“I am patriotic enough to commit treason in my country’s best interests.” His voice was low, fierce. “Grow up, Beth. Countries are high, shining ideals, but governments are made of selfish, greedy men. Can you honestly say our fellows at the top always know what they’re doing?” The words spilled from him in a torrent. Beth wondered if he was relieved, finally, to have an audience for all these carefully marshaled arguments. “How often did we watch them bungle information we gave them? Misuse it or ignore it or withhold it from allies who were dying for need of it?”
“I don’t know.” Beth leaned forward, lowering her voice too. “What was done with the information was never my business. My job was to decrypt it and pass it on.”
“Such a little worker bee. Well, let me tell you that isn’t enough for some of us.” He bent forward, his nose almost touching hers. An outsider would think they were lovers, Beth thought—a man and woman swaying toward each other among the roses, eyes locked in passionate, unblinking communion. Only that passion was hatred, not love. “Maybe you can close your eyes to where your work goes and let the Official Secrets Act dictate your conscience. I can’t. If I see information that should be passed to our allies rather than dying in a Whitehall desk drawer because the cabinet doesn’t want to share its toys, I don’t make excuses. I act. I knew what the consequences were, I knew what my own people could do to me, and I acted anyway. Because it was the right thing to do, if we were going to defeat Hitler and his rancid ideology.”
“It wasn’t our job to decide what the right thing was.”
“It’s every thinking human being’s job, especially in war, and don’t tell me differently. Letting a wrong happen because the rules forbid you from acting—that was the defense of a good many Germans, after the war. I was following orders. But it didn’t save them from the noose when the war crimes trials started. I looked at my superiors and I knew they were doing wrong, so I moved against them. I got myself a Moscow contact, and I passed information that saved thousands of Allied lives in the USSR.”
“Passed information or sold it?” she asked, mocking.
“They pay me, but I don’t ask for it. I’d have done it for nothing.”
“So you’re still a patriot. Just a richer one.” Looking at his fine coat, his air of success. “All from smuggling decrypted messages?”
“And gathering gossip. Women love to talk. Confide in a female and—here’s the key—tell her you’re in love with someone else. Either she’s relieved because she knows you’re not about to lay it on, or she takes it as a challenge and starts to flirt. Either way, she starts talking.”
Beth shook her head. “I still can’t believe no one ever caught you.”
“Osla just about did.” He sounded unconcerned. “I nipped into Hut 4 when everyone was out goggling over a visiting admiral, and she nearly caught me copying some files out.”
Beth remembered something. “Were you the one who reported her taking files out of Hut 3 later?”
A shrug. “She kept sniffing about, checking things—I didn’t want anyone believing her.”
“Brave of you,” said Beth. “Throwing another friend under the train.”
“You know nothing about brave.” Giles moved even closer. “You’d never have the courage to do what I did, you prim little rule follower. You couldn’t make a choice that bleak and live with the consequences.”
“But you’re not exactly living with the consequences, are you?” Beth whispered back. “I am. You’re walking around free, and I’m locked up for a nervous breakdown I never had. You stole my life, because I found you out.” She drew back, looking him right in the eye. “How does your conscience square that?”
He flinched almost invisibly. There, Beth thought. That’s the weak spot. Her old friend really didn’t think he’d done wrong in selling intelligence . . . but he knew he’d done wrong getting her locked up.
“I didn’t mean this to happen—”
“But it did. The road to hell, Giles—what’s that paved with again?”
“You’re the one responsible.” He withdrew, pacing quickly around the stone bench. “You can get out of here whenever you want. Just give me those decrypts.”
Beth thought of Dilly’s safe, the key she’d been hiding in her shoe for the past three and a half years. Triumph warmed her in a sudden savage glow. Giles had sewn her up so neatly, but he’d missed her bolt to Courns Wood.
“I know you hid them somewhere,” he rushed on. “Did you get anything else out of the other messages? Did any of them mention my name?”
Beth didn’t answer.
“Never mind. Tell me where they are, and I’ll see you out of here.”
“What gives you that authority?” she replied. “Why would you have any right to dictate my future?”
“I’m MI-5 now, Beth. Recruited after the war. I’m not the contact on file here at Clockwell, handling your case, but my bosses won’t think it odd if I start taking an interest in you, considering we used to be friends. I can volunteer to take your case, put in a report that you’ve got your mind and your self-control back. You’ll be released.”
To be free. Fresh air, buttered toast, a bed that smelled of starched linen and not of old piss stains . . . Beth bit the inside of her cheek. It was an illusion and she wasn’t going to be tricked by it.
“Do something for me,” she heard herself saying. Her hand crept up, fidgeted with the ragged ends of her hair. “Please?”
“Anything.” He bent down, took her hands. “I want to help you.”
“Every night, tell yourself what you told me. How you’re a patriot, not a traitor. How you’re the hero of this story, not the villain.” Beth smiled. “Then remember that you got an innocent woman locked in a madhouse to save your own skin, and ask yourself: how goddamned heroic is that?”
He said nothing. His face had gone white.
“By the way,” Beth added, “how long have you been selling MI-5 secrets to Moscow? I’m guessing since your first week on the job.”
He turned even whiter. Beth sat down on the bench, thinking, Checkmate. It had just been a guess.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said at last.
She smiled contemptuously.
“How—” he began, and stopped.
We won the war and no harm came to BP—even with your meddling, Beth thought. But who knows what damage you might cause now, interfering in MI-5 business?
“The Soviets aren’t our allies anymore. How do you justify that, Giles? Selling to our enemy. Are you calling this patriotism, or is it just cold hard cash now?” Raising her eyebrows. “Or maybe it’s self-preservation. You give them what they want or they turn you in? Are you only now realizing the hold they’ve got on you, as long as they want it?”
“It won’t be forever.” His face hardened like a stubborn child’s. “Just a few bits and pieces, then I’m done.”
“Is that what they’re telling you? Or what you’re telling yourself?”
He seized her hand, a gesture that would have looked friendly to any nurse watching from a distance, but he bent her little finger back almost to the wrist. A spike of pain drove up Beth’s arm, and she cried out in surprise.
“I was trying to do this nicely,” he whispered. “But if you’re going to be stupid, I’m done dancing around. Give me what I want.”
“No.” Beth tried to yank free.
“Yes. Because if you don’t, you’ll be a drooling idiot forever. The new head physician has reviewed the case of Alice Liddell, and he has a suggestion to improve your moodiness and your occasional fits of violence. Oh, and your promiscuity—apparently you propositioned an orderly in a closet recently. Can’t have promiscuous acts among the patients; it wouldn’t be good for the place’s reputation.” Giles leaned closer. “Do you know what a lobotomy is?”
The pain was still screaming down Beth’s arm.
“It’s a neurological procedure favored in America. Surgical severance of the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain.”
Beth’s skin crawled as if a rat had run over her nerves.
“They shave your scalp and drill into your skull, then shove a metal spatula in there and hack until the links are severed.” His voice was brutal. “You’re awake the whole time. The nurses encourage you to sing songs, recite poetry, answer questions. The procedure is over when you’re no longer able to speak.”
Horror slithered down her spine. Beth saw herself on an operating table, her head in a vise, singing When Cunningham won at Matapan by the grace of God and Beth. Struggling to find the next line. Falling silent—