Like her Go partner.
“After the operation, you’ll be in a state they call surgically induced childhood.” His words rolled over Beth in waves. “Sounds spiffing, doesn’t it? Didn’t we all adore being children? But it might not be much fun the second time around, once you get past toilet training. Ideally you’ll remain in an infantile state, and they’ll guide you into a more docile, accepting personality. Results vary, of course. You might end up a vegetable pissing her sheets for the next fifty years.”
Beth managed to wrench away. Her whole arm was numb; she stood clutching it and trembling.
“You’re telling yourself I’m lying. I’m not.” He looked down at her, biting his lip as though he were the one in pain. “Dr. Seton is very enthusiastic about the procedure. He’s already begun lobotomizing some of his other patients; perhaps you’ve noticed. He really shouldn’t have told me you were on the list, considering I’m not the MI-5 contact on record in your case, but I can be very persuasive.”
Beth collapsed back onto the bench, breath coming in gasps. Holes drilled in her skull. Toilet training. She could imagine herself sitting on this bench, smiling vacantly, remembering something about keys and roses, but having no idea what it all meant. Sitting on this bench for the next fifty years.
You’re lying, she thought. But she no longer believed it.
“MI-5 won’t contest your doctor’s recommendation, Beth.” Giles dropped onto the bench beside her. “Maybe you’ll end up fine, a little fuzzy around the edges. But maybe you’ll be a shell with a head full of mashed turnip.” His voice rose. “So give me what I want, or you’ll find yourself strapped to a table as they go at your skull with a drill.”
Beth screamed. She clapped both hands over her mouth in time to contain it, but it went on and on inside her head. Her head, her brain. She was nothing without her mind. She’d survived here for more than three years because of her mind.
“I didn’t suggest this, I’ll have you know. I didn’t even know the procedure existed. But I’ll let it happen.” He leaned closer. “You want to know why I’m finally here talking to you? Because I’m tired of worrying if you’ve figured out it was me. I’m on my way up, I’ll have a family soon, and I’m done worrying if you might be a threat to all that. So tell me what I want to know. Either you walk out of this place with no proof against me, or you stay here forever unable to remember what proof you had. Either way, I’m free.”
He stood. “Think about it. Because I hate the thought of anyone cutting into that admirable brain of yours, but my God, I’m tired of living on the edge.”
Beth flung herself on him. She couldn’t stop, couldn’t think, couldn’t reason, just flew at Giles and tried to tear him to pieces. She would have clawed his eyes out of his sockets, but he threw her away like a rag doll before the orderlies could even descend.
“Your surgery is scheduled for the afternoon after the royal wedding.” He stepped back, straightening his tie. “I’ll ring here that morning. Tell the doctors you wish to see me—I’ll speak to the MI-5 chap handling your file, get the surgery stopped, and volunteer to take your case. Say nothing, and the surgery goes forward.” Pause. “I like you, Beth. I always have. So don’t make me do this.”
Since when can you drive?” Osla asked Mab as they motored out of York.
“My husband taught me.” Mab took a sharp bend with confident speed. “He’s Australian; grew up eight hundred miles from anything important and four hundred miles from anything at all, so he learned to drive in the cradle.”
Osla slanted a glance at her. “What did you tell him about this day trip?”
“Visit to an old friend. The best lies have the most truth.”
“That’s certainly true.”
They exchanged guarded glances as the Bentley halted at a four-way stop. Maybe we can get through this day without flashing any more claws, Osla thought.
“You didn’t used to wear trousers,” Mab said with a glance at Osla’s sleek red slacks. “They made you look squat. This prolonged rationing is such a blessing for some people . . .”
“You’re not in Casablanca,” Osla shot back, “so stop wearing your hat over one eye like a third-rate Ingrid Bergman.”
Mab glared. As they climbed up into the high moors, Osla outlined the route to Clockwell. “About a two-hour drive.”
“And when we get there?” Mab steered the Bentley round a bend. “How are we getting in?”
Osla outlined her plan. “The matron on telephone duty shouldn’t have told me so much, but I detoured her onto a nice long gossip about the royal wedding, and there’s really nothing most women won’t tell you right now in exchange for royal wedding gossip. I let it slip that the bridal bouquet would be myrtle and lilies, and I tell you, that woman was mine.”
“Is the bridal bouquet going to be myrtle and lilies?”
“How the blithering hell should I know? I made it up. As for getting admitted to visiting hours without identification—” Osla ticked through the last details. “If they double down on us, we start up the waterworks. We’re so distressed to be coming here, doctor, please, we’ve come all this way.” Osla dabbed an imaginary handkerchief. “It’s amazing what men, even doctors, will do to get weeping women off their hands.”
“You can cry on command?”
“Of course. Frightfully useful.”
A pall fell over the car, maybe just a cloud sliding across the sun. “What do you think will happen?” Osla heard herself ask.
Mab stared straight ahead. “We’ll realize Beth’s mad as a hatter and be off the hook.”
“That’s what you hope will happen. Rather beastly of you, too,” Osla couldn’t help adding.
“I’m a beastly person, Os. That’s been made abundantly clear lately. By you, by my—” She stopped, jaw set.
“In some ways, I’m glad you’re beastly.” Osla curled her feet beneath her. “If Beth’s not mad and not lying, we’re going to have to put things right. I’d much rather have a cast-iron bitch on my side for that fight than a fainting ninny.”
“Get your shoes off the seat!”
Osla ignored her. “Who do you think the traitor is?”
“Maybe it’s you,” Mab suggested.
“Do shut up. The traitor—”
“Look here, do we have to go on saying the traitor? I feel like I’m in an Agatha Christie novel, and not in a good way.”
“I’m floored at all points here trying to imagine a good way to be in an Agatha Christie novel.”
“You’re the corpse in chapter one,” Mab suggested, smirking.
The car was winding further into the fells. “You’re very nearly enjoying this,” Osla observed. “That must have been quite the up-and-downer with your husband, if you’re on the verge of enjoying a drive to a lunatic asylum with me, darling.”
That got her a withering look.
“Just the glare, no quip? You’re losing your touch, Queen Mab.” Maybe Osla could enjoy this moment too, just a bit. “If I call the traitor the informer instead, will you keep glaring?”
“I will allow informer.”
“Topping of you. What if the informer is . . . someone we know?”
“If Beth knew them,” Mab replied grimly, “we probably do, too. Odds are it’s a woman.”
“How do you figure that?”
“There were more of us at BP. And people don’t suspect women.”
“Don’t talk slush!” Osla snorted. “We can’t walk off alone with a man without being called fast, we can’t check into a hotel without suspicion we’re there for hanky-panky—”
“People suspect women of hanky-panky,” Mab corrected. “But they never suspect women of espionage. No one thinks women can keep secrets.”
“What are the three fastest means of communication?” Osla quoted the old joke, then she and Mab chanted the answer together: “Telegraph, telephone, tell a woman!”
“You have no idea how I hate that joke,” Mab said.
“Darling, I have a very good idea.”
They fell silent. The car scraped past an elderly farm truck trundling along an exposed spine of country road, mud splatting across the windscreen. “Why did you settle in Yorkshire of all places?” Osla asked.
“Because my husband got a job here, and because it was far away from London and Bletchley,” Mab said shortly. “Because it had no memories at all.”
Osla twisted the big emerald around her finger. “You said you had a family now . . .” Oh, blast, she couldn’t ask if Mab had children, given the phantom that was little Lucy, hovering between them—it would drive the knife in to the hilt.
“I have twins,” Mab said unexpectedly. “Eighteen months old.” The flash of love through her face was the first softening Osla had seen since clapping eyes on her yesterday.
“I’m happy for you,” Osla said honestly. “What are their names?”
Osla felt the phantom glide of a little girl’s wrist wrenching out of her grip. “Mab . . .”