At last Mab looked up, swiped her dark hair out of her eyes. Grinned. “Job up, strip down.”
They were all cheering, voices echoing through the maintenance bay. Valerie pushed her way behind the Enigma machine, setting the wheels as Mab read off the positions. It was long past midnight, Beth realized as she rubbed one foot along Boots’s back—in fact, it might be near dawn. Harry wrapped his arms around her from behind; she could feel his heart banging away in his chest. Asa stood polishing his spectacles, Peggy jabbed a pin into the pale knot of her hair, Osla bounced on her toes. The Prof shifted from foot to foot. Mab leaned against one side of the bombe and her husband against the other, both muttering encouragement as Val laboriously hammered out the encrypted Rose message.
“Give it here!” Osla snatched the cipher text almost before it emerged from the machine. It came out in English, Beth could see at a glance, but the BP translator in Osla had snapped on duty anyway: she’d taken her place in the chain, separating the five-letter clusters into words with a few pencil strokes. Beth couldn’t stay back any longer; she rushed to look over Osla’s left shoulder, vaguely aware Mab had rushed to Osla’s right, and everyone else crowded behind.
Everyone’s lips moved silently as they read the broken Rose.
Beth spoke with quiet satisfaction, seeing Giles Talbot’s face under his red hair. “We’ve got him.”
Giles, darling.” Osla kept her trill of greeting through the telephone perfectly natural. She was in a telephone box outside the repair lab; jammed into the box beside her, Mab gave a terse nod of approval. “Did I wake you?”
“Of course you did.” Giles’s sleepy voice came down the line. At the sound, Beth’s eyes got that unsettling feral glitter that prickled every nerve Osla had. No one was ever going to look at Beth Finch, since the madhouse, and think she was just a little mouse of a thing. “It’s six in the morning.”
Osla made a shoo gesture at the Mad Hatters, clustered around the telephone box. They gave her some room and she launched into it. “Don’t you dare get in a flap, Giles. I’m still furious with you for talking to the papers.”
“I said I was sorry.” His tone was wheedling. “You aren’t giving me the old heave-ho, are you?”
“I should, you know.” Osla made sure to sound pettish. “But I refuse to go to the wedding today without an escort, so consider yourself forgiven. I’ll swing by your flat in a few hours—”
“Nonsense, I’ll pick you up.”
“You don’t need to—”
“Darling, it’s the least I can do.”
Osla let it go. Push too hard to come to his door, he might get suspicious. “Bright and early,” she said, naming the hour.
“I’m your man, kitten.”
That’s the last time you’ll ever call me kitten, you rat bastard. Osla rang off, looking at the Mad Hatters. “Step two accomplished.”
Step one, of course, had been to ring MI-5 regardless of the hour—but lines were busy, phones rang unanswered, or harried-sounding voices insisted on taking messages rather than listening to a word. Peggy had no luck with her GCHQ connections either: “My superior’s out, and I’m not bringing this to anyone but him.” Osla hadn’t been surprised. No one in all of Britain—intelligence services, law enforcement, or constabulary forces combined—was going to have an ear free, not with the wedding of the century barreling down. “We go to London and sit on Giles ourselves until the wedding’s over and we can present him to MI-5 with our evidence,” Beth stated.
“Why sit on him? As long as he’s not suspicious, he’s not going anywhere.”
“What if he decides to ring the asylum a day early and finds out I’m gone? If we can’t get him arrested till after the wedding, I want him locked down.”
They swept the maintenance bay one last time and piled out after giving the sheeted bombe a final pat. “I wonder when they’ll notice it’s suddenly in much better condition,” Mike remarked. Some of the Mad Hatters were returning home now that their part was done—the Prof ambling back to Cambridge, Asa to Oxford, Valerie muttering, “I have no idea what I’m going to tell my husband, absolutely none.” Peggy was packing the Enigma machine straight back to GCHQ, swearing she’d keep the lines ringing there until she had someone at MI-5 listening.
Five of them crammed into Mab’s Bentley and turned toward London: Mike driving (and wasn’t he scrummy, Osla thought—he and Mab were going to have the tallest children in the world), Mab beside him with Boots, Harry squashed in the back with Beth, Osla, and the file of decrypted Rose.
“Reminds me of hitching rides to London with half-sauced RAF pilots,” Osla said, trying to extract her elbow from Harry’s ear. “Squished together like sardines, barreling round blind turns absolutely pipped. Amazing we survived the war at all.”
“I was supposed to be hosting a royal wedding listening party today,” Mab observed. “I learned how to fold napkins into swans.”
For some reason that struck Osla as funny. Perhaps it was lack of sleep, or perhaps it was euphoria because today Giles Talbot was going down. Soon everyone was howling with laughter as the Bentley barreled toward the heart of London.
Where it hit the traffic that had come in for the wedding, and stopped dead.
“TWENTY MINUTES BEFORE Giles nips round!” Osla hurled the door of her flat open, sprinting straight through to the bedroom. It had taken literally hours to crawl through the city toward Knightsbridge; they’d abandoned the Bentley and run the last six blocks. Beth now collapsed with Boots under her arm, scarlet as a telephone box, and Mab was doubled over wheezing. “Now will you cut down on the bloody cigarettes?” Mike demanded, limping in last due to his old knee wound.
Osla had already hurled off her crumpled skirt and was shimmying into the tube of silver satin she’d set aside for the royal wedding. Giles would knock; Osla would answer the door looking abbey-ready; she’d ask him in for a cigarette—My nerves are all a-jangle, darling—and as soon as the door was shut, Harry and Mike would pin him. Giles Talbot was going to spend the rest of the day and night here, the Mad Hatters sitting on him until they could escort him and the Rose file to MI-5.
Osla flew out, tugging on her long white gloves, pushing diamond clips into her hair. “Is it too early for a drink?” The sound of cheers and noise from the streets below made their way through the windows. Osla slung a few ropes of pearls about her neck, took the flask Harry offered, and swigged. They were all waiting for the knock. Harry prowled back and forth like a black-maned lion; Beth ripped at her nails; Mab was on the telephone trying to get through to someone at MI-5, GCHQ, anywhere. Mike massaged his knee, remarking, “Can I pound this bugger?”
“I get first crack,” Harry growled.
“I get first crack,” Beth protested. “I’m the one he locked in a loony bin.”
The minutes ticked by. Mab turned on the radio, and they heard the commentators: “At Kensington Palace, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh”—so that was Philip’s new title, Osla thought—“with the Marquess of Milford Haven, his best man, checked the time for the start of his drive . . .”
“Giles is late.” Mab and Osla exchanged glances. “He’s never late.”
Osla didn’t dare take that chance. “Mike, stay here. Nab him if he turns up.” Osla, Mab, Beth, and Harry headed for the door. Osla ditched the silver fox stole she’d have worn if she really were going to the wedding, yanking on J. P. E. C. Cornwell’s trusty old overcoat as she ran for the stairs. Surely Giles couldn’t have smelled a trap . . .
His flat was just a few scant miles from Osla’s, but the way lay right through the heart of the city, and they hadn’t a hope of a taxi. People were flooding off the sidewalks and spilling into the street; here and there an automobile inched along, horn blaring, but the crowd was a relentless river flooding inexorably toward the abbey. Harry forced a path through the crush, Beth at his elbow, Mab and Osla bringing up the rear. Overhead the sky lowered, gray and cloudy. Osla’s heart thundered.
Is he making a run for it?