Even the sinking of the Royal Oak had been "a
pretty good show by Raeders chaps," in Portels opinion. Ferracini
was incredulous as he listened. It was all still a game of king-size cricket.
A sporting, "Well hit, sir!" had been earned by the other side. It
didnt seem to have registered that what had been knocked for six was over
eight hundred British sailors.
But at least the British were doing something, he reflected.
"What do people in America think?" Cox asked him.
Ferracini had to answer, "To be honest, most of them
have forgotten theres a war on over here at all."
There were innumerable stops and delays, and it was dark
when the train arrived at Kings Cross Station. They emerged, stumbling
over curbstones and sandbags, into an eerie, black, treacherous world of unseen
steps, corners, and lampposts, vaguely outlined buildings, and shuffling bodies.
Pedestrians materialized suddenly in the gloom, most of them carrying flashlights
and wearing at least one piece of white clothing, usually an armband, coat,
hat, or scarf. In the roadway itself, drivers cautiously inched their way forward,
guided only by thin pencils of light coming through slits cut in their headlight
Portel vanished into the murk to find a cab. How, Ferracini
couldnt imagine. "Man, oh, man, I never realized Broadway was so
beautiful," Cassidys voice muttered from somewhere behind as they
Portel evidently knew the ropes and reappeared after what
seemed a miraculously short time with a taxicab, into which Cox squeezed with
half the group. Then, to prove it hadnt been a fluke, Portel repeated
the performance by finding another cab for the rest. Twenty minutes later, they
were all reunited at the Kensington Garden Hotel near the Albert Hall. Rooms
had already been booked, and Major Warren and Gordon Selby were waiting to welcome
them. While the arrivals from New York went upstairs to clean up and change
into fresh clothes, Portel and Cox went for a quick "noggin" in the
bar with Warren and Selby; then, their charges safely delivered, the two British
officers departed. The others reassembled for a late dinner, which Warren had
arranged to be served in a private room.
"Its a lot different here from Manhattan,"
Gordon Selby said as they sat down. "I still havent figured out how
the cabbies find their way around at all."
"Doesnt anyone talk about anything else but the
blackout?" Ryan asked.
Selby grinned apologetically. "I must be picking up
English habits already," he admitted. "The big scares over,
so now they grumbleabout the food rationing, about the Civil Defense people
sitting at their posts and drinking tea with nothing to do all day, about the
lousy benefits that the wives of the guys who are drafted get paid. . . ."
He nodded. "But sure, mostly about the blackout."
"How about the trainshave you tried them yet?"
Cassidy said. "Theyre really something."
"But in this England, we just walked on," Lamson
reminded him. "We didnt need any travel permits stamped by the local
Polizeiführer. The Gestapo werent on the train checking papers. Thats
"Thats a point," Cassidy agreed.
"The saddest parts the big toy stores,"
Selby said. "Theyre all trying to keep up a business-as-usual face
with lonely Santas sitting around among mountains of train sets and dolls, but
there arent any kids. They were all evacuated out of the cities at the
"But they are starting to trickle back in again, especially
with the time of year," Warren added.
One lump of sugar for the coffee was allowed per cup. Each
person received one pat of butter and one of margarine for the rolls, and the
waiter pointed out which was which.
Ferracini turned his head to scan the room after the waiter
had left. "Is this place safe to talk?" he asked.
Warren nodded. "Its okay. We checked it before
you guys arrived."
"Then about the missionwhat happens next?"
Ferracini asked. At lastthis, of course, was what had been burning in
all their minds.
"Were gonna go in and take out Ay-dolfs
return-gate," Cassidy said before Warren or Selby could reply. "Why
act like you dont know, Harry? None of us thinks we came along just for
Nevertheless, all eyes remained fixed on Major Warren. He
seemed unsurprised. Nobody had expected him to be. He nodded.
"Where is it?" Payne asked.
Warren frowned in the act of raising his fork to his mouth,
and hesitated. "Youve all come a long way, and the subject isnt
really appropriate to this evening," he said. "Leave it until tomorrow,
okay? Its going to be a busy day. First thing in the morning, well
be coming back here to pick you up for breakfast with Claud, Anna, and Arthur.
After that, youre all going to meet Churchill and Professor Lindemann
for a preliminary briefing."
"Is that when we get to meet the British half of the
act?" Ryan inquired.
Warren shook his head. "Forget it." The others
exchanged puzzled glances.
"There isnt going to be any British half,"
"Just useveryone here except Gordon," Warren
said. "He has to stick around to help get a bomb program moving if we dont
Ryan frowned. "So what happened to this idea of getting
British replacements for the backups we were supposed to have gotten from JFK
back in July?"
"Thats out," Warren said. "The politics
between the British and the French stinks. The generals are all playing ostrich
with their heads stuck in the last war. The staff in London doesnt get
along with their commander in France. He doesnt get along with the French,
and none of them gets along with the war minister. Some of them have even started
bitching behind each others back direct to the King." Warren shook
his head. "Its all a mess. Ive talked about it with Claud,
and weve agreed wed be better off staying out and running our own
firm in our own way."
Six men were going to pit themselves against what was probably
the most secret and heavily protected place in Europeor, very likely,
anywhere. Ferracini slumped back as the enormity of what Warren was saying hit
him. He caught Cassidys eye for a second, and for once even Cassidy seemed
dazed. Selby, watching, attributed their expressions to fatigue. "Anyhow,
you guys have come a long way. Lets save it all for tomorrow and try to
get some sleep tonight, eh?" It was all right for Selby. Selby wouldnt
Cassidy leaned back in his chair. "Just us, period,
or will we be using local contacts?" he asked.
Warren waved his hand decisively in front of his face. "Not
another word about it until tomorrow morning," he ordered. "Gordon,
tell us again what you were saying earlier about that crazy horse and cart."
"Theres a famous old firm of hatters in London,
called Scotts," Selby told the table. "Theyve always used
a horse-drawn delivery vana kind of tradition now. Its very distinguished,
with nice woodwork all painted and varnished, and liveried coachman and footman
in cockaded top hats.
"Well, I saw it this morning trotting down Bond Street
with everything just the same as usual, except that the guys have traded their
hats for steel helmetsI guess until the wars over." He shook
his head. "These people . . . I dont know . . .
Im not sure its so inevitable that Hitler will walk all over them.
Sometimes I still think it could go either way."
"We all know what happened last time," Lamson
"True, but they were under the wrong management,"
Selby said. Then he added, "If only something could be done about that. . . ."
Payne caught the curious note in his voice. "What are
you trying to say?" he asked.
Selby glanced uncertainly at Warren. Warren gave an almost
imperceptible shake of his head, and Selby steered the conversation to other
Later in the evening, after the dinner party had broken
up and the others had turned in for the night, Ferracini, Cassidy, and Ed Payne
caught Selby on his own in a quiet corner of the lobby. "What did you mean
earlier, Gordon, when you said something about changing the management?"
Payne asked as they sat down around him at a table.
"Oh, nothing really . . ."
"Who do you think youre kidding?" Cassidy
said. "Come on, give. Were curious."
Selby hesitated, then emitted a long sigh and nodded. "Annas
convinced that Claud and Arthur are up to something that theyre not letting
on about," he said, lowering his voice. "Claud has taken more key
people into his confidence over the gate and whats going on in the U.S.
He says its to stiffen the countrys morale, but Anna doesnt
think thats the main reason."
"What does she think, then?" Ferracini asked.
"That Clauds meddling again," Selby said.
"It gives him direct access to more of the nations policy shapers.
Hes having dinner tonight with Lord Salisbury and Leopold Amery, which
is why he wasnt here. Theyre both among the people who have been
saying some pretty tough things about the way the governments been handling
the war so far. You see, it broadens Clauds base for pulling political
strings. Chamberlain might be a sincere guy and all that, but hes just
not a war leader. Churchills the only one with any fighting spirit in
the whole War Cabinet. Anna called him a cuckoo put in a nest of baby
hedge-sparrows. Now she thinks Claud is carrying out preparatory maneuvers
to capitalize on having gotten Churchill in there."
"You mean some of the sparrows might be kicked out
before much longer?" Payne said.
"That," Selby agreed. He paused for a moment.
"Unless the idea is to bring down the entire British government, which
might explain why Claud and Arthur are being so secretive."
The others stared at him incredulously. "Surely not?"
Payne protested. "Not even Claud would try to pull off anything as audacious
Selby smiled in a strange, humorless kind of way. "Thats
exactly what I told Anna," he said.
"And what did she say?" Payne asked.
"She agreed," Selby replied. "She said her
imagination must have been running away with her. Why, it would be almost as
audacious as trying to go back in time to change history!"