Over an hour, forcing a path through the crowds. By Buckingham Palace, people lined fifty deep along the street, holding up mirrors to get a better look. Banners flapped, pennants waved, and a great heaving cheer went through the crowd as a horse-drawn carriage emerged from the gates and began rolling toward the abbey: the queen and Princess Margaret. Osla caught a flash of white flowers in the bridesmaid’s dark hair, then the carriage was gone. The crowd surged, and Harry shouted back to form a chain, dragging them bodily through.
Off the main thoroughfare at last, into the residential streets, where people still buffeted past toward the abbey. Giles’s building—a stitch stabbed Osla’s side like a stiletto, but she took the stairs two at a time. How many times had she come here after a date, chatting companionably? Rot, she thought, knocking her gloved knuckles against the door, hoping her breathlessness sounded like excitement. “Giles, darling, don’t faff about. What’s keeping you?”
“I’m breaking it down,” Harry said, forcing the knob—but the door swung open, unlocked.
The room inside had been ransacked. Every drawer stood open, clothes lay on the floor, a rattle of change spilled near the door as if money had been counted too hastily.
Beth gave a wordless snarl, barely human.
I cannot have tipped him off, Osla thought frantically, going over her telephone call. She would swear Giles had heard nothing in her voice to cause alarm. If she’d made the mistake that ended up ruining this operation . . .
“He was coming to meet you.” Harry picked up the gloves lying atop the pristine hat by the door—a gentleman’s finishing touch to a formal wedding ensemble. “It can’t have been our call that spooked him. What made him—”
Mab held up a newspaper lying beside a tea mug. The newspaper’s front page was all wedding news, but it was folded to the back pages—a picture of Beth’s unsmiling face. “‘Reward offered for news of the woman in this photograph. Contact the following number, as her family is concerned’ . . . That’s an MI-5 number, or I’ll eat my hat. ‘Recently spotted in Buckinghamshire’—bloody hell, do you suppose one of Dilly’s neighbors saw—”
“Who cares who spotted her? Giles knows Beth’s done a bunk.” Osla’s mouth had a sour taste. “And he’d know if she got all the way to Bucks, she could find BP friends. People who would believe her.”
Beth stood silent, shaking, furious.
“All right, so he’s rabbited,” said Mab. “Wherever he goes to ground, MI-5 will track him down. We stick to the plan, present our evidence, let them bring him in.”
“It could be tomorrow morning by the time they’re putting things in motion. What if he uses the wedding confusion to train it out of London, head for the channel? If he leaves the country . . .”
They all looked at each other.
“He can’t have got far yet.” Osla touched the teakettle on the stove. “Still warm. He’ll never get a car through these crowds, so he’ll be on foot. Probably making for the next train out of the city.” Osla knew the trains here like the back of her hand. “Victoria station is nearest.”
That would take them into the thick of the crush again, but there was no help for it. Mab rang Osla’s flat, telling Mike to meet them at Victoria as Osla hurtled down the stairs. The others pressed behind, back out to the main thoroughfare, where they were met by a wall of screams. All London was going wild. A gilt-decked coach pulled by two swiftly trotting white horses was rolling past, and Osla caught a flash of white lace in the window: Philip’s royal bride.
“This way,” Osla shouted, hauling her silver satin train over one arm and taking off for Victoria through the brick wall of wedding revelry.
He will get away. The words slid through Beth’s blood like poison. She didn’t trust that MI-5 could find him if he disappeared from London. Who knew what Moscow connections might help him vanish overseas? Perhaps the fear was irrational, but she couldn’t shake the thought: if he got away now, he might get away for good.
“He could take the Chatham main line all the way to Dover.” Mab’s eyes flew over the train schedule. “Disappear across the channel—”
“There’s a train leaving twenty minutes sooner than that for Brighton, he might grab the first ride out of London—”
“Check them both—”
Mike and Mab charged toward the Brighton line like a couple of long-legged greyhounds. Harry went for the Chatham line, Osla shoving behind in her silver satin and diamonds, Beth bringing up the rear. Victoria station was more of a madhouse than Clockwell during a full moon. Women in wedding-day best poured off trains with flowers and pennants, men passed flasks to toast the royal pair, children shrieked with excitement. The crowd heaved out toward the stairs like a boat wallowing in heavy seas, Beth and her friends seemingly the only ones fighting their way in and not out. Beth couldn’t breathe around the scream locked in her lungs. He won’t get away—he will not get away . . .
Osla halted, diamond roses coming loose from her hair as she craned her neck. She looked like a royal bridesmaid who had been cut out of the wedding party and run mad—mad, mad, mad; the word chimed through Beth’s mind. They fought their way through to the last platform, Harry checking every bench, Beth pushing into the gents’ loo, looking for that flash of red hair. “Hey there—” a startled man protested, dribbling piss over his shoes. Back out, toward the station’s entrance. The most recent train had emptied, passengers squeezing toward the surface; the crush thinned. Beth’s eyes hunted. Nothing.
“Too late.” The words pushed out through her stone-stiff lips.
“That son of a bitch,” Osla snarled.
The nearest ticket booth had the radio turned all the way up. Over the squeal of train wheels came the sound of the broadcast from the abbey: “Philip, wilt thou have this woman for thy wedded wife?”
“We are not too late,” Osla said fiercely, a tiny diamond-decked lioness yanking Beth along. Over the pushing throng, Beth saw Mab and Mike coming toward them, no sign of a red-haired man dragging between them. The sob built in Beth’s throat.
“Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, wilt though have this man . . .”
Then the crowd eddied, and Beth saw him.
A split-second glimpse of a man in an impeccable overcoat and trilby, fingers drumming on the handle of his overnight case as he looked down the track, and then an excited family in Sunday best pushed across the platform and hid him from view.
But he was there.
“Giles,” Beth whispered, and then she was making for him. “Giles.” Shoving a man twice her size out of her path, knocking over a display of wedding-day pennants. “Giles.”
He couldn’t have heard her, but his head jerked up, as though he felt her coming. Beth saw shock ripple across his face. For all his fear at seeing her escape in the paper, fear sufficient to send him running for the nearest train, he’d surely never thought she was so close: Beth Finch, the woman he’d wronged, no longer confined behind walls and straitjackets but mere feet away, aiming at him like a sword thrust. And behind her the others: Osla, Mab, Harry, Mike, catching sight of their enemy and closing in like hounds.
Be afraid, Beth thought, feeling her hair blow across her face from the whirling gust of another train as she advanced on him. Be afraid now, traitor.
Giles dropped his bag and ran.
Beth sprinted after him, and Osla was only half a step behind, silver satin billowing in her wake.
A party of schoolchildren cut off Mike and Harry, slowing them down, but Mab’s tall shape broke forward ahead of the crush. Beth saw the cry that escaped Giles the moment he registered Mab’s unmistakable Valkyrie head. He broke left; Mab made a grab for his elbow and tweaked his gabardine sleeve, but he stumbled and kept moving, sliding through the clumps of passengers disgorging from the newest train. He was making for the stairs leading aboveground.
Mab and Osla and Beth were all running together now, Harry and Mike somewhere behind, but the crowd was too thick and they’d all sprinted themselves breathless getting to the station. Mab’s breath was coming in cigarette rasps—Osla with her shorter stride was falling back—Beth tried to put on a burst of speed but her lungs were still weak from asylum pneumonia—and Giles was pulling ahead with a bound onto the first stairs. If he lost himself in the vast crowds outside—
Beth saw Osla swing toward a man leaning against the station wall, reading a heavy leather-bound book. Osla wrenched it out of his hands and hurled it like she was bowling a ball in a Bletchley Park rounders game.
The book hit Giles square on the shoulder, and he stumbled on the steps. That was all Mab needed, catching up in three leaping strides of her endless legs, seizing him by the elbow, and swinging him back round into the station with a snarl that bared every tooth in her head.
Giles ripped his arm free with a shout, but momentum sent him stumbling headlong toward Beth. Everything seemed to slow in that instant, enough for her to gather her limbs and launch herself into his chest. Beth bore him to the ground with a scream of fury that scraped her throat like a handful of knives and spun every head within fifty yards.