PAUL CHANCELLOR HAD been angry with Percy Thwaite, violently angry, when he found out about the message from Brian Standish.
"You deceived me!" Paul had shouted at Percy.
"You deliberately made sure I was out of the way before you showed it to Flick!" "It's true, but it seemed best-" "I'm in command-you have no right to withhold information from me!" "I thought you would have aborted the flight." "Perhaps I would have-maybe I should have." "But you would have done it for love of Flick, not because it was right operationally." There Percy had touched Paul's weak spot, for Paul had compromised his position as leader by sleeping with one of his team.
That had made him more angry, but he had been forced to suppress his rage.
They could not contact Flick's plane, for flights over enemy territory had to observe radio silence, so the two men had stayed at the airfield all night, smoking and pacing and worrying about the woman they both, in different ways, loved.
Paul had, in his shirt pocket, the wooden French toothbrush he and Flick had shared on Friday morning, after their night together.
He was not normally superstitious, but he kept touching it, as if he were touching her, making sure she was okay.
When the plane returned, and the pilot told them how Flick had become suspicious of the reception committee at Chatelle, and had eventually dropped near Chartres, Paul had been so relieved he almost wept.
Minutes later, Percy had taken a call from SOE headquarters in London and had learned of Brian Standish's message demanding to know what had gone wrong.
Paul had decided to respond by sending the reply drafted by Flick and brought home by her pilot.
In case Brian was still at liberty, it told him that the Jackdaws had landed and would contact him, but it gave no further information, because of the possibility that he was in the hands of the Gestapo.
Still no one was sure what had happened out there.
The uncertainty was unbearable for Paul.
Flick had to go to Reims, one way or another.
He had to know whether she was walking into a Gestapo trap.
Surely there must be a way to check whether Brian's transmissions were genuine? His signals bore the correct security tags: Percy double-checked.
But the Gestapo knew about security tags, and they could easily have tortured Brian to learn his.
There were subtler methods of checking, Percy said, but they depended on the girls at the listening station.
So Paul had decided to go there.
At first Percy had resisted.
It was dangerous for operational people to descend on signals units, he said; they disrupted the smooth running of the service for hundreds of agents.
Paul ignored that.
Then the head of the station said he would be delighted for Paul to make an appointment to visit in, say, two or three weeks? No, Paul had said, two or three hours is what I had in mind.
He had insisted, gently but firmly, using the threat of Monty's wrath as a last resort.
And so he had gone to Grendon Underwood.
As a small boy in Sunday school, Paul had been vexed by a theological problem.
He had noticed that in Arlington, Virginia, where he was living with his parents, most of the children of his age went to bed at the same time, seven-thirty.
That meant they were saying their prayers simultaneously.
With all those voices rising to heaven, how could God hear what he, Paul, was saying? He was not satisfied with the answer of the pastor, who just said that God could do anything.
Little Paul knew that was an evasion.
The question troubled him for years.
If he could have seen Grendon Underwood, he would have understood.
Like God, the Special Operations Executive had to listen to innumerable messages, and it often happened that scores of them came in at the same time.
Secret agents in their hideaways were all tapping their Morse keys simultaneously, like the nine-year-olds of Arlington kneeling at their bedsides at half past seven.
SOE heard them all.
Grendon Underwood was another grand country house vacated by the owners and taken over by the military.
Officially called Station 53a, it was a listening post.
In its extensive grounds were radio aerials grouped in great arcs like the ears of God, listening to messages that came from anywhere between the arctic north of Norway to the dusty south of Spain.
Four hundred wireless operators and coders, most of them young women in the FANYs, worked in the big house and lived in Nissen huts hastily erected on the grounds.
Paul was shown around by a supervisor, Jean Bevins, a heavy woman with spectacles.
At first she was terrified of the visiting big shot who represented Montgomery himself~ but Paul smiled and talked softly and made her feel at ease.
She took him to the transmitting room, where a hundred or so girls sat in rows, each with headphones, notebook, and pencils.
A big board showed agents' code names and scheduled times for transmission-known as "skeds" and always pronounced the American way- and the frequencies they would use.
There was an atmosphere of intense concentration, the only sound being the tap of Morse code as an operator told an agent she was receiving him loud and clear.
Jean introduced Paul to Lucy Briggs, a pretty blonde girl with a Yorkshire accent so strong that he had to concentrate hard to understand her.
"Helicopter?" she said.
"Aye, I know Helicopter-he's new.
He calls in at twenty hundred hours and receives at twenty-three hundred.
No problems, so far." She never pronounced the letter aitch.
Once Paul realized that, he began to find it easier to interpret the accent.
"What do you mean?" he asked her.
"What sort of problems do you get?" "Well, some of them don't tune the transmitter right, so you have to search for the frequency.
Then the signal may be weak, so that you can't hear the letters very well, and you worry that you might be mistaking dashes for dots-the letter B is very like D, for instance.
And the tone is always bad from those little suitcase radios, because they're so small." "Would you recognize his 'fist'?" She looked dubious.
"He's only broadcast three times.
On Wednesday he was a bit nervous, probably because it was his first, but his pace was steady, as if he knew he had plenty of time.
I was pleased-I thought he must feel reasonably safe.
We worry about them, you know.
We're sitting here nice and warm and they're somewhere be-hind enemy lines dodging the bloody Gestapo." "What about his second broadcast?" "That was Thursday, and he was rushed.
When they're in a hurry, it can be difficult to be sure what they mean-you know, was that two dots run together, or a short dash? Wherever he was sending from, he wanted to get out of there fast." "And then?" "Friday he didn't broadcast.
But I didn't worry.
They don't call unless they have to, it's too dangerous.
Then he came on the air on Saturday morning, just before dawn.
It was an emergency message, but he didn't sound panicky.
In fact I remember thinking to myself~ He's getting the hang of this.
You know, it was a strong signal, the rhythm was steady, all the letters clear." "Could it have been someone else using his transmitter that time?" She looked thoughtful.
"It sounded like him.
but yes, it could have been someone else, I suppose.
And if it was a German, pretending to be him, they would sound nice and steady, wouldn't they, because they'd have nothing to fear." Paul felt as if he were wading through gumbo.
Every question he asked had two answers.
He yearned for something definite.
He had to fight down panic every time he recalled to mind the dreadful prospect that he might lose Flick, less than a week after she had come into his life like a gift from the gods.
Jean had disappeared, and returned now with a sheaf of papers in a plump hand.
"I've brought the decrypts of the three signals received from Helicopter," she said.
Her quiet efficiency pleased him.
He looked at the first sheet.
CALL SIGN HLCP (HELICOPTER) SECURITY TAG PRESENT MAY 30 1944 MESSAGE READS: ARRIVED OK STOP CRYT RENDEVOUS UNSAFE STOP NABBED BY GGESTAPO BUT GOT AWAY STOP IN FUTURE RENDEZVOUS AT CAFE DE LA GARE OVER
"He can't spell for nuts," Paul commented.
"It's not his spelling," Jean said.
"They always make errors in the Morse.
We order the decoders to leave them in the decrypt, rather than tidy them up, in case there's some significance." Brian's second transmission, giving the strength of the Bollinger circuit, was longer.
CALLSIGN HLCP (HELICOPTER) SECURITY TAG PRESENT MAY 311944 MESSAGE READS: ACTIV AGENTS NOMBER FIVE AS FOLOWS STOP MONET WHO IS WOUNED STOP COMTESSE OK STOP CHEVAL HELPS OCA SIONLY STOP BOURGEOISE STILL IM PLACE STOP PLUS MY RESCUER COD- NAME CHARENTON STOP
Paul looked up.
"This is much worse." Lucy said, "I told you he was in a rush the second time." There was more of the second message, mainly a detailed account of the incident at the cathedral.
Paul went on to the third:
CALLSIGN HLCP (HELICOPTER) SECURITY TAG PRESENT JUN 2 1944 MESSAGE READS: WHAT THE DEVIL HAPPENED QUERY SEND INSTRUCTIONS STOP REPLY IMEDIATELY OVER
"He's improving," Paul said.
"Only one mistake." "I thought he was more relaxed on Saturday," Lucy said.
"Either that, or someone else sent the signal." Suddenly, Paul thought he saw a way to test whether "Brian" was himself or a Gestapo impersonator.
If it worked, it would at least give him certainty.
"Lucy, do you ever make mistakes in transmission?" "Hardly ever." She threw an anxious glance at her supervisor.
"If a new girl is a bit careless, the agent will kick up a hell of a stink.
Quite rightly, too.
There should never be any mistakes-the agents have enough problems to cope with." Paul turned to Jean.
"If I draft a message, would you encode it exactly as it is? It would be a kind of test." "Of course." He looked at his watch.
It was seven-thirty p.m.
"He should broadcast at eight.
Can you send it then?" The supervisor said, "Yes.
When he calls in, we'll just tell him to stand by to receive an emergency message immediately after transmission." Paul sat down, thought for a moment, then wrote on a pad:
GIVE YOUR ARMS HOW MAN AUTOMATS HOW MY STENS ALSO AMMO HOW MNY ROUNDS ECH PLUS GREDANES REPLY IMMMEDIATLY
He considered it for a moment.
It was an unreasonable request, phrased in a high-handed tone, and it appeared to be carelessly encoded and transmitted.
He showed it to Jean.
"That's a terrible message.
I'd be ashamed of it." "What do you think an agent's reaction would be?" She gave a humorless laugh.
"He would send an angry reply with a few swear words in it." "Please encode it exactly as it is and send it to Helicopter." She looked troubled.
"If that's what you wish." "Yes, please." "Of course." She took it away.
Paul went in search of food.
The canteen operated twenty-four hours a day, as the station did, but the coffee was tasteless and there was nothing to eat but some stale sandwiches and dried-up cake.
A few minutes after eight o'clock, the supervisor came into the canteen.
"Helicopter called in to say he had had no word yet from Leopardess.
We're sending him the emergency message now." "Thank you." It would take Brian-or his Gestapo impersonator-at least an hour to decode the message, compose a reply, encode it, and transmit it.
Paul stared at his plate, wondering how the British had the nerve to call this a sandwich: two pieces of white bread smeared with margarine and one thin slice of ham.