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So they nipped off to Giles’s car and climbed in the backseat and it was all finished four minutes later, and Osla felt no different except to think all the fuss about It had clearly been a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing—like the whole idea of romance to begin with. This is all you get, she thought. This is all there is.

Giles hadn’t seemed to expect much, just gave her a comradely smack on the flank and then drove her home. He’d gone on being exactly the same: a good friend, an occasional date, even a roll in the hay now and then after the war. Funny, exasperating Giles, who had slouched toward her at exactly the right moment earlier this year—the moment she was on her beam ends, thinking she might as well marry just to get on with life—and said, “Let’s give it a go, Os. Romance is for bad novels, but marriage is for pals—pals like us. What do you say?”

Once again, she’d thought, Why the hell not? and let him park an emerald on her finger.

And here she was, listening to an old enemy tell her that her future husband was a traitor to the crown.

“Your fiancé?” Beth had gone so white she looked ready to faint. “He told me just yesterday that he’d have a family soon. He didn’t say—” She broke off, ripping at her nails. “Did you tell him I’d sent you a message? Did you tell him you were coming here?”

“No.” And why hadn’t she? Osla couldn’t help wondering in the midst of her shock. Giles knew about Beth and Bletchley Park; it was one of the appeals of marrying him—that she wouldn’t have to tell whoppers about her war years. Osla could have asked his advice when she deciphered Beth’s Vigenère square. Why hadn’t she?

Something instinctive had sealed her mouth like a lock.

“You don’t believe me.” Beth’s voice was bleak as she looked at Osla. “You believe him.”

Osla opened her mouth, not even knowing what she was going to say, but memories were slotting themselves into place with the sudden click of keys turning in locks. “June ’Forty-Two, when I was hauled into Commander Travis’s office about those missing files,” she said slowly. “Travis said someone reported me—”

“Giles,” said Beth. “He told me. He said you nearly caught him, more than once—something about the Hut 4 box files.”

Osla thought of that whisk of coat disappearing just out of sight. I knew it was something fishy . . . But the realization brought no pleasure.

Mab took up the thread. “There was a night, after I was transferred to the mansion, when Giles kept pouring drinks into me at the Recreation Hut. I was a bloody mess . . . I had a set of keys that locked up the file cabinets. He said I’d turned them in to the watchman after leaving the Recreation Hut, but I didn’t remember . . .”

“He had himself a rummage through the mansion’s files when you were drunk.” Beth’s voice was hard. “He turned the keys in, but not before having a good poke-around.”

Mab went white too, and Osla could tell she was parsing what kinds of reports would have been accessible with those keys. Her chin lifted, and Osla saw her paleness was fury. “He used me,” she clipped. “He used me, he stole from me, then he comforted me.”

And he turned us against Beth, Osla thought. Something stabbed her stomach again—this time it was shame.

She looked at Beth: twitchy, wary, desperate, raw. Had she stayed entirely sane, after more than three years in a place like this?

Even if she was not entirely sane, she was still not wrong.

“I believe you,” Osla said.

“You—” Beth’s raspy new voice was barely a whisper. “You do?”

Mab nodded, too.

“We’ll get you out.” Osla checked for listeners. Their allotted hour was slipping away. “I’m going straight to London to report this. Once the wheels start to turn—”

“Too long. They’re operating on me the day after the royal wedding. They will cut into my brain—” Beth shivered violently. “Please—you can’t let them do that to me. Get me out now.”

She managed to hold her gaze steady this time, not sliding sideways. Osla and Mab exchanged glances.

“I have a plan,” Beth whispered. “I spent three and a half years watching the routines here. Tell me, did you get here by car or train . . .”

And their heads came together, among the dying roses.

Chapter 74

Osla was being charming and Mab was being terrifying, and between the two of them, Beth dared to hope she might get out.

Mab had collared two orderlies, the head matron, and a doctor doing his rounds. “I have serious concerns about my sister’s health.” Arms folded, scarlet fingernails drumming. “If we can discuss your therapies . . .”

Osla had gathered every nurse in sight and most of the inmates, and was chattering like a breathless Mayfair magpie. “. . . two hundred pounds of rose petals in the abbey alone. She’ll be wearing an absolutely topping tiara of the queen’s for her ‘something borrowed.’” Leaning forward confidentially, making the women lean in. “You mustn’t tell anyone, because Mr. Hartnell swore me to secrecy at my dress fitting, but the queen will be wearing lilac silk, a real fizzer—”

“How did you get invitations to the royal wedding?” one of the matrons breathed.

“My husband rubs shoulders with some useful London people. We saw Prince Philip once. An absolute dream . . .”

No one was paying attention to Beth, lingering close but not too close to the locked gardening shed.

“Perhaps increased outdoor activity?” Mab was suggesting to the doctor. He was visibly writhing to please her. “My sister always loved working in the garden. If that would help with these mood swings you describe . . .”

“Gauloises, anyone?” Osla passed her cigarette case around, throwing smiles like diamond chips. “There’s simply nothing like French cigarettes, French knickers, or French men! Now, the princess’s bridesmaids . . .”

“What kind of gardening tools do you have for the patients?” Mab steered her entourage around to the shed. “I’m sure my sister would improve if she could get her hands in the ground. Let me see what you have . . .”

The head matron unlocked the shed. Hanging inside was that set of keys that opened the small access doors where the gardeners trundled wheelbarrows of dead leaves off-grounds. The shed that had never once in the three and a half years Beth had been watching it been left unattended, not for so much as a cigarette break.

“They say Princess Margaret will be in white organza, but I think she’ll switch at the last minute to make a splash—” Osla broke off, patting her forehead. “Goodness, is anyone else warm?”

Glances at the cloudy sky. “It’s November, ma’am . . .”

The shed was open; Mab stepped inside to frown at the tools. “You could use more spades and trowels. I’ll speak to my husband about a donation. Tell me, what other supplies could the institution use . . .”

“Really, it seems quite warm . . . ?” Osla’s voice trailed upward uncertainly. She rose, frowning—and toppled over in a heap on the grass.

“DOCTOR!” Beth screamed.

(“Scream loud, Beth—we need every single head spinning in that moment to look at Osla.”)

The doctor jerked away from Mab and came at a trot. The nurses and even the inmates clustered around Osla, who lay on the ground with her limbs twitching, head rolled back.

(“The doctors here have seen epileptic fits. Can’t you just pretend you saw a spider?”)

(“It will work, Beth.”)

“Nurse, it’s some kind of seizure. Hold her head—”

Osla twitched gently, not overdoing it. You’re good, Beth thought, hope beginning to hammer at her ribs.

(“As soon as the distraction’s under way, Mab moves.”)

With every eye on Osla, Beth watched Mab’s hand move to the key hook inside the shed.

(“The keys aren’t labeled, but it will be one of the smaller ones. I don’t know which; grab them all. Are you sure you can get them off the ring without being seen?”)

(“It may have been a long time since I was pocketing lipsticks from Selfridges, but I’ve still got a fast swipe.”)

Beth saw her arm move in a quick yank, and then Mab was shutting the shed doors and pushing into the crowd around Osla. “My sister has always been prone to these little spells. Give her some air . . .”

Osla’s eyelids fluttered. Mab helped her sit up; there were blushes, apologies. Oh, how too too embarrassing, doctor . . . One of the nurses, Beth saw from the corner of her eye, was hastily locking up the shed, not bothering to look inside.

Doctors and orderlies fought to help Osla up, and she drooped gracefully against all the solicitous male arms. “Time to get my sister home,” Mab announced, and brushed through the crowd toward the house, a stream of nurses and patients moving with her. She and Beth managed to reach the door at the same time, jostling each other. Beth felt the three small keys press into her palm.

(“After that, Beth, it’s up to you.”)

DON’T RUSH IT, Beth thought.

Wait for Mab and Osla to be escorted out. Wait for the commotion from Osla’s fit to die down, for the common room to settle. Wait for the nurses to fall back into their usual rounds. Wait.

But what if the grounds crew goes back into the shed, and they see—