Page 97

“I’ll tell you more about him someday.” Mab wiped her eyes. “Right now, I’d rather hear about you. What was the work like, fixing bombes?”

Her husband took the diversion, turned it over with his laconic Australian smile. “Forty-eight hours sometimes trying to run down a fault, some Wren at your shoulder going into spasms. How was your work?”

“Tedious. Exciting. Stressful. Dull. A bit of everything.” Mab managed a smile. “Shall I tell you about the night all the Wrens and I stripped down and worked in our underwear?”

“Crikey, yes . . .”

Hours later, Mab and her husband rose, looked around the maintenance bay, and realized everyone but Beth had left.

It was midnight, the day before the royal wedding, and the bombe machine stood ready.

Chapter 81

Tomorrow,” Mab said, eyes gleaming, “or rather, later today, we’ll be seeing what happens when we plug her up.”

She and her husband left arm in arm, grubby from machine oil. The last to go, Beth realized. One by one the exhausted Mad Hatters had gone home to their unsuspecting families, crawled off to neglected flats for a few hours’ sleep, or gone with Osla, who was putting the rest up in her Knightsbridge digs.

“You’re sleeping here?” Harry had asked Beth, pulling on his jacket. He’d been first to leave this evening, just after Mike Sharpe had arrived.

“I made a nest of blankets in the supply closet. Peggy doesn’t want the machines left alone.” Besides, Beth had no desire to head outside, even on London’s outskirts, while Giles was in this city. “Are you going back to Cambridge?”

“I’ll stay and see it through. Christopher knows his dad has important work right now.” Harry smiled. “Sheila sends her love.”

Beth remembered something she hadn’t thought of until now. “Did Sheila’s flier survive the war?”

“He did, actually. Nice chap; I’ve met him. Sheila spends every Tuesday and Thursday with him at his flat in Romford.” Harry had nodded good night and headed out . . . and now everyone had gone and Beth was alone in the echoing space, looking up at the impassive bronze face of the bombe. “You’d better be useful,” she said aloud.

Feed me something useful first, it answered.

She wandered back to Boffin Island and leafed through the stack of messages again. “Come on, Rose. Open up.” Beth remembered why she’d called this cipher Rose to begin with: the way it furled in on itself, overlapping and secretive. It had taken her months to break Abwehr, and they didn’t have months for Rose. Or even days.

A knock came at the outer door hours later as Beth dozed over the decrypts. She roused with a start. Harry’s voice drifted: “It’s me.”

“What are you doing back already?” Letting him in.

“Bringing you a friend.” Harry set a covered basket on the floor, raising the lid. Boots popped his square gray head over the rim.

“Oh . . .” Beth crashed to her knees and swept up her dog. He wriggled and snuffled, trying to caper on his short legs, and her shoulders heaved. She wasn’t sure how much time passed, as she held her dog and told him she loved him, before she could look up at Harry through swimming eyes. “You brought him for me.”

“Your landlady’s glad to hear you’re well. I swore her to secrecy, of course.” Harry picked up the basket. “Good night again, Beth.”

“Stay.” The word fell out of her mouth before she could think about it.

He stopped, a vast shadowy shape against the door.

“Or maybe you don’t want to,” Beth rushed on. “All this week, you won’t really—look at me.”

Harry dropped the basket, returned in one long stride, and sank down to the floor beside her, reaching out slowly. His big hand warmed the side of her throat. “I didn’t know if you could bear to look at me,” he said quietly.


“Because I left you there.” His voice was even, but his hand slid into her hair and tightened. “When your mother threw me out of her kitchen, I stumbled home and wept for you, when I should have been hunting up Commander Travis or Mab or Osla. I believed your gorgon of a mother, and you stayed there rotting—”

“Stop talking.” Beth linked her hands around his neck, heart drumming. “Do you want me? Do you love me? If the answer to either—I don’t even need both!—is yes, then please do something about it.”

Harry buried his face in her collarbone, shoulders shaking. For a moment she thought he might be crying, but he was laughing. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, slipping the first button of her dress loose, then the next. She helped him with the rest, wanting to climb inside him and never come out. He rose, picked her up, tripped over Boots, then walked into the little supply closet without taking his mouth away from hers. He kicked the door shut, opened it a moment later, pushed Boots out with a “Sorry, chap,” and they pitched over onto the makeshift nest of blankets.

Three and a half years, Beth thought—but it was like they’d never been apart. Harry’s weight over hers; his hand catching her wrists and pinning them over her head; her toes locking around his knees as her back arched. Lying in the dark afterward, breast to breast, palm to palm, just breathing.

“You’ve got that look.” Harry rose to let Boots in. The schnauzer stamped around their twined feet, chuffing, then curled up on the floor with an outraged expression. “What are you thinking about?”

“Rods and lobsters,” Beth said sleepily.

“Thought so.” Harry’s chest vibrated with laughter as he tugged a blanket around them both. “Christ, but I love you.”

“PUT ON A scarf,” Osla told Beth at dawn when the rest of the Mad Hatters returned. “I can practically count the kisses, you hussy!” Beth, leaning over the stack of Rose, hair skewered back above her kiss-blotched neck with a pencil, barely heard a word. She’d been back at work since three in the morning, Boots was snoring on her feet, and she was deep down the spiral.

All through the day and into the winter twilight, Beth had the feeling that she’d wedged a fingernail round the edge of Wonderland’s gate. Rose was fighting, but she had it firmly in her grip, spiraling down toward its calyx. I beat the Italian naval Enigma, Beth told it. I beat the Spy Enigma. You’re no match for me, Rose. It wasn’t a match for Harry, either—Harry, who had gone to work right alongside her at three, periodically leaning over to drop a kiss on the nape of her neck. Or the Prof, or Peggy, or the Hut 6 fellow named Asa who’d rejoined them from Oxford when Cohen and Maurice had to return to their own offices.

We’re going to pry you open tonight, Beth thought calmly.

“We’ve got enough,” Harry said eventually, long past suppertime. No one had departed for meals or sleep—they were too close, and they were almost out of time. “The bombe can make a start with this.” It has to, he didn’t have to say. The hours were slipping away like grains of sand in an hourglass.

Mab peered at the mess of tables and letter pairs, rod squares and diagrams. “Can anyone make a bombe menu?” Beth looked at her blankly. “For God’s sake, the way they compartmentalized our jobs is just massively unhelpful.”

“Too, too frightfully shortsighted of them, darling,” Osla drawled. “Not to realize our pressing need for operational understanding if a treason case ever popped up.”

“I did menus at BP . . .” Asa was already turning Beth’s work into a tidy diagram. Mab took it with a nod, and everyone gathered round. Mab’s Australian husband watched with an enormous grin as his wife handled the complicated mass of plugs and wires like a snake charmer funneling vipers into baskets. Valerie Middleton was wide-eyed. “So that’s how it works . . .”

“Stand clear,” Mab ordered, and threw the machine into life.

The drums began to whir and rotate, their mechanical thrum filling the room and sending a bolt of excitement down Beth’s spine. “Looks so primitive now,” the Prof said, standing beside Harry. “Compared to the machines I’ve worked on since . . .”

The drums kept rotating and the mechanical whir kept rising. Mab’s eyebrows rose along with it. “Well, get back to the other messages,” she said, shooing the others. “Average time to a complete job is about three hours with a three-wheel army key like this and I’ll be doing multiple runs. Even when and if it breaks, we’ve no guarantees this message has what we need.”

Beth wrenched her eyes away from the hypnotic whirl, reaching for one of the other messages.

She couldn’t say how many hours passed, how many runs Mab did on the bombe machine as the others paced. At some point Beth looked up to see that the machine was still, drums frozen in a silence that left her ears ringing, and that Mab was running some sort of complex check on the Enigma machine, which until now had sat neglected. “Got to test the stops,” she muttered. “Find the Ringstellung . . . the Hut 6 Machine Room did this part, but I wasn’t there very long . . .” Everyone stood poised in suspense.