, she wondered if it was purpose she missed; hands that folded damask swans yet yearned for war machines . . . She looked upward to where her husband slept, wondering if he ever felt a similar restlessness in turning his skills from war to peace. If he did, he never said so. These were things no one seemed to say. They all just put the war behind them and got on with it.
And is that such a bad thing? Mab scolded herself. Perhaps life wasn’t exactly exciting anymore; there were no great sweeps of passion or purpose to her days, but there was no grief or stress, either. Adventure, excitement, passion; those things were unreliable. The Bletchley Park years had offered all that, love and change and friendships to outlast the world, or so it seemed—but all that had come crashing down, and Mab had built this new life over the ruins, stone by painful stone.
Why on earth would she risk it all for a woman she hated?
But . . .
You may hate me, Beth had written, but you took the same oath I did. And whether Beth was mad or conniving, she had risked a great deal to reach out past asylum walls for help.
Mab scowled, and made a decision.
Four Years Ago
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FROM BLETCHLEY BLETHERINGS, OCTOBER 1943
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Bletchley Park is infested—not by mice, but by Yanks. Pestus Americanus can be identified by its unnaturally white teeth and Camel cigarettes . . .
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