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All Clear

All Clear

    Lincoln’s Dreams
    Doomsday Book
    Impossible Things
    Uncharted Territory
    Fire Watch
    To Say Nothing of the Dog
    Miracle and Other Christmas Stories


    All Clear is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
    Any resemblance to actual persons, living or
    dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
    Copyright © 2010 by Connie Willis
    All rights reserved.
    Published in the United States by Spectra,
    an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group,
    a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
    SPECTRA and the portrayal of a boxed “s”
    are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
    Willis, Connie.
    All clear / Connie Willis.
    p. cm.
    eISBN: 978-0-345-52269-6
    1. Time travel—Fiction. 2. Historians—Fiction.
    3. World War, 1939–1945—England—Fiction. I. Title.
    PS3573.I45652A79 2010
    813′.54—dc22 2010030197

    ambulance drivers
    air-raid wardens
    canteen workers
    airplane spotters
    rescue workers
    chorus girls
    retired sailors
    Shakespearean actors
    and mystery novelists

    You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as you are generous and true, and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.

    Other Books by This Author
    Title Page
    London—26 October 1940
    London—7 May 1945
    London—26 October 1940
    Bethnal Green—June 1944
    London—26 October 1940
    Kent—April 1944
    London—27 October 1940
    London—November 1940
    Kent—April 1944
    Golders Green—July 1944
    London—November 1940
    Kent—April 1944
    London—November 1940
    London—November 1940
    Oxford—April 2060
    Bletchley—November 1940
    Dulwich—Summer 1944
    London—November 1940
    Bletchley—December 1940
    Dulwich—Summer 1944
    London—December 1940
    Oxford—April 2060
    London—December 1940
    Saltram-on-Sea—December 1940
    London—December 1940
    London—December 1940
    London—29 December 1940
    St. Paul’s Cathedral—29 December 1940
    St. Paul’s Cathedral—29 December 1940
    Ludgate Hill—29 December 1940
    Blackfriars Tube Station—29 December 1940
    St. Paul’s Cathedral—29 December 1940
    The City—29 December 1940
    St. Bartholomew’s Hospital—30 December 1940
    St. Paul’s Cathedral—30 December 1940
    Croydon—October 1944
    London—Winter 1941
    London—Winter 1941
    London—Winter 1941
    London—7 May 1945
    London—Winter 1941
    London—Winter 1941
    London—Winter 1941
    London—Winter 1941
    Kent—April 1944
    Imperial War Museum, London—7 May 1995
    Dover—April 1944
    Imperial War Museum, London—7 May 1995
    Wales—May 1944
    London—Spring 1941
    London—May 1944
    London—Spring 1941
    Imperial War Museum, London—7 May 1995
    Kent—June 1944
    Imperial War Museum, London—7 May 1995
    Kent—October 1944

    Kent—October 1944
    London—Spring 1941
    Croydon—October 1944
    London—Spring 1941
    London—Spring 1941
    London—Spring 1941
    Imperial War Museum, London—7 May 1995
    London—19 April 1941
    London—19 April 1941
    Imperial War Museum, London—7 May 1995
    London—7 May 1945
    London—19 April 1941
    About the Author

    I want to say thank you to all the people who helped me and stood by me with Blackout and All Clear as one book morphed into two and I went slowly mad under the strain: my incredibly patient editor, Anne Groell, and my long-suffering agent, Ralph Vicinanza; my even longer-suffering secretary, Laura Lewis; my daughter and chief confidante, Cordelia; my family and friends; every librarian within a hundred-mile radius; and the baristas at Margie’s, Starbucks, and the UNC student union who gave me tea—well, chai—and sympathy on a daily basis. Thank you all for putting up with me, standing by me, and not giving up on me or the book.
    But most especially, I want to thank the marvelous group of ladies who were at the Imperial War Museum the day I was there doing research on the Blitz—women who, it turned out, had all been rescue workers and ambulance drivers and air-raid wardens during the Blitz, and who told me story after story that proved invaluable to the book and to my understanding of the bravery, determination, and humor of the British people as they faced down Hitler. And I want to thank my wonderful husband, who found them, sat them down, bought them tea and cakes, and then came to find me so I could interview them. Best husband ever!

    Well, he hasn’t come yet, sir, he’s more than a bit late tonight.
    London—26 October 1940
    BY NOON MICHAEL AND MEROPE STILL HADN’T RETURNED from Stepney, and Polly was beginning to get really worried. Stepney was less than an hour away by train. There was no way it could take Merope and Michael—correction, Eileen and Mike; she had to remember to call them by their cover names—no way it could take them six hours to go fetch Eileen’s belongings from Mrs. Willett’s and come back to Oxford Street. What if there’d been a raid and something had happened to them? The East End was the most dangerous part of London.
    There weren’t any daytime raids on the twenty-sixth, she thought. But there weren’t supposed to have been five fatalities at Padgett’s either. If Mike was right, and he had altered events by saving the soldier Hardy at Dunkirk, anything was possible. The space-time continuum was a chaotic system, in which even a minuscule action could have an enormous effect.
    But two additional fatalities—and civilians, at that—could scarcely have changed the course of the war, even in a chaotic system. Thirty thousand civilians had been killed in the Blitz and nine thousand in the V-1 and V-2 attacks, and fifty million people had died in the war.
    And you know he didn’t lose the war, Polly thought. And historians have been traveling to the past for more than forty years. If they’d been capable of altering events, they’d have done it long before this. Mr. Dunworthy had been in the Blitz and the French Revolution and even the Black Death, and his historians had observed wars and coronations and coups all across history, and there was no record of any of them even causing a discrepancy, let alone changing the course of history.
    Which meant that in spite of appearances, the five fatalities at Padgett’s Department Store weren’t a discrepancy either. Marjorie must have misunderstood what the nurses said. She’d admitted she’d only overheard part of their conversation. Perhaps the nurses had been talking about the victims from another incident. Marylebone had been hit last night, too, and Wigmore Street. Polly knew from experience that ambulances sometimes transported victims to hospital from more than one incident.
    And that people one thought had been killed sometimes turned up alive.
    But if she told Mike about having thought the theater troupe was dead, he’d demand to know why she hadn’t known St. George’s would be destroyed and conclude that was a discrepancy as well. Which meant she needed to keep him from finding out about the five casualties at Padgett’s till she’d had a chance to determine if there actually were that many.
    Thank goodness he wasn’t here when Marjorie came, she thought. You should be glad they’re late.
    And thank goodness her supervisor had taken Marjorie back to hospital, though it meant Polly hadn’t had a chance to ask her what exactly the nurse had said. Polly had offered to take Marjorie there herself so she could ask the hospital staff about the fatalities, but Miss Snelgrove had insisted on going, “So I can give those nurses a piece of my mind. What were they thinking? And what were you thinking?” she scolded Marjorie. “Coming here when you should be in bed?”
    “I’m sorry,” Marjorie had said contritely. “When I heard Padgett’s had been hit, I’m afraid I panicked and jumped to conclusions.”
    Like Mike did when he saw the mannequins in front of Padgett’s, Polly thought. Like I did when I found out Eileen’s drop in Backbury didn’t open. And like I’m doing now. There’s a logical explanation for why Marjorie heard the nurses say there were five fatalities instead of three, and for why no one’s come to get us. It doesn’t necessarily mean Oxford’s been destroyed. Research might have got the date the quarantine ended wrong and not arrived at the manor till after Eileen had left for London to find me. And the fact that Mike and Eileen aren’t back yet doesn’t necessarily mean something’s happened to them. They might simply have had to wait till Theodore’s mother returned from her shift at the aeroplane factory. Or they might have decided to go on to Fleet Street to collect Mike’s things.
    They’ll be here any moment, she told herself. Stop fretting over things you can’t do anything about, and do something useful.
    She wrote out a list of the times and locations of the upcoming week’s raids for Mike and Merope—correction, Eileen—and then tried to think of other historians who might be here besides Gerald Phipps. Mike had said there was an historian here from some time in October to December eighteenth. What had happened during that period that an historian might have come to observe? Nearly all the war activity had been in Europe—Italy had invaded Greece, and the RAF had bombed the Italian fleet. What had happened here?
    Coventry. But it couldn’t be that. It hadn’t been hit till November fourteenth, and an historian wouldn’t need an entire fortnight to get there.
    The war in the North Atlantic? Several important convoys had been sunk during that period, but being on a destroyer had to be a ten. And if Mr. Dunworthy was canceling assignments that were too dangerous …
    But anywhere in the autumn of 1940 was dangerous, and he’d obviously approved something. The intelligence war? No, that hadn’t really geared up till later in the war, with the Fortitude and V-1 and V-2 rocket disinformation campaigns. Ultra had begun earlier, but it was not only a ten, it had to be a divergence point. If the Germans had found out their Enigma codes had been cracked, it clearly would have affected the outcome of the war.
    Polly looked over at the lifts. The center one was stopping on third. They’re here—finally, she thought, but it was only Miss Snelgrove, shaking her head over the negligence of Marjorie’s nurses. “Disgraceful! I shouldn’t be surprised if she had a relapse with all her running about,” she fumed. “What are you doing here, Miss Sebastian? Why aren’t you on your lunch break?”
    Because I don’t want to miss Mike and Eileen like I missed Eileen when I went to Backbury, but she couldn’t say that. “I was waiting till you got back, in case we had a rush.”
    “Well, take it now,” Miss Snelgrove said.
    Polly nodded and, when Miss Snelgrove went into the stockroom to take off her coat and hat, told Doreen to send word to her immediately if anyone came in asking for her.
    “Like the airman you met last night?”
    Who? Polly thought, and then remembered that was the excuse she’d given Doreen for needing to know the names of airfields. “Yes,” she said, “or my cousin who’s coming to London, or anyone.”
    “I promise I’ll send the lift boy to fetch you the moment anyone comes. Now, go.”
    Polly went, running downstairs first to look up and down Oxford Street and see if Mike and Eileen were coming, and then going up to ask the shop assistants in the lunchroom about airfields. By the end of her break, she had half a dozen names that began with the correct letters and/or had two words in their names.
    She ran back down to third. “Did anyone ask for me?” she asked Doreen, even though they obviously hadn’t come.

    She ran back down to third. “Did anyone ask for me?” she asked Doreen, even though they obviously hadn’t come.
    “Yes,” Doreen said. “Not five minutes after you left.”
    “But I told you to send word to me!”
    “I couldn’t. Miss Snelgrove was watching me the entire time.”
    I knew I shouldn’t have left, Polly thought. This is exactly like Backbury.
    “You needn’t worry, she hasn’t gone,” Doreen said. “I told her you were on lunch break, and she said she had other shopping to do and she’d—”
    “She? Only one person? Not a man and a girl?”
    “Only one, and definitely not a girl. Forty if she was a day, graying hair in a bun, rather scraggy-looking—”
    Miss Laburnum. “Did she say what she was shopping for?” Polly asked.
    “Yes,” Doreen said. “Beach sandals.”
    Of course.
    “I sent her up to Shoes. I told her it was likely too late in the season for us to carry them, but she was determined to go see. I’ll watch your counter if you want to go
    —oh, here she is,” she said as the lift opened.
    Miss Laburnum emerged, carrying an enormous carpetbag. “I went to see Mrs. Wyvern and obtained the coats,” she said, setting the carpetbag on Polly’s counter,
    “and I thought I’d bring them along to you.”
    “Oh, you needn’t have—”
    “It was no bother. I spoke to Mrs. Rickett, and she said yes, your cousin could share your room. I also went to see Miss Harding about the room for your Dunkirk friend. Unfortunately, she’d already let it, to an elderly gentleman whose house in Chelsea was bombed. Dreadful thing. His wife and daughter were both killed.” She clucked sympathetically. “But Mrs. Leary has a room to let. A second-floor back. Ten shillings the week with board.”
    “Is she in Box Lane as well?” Polly asked, wondering what excuse she could give after Miss Laburnum had gone to all this trouble if it was in a street on Mr.
    Dunworthy’s forbidden list.
    “No, she’s just round the corner. In Beresford Court.”
    Thank goodness. Beresford Court wasn’t on the list either.
    “Number nine,” Miss Laburnum said. “She promised me she won’t let it to anyone else till your friend’s seen it. It should do very nicely. Mrs. Leary is an excellent cook,” she added with a sigh and opened the carpetbag.
    Polly caught a glimpse of bright green inside. Oh, no, she thought. It hadn’t even occurred to her when she’d asked Miss Laburnum about the coats that she might
    “I hoped to get a wool overcoat for your gentleman friend,” Miss Laburnum said, pulling out a tan raincoat, “but this Burberry was all they had. There were scarcely any ladies’ coats either. Mrs. Wyvern says more and more people are making do with last year’s coats, and I fear the situation will only grow worse. The government’s talking of rationing clothing next—” She stopped at the expression on Polly’s face. “I know it’s not very warm—”
    “No, it’s just what he needs. There’s been so much rain this autumn,” Polly said, but her eyes were on the carpetbag. She braced herself as Miss Laburnum reached in again.
    “That’s why I got your cousin this,” she said, pulling out a bright green umbrella. “It’s a frightful color, I know, and it doesn’t match the black coat I obtained for her, but it was the only one without any broken spokes. And if it’s too gaudy for her, I thought we might be able to use it in The Admirable Crichton. The green would show up well onstage.”
    Or in a crowd, Polly thought.
    “It’s lovely, I mean, I know my cousin won’t think it too bright, and I’m certain she’ll lend it to us for the play,” she said, chattering in her relief.
    Miss Laburnum laid the umbrella on the counter and pulled the black coat out of the carpetbag, then a black felt hat. “They hadn’t any black gloves, so I brought along a pair of my own. Two of the fingers are mended, but there’s still wear in them.” She handed them to Polly. “Mrs. Wyvern said to tell you that if any of Padgett’s employees are in a similar situation to send them to her and she’ll see they get coats as well.” She snapped the bag neatly shut. “Now, do you know if Townsend Brothers sells plimsolls and where I might find them?”
    “Plimsolls?” Polly said. “You mean canvas tennis shoes?”
    “Yes, I thought they might work instead of beach sandals. The sailors on board ship might have been wearing them, you see, when it sank. I asked in your shoe department, but they hadn’t any. Sir Godfrey simply doesn’t realize how filthy the station floors are—chewing gum and cigarette ends and who knows what else. Two nights ago, I saw a man”—she leaned across the counter to whisper—“spitting. I quite understand that Sir Godfrey has more pressing things on his mind, but—”
    “We may have some in the games department,” Polly said, cutting her off in midflow. “It’s on fifth. And if we’re out of plimsolls,” which Polly was almost certain they would be, with rubber needed for the war effort, “you mustn’t worry. We’ll think of something else.”
    “Of course you will.” Miss Laburnum patted her arm. “You’re such a clever girl.”
    Polly escorted her over to the lift and helped her into it. “Fifth,” she said to the lift boy, and to Miss Laburnum, “Thank you ever so much. It was terribly kind of you to do all this for us.”
    “Nonsense,” Miss Laburnum said briskly. “In difficult times like these, we must do all we can to help each other. Will you be at rehearsal tonight?” she asked as the lift boy pulled the door across.
    “Yes,” Polly said, “as soon as I get my cousin settled in.”
    If she and Mike are back by then, she added silently as she went back to her counter, but she felt certain now they would be.
    You were worried over nothing, she thought, picking up the umbrella and looking ruefully at it. And it will be the same thing with Mike and Eileen. Nothing’s happened to them. There weren’t any daytime raids today. Their train’s been delayed, that’s all, like yours was this morning, and when they get here, you’ll tell Eileen the airfield names you’ve collected, and she’ll say, “That’s the one,” and we’ll ask Gerald where his drop is and go home, and Mike will go off to Pearl Harbor, Eileen will go off to VE-Day, and you can write up your observations of “Life in the Blitz” and go back to fending off the advances of a seventeen-year-old boy.
    And in the meantime, she’d best tidy up her counter so she wouldn’t have to stay late tonight. She gathered up the umbrella, the Burberry, and Eileen’s coat and put them in the stockroom and then put the stockings her last customer had been looking at back in their box. She turned to put the box on the shelf.

    them in the stockroom and then put the stockings her last customer had been looking at back in their box. She turned to put the box on the shelf.
    And heard the air-raid siren begin its unmistakable up-and-down warble.

    In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best.
    VE-Day, 8 May 1945
    London—7 May 1945
    “Hurry!” Reardon urged. “The train will leave—”
    “I know,” she said, attempting to squeeze past the two Home Guards who were still singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” And forming a solid wall. She tried to go around, but dozens of people were trying to board the car and pushing her back away from the door. She shoved her way back to it.
    The door was sliding shut. If she didn’t get off now, she’d lose them and never be able to find them again in these crowds of merrymakers. “Please, this is my stop!”
    she said, eeling her way between two very tipsy sailors to the door. There was scarcely enough room to slip through. She braced the door open with both elbows.
    “Mind the gap, Douglas!” Paige shouted and held out her hand.
    She grabbed for it and half stepped, half jumped off the train, and before her feet even touched the platform, the train was moving, disappearing into the tunnel.
    “Thank goodness!” Paige said. “We were afraid we’d never see you again.”
    You wouldn’t have, she thought.
    “This way!” Reardon called gaily and started along the platform toward the exit, but the platform was just as jammed as the train had been. It took them a quarter of an hour to get off it and through the tunnel to the escalators, where things were no better. People were blowing tin whistles, cheering, leaning over the top throwing confetti on them as they rode up, and somewhere someone was banging on a bass drum.
    Reardon, five steps above her, leaned back down to shout, “Before we get outside, we’d best settle on a meeting place! In case we get separated!”
    “I thought we said Trafalgar Square,” Paige shouted.
    “We did,” Reardon shouted, “but where in Trafalgar Square?”
    “The lions?” Paige suggested. “What do you think, Douglas?”
    That won’t work, Douglas thought. There are four lions and they’re right in the middle of the square, which will be jammed with thousands of people. Not only will we not be able to find the correct lion, but we won’t be able to see anything from there if we do.
    They needed an elevated vantage point they could see the others from. “The National Gallery steps!” she shouted up to them.
    Reardon nodded. “The National Gallery steps.”
    “When?” Paige asked.
    “Midnight,” Reardon said.
    No, she thought. If I decide I need to go tonight, I’ll have to be there by midnight, and it will take me the better part of an hour to get there. “We can’t meet at midnight!” she shouted, but her voice was drowned out by a schoolboy on the step above her blowing enthusiastically on a toy horn.
    “The National Gallery steps at midnight,” Paige echoed. “Or we turn into pumpkins.”
    “No, Paige!” she called. “We need to meet before—”
    But Reardon, thank goodness, was already saying, “That won’t work. The Underground only runs till half past eleven tonight, and the Major will have our heads if we don’t make it back.”
    Half past eleven. That meant she’d need to start for the drop even earlier.
    “But we only just got here,” Paige said, “and the war’s over—”
    “We haven’t been demobbed yet,” Reardon said. “Till we are—”
    “I suppose you’re right,” Paige agreed.
    “Then we meet on the National Gallery steps at a quarter past eleven, agreed? Douglas?”
    No, she thought. I may need to be gone before that, and I don’t want you waiting for me and ending up being late getting back.
    She needed to tell them to go on without her if she wasn’t there. “No, wait!” she called, but Reardon was already to the top of the escalator and stepping off into an even larger crowd. She turned back to say, “Follow me, girls,” and disappeared into the mêlée.
    “Wait! Reardon! Paige!” Douglas called, pushing up the moving stairs to catch Paige, but the boy with the horn was blocking her way. By the time she reached the top of the escalator, Reardon was nowhere to be seen, and Paige was already nearly to the turnstiles. “Paige!” she called again, and started after her.
    Paige turned back.
    “Wait for me!” Douglas called, and Paige nodded and made an effort to move to the side but was swept on through.
    “Douglas!” Paige shouted and pointed to the stairs leading up to the street.
    She nodded and started that way, but by the time she reached Paige, she was halfway up the steps and clinging madly to the metal railing. “Douglas, can you see Reardon anywhere?” Paige shouted down to her.
    “No!” she called, bracing herself against the noisy, laughing crowd, which was carrying them inexorably up the stairs to the street. “Listen, if one of us isn’t there on the steps when it’s time to leave, the others shouldn’t wait!”
    “What did you say?” Paige shouted over the din, which was growing even louder. Just above them a man in a bowler shouted, “Three cheers for Churchill!” and the crowd obligingly bellowed, “Hip hip hurrah! Hip hip hurrah! Hip hip hurrah!”
    “I said, don’t wait for me!”
    “I can’t hear you!”
    “Three cheers for Monty!” the man shouted. “Hip hip—”

    The cheering crowd pushed them up out of the stairway, rather like a cork from a bottle, and spewed them out onto the packed street. And into an even louder din.
    Horns were honking and bells were ringing. A conga line snaked past, chanting, “Dunh duh dunh duh dunh UNH!”
    Douglas pushed up to Paige and grabbed her arm. “I said, don’t—”
    “I can’t hear a word you’re saying, Doug—” Paige said, and stopped short. “Oh, my goodness!”
    The crowd crashed into them, around them, past them, creating a sort of eddy, but Paige was oblivious. She was standing with her hands clasped to her chest and a look of awe. “Oh, look, the lights!”
    Electric lights shone from shops and the marquee of a cinema and the stained-glass windows of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The pedestal of Nelson’s monument was lit, and so were the lions and the fountain. “Aren’t they the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen?” Paige sighed.
    They were beautiful, though not nearly as wonderful to her as they must be to the contemps, who’d lived through five years of the blackout. “Yes,” she said, looking over at Trafalgar Square.
    St. Martin’s pillars were draped in bunting, and on its porch stood a little girl waving a glittering white sparkler. Searchlights crisscrossed the sky, and a giant bonfire was burning on the far side of the square. Two months ago—two weeks ago—that fire would have meant fear and death and destruction to these same Londoners. But it no longer held any terror for them. They danced around it, and the sudden drone of a plane overhead brought cheers and hands raised in the V-for-victory sign.
    “Isn’t it wonderful?” Paige asked.
    “Yes!” she said, shouting into Paige’s ear. “But listen, if I’m not on the steps at a quarter past eleven, don’t wait for me.”
    But Paige wasn’t paying any attention. “It’s just like the song,” she said, transfixed, and began to sing, “ ‘When the lights go on again all over the world …’ ”
    The people near them began to sing along with her and then were drowned out by the man in the bowler, shouting, “Three cheers for the RAF!” which was in turn drowned out by a brass band playing “Rule, Britannia.”
    The jolly mob was pushing her and Paige apart. “Paige, wait!” she shouted, grabbing for her sleeve, but before she could catch hold, she was abruptly grabbed by a British Army private who swung her into a dip, planted a wet kiss on her lips, swung her back to standing, and grabbed another girl.
    The entire episode had taken less than a minute, but it had been long enough. Paige was nowhere to be seen. She attempted to find her, heading in the direction she’d last seen her going, and then gave up and struck out across the square toward the National Gallery.
    Trafalgar Square was, if possible, even more crowded than the station and the street had been. Huge numbers of people were sitting on the base of Nelson’s monument, astride the lions, on the sides of the fountain, on a Jeep full of American sailors that was, impossibly, trying to drive through the center of the square, horn honking continuously.
    As she passed it, one of the sailors leaned down and grabbed her arm. “Want a ride, gorgeous?” he asked, and hauled her up and into the Jeep. He called to the driver in an exaggerated British accent, “Buckingham Palace, my good man, and make it snappy! Does that please you, milady?”
    “No,” she said. “I need to get to the National Gallery.”
    “To the National Gallery, Jeeves!” the sailor ordered, though the Jeep clearly wasn’t going anywhere. It was completely surrounded. She scrambled up onto its bonnet to try to spot Paige. “Hey, beautiful, where you goin’?” he said, grabbing at her legs as she stood up.
    She swatted his hands away and looked back toward Charing Cross, but there was no sign of Paige or Reardon. She turned, holding on to the windscreen as the Jeep began to crawl forward, to look toward the National Gallery steps.
    “Get down, honey!” the sailor who was driving shouted up at her. “I can’t see where I’m going.”
    The Jeep crept a few feet and stopped again, and more people swarmed onto the bonnet. He leaned on the horn, and the crowd parted enough for the Jeep to creep a few more feet.
    Away from the National Gallery. She needed to get off. When the Jeep stopped again, blocked by the conga line writhing past, she took the opportunity to slip off.
    She waded on toward the National Gallery, scanning the steps for Paige or Reardon. A clock chimed, and she glanced back at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. A quarter past ten. Already?
    If she was going to go back tonight, she needed to be back in the tube station by eleven, or she’d never make it to the drop, and it could take longer than that just to reach the National Gallery steps. She needed to turn back now.
    But she hated to leave without saying goodbye to Paige. She couldn’t actually tell her goodbye, since her cover story was that she’d been called home because her mother had been taken ill. Technically, she wasn’t supposed to leave without permission, but with the war over, she’d have been demobbed in the next few days anyway.
    She’d intended to go back tonight because, with everyone from the post in London, it would be easier to slip away. But if she went tomorrow—even though it would be more difficult to effect her escape—it would give her a chance to see everyone one last time. And she didn’t want Paige to wait for her, miss the last train, and get into trouble.
    But surely Paige would realize she’d failed to show up because of the crowds and go on without her. Now that the war was over, it wasn’t as if her absence would mean that she’d been blown up by a V-2. And even if she did stay, there was no guarantee she could find Paige in this madness. The National Gallery steps were jammed with people. She’d never be able to spot … no, there Paige was, leaning over the stone railing, anxiously peering out at the crowd.
    She waved at Paige—a totally useless gesture amongst the hundreds of people waving Union Jacks—and elbowed her way determinedly toward the steps, veering left when she heard the “dunh duh dunh” of the conga line off to the right.
    The steps were packed. She pushed over to the end of them, hoping it might be less crowded there.
    It was, marginally. She began to work her way up, stepping between and over people. “Sorry … I beg your pardon … sorry.”
    There was the sudden heart-stopping, high-pitched whine of a siren, and the entire square fell silent, listening, and then—as they realized it was the all clear—
    erupted into cheers.
    Directly in front of her, a burly workman sat on a step, his head in his hands, sobbing as if his heart would break. “Are you all right?” she asked anxiously, putting her hand on his shoulder.
    He looked up, tears streaming down his ruddy face. “Right as rain, dearie,” he said. “It was the all clear what did it.” He stood up so she could pass, wiping at his cheeks. “The most beautiful thing I ever ’eard in me ’ole life.”
    He took her arm to help her up to the next step. “ ’Ere you go, dearie. Let ’er through, blokes,” he called to the people above him.
    “Thank you,” she said gratefully.

    “Thank you,” she said gratefully.
    “Douglas!” Paige shouted from above, and she looked up to see her waving wildly. They worked their way toward each other. “Where did you go?” Paige demanded. “I turned round and you were gone! Have you seen Reardon?”
    “I thought perhaps I might spot her or some of the others from up here,” Paige said. “But I haven’t had any luck.”
    She could see why as she looked out over the crowd. Ten thousand people were supposed to have gathered in Trafalgar Square on VE-Day, but it looked like there were already that many here tonight, laughing and cheering and throwing their hats in the air. The conga line, at the far corner, was weaving off toward the Portrait Gallery, replaced by a line of middle-aged women dancing an Irish jig.
    She tried to take it all in, to memorize every detail of the amazing historical event she was witnessing: The young woman splashing in the fountain with three officers of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. The stout woman passing out poppies to two tough-looking soldiers, who each kissed her on the cheek. The bobby trying to drag a girl down off the Nelson monument and the girl leaning down and blowing a curled-paper party favor in his face. And the bobby laughing. They looked not so much like people who had won a war as people who had been let out of prison.
    Which they had been.
    “Look!” Paige cried. “There’s Reardon.”
    “By the lion.”
    “Which lion?”
    “That lion.” Paige pointed. “The one with part of his nose missing.”
    There were dozens of people surrounding the lion and on the lion, perched on its reclining back, on its head, on its paws, one of which had been knocked off during the Blitz. A sailor sat astride its back, putting his cap on the lion’s head.
    “Standing in front of it and off to the left,” Paige directed her. “Can’t you see her?”
    “By the lamppost.”
    “The one with the boy shinning up it?”
    “Yes. Now look to the left.”
    She did, scanning the people standing there: a sailor waving his cap in the air, two elderly women in black coats with red, white, and blue rosettes on their lapels, a blonde teenaged girl in a white dress, a pretty redhead in a green coat—
    Good Lord, that looks just like Merope Ward, she thought. And that impossibly bright green coat was exactly the sort of outfit those idiot techs in Wardrobe would have told her was what the contemps wore to the VE-Day celebrations.
    And the young woman wasn’t cheering or laughing. She was looking earnestly at the National Gallery steps, as if trying to memorize every detail. It was definitely Merope.
    She raised her arm to wave at her.

    There won’t be any next time if this war is lost.
    17 June 1940
    London—26 October 1940
    FOR A MOMENT AFTER THE SIREN BEGAN ITS UP-AND-DOWN warble, Polly simply stood there with the stockings box still in her hand, her heart pounding. Then Doreen said, “Oh, no, not a raid! I thought for certain we’d get through today without one.”
    We did, Polly thought. There must be some mistake.
    “And just when we were finally getting some customers,” Doreen added disgustedly. She pointed at the opening lift.
    Oh, no, what a time for Mike and Eileen to finally arrive. Polly hurried over to intercept them, but it wasn’t them after all. Two stylish young women stepped out of the lift. “I’m afraid there’s a raid on,” Miss Snelgrove said, coming over, too, “but we have a shelter which is very comfortable and specially fortified. Miss Sebastian will take you down to it.”
    “This way,” Polly said, and led them through the door and down the stairs.
    “Oh, dear,” one of the young women said, “and after what happened to Padgett’s last night—”
    “I know,” the other one replied. “Did you hear? Five people were killed.”
    Thank goodness Mike and Eileen aren’t here, Polly thought. But they could easily have been on their way up when the siren sounded and would be down in the shelter when they got there, and there would be no way to avoid the subject. And no way to convince Mike this didn’t confirm the fact that there was a discrepancy.
    “Were the people who were killed in Padgett’s shelter?” the first young woman was asking worriedly. She had to shout over the siren. Unlike at Padgett’s, where the staircase had muffled the sirens’ sound, the enclosed space here magnified it so that it was louder than it had been out on the floor.
    “I’ve no idea,” the other shouted back. “Nowhere’s safe these days.” She launched into a story about a taxi that had been hit the day before.
    They were nearly down to the basement. Please don’t let Mike and Eileen be there, Polly thought, only half listening to the young women. Please …
    “If I hadn’t mistaken my parcel for hers,” the young woman was saying, “we’d both have been killed—”
    The siren cut off. There was a moment of echoing silence, and then the all clear sounded.
    “False alarm,” the other young woman said brightly. They started back upstairs. “They must have mistaken one of our boys for a German bomber,” which sounded likely, but it wouldn’t necessarily convince Mike. Polly hoped he and Eileen hadn’t been within earshot of the siren.
    But the fact that the women knew about the five fatalities must mean it was in the papers, and if it was, it would be chalked on news boards and newsboys would be shouting it, and there’d be no way to keep it from him. And there was no way a shopgirl could ask a customer, “How did you find out about the fatalities?”
    Polly hoped the young women might bring it up again, but now they were solely focused on buying a pair of elbow-length gloves. It took them nearly an hour to decide on a pair, and when they left, Mike and Eileen still weren’t there. Which is good, Polly thought. It means the chances that they didn’t hear the siren are excellent. But it was after two. Where were they?
    Mike heard a newsboy shouting the headline “Five Killed at Padgett’s” and went to the morgue to see the bodies, she thought worriedly, but when Mike and Eileen arrived half an hour later, they didn’t say anything about fatalities or Padgett’s. They had been delayed at Theodore’s.
    “Theodore didn’t want me to go,” Eileen explained. “He threw such a tantrum I had to promise to stay and read him a story.”
    “And then on the way back we went to the travel shop Eileen had seen, to try to find a map,” Mike said, “but it was hit last night.”
    “The owner was there,” Eileen said, “and he said there was another shop on Charing Cross Road, but—”
    Miss Snelgrove was eyeing them disapprovingly from Doreen’s counter. “You can tell me when I get home,” Polly said. She gave them the coats, her latchkey, and Mrs. Leary’s address. “I may be late,” she added.
    “Should we go to the tube station if the raids begin before you come home?” Eileen asked nervously.
    “No. Mrs. Rickett’s is perfectly safe,” Polly whispered. “Now go. I don’t want to lose my job. It’s the only one we’ve got.”
    She watched them depart, hoping they’d be too busy settling in to their new accommodations to discuss Padgett’s or daytime raids with anyone. She’d planned to go to the hospital tomorrow to try to find out if there really had been five fatalities, but if the deaths were in the newspapers, it couldn’t wait. She’d have to go tonight, and poor Eileen would have to face her first supper at Mrs. Rickett’s alone.
    But she might as well have gone straight home. She couldn’t get in to see Marjorie or find out anything from the stern admitting nurse, and when she reached the boardinghouse, Eileen was sitting in the parlor with her bag, even though Polly could hear the others in the dining room. “Why aren’t you in there eating supper?”
    Polly asked.
    “Mrs. Rickett said I had to give her my ration book, and when I told her about Padgett’s, she said I couldn’t begin boarding till I got a new one, and Mike wasn’t here—”
    “Where is he? At Mrs. Leary’s?”
    “No. He arranged things with her and then went to check a travel shop in Regent Street and then fetch his clothes from his old rooms, but he said he’d be late and not to wait for him, to go ahead to Notting Hill Gate and meet him there. When do the raids begin tonight?” she asked nervously.
    “Shh,” Polly whispered. “We shouldn’t be talking about this here. Come up to the room.”
    “I can’t. Mrs. Rickett said I wasn’t allowed to till I’d paid her.”
    “Paid her? Didn’t you tell her you were moving in with me?”
    “Yes,” Eileen said, “but she said not till I’d given her ten and six.”
    “I’ll speak to her,” Polly said grimly, picking up Eileen’s bag. She took her up to the room, left her there, and went down to the kitchen to confront Mrs. Rickett.
    “When I moved in, you said I had to pay the full rate for a double,” Polly argued. “It shouldn’t be extra for—”
    “There’s plenty as wants the room if you don’t,” Mrs. Rickett said. “I had three Army nurses here today looking for a room to let.”

    And I suppose you plan to charge them three times the rate for a double, Polly almost snapped, but she couldn’t risk getting them evicted. Eileen would already have given Theodore’s mother this address, and Mrs. Rickett wasn’t the type to tell a retrieval team where they’d gone if they did show up. Polly paid the additional ten and six and went back upstairs.
    Miss Laburnum was just coming out of her room, carrying a bag full of coconut shells and an empty glass bottle. “For Ernest’s message in a bottle,” she explained.
    “Sir Godfrey said to get a whiskey bottle, but with Mrs. Brightford’s little girls there, I thought perhaps orange squash would be more suitable—”
    Polly cut her off. “Would you tell Sir Godfrey I may not be at rehearsal tonight? I must help my cousin get settled in.”
    “Oh, yes, poor thing,” Miss Laburnum said. “Did she know any of the five who were killed?”
    Oh, no, Miss Laburnum knew about the deaths, too. Now she’d have to keep Mike and Eileen away from the troupe as well.
    “Were they shop assistants?” Miss Laburnum asked.
    “No,” Polly said, “but the incident’s left her badly shaken, so I’d rather you didn’t say anything to her about it.”
    “Oh, no, of course not,” Miss Laburnum assured Polly. “We wouldn’t want to upset her.” Polly was certain she meant it, but she or someone else at the boardinghouse was bound to slip. She had to find a way to get in to see Marjorie tomorrow.
    “It’s dreadful,” Miss Laburnum was saying, “so many killed, and who knows how it will all end?”
    “Yes,” Polly said, and was grateful when the sirens went. “I’d appreciate it if you told Sir Godfrey why I can’t come.”
    “Oh, but you can’t be thinking of staying here with a raid on? Can she, Miss Hibbard?” she asked their fellow boarder as she came hurrying out of her room carrying a black umbrella and her knitting.
    “Oh, my, no,” Miss Hibbard said. “It’s far too dangerous. Mr. Dorming, tell Miss Sebastian she and her cousin must come with us.”
    And in a moment Eileen would open the door to see what was going on. “We’ll come to the shelter as soon as I’ve shown her where things are,” Polly promised, to get rid of them. She escorted them downstairs.
    “Don’t be too late,” Miss Laburnum said at the door. “Sir Godfrey said he wished to rehearse the scene between Crichton and Lady Mary.”
    “I may not be able to rehearse with you with my cousin—”
    “You can bring her with you,” Miss Laburnum said.
    Polly shook her head. “She’ll need rest and quiet.” And to be kept away from people who know there were five killed. “Tell Sir Godfrey I’ll be there tomorrow night, I promise,” she said, and ran back upstairs.
    She waited to make certain Mrs. Rickett went with them and then ran back down to the kitchen. She put the kettle on, piled bread, oleomargarine, cheese, and cutlery on a tray, made tea, and brought it up to Eileen.
    “Mrs. Rickett said we weren’t allowed to have food in the room,” Eileen said.
    “Then she should have let you begin boarding immediately.” Polly set the tray on the bed. “Though, actually, it was a blessing she didn’t. This is much better than supper would have been.”
    “But the siren,” Eileen said anxiously. “Shouldn’t we—”
    “The raids won’t start till eight forty-six.” Polly buttered a slice of bread and handed it to Eileen. “And I told you, we’re safe here. Mr. Dunworthy himself approved this address.”
    She poured Eileen a cup of tea. “I found out some more names of airfields today,” she said, and read them to her, but Eileen shook her head at each one.
    “Could it have been Hendon?” Polly asked,
    “No, I’m so sorry. I know I’d recognize it if I saw it. If only we had a map.”
    “Did you get to the shop in Charing Cross Road?”
    “Yes, but the owner demanded to know what we wanted with a map and asked us all sorts of questions. He even asked Mike what sort of accent it was he had. I thought he was going to have us arrested. Mike said he suspected us of being German spies.”
    “He may have,” Polly said. “I should have thought of that. There’ve been all sorts of posters up warning people to be on the lookout for anyone behaving suspiciously—snapping photographs of factories or asking questions about our defenses—and trying to buy a map would obviously fall into that category.”
    “But then how are we to get hold of one?”
    “I don’t know. I’ll check Townsend Brothers’ book department to see if they have an atlas or something.”
    “Would they have an ABC?” Eileen asked.
    “Yes, I looked up the trains to Backbury in it,” Polly said, wondering why she hadn’t thought of using a railway guide. It listed the stations alphabetically. They’d be able to find Gerald’s airfield under D. Or T. Or P. “Did you use an ABC when you brought the children to London?”
    “No, they used an ABC in one of Agatha Christie’s novels to solve the mystery,” Eileen said. “And we can use it to solve ours.”
    If only it were that simple, Polly thought.
    Eileen looked up at the ceiling. “Is that sound bombers?”
    “No. Rain. But luckily,” Polly said lightly, “we have an umbrella.”
    She took the tea things downstairs, made a sandwich to take to Mike, and set off for Notting Hill Gate with Eileen. It was coming down hard—an icy downpour that made Polly glad Miss Laburnum had brought Eileen the coat and made her wish she’d brought a second umbrella. It was impossible to huddle under Eileen’s and lead her along the wet, dark streets at the same time, and twice Polly stepped in an ankle-deep puddle.
    “I hate it here,” Eileen said. “I don’t care if I do sound like Theodore. I want to go home.”
    “Did you tell Theodore’s mother your new address so your retrieval team can find you?”
    “Yes, and her neighbor Mrs. Owen. And on the train in from Stepney, I wrote the vicar. I wanted to ask you about that. Do you think I must give Alf and Binnie my new address?”
    “Are those the children you told me about? The haystack-fire starters?”
    “Yes,” Eileen said, “and if I tell them where I am, they’re likely to take it as an invitation, and they’re—”
    “Dreadful,” Polly finished.

    “Dreadful,” Polly finished.
    “Yes, and the only way the retrieval team would know where they are was if the vicar told them, and I’ve already told him where I am, so the retrieval team wouldn’t need—”
    “Then I don’t see any reason you need to contact them,” Polly said, leading her down the steps into the tube station, hoping they wouldn’t run into any of the troupe. “Where did Mike say he’d meet us? At the foot of the escalator?”
    “No, in the emergency staircase. There’s one here just like the one in Oxford Circus.”
    Good, Polly thought, following Eileen through the tunnel. We’ll be safe from the troupe there. And if Mike’s been waiting in it, I needn’t worry about his having overheard people discussing Padgett’s.
    But Mike wasn’t there. Eileen and Polly climbed up three flights and then down as many, calling his name, but there was no answer. “Should we go to Oxford Circus?” Eileen asked. “That’s what he said to do if we got separated.”
    “No, he’ll be here soon.” Polly sat down on the steps.
    “The raids weren’t on Regent Street tonight, were they?” Eileen asked anxiously.
    “No, over the City and—”
    “The city?” Eileen said, looking nervously up at the ceiling. “Which part of it?”
    “Not the city of London. The City with a capital C. It’s the part of London around St. Paul’s.” And Fleet Street, Polly added silently. “It’s nowhere near here, and the raids later on were over Whitechapel.”
    “Yes. Why? Mike wasn’t going there, was he?”
    “No. But that’s where Alf and Binnie Hodbin live.”
    Good Lord. Whitechapel was even worse than Stepney. It had been almost totally destroyed.
    “Was it heavily bombed?” Eileen said anxiously. “Oh, dear, perhaps I shouldn’t have torn up that letter after all.”
    “What letter?”
    “From the vicar, arranging to send Alf and Binnie to Canada. I was afraid they might end up on the City of Benares, so I didn’t give it to Mrs. Hodbin.”
    Thank goodness Mike’s late and wasn’t here to hear that, Polly thought. She was going to have a difficult enough time persuading him that Padgett’s five fatalities weren’t a discrepancy, let alone having to convince him that Eileen hadn’t saved the Hodbins’ lives by withholding the letter.
    There were lots of ships to America they might have gone on. Or the Evacuation Committee might have decided to send them to Australia instead, or to Scotland.
    And even if they had been assigned to the City of Benares, they might not have gone. Their train might have been delayed, or—if they were as dreadful as Eileen said
    —they might have been thrown off the ship for painting blackout stripes on the deck chairs or setting them on fire.
    But she doubted Mike would be convinced by her arguments, especially if he’d found out about Padgett’s. He’d go into a tailspin, certain he’d lost the war, and nothing short of telling him about VE-Day would persuade him otherwise. But telling him meant their finding out about her deadline, and the rest of it. Which would give them even more to worry about, and now, with this discrepancy …
    I must find out about those fatalities before he does, Polly thought. “Don’t bring up the subject of Alf and Binnie to Mike,” she said to Eileen. “He needn’t know about the letter. And there’s no need to tell him you didn’t write and tell them your address.”
    “But perhaps I should write to them. To tell them Whitechapel’s dangerous.”
    I should imagine they already know that. “I thought you didn’t want them to know where you are.”
    “But I’m the one responsible for them being there instead of in Canada. And Binnie’s still not completely well from the measles. She nearly died, and—”
    “You didn’t tell me that,” Polly said.
    “Yes, she had a horribly high fever, and I didn’t know what to do. I gave her aspirin—”
    And thank goodness Mike hadn’t heard that either.
    “If Alf and Binnie are in danger,” Eileen said, “it’s my fault. I—”
    “Shh,” Polly said. “Someone’s coming.”
    They listened. Far below them a door shut and footsteps began to ascend the iron steps.
    “Eileen? Polly? Are you up there?”
    “It’s Mike,” Eileen said, and ran down to meet him. “Where were you?”
    “I went to the morgue,” Mike said.
    Oh, no, I’m too late, Polly thought. He’s already found out about the five fatalities.
    But when he came up the stairs, he said cheerfully, “I found a bunch of airfield names, and I’ve got a job, so we don’t have to live on just Polly’s wages.”
    “A job?” Eileen said. “But if you’re working, how will you be able to go look for Gerald?”
    “I’ve been hired as a stringer for the Daily Express, which means I go out and find news stories—including at airfields—and get paid by the story. I didn’t have any luck finding a map, so I went to the Express’s morgue to look through their back issues for mentions of airfields—”
    The newspaper morgue, Polly thought, not the actual morgue.
    “And when I told them I was a reporter who’d been at Dunkirk, they hired me on the spot. Best of all, they gave me a press pass, which will give me access at the airfield. So now all we need is to figure out which one it is.” He pulled a list from his pocket. “What about Digby? Or Dunkeswell?”
    “No, it was two words … I think,” Eileen said.
    “Great Dunmow?”
    “No. I’ve been thinking. It might have begun with a B instead of a D.”
    Which means she has no idea what letter it began with, Polly thought. “Boxted,” she said.
    “No,” Eileen said.

    “No,” Eileen said.
    “B,” Mike murmured, going down the list. “Bentley Priory?”
    Eileen frowned. “That sounds a bit like it, but—”
    “Bury St. Edmunds?”
    “No, though that might … oh, I don’t know!” She threw her hands up in frustration. “I’m sorry.”
    “Don’t worry, we’ll find it,” Mike said, wadding up his list. “There are lots more airfields.”
    “Can you remember anything else Gerald said about where he was going?” Polly asked.
    “No.” She frowned in concentration. “He asked me how long I was going to be in Backbury, and I said till the beginning of May, and he said that was too bad, that if I’d been staying longer he’d have come up some weekend to ‘brighten my existence.’ ”
    “Did he say how?”
    “How? You mean motor up or come by train?” Eileen asked. “No, but he said, ‘Is backwater Backbury even on the railway?’ ”
    “And the day I saw him,” Mike interjected, “he said one of the things he had to do was check the railway schedule.”
    “Good,” Polly said. “That means the airfield’s near a railway station. Mike, you said he went through to Oxford?”
    “Yes, but that was just to set things up, not for his assignment. He could have been checking on a train to anywhere …”
    Polly shook her head. “Wartime travel is too unreliable. Mr. Dunworthy would have insisted he come through near where he needed to go. Troop trains cause all sorts of delays.”
    “She’s right,” Eileen said. “Some days the train to Backbury didn’t come at all.”
    “So we’re looking for an airfield near Oxford,” Mike said.
    “Or Backbury,” Polly said.
    “Or Backbury. And near a railway station, and one that has two words in its name and begins with D, P, T, or B. That narrows it down considerably. Now, if we can just find a map …”
    “We’re working on that,” Polly said. “And I’m working on writing down all the raids.” She gave them each a copy of the list for the next week.
    “There are raids every night next week?” Eileen said.
    “I’m afraid so. They let up a bit in November when the Luftwaffe begins bombing other cities, and later on when winter weather sets in.”
    “Later on?” Eileen asked in dismay. “How long did the Blitz last?”
    “Till next May.”
    “May? But the raids taper off, don’t they?”
    “I’m afraid not. The biggest raid of the entire Blitz was May ninth and tenth.”
    “That’s when the worst raid was?” Mike asked. “In mid-May?”
    “Yes. Why?”
    “Nothing. It doesn’t matter. We’ll be out of here long before that.” He smiled encouragingly at Eileen. “All we have to do is figure out where Gerald is. Can you think of anything else he said that might give us a clue? Where were you when you had this conversation?”
    “There were two—in the lab, and then over at Oriel when I went there to get my driving authorization. Oh, I remember something he said about that. It began to rain while he was telling me how important and dangerous his assignment was, and he looked up at the sky and held out his hand the way one does to see if it’s really raining, then pointed at my authorization—you know, the printed form one has to fill up for driving lessons. You had one, Polly.”
    Polly nodded. “A printed red-and-blue form?”
    “Yes, that’s the one. He pointed at it and said, ‘You’d better put that away, or you’ll never learn to drive. Or at any rate, where I’m going you wouldn’t,’ and then he laughed as though he’d said something tremendously clever. He’s always doing that—he fancies himself a comedian, though his jokes aren’t funny in the least, and I didn’t understand that one at all. Do you understand the joke?”
    “No,” Polly said, and she couldn’t think of anything the form would have to do with an airfield. “Can you remember anything else he said?”
    “Or anything at all about when you were talking to him?” Mike said. “What else was going on?”
    “Linna was on the phone with someone, but it didn’t have anything to do with Gerald’s assignment.”
    “But it may trigger a memory of the name of the airfield. Try to remember every detail you can, no matter how irrelevant.”
    “Like the dog’s ball,” Eileen said eagerly.
    “Gerald had a dog’s ball?” Mike asked.
    “No. There was a dog’s ball in one of Agatha Christie’s novels.”
    Well, that’s certainly irrelevant, Polly thought.
    “In Dumb Witness,” Eileen said. “At first it didn’t seem to have anything at all to do with the murder, but then it turned out to be the key to the entire mystery.”
    “Exactly,” Mike said. “Write it all down, and see if it triggers something. And in the meantime, I want you to make the rounds of the department stores on Monday and fill out a job application at each one.”
    “I can ask Miss Snelgrove if they need anyone at Townsend Brothers,” Polly said.
    “This isn’t about a job,” Mike said. “It’s so they’ll have her name and address on file when the retrieval team comes looking for us.”
    Which must mean the arguments I made to him this morning at Padgett’s convinced him he didn’t alter history after all, Polly thought. But after they’d curled up under their coats on the landing to sleep, he shook her awake and motioned her to tiptoe after him past the sleeping Eileen and down the steps to the landing below.
    “Did you find out anything more about Padgett’s?” he whispered.
    “No,” Polly lied. “Did you?”
    He shook his head.
    Thank goodness, Polly thought. When the all clear goes. I’ll take him straight to the drop. He can’t talk to anyone there. He can sit there till I come back from the Thank goodness, Polly thought. When the all clear goes. I’ll take him straight to the drop. He can’t talk to anyone there. He can sit there till I come back from the hospital. If I can get him out of here without Miss Laburnum latching on to us and blurting out something about how awful it is that there were five people kil—
    “You said there were three fatalities, right?” Mike asked.
    “Yes, but the information in my implant could have been wrong. It—”
    “And the supervisor—what was his name? Feathers?”
    “Said everybody who worked at Padgett’s had been accounted for.”
    “Yes, but—”
    “I’ve been thinking. What if it was our retrieval team?”

    Metal makes guns! Keep your lipstick holder. Buy refills.
    Bethnal Green—June 1944
    MARY FLUNG HERSELF DOWN IN THE GUTTER NEXT TO TALBOT, half on top of her, listening to the sudden silence where the putt-putt of the engine had been.
    “What in God’s name are you doing, Kent?” Talbot said, trying to wriggle free from underneath her.
    Mary pushed her back down into the gutter. “Keep your head down!” They had twelve seconds before the V-1 exploded. Eleven … ten … nine … Please, please, please, let us be far enough away from it, she prayed. Seven … six …
    “Keep my—?” Talbot said, struggling against her. “Have you gone mad?”
    Mary pressed her down. “Cover your eyes!” she ordered, and squeezed her own shut against the blinding light that would come with the blast.
    I should put my hands over my ears, she thought, but she needed them to hold down Talbot, who was, unbelievably, still attempting to get up. “Stay down! It’s a flying bomb!” Mary put her hand to the back of Talbot’s head and forced it flat against the bottom of the gutter. Two … one … zero …
    Her adrenaline-racing mind must have counted too quickly. She waited, arms tight around Talbot, for the flash and deafening concussion.
    Talbot was struggling harder than ever. “Flying bomb?” she said, wrenching herself free and raising herself on her hands and elbows. “What flying bomb?”
    “The one I heard. Don’t…,” Mary said, trying vainly to push her down again. “It’ll go off any second. It …”
    There was a sputtering cough, and the putt-putting sound started up again. But it can’t have, she thought bewilderedly. V-1s don’t start up again …
    “Is that what you heard?” Talbot asked. “That’s not a flying bomb, you ninny. It’s a motorcycle.” And as she spoke, an American GI came around the corner on a decrepit-looking DeHavilland, sped toward them, and careened to a stop.
    “What happened?” he asked, leaping off the motorcycle. “Are you two all right?”
    “No,” Talbot said disgustedly. She pulled herself to sitting and began brushing dirt off the front of her uniform.
    “You’re bleeding,” the GI said.
    Mary looked at Talbot in horror. There was blood on her blouse, blood trickling down her mouth and her chin. “Oh, my God, Talbot!” she cried, and she and the Gl began fumbling for a handkerchief.
    “What are you talking about?” Talbot said. “I’m not bleeding.”
    “Your mouth,” the GI said, and Talbot felt it cautiously and then looked at her fingers.
    “That’s not blood,” she said, “it’s lipstick—oh, my God, my lipstick!” She began looking frantically around for it. “I only just got it. It’s Crimson Caress.” She started to stand up. “Kent knocked it out of my hand when she—Oh! Ow!” She collapsed back onto the curb.
    “You are hurt!” the GI said, hurrying over.
    “Oh, Talbot, I’m so sorry,” Mary said. “I thought it was a V-1. The newspapers said they sounded like a motorcycle. Is it your knee?”
    “Yes, but it’s nothing,” Talbot said, putting her arm around the GI’s neck. “It twisted under me as I went down. It’ll be fine in a moment—Ow! Ow! Ow!”
    “You’re not fine,” the GI said. He turned to Mary. “I don’t think she can walk. Or ride a motorcycle. Have you got a car?”
    “No. We came up here from Dulwich by bus.”
    “I’m all right,” Talbot said. “Kent can give me a hand.”
    But even supported by both of them, she couldn’t put any weight at all on the knee. “She’s torn a ligament,” the GI said, easing her back down to sitting on the curb. “You’re going to have to send for an ambulance.”
    “That’s ridiculous!” Talbot protested. “We’re the ambulance crew!”
    But he was already mounting his motorcycle to go find a telephone. Mary gave him the exchange and number of Bethnal Green’s post. “No, not Bethnal Green,”
    Talbot protested. “If the other units find out, we’ll be laughingstocks. Tell him to ring Dulwich, Kent.”
    She did, but when the ambulance arrived a few minutes later, it was from Brixton. “Both of yours were out at incidents,” the driver said. “Jerry’s sending them over fast and furious today.”
    Not over us, Mary thought ruefully.
    Brixton’s crew took the news that she had mistaken a motorcycle for a V-1 in stride, but when she and Talbot got back to Dulwich, there was a good deal of merriment. “The newspapers said they sound like a motorcycle,” Mary said defensively.
    “Yes, well, the newspapers said they sound like a washing machine, too,” Maitland said. “I suppose we’d best be careful when we do our laundry, girls.”
    Parrish nodded. “I don’t want to run the risk of being flung down while hanging up my knickers.”
    “It was a very old DeHavilland,” Talbot said in her defense, “and it did sputter and then die rather like a flying bomb.” But that only made it worse. The girls began calling her DeHavilland and Triumph and any other motorcycle name that was handy, and whenever a door slammed or a pot boiled over, someone shouted, “Oh, no, it’s a flying bomb!” and attempted to tackle her from behind.
    The ribbing was all good-natured, and Talbot didn’t seem to bear a grudge, even though she’d been taken off active duty and assigned secretarial tasks and had to hobble about on crutches. She seemed far more upset about her lost lipstick and having missed the dance than about her knee.
    On their way home from an incident the next morning Mary and Fairchild went to see if they could find the lipstick, but either it had rolled into the storm drain or someone had seen it lying in the street and taken it. They did find Talbot’s cap, which had been run over and was obviously beyond repair. And on the way home, they passed the railroad bridge Mary had gone to the dance to see—or rather, what was left of it. “It was hit by one of the first flying bombs that came over,” Fairchild said casually.
    And if you’d mentioned that sooner, Mary thought, I’d have known my implant data was accurate, and I wouldn’t have injured Talbot.
    To make amends, Mary offered Talbot her own lipstick, but Talbot said, “No, that’s too pink,” and set about concocting a substitute out of heated paraffin and To make amends, Mary offered Talbot her own lipstick, but Talbot said, “No, that’s too pink,” and set about concocting a substitute out of heated paraffin and merthiolate from the medical kit. The result proved too orange, and for the next few days the entire post was utterly absorbed—in between incidents, some of them grisly—in finding something that would reproduce Crimson Caress.
    Currants were too dark, beet juice too purple, and there were no strawberries to be had anywhere. Mary, helping to carry the body of a dead woman with a broken-off banister driven through her chest, noticed that her blood was the exact shade they needed, then felt horrified and ashamed of herself and spent the rest of the incident worrying that one of the other FANYs might have noticed the color, too. It was almost a relief when they spent the journey home arguing over whose turn it was to have to wear the Yellow Peril.
    If and when any of them got to go out again. With Talbot injured, they were shorthanded, and they’d already been pulling double shifts. And Hitler was sending more V-1s over every day. The newspapers reported that anti-aircraft guns had been placed in a line along the Dover coast and that the barrage balloons had been moved to the coast from London, but clearly neither of those defensive measures was working. “What I want to know,” Camberley said, exasperated after their fourth incident in twenty-four hours, “is, where are our boys?”
    At least I know where the V-1s are, Mary thought. The rockets were all coming over exactly when and where they were supposed to. The Guards Chapel was hit on June eighteenth, there was a near miss of Buckingham Palace on the twentieth, and Fleet Street, the Aldwych Theater, and Sloane Court were all hit on schedule.
    And since they had more than they could handle in their own district, they were no longer transporting any patients through Bomb Alley. So Mary was able to relax and concentrate on observing the FANYs and trying to live down her nickname.
    A week later Major Denewell came into the despatch office, where Mary was manning the telephone, and asked, “Where’s Maitland?”
    “Out on a run, ma’am. Burbage Road. V-1.”
    The Major looked annoyed. “What about Fairchild?”
    “She’s off duty. She’s gone with Reed to London.”
    “How long have they been gone?”
    “Over an hour.”
    She looked even more annoyed. “Then you’ll have to do,” she said. “We’ve had a telephone call from the RAF asking for a driver for one of their officers, and Talbot can’t drive with her wrenched knee. You’ll have to go in her place.” She handed Mary a folded slip of paper. “Here’s the officer’s name, where you’re to meet him, and your route.”
    “Yes, ma’am,” she said. And let’s hope the airfield where I’m to pick him up isn’t Biggin Hill or any of the other airfields in Bomb Alley, she thought, unfolding it.
    Oh, good, it was Hendon. But there was no destination listed. “Where am I to drive Flight Officer Lang to, ma’am?”
    “He’ll tell you that,” the Major said, obviously wishing Talbot was in a condition to do this. “You’re to drive him wherever he wishes to go and then wait for him and drive him back, unless otherwise instructed. You’re to be there by half past eleven.” Which meant she needed to leave immediately. “Take the Daimler,” the Major said. “And you’re to wear full-dress uniform.”
    “Yes, ma’am.”
    “And since you’ll be in the vicinity, stop in Edgware and ask the supply officer if they have any stretchers they can spare.”
    “Yes, ma’am,” she said, and went to change. And look at the map. Hendon was far enough northwest of London that it was completely out of rocket range, and only a half dozen would fall between here and there this morning. The British Intelligence plan to convince the Germans to shorten the rockets’ range must be working.
    She looked at the route the Major had mapped out for her. Two of the six V-1s lay along it. She’d have to head west to Wandsworth instead and then north. It would take extra petrol, but she could say the road the Major had suggested had been blocked by a convoy or something.
    She traced the route and set out for Hendon, hoping she’d arrive early enough to go on to Edgware and pick up the bandages first, but there was all sorts of military traffic. It was after twelve by the time she reached the airfield, and the officer was already waiting at the door, looking impatiently at his watch.
    I hope he’s not angry, she thought, but as she pulled up, he grinned and bounded toward the ambulance. He was no older than she was, and boyishly handsome, with dark hair and a crooked smile.
    He opened the door and leaned in. “Where have you been, you beautiful—?” He stopped in midsentence. “Sorry, I thought you were someone I knew.”
    “Apparently,” she said.
    “Not that you’re not beautiful. You are,” he said, flashing her the crooked smile. “Rather devastatingly beautiful, as a matter of fact.”
    “I’m here from Ambulance Post Number Forty-Seven to pick up Flight Officer Lang,” she said crisply.
    “I’m Officer Lang.” He got into the front seat. “Where’s Lieutenant Talbot?”
    “She’s on sick leave, sir.”
    “Sick leave? She wasn’t hit by one of these blasted rocket bombs, was she?”
    “No, sir.” Only by an historian. “Not exactly.”
    “Not exactly? What happened? She wasn’t badly hurt?”
    “No, only a wrenched knee. I pushed her into a gutter.”
    “Because you wanted to be the one to drive me?” he said. “I’m flattered.”
    “No, because I thought I heard a V-1, but it was only a motorcycle.”
    “And so she’s not able to drive, and they sent you as her replacement,” he said, grinning. “It wasn’t an accident you were sent, you know. It was fate.”
    I doubt that, she thought. And why do I have a feeling you say the same thing to every FANY who drives you? “Where am I to take you, sir?”
    “London. Whitehall.”
    Which was better than somewhere in Bomb Alley, but not perfect. Once they got there, they’d be safe. No V-1s had fallen in Whitehall that day, but more than a dozen had hit between Hendon and London.
    “Whitehall. Yes, sir,” she said, and opened out the map to find the safest route.
    “You won’t need that,” he said, plucking it out of her hands and folding it up. “I can show you the way.” There was nothing for her to do but start the engine. “It’s quickest to take the Great North Road. Follow this lane till the first turning, and then bear right.”

    “Yes, sir,” she said, heading in the direction he indicated and trying to think of an excuse for getting the map back so she could see what towns lay along the Great North Road.
    “Definitely fate,” Flight Officer Lang was saying. “It’s clear we were destined to meet, Lieutenant—what’s your name?”
    “Kent, sir,” she said absently. She should have told him that the Major insisted her FANYs take the Edgware Road to London. That way they’d be out of range nearly the entire way.
    “Lieutenant Kent,” he said sternly. “Lovers brought together by fate do not call each other by their last names. Antony and Cleopatra, Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet. Stephen”—he pointed at himself—“and?”
    “Mary, sir.”
    “Sir?” His voice was filled with mock outrage. “Did Juliet call Romeo sir? Did Guinevere call Lancelot sir? Well, actually, I suppose she may have done. He was a knight, after all, but I don’t want you to do it. It makes me feel a hundred years old.”
    A hundred and thirty-some old, actually, she thought.
    “As your superior officer, I order you to call me Stephen, and I shall call you Mary. Mary,” he said, looking over at her and then frowning puzzledly. “Have we met before?”
    “No,” she said. “Does this route take us through Edgware?”
    “Edgware?” he said. “No, that’s the other direction. This road goes through Golders Green, and then we take the Great North Road south through Finchley.”
    Oh, no. There’d been a V-1 in East Finchley this afternoon, and two in Golders Green. “Oh, dear, I thought this went through Edgware,” she said, and didn’t have to feign the distress in her voice. “I was to pick up some stretchers for the Major at Edgware’s ambulance post.” She slowed the car, looking for a place to pull off and turn around. “We must go back.”
    “You’ll have to do it after we return, I’m afraid. I’ve a meeting at two, and I’ll be cashiered if I’m not there on time. And we’re late as it is. It’s already half past twelve.”
    The Golders Green V-1s had hit at 12:56 and 1:08. And let’s hope Flight Officer Lang isn’t right about our meeting being fate, and that that fate is to be blown to bits by a V-1. I should have memorized the casualties from each rocket attack, she thought, so I’d know if an RAF flight officer and his driver were killed this afternoon.
    But there’d scarcely been room in her implant for all the rockets which had hit in the areas she was most likely to be in, so all she knew was that the 12:56 one had been on Queen’s Road and the 1:08 one on abridge somewhere outside the village. And they were heading straight toward both of them.
    The net wouldn’t have let her come through if her presence in the past would affect events, but that didn’t mean she could blithely drive into the path of a V-1, certain that nothing would happen.
    For one thing, she could be killed even if he wasn’t. And for another, Flight Officer Lang had a constantly dangerous job. It might not make a difference to the course of history whether he was killed this afternoon or on a mission tomorrow.
    But it made a great deal of difference to her, which was why she needed to get off this road. “I promise you we’ll go straight to Edgware after my meeting,” Lang was saying. “And to make up for it I’ll take you out for dinner and dancing. What do you say?”
    I’d say that won’t make up for my being dead, she thought.
    There was a crossroads ahead. Good. She’d ask him again which way to turn, then pretend she’d misheard his instructions, turn right instead of left, and get them somehow onto a road that would lead them back out of range.
    She waited till they were nearly to the crossroads and then said, “Which road did you say I take?”
    “We stay on this. In another mile it turns into Queen’s Road. Are you certain we haven’t met before?”
    “Yes,” she said, only half listening. She peered ahead, looking for another crossroads. She wouldn’t ask this time, she’d simply turn off.
    “You’re certain you haven’t driven me before?” he persisted. “Last spring?”
    Absolutely certain. She wished he’d stop talking so she could hear. She might be able to swerve—or stop—if she heard the V-1 soon enough, but the noise of a car engine sometimes masked the sound, and with him prattling on—
    “Or last winter?”
    “No, I’ve only been in Dulwich for six weeks,” she said, glancing at her watch: 12:53. She rolled down the window. She couldn’t hear anything yet. And she didn’t know where on Queen’s Road the V-1 would—
    “Stop,” he ordered. “There’s a lorry ahead!” There was—a U.S. Army transport, apparently stopped. She nearly ran up the rear end of it, and as she braked, she saw it was the last in a line of lorries loaded with what looked like crates of ammunition.
    Oh, no, she thought, and then realized the lorries were her salvation. “It’s a convoy,” she said, backing the Daimler up. “We’ll never get through.” She began turning it around, wishing the road wasn’t so narrow.
    “There’s no need to turn round,” Stephen said, leaning out to look ahead. “The front of the line’s beginning to move.”
    “You said you were late,” she said briskly, then yanked on the wheel, completed the turn, and shot back the way they’d come.
    “I’m not that late,” he said. “And it would be a blessing if I missed the entire thing. It’s one of those utterly pointless conferences on what should be done to stop these rocket attacks.” He had the map out and was poring over it. “If we turn right at the next opportunity, it will take us—”
    Straight back toward that V-1, she thought. “I know a shortcut,” she said, and turned left instead and then left again.
    “I’m not certain this road …,” he said doubtfully, peering at the map.
    “I’ve taken it before,” she lied. “Why is it pointless?” she asked, to prevent him from looking at the map. “Your conference. Or can’t you talk about it? Military secrets and all that?”
    “It would be secret if there was anything to be done to stop them on this end which hasn’t been done already—anti-aircraft defenses, detection devices, barrage balloons, none of which has been at all effective, as you and your ambulance unit no doubt know.”
    And none of which stopped the ones that are about to hit here, she thought, driving as fast as she dared to get them out of the danger zone. The lanes were narrow and rutted, and there was no room to turn. If they ran into a car going the other way …
    Behind them, she heard a muffled explosion. The 12:56 V-1. She waited for a second one, which would mean it had hit the convoy, but it didn’t come.

    Behind them, she heard a muffled explosion. The 12:56 V-1. She waited for a second one, which would mean it had hit the convoy, but it didn’t come.
    “As I was saying, none of our defenses is at all effective,” Stephen said calmly. “The only way to stop them is to prevent them from being launched in the first place.”
    The lane was narrowing. She turned off it onto another, which was just as narrow and even more rutted. She glanced at her watch: one o’clock.
    She needed to get them out of the danger area before 1:08, when the second V-1 had hit the bridge. She drove faster, praying for a road to turn onto. They passed a field of barley and then an ammunition dump, which the convoy had probably originated from, another field, another, and then a small grove of trees. Beyond it lay a bridge.
    Of course, Mary thought, and glanced at her watch again. 1:06.

    We are all going to have whistles as Mr. Bendall thinks if we are buried, it will be useful to our rescues. This I consider quite useful, and if buried shall whistle with all my might.
    28 February 1944
    London—26 October 1940
    AS SOON AS THEY REACHED THE LANDING OF THE EMERGENCY staircase, Mike asked Polly, “What if the retrieval team was in Padgett’s looking for Eileen, just like we were?”
    “But … they can’t have been,” Polly stammered. The idea that some of the fatalities might have been the retrieval team had never occurred to her. The possibility so knocked her back on her heels that for a moment it seemed entirely possible. It would explain why there’d been five casualties—the three there were supposed to be and the two-man retrieval team.
    “Why couldn’t they have been?” Mike pressed her. “Who else could they be? You heard Eileen’s supervisor. Everyone who worked there had been accounted for.
    And that would explain why they haven’t been found yet—because they don’t know there’s anyone to look for.”
    “But they knew Padgett’s was going to be hit. They wouldn’t have gone—”
    “We knew it was going to be hit, and we did. What if they saw us go in and followed us? If they didn’t realize we’d taken the elevator down, they might still have been looking for us when the HE hit.”
    There was no reason why a retrieval team, like historians, couldn’t be killed on assignment. And if that was what had happened, then Oxford hadn’t been destroyed and Colin hadn’t been killed. And Mike hadn’t lost the war.
    She wondered if that was why he was so determined that this was what had happened. Because, bad as it was, it was better than the alternative. On the other hand, it could explain why their retrieval teams hadn’t shown up, and why there were five fatalities.
    You don’t know for certain that there are, she reminded herself. You need to find out. And soon, before Mike heard about the five.
    I must go to the hospital tomorrow. And keep him away from Miss Laburnum and newspapers till then. He’d said they needed to check her drop and see if it was working. If she could take him there as soon as they got out of here—
    “As soon as the all clear goes, I’m going back to Padgett’s,” he said. “I’ve got to tell them there may still be casualties in the wreckage. If it’s the retrieval team, they won’t be looking for them.”
    “But you can’t—”
    “I won’t tell them it’s the retrieval team. I’ll say I saw some people going in while I was waiting for Eileen. We can’t just leave them there. They may still be alive.”
    No, they aren’t, Polly thought. Whoever it is, they’ve already been pulled out of the wreckage dead. But she couldn’t say that.
    “We have to help them,” Mike said.
    “We can’t—”
    “Mike?” Eileen called from above them. “Polly? Where are you?”
    “Down here!” Mike shouted, and they heard her start down the clanking steps.
    “Don’t say anything to her about this till we know for certain,” Polly whispered to Mike. “She’s—”
    “I know,” he whispered back. “I won’t.”
    Eileen came down to where they were standing. “You weren’t leaving to go to the drop without me, were you?”
    “Not a chance,” Mike said. “We were just trying to figure out what other historians might be here besides Gerald Phipps.”
    “Why did you come down here to do that?”
    “We didn’t want to disturb you,” Polly said.
    Mike nodded. “We couldn’t sleep, and we thought we might as well make use of the time. Don’t worry. We wouldn’t go off and leave you.”
    “I know you wouldn’t,” Eileen said shamefacedly. “I’m sorry. It’s only that I can’t bear the thought of being here all alone again.” She sat down on the step. “So have you thought of anyone?”
    And you’d better come up with something quickly, Polly said silently, or she’ll know we’re lying.
    “Yeah,” Mike said, “Jack Sorkin, but unfortunately, he’s on the USS Enterprise in the Pacific.”
    “What about your roommate?” Eileen asked. “Wasn’t he doing World War II?”
    “Yes, but that doesn’t do us any good either. Charles is doing Singapore.”
    Oh, my God. Singapore! Polly thought. And if his drop isn’t working, like ours, he’ll still be there when the Japanese arrive. He’ll be captured and put in one of their prison camps. She wondered if Mike realized that. She hoped not. “Who else?” she asked to change the subject. “Eileen, what about the other people in your year? Were any of them doing World War II?”
    “I don’t think so. Damaris Klein might … no, I think she was doing the Napoleonic Wars. What about the historian who was doing the rocket attacks?” She turned to Polly. “When did those begin, Polly?”
    “June thirteenth of 1944,” Polly said, “which is too late to be of any use. We need someone here now.”
    “And we don’t know who it was who did the V-1 attacks,” Mike said.
    “But if we can’t find anyone else …,” Eileen said. “Mike, are you certain they didn’t say who it was?”
    “They might have …,” he said, frowning as if trying to remember.
    “Could it have been Saji Llewellyn?” Polly asked.
    “No, she was observing Queen Beatrice’s coronation. You know that, Polly,” Mike said. “Do either of you know Denys Atherton?”
    “I’ve seen him at lectures and things,” Eileen said, “but I’ve never spoken to him. What’s he doing?”
    “I don’t know,” Mike said, “but it’s something from March first to June fifth, 1944, which is also too late to help us. What would he be observing then, Polly? The war in Italy?”

    war in Italy?”
    “No, he would have come through earlier for that. He’s likelier to have been observing the buildup to the invasion, especially since his return date’s one day before D-Day.”
    “Which means he’ll be here in England,” Mike said. “Where? Portsmouth? Southampton?”
    “Yes, or Plymouth or Winchester or Salisbury,” Polly said. “The buildup was spread over the entire southwestern half of the country. Or he could be observing Fortitude, in which case he’d be in Kent. Or Scotland.”
    “Fortitude?” Eileen said. “What’s that?”
    “An intelligence operation to fool Hitler and the German High Command into believing the Allies were attacking somewhere other than Normandy. They built dummy Army installations and planted false news stories in the local papers and sent faked radio messages. Fortitude North was in Scotland. Its mission was to convince the Germans the invasion would be in Norway, and Fortitude South in southeast England’s mission was to convince them it was coming at the Pas de Calais.”
    “So Denys Atherton could be anywhere,” Mike said.
    “And if he’s working in Intelligence, he won’t be using his own name,” Polly said.
    “But I know what he looks like,” Eileen said. “He’s tall and has dark curly hair—”
    “Christ,” Mike said. “I hadn’t even thought about names. That means Phipps could be here under some other name, too. Eileen, did he say anything about whether he’d be using his own name or not?”
    Polly asked Mike, “And you didn’t see his name on the letters he was carrying?”
    “No,” he said disgustedly.
    “But you and Eileen both know what he looks like.”
    “If I can only remember the name of his airfield,” Eileen said ruefully. “I know I’d know it if I heard it.”
    “It’ll be in the railway guide,” Polly said. “I’ll see if Mrs. Rickett has one in the morning, and if she doesn’t, I know Townsend Brothers has one in the book department. I used it to look up the trains to Backbury. I’ll buy it on Monday. And in the meantime, the best thing we can do is get some sleep. We’ll all be able to think more clearly if we’ve had some rest.” And I’ll be able to think of a way to keep Mike from going to Padgett’s in the morning, she thought.
    But how? Telling him that they couldn’t help, that historians couldn’t affect events, brought them back to Hardy. And telling him it had already happened and there were fatalities, and therefore there was no point in trying, not only sounded completely heartless but was too much like their own situation. And hopefully Mr.
    Dunworthy wasn’t telling Colin the same thing at this very moment.
    She would have to persuade Mike that she should be the one to go to Padgett’s. “Mr. Fetters is less likely to recognize me than Eileen or you,” she could tell him,
    “especially if I change my clothes and put my hair up. I can tell him I was waiting outside for Eileen and saw people go in just as the store closed.”
    But when she tried to persuade him, waking him up before the all clear so the sleeping Eileen wouldn’t hear, he insisted on going himself.
    “But shouldn’t I show you where the drop is first?” Polly asked. “If it’s working, you can go through and tell Oxford to send a team disguised as rescue workers.”
    He shook his head. “We’ll go to Padgett’s first and then the drop.”
    “But what will we tell Eileen?”
    He finally agreed to take Eileen back to Mrs. Rickett’s, tell her the two of them were going to the drop, and then go to Padgett’s.
    Which created a whole new problem. If they left now, they’d run straight into the troupe, and Miss Laburnum would almost certainly say something about the five fatalities.
    “We need to wait here till everyone’s gone so they don’t see us leaving the emergency staircase,” she said. “Once they realize it’s not locked, all sorts of people will want to use it. And we should let Eileen sleep, poor thing. I doubt if she’s had a good night’s rest since she came to London.”
    “All right,” he said, and agreed to let Eileen sleep another half hour, during which Polly hoped he’d fall asleep and she could go find out alone. But he didn’t, and after they’d walked Eileen home and Polly had got her safely upstairs without seeing anyone, he insisted on going straight to Padgett’s, even though it had begun to rain again. And there was nothing for it but to go with him and hope a rescue crew was digging, or Mike might insist on going down into the pit himself.
    But a crew was there, at least a dozen men hard at work with picks and shovels in spite of the rain, and the incident officer had just come on duty and didn’t know if they’d recovered any victims or not. “But they must think there are some of them under there,” he said when Mike told him he’d seen three people going in. “Or they wouldn’t be working like that.”
    Which seemed to satisfy Mike, at least for the moment, and when Polly said they needed to go now or they’d run into people on their way to church—which was true, even though St. George’s was no longer there; the rector was conducting services at St. Bidulphus’s—Mike agreed to leave the dig and let her take him to the drop.
    She felt guilty over it—it was raining harder than ever, and even with the Burberry Miss Laburnum had got him, he’d freeze sitting on the cold steps. But she had to have time to find out the truth about the fatalities.
    And Mike didn’t seem dismayed by the rain. “At least there won’t be many contemps out in this,” he said, “so there’ll be less chance of the shimmer being seen.”
    He was right about no one being out in the rain. The streets were deserted. Polly led Mike through the partially cleared rubble to the alley and over to the passage which led to the drop. The rain had washed away the chalked messages she’d scrawled on the walls and the barrels, but the ones on the door were still there, and she was glad to see that the overhang had largely protected the steps and the well.
    “It seems fairly dry in here,” she said. But it was also untouched. The dust, leaves, and spiderwebs were all still there.
    “You put this ‘For a good time, ring Polly’ here?” Mike asked, pointing at the door.
    “Yes, and I put an arrow on that barrel,” she said, pointing, “and Mrs. Rickett’s address and the name of Townsend Brothers on the back, though I imagine the rain’s washed them away. I thought if the retrieval team came, it could help them find me.”
    “It was a good idea,” he said. “I had one like it when I was in the hospital.”
    “You were going to put messages on your gun emplacement?”
    “No, in the newspapers. We could put an ad in the personal column.”

    “No, in the newspapers. We could put an ad in the personal column.”
    “An ad? What sort of ad? ‘Stranded travelers seek retrieval team to come and get them’?”
    “Exactly. Only not in those words. They’ll have to look like all the other personal ads, but be worded so someone from Oxford would recognize them as being from us and know what they mean.”
    “ ‘Wounds my heart with a monotonous languour,’ ” Polly murmured.
    “That was the coded message they sent out over the BBC to the French Resistance the day before D-Day. It’s from a Verlaine poem. It meant ‘Invasion imminent.’ ”
    “Exactly,” Mike said. “Coded messages.”
    “But that could be dangerous. If they decide we’re German spies—”
    “I’m not talking about ‘The dog barks at midnight’ or ‘Wounds my heart with’—whatever the hell you said. I’m talking about, ‘R.T. Meet me in Trafalgar Square noon Friday, M.D.’ ”
    Polly shook her head. “Meetings in public places are nearly as suspect as ‘The dog barks at midnight.’ ”
    “All right, then, we’ll make it ‘R.T. Can’t wait to see you, darling. Meet me Trafalgar Square noon Friday. Love, Pollykins.’ ”
    “I suppose that might work,” Polly said thoughtfully. The personal columns were full of messages to and from lovers, and from people who’d gone to the country or been bombed out, notifying their friends and relations of their new addresses. “But there are dozens of London newspapers. How will we know which one to put the message in?”
    “We’ll work that out later,” he said. “In the meantime, we need to replace the messages you wrote here that have washed off.”
    “They’ll only be washed off again.”
    “Then we’ll have to buy some paint.”
    “And hope this rain stops,” Polly said, looking up at the rain dripping from the overhang. “Do you want me to bring you an umbrella?”
    “Not if it’s that bright green one of Eileen’s. It can be seen for miles. I’m trying not to be seen, remember?”
    “Mine’s black. I’ll bring it,” she promised. “And something to eat.” And a thermos of hot tea, she thought.
    But not till I see Marjorie.
    Visiting hours weren’t till ten, and in spite of everything they’d already done this morning, it was still only half past eight. But if she went back to Mrs. Rickett’s, Eileen might be awake and want to come with her. And perhaps this early the stern admitting nurse who’d refused to answer her questions wouldn’t be on duty yet.
    She wasn’t. A very young nurse was. Good. “Have you a patient named James Dunworthy here?” Polly asked her. “I was told he was brought here night before last. From Padgett’s?”
    The admitting nurse checked the records. “No, we’ve no one by that name.”
    “Oh, dear,” Polly said anxiously, calling on the acting techniques Sir Godfrey had taught her. “My friend was certain he was brought here. She works at Padgett’s with Mr. Dunworthy, and she asked me to find out for her. She was a bit banged up and couldn’t come herself. She’s terribly worried about him. Mr. Dunworthy would have been brought in early in the evening.”
    “I wasn’t on duty that night. Let me see what I can find out,” the nurse said, and went off. When she returned, she said, “I spoke by telephone with the ambulance crew who handled the incident, and they only transported one”—a fractional hesitation—“injured victim to hospital, and it was a woman.” And the pause meant the
    “injured victim” had died on the way to hospital, just as Marjorie had said.
    “But if he wasn’t brought here, then that means—” Polly said, and clapped her hand to her mouth. “Oh, no, how dreadful.”
    “You mustn’t worry,” the nurse said sympathetically, and looked quickly round to make certain no one was in earshot. “I asked the ambulance crew about fatalities, and they said both the others were women, too.”
    Three fatalities, not five. “Did they work at Padgett’s?” Polly asked.
    “No. They haven’t been identified yet.”
    So there was still a possibility that they might be the retrieval team. If it was Polly’s or Eileen’s, they’d almost certainly have sent women to blend in at a department store, though they usually only sent two historians to retrieve. But what if they were Polly’s and Eileen’s teams?
    At least it wasn’t a discrepancy. “Oh, my friend will be so relieved!” Polly said truthfully. “There must have been some sort of mix-up.”
    She thanked the nurse profusely and hurried out of the hospital and down the steps, where she nearly collided with a pair of young nurses in dark blue capes coming on duty. “Last night I went to an RAF dance and met the most adorable lieutenant,” one of them was saying. “He’s a pilot. He’s stationed at Boscombe Down. He said he’d come to see me on his next leave.”
    Boscombe Down. Could that be the name of Gerald’s airfield? It was two words, one beginning with a B and one beginning with a D. It had to be it.
    She’d expected to need to spend the entire day tracking down the information about the casualties, but now that she’d solved both her problems, she could actually do what she’d told Eileen she intended to do and go visit Marjorie. It would mean one less lie she could be caught in.
    But it wasn’t ten yet, and at any rate she couldn’t go in the front door when she was supposed to be hurrying off to tell her Padgett’s friend that James Dunworthy was all right.
    She knew which ward Marjorie was in from when she’d attempted to visit before, so she wouldn’t need to ask, but if the admitting nurse saw her going up …
    She found the emergency entrance and waited out of sight till an ambulance pulled in, bells clanging, and began to unload patients, and then walked purposefully past them and the attendants coming out to help.
    From there, she darted up the first flight of stairs she saw to the fourth floor, and into Marjorie’s ward. And found she needn’t have gone to all the trouble of inquiring after a fictitious patient to find out what she needed to know. She could have simply asked Marjorie.
    “I was wrong about five people being killed. There were only three,” Marjorie said, sitting propped against her pillows, her arm in a sling. “None of them worked at Padgett’s. They’ve no idea who they were or what they were doing there. Like me. If I’d been killed, no one would have known what I was doing in Jermyn Street either.”
    “What were you doing there?”

    “I went to meet Tom,” she said, and at Polly’s blank look she explained, “the airman I told you about. He’d been after me to go away with him, and I wouldn’t, but then when you were nearly killed at St. George’s, I thought, why not? I might be killed tomorrow. I’ve got to snatch at life while I can.”
    Polly’s heart began to pound. “You changed your mind because of me?”
    “Yes. When I saw you that morning, your skirt torn and your face all covered in plaster, it brought it home to me that you might have died—that I could die at any moment. And that working at Townsend’s would have been all there was to my life. And I decided I wasn’t going to die without ever doing anything, so the next time Tom came in—it was the Friday you went to see your mother—I told him I’d go away with him.”
    And when she went to meet him, she’d been hit, buried, nearly killed. And I did it, Polly thought. I’m the one who put her there.
    She’d been assuring Mike that he hadn’t saved Hardy, that Hardy would have seen the boat even without Mike’s pocket torch or been rescued by some other boat, but there was no other reason why Marjorie would have been in Jermyn Street that Friday night. No other reason for her broken arm and cracked ribs, for her having spent all those hours in the rubble, for her nearly having been killed.
    But that’s impossible, Polly thought. Historians can’t alter events. The net won’t let them.
    Unless Mike’s right. And suddenly she thought of the UXB at St. Paul’s. What if it hadn’t been an error in the historical record that it had been removed on Saturday and not Sunday? What if the time difference was a discrepancy?

    One does not conduct deceptions merely to deceive. It is a kind of game, but a kind of game played in deadly earnest for compelling reasons and with dangerous consequences.
    Kent—April 1944
    “THE QUEEN?” ERNEST SAID. “I CAN’T VISIT THE QUEEN. Cess and I have been up all night inflating tanks. I need to go to Croydon and deliver this week’s newspaper articles and letters to the Call. I’ve already missed the Sudbury Weekly Shopper’s deadline. I can’t afford to miss another one.”
    “Your royal sovereign,” Prism said, “is far more important than—what is it you were writing up yesterday? A garden party?”
    “Tea party. For the officers of the Twenty-first Airborne, newly arrived from Bradley Field. That’s not the point. The point is that these stories must go in on schedule or the troop movements will have to be completely redone.”
    “Prism will help you,” Moncrieff said. “And at any rate, this will only take a couple of hours. We’ll be back in plenty of time for you to deliver your stories.”
    “That’s what Cess said about the tanks last night.”
    “Yes, but this is quite nearby. At Mofford House, only a few miles beyond Lymbridge.”
    “Can’t Chasuble go instead? Or Gwendolyn?”
    “He’s already there setting up. And Chasuble’s over at Camp Omaha, rigging up a chimney for the mess tent.”
    “What does the mess tent need a chimney for? There’s no one there to cook for.”
    “But they must look as if they are,” Prism said. “And you must go. You’re the one who’s going to write this all up for the London papers.”
    The London papers meant the story would get a good deal more notice than an article in the Call, particularly if there was an accompanying photograph, and it was a chance to meet Queen Elizabeth, which any Fortitude South agent—or any historian—would give his eyeteeth for. Plus, it looked as if he was going to go whether he wanted to or not. “Do I need to bring my camera?” Ernest asked.
    “No. The London papers will have their photographers there. All you need is your pajamas,” Prism said. “Now come along, we’re late.”
    “If it’s not too much to ask,” Ernest said once they were in the staff car, with Moncrieff driving, “why am I meeting the Queen in my pajamas?”
    “Because you’ve been wounded,” Moncrieff said. “A broken foot would be appropriate, I think.” He looked back at Ernest in the backseat. “We’ll put you in a plaster and on crutches. Unless you’d rather have a broken neck.”
    “Have you any idea what he’s babbling on about?” Ernest leaned forward to ask Prism.
    “We’re attending the ribbon cutting for a hospital,” he explained. “They’ve turned Mofford House into a military hospital to deal with the soldiers who’ll be coming back wounded from the invasion.”
    “Which hasn’t happened yet. So how can we be invasion casualties?”
    “We’re not. We were wounded at Tripoli. Or Monte Cassino, whichever you prefer.”
    “We’re window dressing,” Prism said impatiently. “The newspaper stories you’ll write will say that the hospital has only a few patients at present, but that its capacity is six hundred, and that it’s one of five new hospitals which will open in the area over the next four months.”
    “Which plays nicely into the scenario that the invasion’s scheduled for mid-July,” Ernest said. “So the Queen will be seen visiting the wards?”
    “Ward,” Prism said. “They were only able to mock up one for the ribbon cutting. The hospital in Dover couldn’t spare the beds for more than that, and Lady Mofford wasn’t keen on having her entire house turned into a hospital just for one afternoon’s photographs.”
    “Afternoon?” Ernest said. “I thought you said this would only take a couple of hours.”
    “It will. There’ll be a speech welcoming the Queen, a visit to the ward, and then tea. The Queen’s to arrive at one.”
    “One o’clock this afternoon?” Cess cried. “That’s hours from now. And Worthing and I haven’t even had breakfast. Why did we need to leave now?”
    “I told you,” Prism said imperturbably. “The Queen will be there. One can’t keep royalty waiting. And we need to help set up.”
    “But I’m starving!” Cess said.
    “And I must be in Croydon by four o’clock, or my articles won’t make this week’s edition.”
    “Then they’ll have to go in next week’s.”
    “That’s what you said last week,” Ernest said. “At this rate, they won’t go in till after the invasion, and a bloody lot of good they’ll do then.”
    “Very well,” Prism said. “When we get there I’ll ring up Lady Bracknell and have Algernon take them to Croydon for you.”
    Which would completely defeat the purpose. “They’re not done yet,” he said. “I’d intended to finish writing them up last night, and instead I ended up playing matador.”
    “With a tank as his cape,” Cess said, and launched into an account of their adventures with the bull and his charging of the tank, which Prism and Moncrieff both found highly amusing.
    “Today won’t be nearly so dangerous,” Moncrieff said. “And don’t worry, we’ll have you back to the castle in plenty of time.”
    At which point, I will no doubt be sent to blow up more tanks.
    “Speaking of dangers,” Prism said, “you need to read this.” He handed a sheet of paper back to Ernest over the seat. “It’s a memo from Lady Bracknell.”
    “Warning us,” Cess said, “about”—he lowered his voice to a sinister whisper—“spies in our midst.”
    Ernest snatched the paper from Prism. “Spies?”
    “Yes,” Cess said. “It says we’re to look out for suspicious behavior, particularly for people who seem unfamiliar with local customs. And we’re not to discuss our mission with anyone, no matter how harmless and trustworthy they seem, because they might be German spies. That bull this morning, for instance.”
    “It’s not a joking matter,” Prism said. “If there’s a security breach, it could endanger the entire invasion.”

    “I know,” Cess said. “But whom exactly does Bracknell think we’d talk to? The only people we ever see are irate farmers, except for Ernest here—”
    “And the only people I talk to are irate editors who want to know why my articles are always late,” Ernest said. He needed to get this conversation off the topic of spies. “And I doubt very much that they’ll believe I missed their deadline because I was having tea with the Queen. How are we supposed to address her, by the way?
    Your Majesty? Your Highness?”
    “There! You see that?” Cess said, pointing an accusing finger at him. “Unfamiliarity with local customs. Definitely suspicious behavior. And he behaved very oddly around that bull. Are you a spy, Worthing?” he said, and when Ernest didn’t answer, “Well, are you?”

    We shall fight in the offices … and in the hospitals.
    London—27 October 1940
    THE MOMENT POLLY RETURNED FROM SEEING MARJORIE, Eileen said, “Mr. Fetters rang up while you were gone. He said they’d found three bodies in Padgett’s.” Which meant Polly hadn’t had to go to the hospital after all.
    She wished she hadn’t. She’d gone there to prove the number of dead wasn’t a discrepancy so that Mike could stop worrying that he’d altered events, only to find that she’d altered them.
    Don’t be ridiculous, she thought. Historians can’t do that. And there were dozens of reasons why Mr. Dunworthy could have got the time of the St. Paul’s UXB’s removal wrong. The newspaper could have moved the time up to throw the Germans off. During the V-1 and V-2 attacks, they’d printed false accounts of where the rockets fell to trick the Germans into shortening their range. They might have done something like that with the UXB, to convince the Nazis the bomb was easier to defuse than it had been. Or they could simply have got the time wrong, like the nurses at Padgett’s had got the number wrong.
    You thought the number of fatalities was a discrepancy, she reassured herself, and it turned out it wasn’t. And look at your last assignment. For a few weeks there, you were convinced you’d altered events, but you hadn’t. Everything worked out exactly the same as it would have if you hadn’t been there.
    And this will, too. The doctors say Marjorie’s going to make a full recovery, and it isn’t as if she married her airman or got knocked up. In a few days she’ll be out of hospital and back at Townsend Brothers, just as if nothing had happened. And all I have to do is make certain Mike doesn’t find out what Marjorie said. And that Eileen kept the Hodbins from going on the City of Benares.
    She wondered if she should caution Eileen again not to say anything about that, but she didn’t want her inquiring why. And Eileen wasn’t likely to bring up the subject of the Hodbins to Mike for fear that he’d make her write to them and tell them where she lived. At any rate, the only thing on Eileen’s mind was what had happened at Padgett’s.
    “Mr. Fetters says they were three charwomen,” Eileen said. “They didn’t work at Padgett’s. They worked at Selfridges. He said they must have been on their way to work when the raids began and took shelter in Padgett’s basement.”
    Which meant Mike could also stop worrying about the fatalities being the retrieval team, and so could she. And now all I have to worry about is where the team is.
    And whether it will show up before my deadline. And about the possibility that Oxford’s been destroyed.
    And about Eileen, who’d been badly shaken by the knowledge that “we could have been in that basement shelter, too.”
    “No, we couldn’t,” Polly had said firmly. “Because I know when and where the raids are, remember?” At any rate till January.
    “You’re right.” Eileen looked reassured. “It was a tremendous comfort yesterday going to Stepney, knowing there weren’t going to be any sirens.”
    Except the one which had sounded at Townsend Brothers. Had that been a discrepancy, too?
    “Oh, and I wanted to ask you,” Eileen said, “Mr. Fetters said Padgett’s is reopening ‘on a limited basis’ next month, and asked me if I was interested in coming back to work there, and I wondered what I should tell him. I mean, we mightn’t be here by then …”
    Or we might.
    “I’ll ask Mike,” Polly said. “I’m going to check on him now and take him a blanket.”
    “Can I come with you?”
    “No, there are too many people about. I’ll show you tonight where the drop is. Oh, I nearly forgot. I think I found the airfield Gerald’s at. Was it Boscombe Down?”
    “No,” Eileen said. She looked thoughtful. “Though the B sounds right. I’m sorry …”
    “It’s all right,” Polly said, fighting back disappointment. She’d been so certain that was it. “I’ll go ask Mrs. Rickett if she has an ABC. If she does, you can look through the names while I’m gone.”
    Mrs. Rickett didn’t have one. Miss Laburnum was certain she had one “somewhere” and looked through every drawer and cupboard in her room before she said,
    “Oh, that’s right, I lent it to my niece when she was visiting from Cheshire.” And then insisted on showing Polly two coconuts she’d managed to scrounge up for the play and relating in detail the time she’d seen Sir Godfrey onstage when she was a girl. It was two o’clock before Polly was able to escape, by which time she was convinced that Mike would be dead from hypothermia.
    He wasn’t, and even though his teeth were chattering, he refused to leave the drop. “There have been contemps in the area all day. It’ll have a much better chance of opening after the raids start tonight.”
    “But it won’t help to have you freeze to death,” she said, and tried to persuade him to let her spell him long enough for him to go to Mrs. Leary’s and eat his supper, but he refused.
    “The more coming and going there is, the greater the chance someone will see us,” he argued.
    “Won’t you at least let me bring you another blanket and something to eat?”
    “No, I’ll be fine. Where are the raids tonight?”
    “The East End, the City, and Islington.”
    “Good. Then there won’t be firemen or rescue workers around here to see the shimmer. Were you able to find out anything about the casualties at Padgett’s?”
    “Yes.” She told him about the three dead charwomen.
    “So it wasn’t the retrieval team. And there wasn’t a discrepancy. Good,” he said, sounding relieved. “What about Phipps’s whereabouts? Were you able to get hold of a railway guide?”
    “Not yet, but I’ll look at the one at Townsend Brothers tomorrow, and I should be able to find out some more airfields at Notting Hill Gate tonight,” she said, thinking of her troupe mates Lila and Viv. “Is there anything else you want us to do?”
    “Yes, buy some newspapers for us to use for our personal ads. And keep pumping Eileen about what else Gerald said. You haven’t figured out what his joke about getting her driving authorization meant, have you?”

    getting her driving authorization meant, have you?”
    “No. The only thing I’ve been able to think of is that RAF pilots carried their papers in a waterproof wallet in case they had to ditch in the Channel, but the wallet wasn’t red, and I don’t see what—”
    “But at least that tells us we’re on the right track about his being at an airfield,” he said. “You’d better go. When are the sirens supposed to go tonight?”
    “I don’t know.” She explained about having left before Colin got the siren data to her. “The raids begin at 7:50. Here, take my coat. I can borrow one for tonight,”
    she said, draping it over his knees. “And if it begins to rain again, go home. Don’t try to be a hero.”
    “I won’t,” he promised, and she hurried back to the boardinghouse, got Eileen, took her to Notting Hill Gate, then sent her off to Holborn to see if the lending library had an ABC.
    “If they don’t,” she said, “borrow some newspapers.” She told Eileen about Mike’s ideas of using personal ads to tell the retrieval team where they were.
    “I know where we can find examples of the right kind of ads,” Eileen said eagerly. “A Murder Is Announced.”
    “What?” Polly said.
    “It’s a mystery novel. By Agatha Christie. It’s full of personal ads … Oh, no, that won’t work,” she said glumly.
    “Why not? The library at Holborn has several Agatha Christie novels, and if they don’t have it there, I’m certain one of the bookshops in Charing Cross Road—”
    “No, they won’t. It wasn’t written till after the war.” She cheered up. “But I think there’s one in The Dawson Pedigree that we could use.” She started toward the Central Line.
    “Wait,” Polly said. “You need to be back before half past ten. That’s when the trains stop.”
    “Yes, Fairy Godmother,” Eileen said. “Any other instructions?”
    “Yes. Keep a close watch on your belongings. There’s a band of urchins at Holborn who pick people’s pockets.”
    “Of course. It’s my fate to be surrounded by horrible children no matter where I go. But at least it’s not the Hodbins,” she said, and went off to catch her train. Polly went out to the District Line platform, where the troupe was rehearsing, to talk to Lila and Viv.
    They weren’t there. “They went to a dance,” Miss Laburnum reported.
    “On a Sunday night?” the rector said, shocked.
    “It’s an American USO dance,” Miss Laburnum explained. “I don’t know what Sir Godfrey will say when he gets here. He so wanted to rehearse the shipwreck scene.”
    What Sir Godfrey said, when he arrived a moment later, was, “ ‘False varlets! How all occasions do inform against me. They hath outvillained villainy!’ Their foul perfidy leaves us no choice but to rehearse the rescue scene. We shall begin at the point at which the castaways have heard the ship’s gun and have all rushed down to the beach.”
    Polly and Sir Godfrey were the only ones in that scene, which meant she had no chance to look through Sir Godfrey’s Times for more airfields. And after rehearsal was over, when she asked Mrs. Brightford if she knew the names of any, Sir Godfrey said dryly, “Does this mean that you, too, will be abandoning us to ‘foot it featly here and there,’ Lady Mary?”
    “No,” she said, hoping Holborn had had an ABC.
    “It didn’t,” Eileen reported on her return. “And it only had two newspapers. The librarian said children keep taking them for the scrap-paper drive. But she had heaps of Agatha Christies.
    “Look,” she said excitedly when they reached the emergency staircase, showing Polly a paperback book. “Murder in the Calais Coach!”
    “Is that the one you thought had a personal ad in it?”
    “No, that’s not by Agatha Christie, it’s by Dorothy Sayers. At least I think that’s what it was in. It might have been in Murder Must Advertise instead, and at any rate, the library didn’t have either one. But”—she produced another paperback—“it did have The ABC Murders.”
    Which was not quite the same as an ABC. But, as Eileen said, it was full of place-names, which might help her remember. Eileen had also retrieved a wadded-up edition of the Daily Mirror from a dustbin.
    She handed it to Polly, and Polly began looking through it for the names of airfields and any references to the afternoon raid. There was nothing about bombing—
    which was a relief—but nothing about a false alarm either, or an aeroplane crash.
    There was a story about the Battle of Britain, which said the RAF’s efforts had “changed the course of the war,” and which listed several airfields.
    “Bicester?” Polly asked.
    It wasn’t Greenham Common or Grove or Bickmarsh either. “Have you had any luck remembering what else Gerald said?” Polly asked her.
    “Nothing useful. I remember Linna was speaking on the phone to someone who was angry that the lab had changed the order of their French Revolution assignments.”
    Let’s hope they’re not trapped there like we are here, Polly thought. They might end up being guillotined.
    “I feel so stupid, not being able to remember,” Eileen said.
    “You had no way of knowing it was important,” Polly reassured her. “We’ll find the name of the airfield tomorrow when I buy the ABC.”
    “Or your drop might have opened,” Eileen said, cheering up. “And Mike will be waiting for us outside the station so we can all go through together.” But when the all clear went at five, he wasn’t there or at Mrs. Rickett’s.
    “He very likely went back to Mrs. Leary’s to sleep when the raids ended,” Polly said.
    “Should we go to the drop to check?” Eileen asked.
    “No, there are too many people about in the morning. And we need to get you a ration book before I go to work, so you can begin eating at Mrs. Rickett’s.”
    But applying for a new ration book required an identity card, which had also been in Eileen’s handbag, and since she’d been living in Stepney, she couldn’t apply for a new one at the local council office. She had to go to the one nearest to where she’d been living.

    for a new one at the local council office. She had to go to the one nearest to where she’d been living.
    “Which is where?” Polly asked the clerk at the Kensington council office.
    “In Bethnal Green.”
    “Bethnal Green?”
    “Yes,” the clerk said, and told them the address.
    “Are there raids in Bethnal Green today?” Eileen whispered as they left the counter.
    “No,” Polly said.
    “But you looked so—”
    “I thought it might be where Gerald had said he was going. It begins with a B and has two words.”
    “No, I’m almost certain the second word began with a P.”
    Polly sent Eileen off and hurried to work and up to the book department, but the railway guide was no longer there. “A man from the Ministry of War came in last week and took it,” Ethel said.
    “How all occasions do inform against us,” Polly thought. “Would you have a railway map, then?”
    “No, he confiscated those as well. To keep them from falling into German hands. You know, in case of invasion. Though if they’ve got as far as Oxford Street, I shouldn’t think they’d need maps, would you?”
    “No,” Polly said, but that wasn’t what worried her. What worried her was that the Ministry of War had come in last week. What did they know that had made them think invasion was coming now? Hitler had called off Operation Sea Lion at the end of September and postponed the invasion till spring.
    What if he didn’t? Polly thought. What if this is a discrepancy?
    It could be a disastrous one. By spring he’d decided to abandon the invasion altogether so he could concentrate on attacking Russia. If instead he invaded now …
    “Are you all right?” Ethel asked her.
    “Yes. If you haven’t any railway maps, what about an ordinary map of England?” she asked.
    “No, he took those as well. I take it someone in your family’s a planespotter?”
    “Yes,” Polly said, latching on to the explanation. “He’s twelve.”
    “My little brother spends all his time scanning the skies for Heinkels and Stukas.”
    “So does my nephew,” Polly said, and worked the conversation around to airfields. She got several more names from her and another one on her lunch break, though none had two words of which the second began with a P.
    But when she returned to her counter, there was good news. Miss Snelgrove had told Doreen that Marjorie was being released from hospital and would be coming back to Townsend Brothers soon. Which meant this was just like her other assignment—it had looked like she’d altered events, but in the end things had worked out.
    She should have had more faith in time-travel theory and in the complexity of a chaotic system.
    And she should have remembered her history lessons. The code for the D-Day invasion had been broken by the Nazis, which could have been catastrophic for the Allies—but when the wireless operator had shown Field Marshal Rundstedt the Verlaine poem, he’d ignored it. “I hardly think the Allies will announce the invasion over the wireless,” he’d said.
    And there were hundreds of examples like that scattered throughout history. “All’s well that ends well,” Polly thought, quoting Shakespeare and Sir Godfrey, and focused on quizzing Sarah Steinberg, whose brother was in the RAF, about airfields.
    By the end of the day, she’d obtained a dozen names. She tried them out on Eileen when she came back from Bethnal Green, with no luck. Eileen hadn’t been able to get an identity card either. “The clerk in Bethnal Green told me I had to go to the National Registration office, but it isn’t open on Monday.”
    “It’s probably just as well,” Polly said. “Mrs. Rickett serves trench pie on Monday night.”
    “What’s that?”
    “No one knows. Mr. Dorming’s convinced she makes it out of rats.”
    “It can’t possibly be that bad,” Eileen said. “And at any rate, I don’t care. I can bear anything now that I’ve found you and Mike. I’d be willing to eat sawdust.”
    “That would be Mrs. Rickett’s victory loaf, which we have on Thursdays,” Polly said. She tried to give Eileen some money for lunch, but she refused it.
    “We’ll need all our money for our train fare to the airfield,” Eileen said, and went off to see if Selfridges had an ABC.
    It didn’t. And neither did the Daily Herald’s office. When Polly got off work, Eileen and Mike were both waiting for her outside the staff entrance, and they reported no luck in finding one.
    And no luck with the drop. “I stayed there till two,” Mike said, “and nary a shimmer of a shimmer.”
    He’d spent the rest of the afternoon at the Herald, going through July and August editions for airfield names. As soon as they got to Notting Hill Gate and the emergency staircase—which was colder than ever—he tried them on Eileen. “Bedford?”
    “No,” Eileen said. “I’m convinced it was two words.”
    “Beachy Head?”
    “That sounds a bit like it … no.”
    “She thinks the second word begins with a P,” Polly said.
    He checked his list. “Bentley Priory?”
    Eileen frowned. “No … it wasn’t Priory. It was Paddock or Place or …” She frowned, attempting to remember.
    He checked the list again. “No Ps,” he said. “How about Biggin Hill?”
    Eileen hesitated. “Perhaps … I’m not certain … I’m so sorry. I thought I’d know it when I heard it, but now I’ve heard so many … I’m not certain …”
    “It would be a logical choice,” Mike said. “It was in the thick of the Battle of Britain.”
    “So was Beachy Head,” Polly said. “And Bentley Priory. And that’s the one nearest Oxford. Perhaps we should try that first.”
    “But it’s not just an airfield, it’s the RAF command center,” Mike said, “which means security will be tighter. Biggin Hill’s closest. I say we try that first and then the other two. Now, what about messages we can send? Did you tell Eileen my idea, Polly?”

    the other two. Now, what about messages we can send? Did you tell Eileen my idea, Polly?”
    “Yes,” she said, and to prevent Eileen from launching into an account of mystery novels which hadn’t been written yet, she continued, “How’s this for an ad?
    ‘Historian seeks situation involving travel. Available immediately’?”
    “Great,” Mike said, scribbling it down. “And we can do variations of your ‘Meet me in Trafalgar Square or Kensington Gardens or the British Museum.’ ”
    “There are lots of notices looking for soldiers who were at Dunkirk,” Eileen mused. “What about ‘Anyone having information regarding the whereabouts of Michael Davies, last seen at Dunkirk, contact E. O’Reilly,’ and Mrs. Rickett’s address?”
    Mike wrote their suggestions down. “What about crosswords?” He pointed at the Herald’s puzzle. “I could compose one with our names in the clues, like ‘This bird wants a cracker.’ Or ‘What an Italian tower might say if asked its name?’ ”
    “Absolutely not,” Polly said.
    “Because they’re bad puns?”
    “No, because a crossword nearly derailed D-Day.”
    “Two weeks before the invasion, five of the top-top-secret code words appeared in the Daily Herald’s crossword puzzle: ‘Overlord,’ ‘mulberry,’ ‘Utah,’ ‘sword,’
    and I forget the other one. The military was convinced the Germans had tumbled to the invasion and was ready to call the entire invasion off.”
    “Had they?” Eileen asked. “Tumbled to it?”
    “No. The puzzle’s author was a schoolmaster who’d been doing them for years. He told the military his students and dozens of other people composed the clues and that they’d have no way of knowing which puzzle they’d be in, and in the end they decided it was just a bizarre coincidence.”
    “And was it?” Mike asked.
    “No. Forty years later the Herald published a story about it, and a man who’d been one of the schoolmaster’s students confessed he’d overheard two Army officers talking and had co-opted the words for clues with no idea what they meant.”
    “But the puzzle incident wasn’t till 1944,” Mike said. “It isn’t likely British Intelligence would be reading crossword puzzles now—”
    “In which case the retrieval team won’t be either. I think they’re much more likely to read personal ads. There are lots of ‘losts.’ Perhaps we could do something with that.”
    “Like ‘Lost: historian. Reward for safe return’?”
    “No,” Polly said, “but we could say we’d lost something and give our name and address. Here’s one. ‘Lost: pair of brown carpet slippers on Northern Line platform, Bank Station. If found—’ ”
    “Oh,” Eileen said. They looked inquiringly at her. “You told me to remember any detail, no matter how irrelevant, about my conversations with Gerald—”
    “Does Gerald’s airfield have the word ‘bank’ in it?” Mike asked eagerly, grabbing for his list of names. “Glaston Bank?”
    “No, not that part. The bit about the slippers.”
    They looked blankly at her.
    “ ‘Slippers’ sounds like ‘slippage.’ ”
    “Yes. Linna was on the phone while I was talking to Gerald, and whoever she was talking to wanted to know how much slippage there was on someone’s drop, and then when I went through to Backbury, Badri was talking to someone about an increase in slippage, and Linna asked me if the slippage the last time I went through had increased from the other times.”
    “And had it?” Mike asked.
    “No, and when I told her that, she said, ‘Good,’ and looked at Badri.”
    “Who was she talking to, do you know?”
    “No. I assume it was Mr. Dunworthy. She called him sir.”
    “And it was an increase?” Mike asked eagerly. “Not a decrease? You’re sure?”
    “Yes. Why?”
    Because then there wasn’t too little slippage, Polly thought. And it couldn’t have let Mike—or me—go to a place where we could alter events.
    “They questioned Phipps on his slippage, too,” Mike said. “Did they say anything to you about it when you came through, Polly?”
    “They asked me to note how much there was and tell them when I reported in.”
    “And how much was there?”
    “Four and a half days. It was only supposed to be an hour or two. I assumed there was a divergence point that—”
    “I don’t think so,” Mike said excitedly. “I think a bunch of drops were experiencing an increase in slippage, and it was enough to worry them. Which means it couldn’t have been a few days’ worth. It must have been weeks. Or months.”
    “And that’s why our retrieval teams aren’t here?” Polly said. “Because the slippage sent them to November or December instead?”
    He nodded.
    “So all we need to do is wait for them to come fetch us?” Eileen said eagerly.
    “No. It might be a while before they get here, and in case you haven’t noticed, this is kind of a dangerous place. The sooner we can find a working drop and get out of here, the better.”
    “But if there’s slippage, then Gerald’s drop won’t open either, will it?” Polly asked.
    “Even if it doesn’t, he may know more about what the slippage problem is and how long we’re looking at. That means finding him’s still our first priority. And our second’s to make sure the retrieval team can find us when they get here. Eileen, have you had a letter from Lady Caroline?”
    “No, not yet,” Eileen said, looking at Polly. She was obviously afraid he was going to ask her if she’d written the Hodbins.
    “What about you, Mike?” Polly asked hastily. “Have you left a trail of bread crumbs for your team to follow?”

    “What about you, Mike?” Polly asked hastily. “Have you left a trail of bread crumbs for your team to follow?”
    “Yes, I wrote the hospital in Dover and Sister Carmody at Orpington, and I sent my address to the barmaid at the Crown and Anchor.”
    “Barmaid?” Eileen said.
    “Yes.” He told them about Daphne’s coming to see him in hospital. “She’ll tell everybody in Saltram-on-Sea. I’ll put this ‘Meet me in Victoria Station’ message in tomorrow’s paper when I go down to the Express in the morning. I’m going to see if I can talk the paper into having me write a piece on ‘Our Biggin Hill Heroes.’
    That’ll help me get access, and I can earn some money while I’m at it. Maybe they’ll even pay my way.”
    “But aren’t we all going?” Eileen asked.
    “No, I’ll be able to get there quicker and find out more in a shorter time if I’m on my own.”
    “And I can’t leave my job,” Polly said.
    “I know,” Eileen said reluctantly. “It’s only … I think it’s a bad idea for us to split up when it took us so long to find one another.”
    “We’re not splitting up,” Mike said. “We’re doing what Shackleton did.”
    “Shackleton? Is he an historian?” Eileen asked.
    “No, Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer. They were trapped in the ice, and he had to leave his crew behind to go get help. If he didn’t, none of them would get out. That’s what I’m doing—going off to find help. If Gerald’s at Biggin Hill, I’ll ring you and have you come there.”
    “You won’t go through without us?”
    “Of course not. I’ll get you both out, I promise. In the meantime, Eileen, I want you to get your name on file at the department stores, and Polly, keep trying to scout up an ABC.”
    “I will,” she said.
    She tried, with no luck at all. She also made a list of the next week’s raids for Mike and Eileen to memorize, spent a fruitless evening in Victoria Station “by the clock” waiting for the retrieval team and being accosted by soldiers, and then went to rehearsal in the hopes that Lila and Viv would be there. They were, but the troupe was rehearsing Act Two, which everyone was in, so she had no chance to ask them.
    Mike returned from Biggin Hill Friday morning. “No luck,” he told Polly, leaning over her counter at Townsend Brothers. “He’s not at Biggin Hill. I got a look at every one of the ground crew and all the pilots. I don’t suppose Eileen remembered the airfield name while I was gone?”
    Polly shook her head.
    “I was afraid of that. I brought a new list of names for her to look at. Is she at Mrs. Rickett’s?”
    “No,” Polly said after a hasty look around to see if Miss Snelgrove was watching. “She’s still making the rounds of the department stores. She should be back soon.
    She said she was going to check in at lunch.”
    “When’s your lunch break?”
    “Half past twelve—yes, may I help you, sir?”
    “May …? Oh, yes,” he said, thankfully not looking over at Miss Snelgrove, who’d suddenly appeared. “I’d like to see some stockings.”
    “Yes, sir,” Polly said, bringing out a box and opening it. “These are very nice, sir.”
    He leaned forward to finger them. “Do you have these in any other colors?” he asked, and then, under his breath, “I’ll meet you and Eileen at twelve-thirty at Lyons Corner House.”
    “Yes, sir. They also come in powder pink and ecru,” and, to give him an exit opportunity, “I’m afraid we’re out of ivory.”
    “Oh, too bad. My girl had her heart set on ivory,” he said, and left, mouthing “Twelve-thirty” at her.
    Eileen still wasn’t back by then. Polly left a note for her and went to tell Mike, who’d got them a table in a secluded corner.
    “I told her to meet us here,” she said, shrugging off her coat.
    He handed her the menu. “I’m afraid they’re out of everything but the fish-paste sandwich.”
    “Which is still better than anything at Mrs. Rickett’s,” Polly said. She handed him a sheet of paper.
    “More airfield names?”
    “No, the upcoming raids. The worst one’s on the twelfth. Sloane Square Underground station, seventy-nine casualties.”
    “And no break in the nightly raids, I see,” he said, looking at the list.
    “Not till next week. Then they shift to the industrial cities—Coventry and then Birmingham and Wolverhamp—”
    “Yes. It was hit on the fourteenth. What’s the matter?”
    “I hadn’t even thought of that,” he said excitedly. “We’ve only been considering the historians who are here right now, not the ones who were here earlier.”
    “Before 1940, you mean?”
    “No, not earlier now,” he said. “Earlier in Oxford time. Historians who had World War II assignments last year. Or ten years ago. Like Ned Henry and Verity Kindle. Weren’t they in Coventry the night it was bombed?”
    “Yes, but that was two years ago … Oh,” she said, seeing what he was getting at. It didn’t matter when historians had done it in their past. This was time travel.
    Here in 1940, they would do it two weeks from now.
    “But there’s no way we could get to Ned and Verity. We don’t know where they were except that they were in the middle of Coventry, in the heart of the fire. And it’s much too dangerous—”
    “Not any more dangerous than Dunkirk,” Mike said. “And we know one place they were—in the cathedral.”
    “As it was burning down,” Polly said. “You can’t be thinking of trying to go there. The area around the cathedral was nearly a firestorm.”
    “It might also be our fastest way out. We wouldn’t necessarily have to find Ned and Verity. The drop was inside the cathedral, wasn’t it? All we have to do is find it.”
    “Mike, we can’t go through their drop.”
    “Why not? We know it was working.”

    “Why not? We know it was working.”
    “But we can’t use it because it was two years ago. We can’t go through to a time we’re already in. Their drop opens on Oxford two years ago, and two years ago
    “We were all in Oxford,” he said. “Sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking. But we can send a message through them.”
    “A message?”
    “Yes. We find Verity and Ned before they go back and have them tell the lab where we are and that our drops won’t open and to reset the drop so it opens in our time. There’s no reason we can’t do that, is there?”
    “Yes, there is. Because we didn’t.”
    “You don’t know that.”
    “Yes, I do. If we’d found them and told them what had happened, Oxford would have known what was going to happen when it sent us through. We’d have known what was going to happen.”
    He considered that. “Maybe they couldn’t tell us because it would create a paradox. If we knew we were going to be trapped, we wouldn’t come, and we had to come because we had come.”
    “But Mr. Dunworthy wouldn’t have let us come. You know how over-protective he is. He’d never have let you come knowing they couldn’t get you out after you were injured.” And he wouldn’t have let me come knowing I had a deadline.
    But she couldn’t say that. “This is a man who was worried I might get my foot caught in a barrage-balloon rope,” she said instead. “He’d never have let us get trapped in the Blitz. Or let you go to Coventry to get us out. The entire city burned. It would be suicide for you to go there. You’re here to observe heroes, not die trying to be one.”
    “Then we need to come up with somebody besides Ned and Verity. Who else was here? Didn’t Dunworthy go to the Blitz at some point?”
    “He went several times, but—”
    “I don’t know. I know he observed the big raids on May tenth and eleventh, because he talked about watching the fire in the House of Commons, and that happened on the tenth.”
    “And you said before that the ninth and tenth were the worst raids ofthe Blitz?”
    “Yes. Why?”
    “Nothing. We need something sooner. When else was he here?”
    “I don’t know. I remember him telling a story about attempting to get to his drop, and the gates at Charing Cross Railway Station being shut and him not being able to get in.”
    “But you don’t know the date?”
    “But if he told you he was trying to get to his drop, that means it must have been somewhere in Charing Cross.”
    “No, it doesn’t. He might have been taking the train to his drop. He could have been going anywhere.”
    “But it’s a place to start, and we can’t afford to leave any stone unturned. I want you to go check it while I’m at Beachy Head. Unless one of these names I got at Biggin Hill turns out to be Phipps’s airfield. Speaking of which, what’s keeping Eileen?” he asked, glancing at his watch. “I need to read them to her. I managed to wangle a ride to Beachy Head, and the guy’s leaving at two, but I don’t want to waste my time there if Gerald’s at one of these other airfields.”
    Eileen hurried in just as Mike was paying the bill, saying, “Sorry, I was applying at Mary Marsh, and they kept me waiting.”
    Mike read her the list. She shook her head decisively at each of the names.
    “Okay, then, it’s Beachy Head,” he said. He hurried off to catch his ride. “I’ll be back before the fourteenth.”
    So you can go to Coventry, Polly thought.
    She had to keep him from doing that. Which meant she had to find Gerald’s airfield.
    Over the next few days, she spent her lunch breaks going to Victoria and St. Pancras Stations to copy down two-word names beginning with B and P from the departure boards and her evenings incurring Sir Godfrey’s wrath by trying to get additional airfield names from Lila and Viv, but they were almost no help at all.
    “We nearly always go to the dances at Hendon,” Lila said.
    “There’s one on Saturday,” Viv told her. “You and your cousin could come with us.”
    She nearly accepted. They could ask the airmen they danced with where else they’d been stationed. But she was afraid if they weren’t there when Mike came back, he’d decide to go to Coventry, which would be not only dangerous but pointless.
    Because if Mike had found Ned and Verity and given them the message, that would mean Mr. Dunworthy had known for years that all this was going to happen and not only allowed it to but arranged it. Arranged for Mike to go to Dunkirk, for Eileen to go to a manor where the evacuees had the measles, had manipulated and lied to all of them from the moment they entered Oxford.
    It’s impossible, she told herself.
    But even as she thought it, she was remembering. He made me bring extra money, he made me learn the raids through December thirty-first. He insisted I work in a department store that was never hit during the entire Blitz. And if they had managed to get a message through, then he’d have known they were pulled out in time and that they weren’t in any actual danger.
    But if Mr. Dunworthy had lied, then why hadn’t he sent Mike to Dunkirk in the first place instead of scheduling him to do Pearl Harbor and letting him get his Land-A implant? And why had Linna and Badri been questioning everyone about increased slippage if they already knew about it?
    Mike still wasn’t back by the twelfth, and they’d had no word from him. It hadn’t taken him this long when he went to Biggin Hill.
    What if he went to Coventry without telling us? Polly thought, looking over at the lifts from her stocking counter, hoping one would open and Mike would emerge.
    One of them finally did, but it wasn’t Mike. It was Eileen. “I came for two reasons,” she said. “I’m determined to have the name of Gerald’s airfield for Mike when he gets back from Beachy Head, so I came to tell you I’m going to go scour the secondhand bookshops for an old ABC or a book about the RAF or something with airfield names, and I wanted to make certain there weren’t any raids in Charing Cross Road today.”

    airfield names, and I wanted to make certain there weren’t any raids in Charing Cross Road today.”
    “There aren’t any daytime raids anywhere in London today,” Polly reassured her.
    “Oh, good. I’m sorry I’m such an infant about them—”
    “It’s not being an infant to be frightened of someone who’s trying to kill you,” Polly said. “You said you had two reasons for coming?”
    “Yes. I wanted to tell you I found out why Lady Caroline didn’t write. I got another letter from Mrs. Bascombe. Lady Caroline’s husband was killed.”
    “Oh, dear. Had you met him?”
    “No, Lord Denewell worked in London at the War Office, and the house he was staying in was bombed—”
    “Lord Denewell? You worked for Lady Denewell?”
    “Yes, at Denewell Manor. Why? Is something wrong? Did you meet Lord Denewell?”
    “No. Sorry. I saw Miss Snelgrove looking this way. Perhaps you’d better go—”
    “I will. I only wanted to ask you if you thought it would be all right for me to send her a letter of condolence? I mean, with my being a servant and everything. I’m afraid she’ll think I’m acting above my place, but—”
    Polly cut her off. “Miss Snelgrove’s coming. We’ll discuss it tonight. Go look for your ABC.”
    Eileen nodded. “I won’t come back till I have either a list of airfields or a map in hand.”
    She started toward the lifts. “Wait,” Polly said, running after her. “If you have to ask for a map, tell them you want it for your nephew who’s interested in planespotting. That way they won’t be suspicious.”
    “Planespotting … I never thought of that,” Eileen said. “Polly, listen, I’ve just had an idea—uh-oh, Miss Snelgrove at eleven o’clock,” she whispered. “I’ll see you tonight.” And she hurried off.
    “Miss Sebastian,” Miss Snelgrove said.
    “Yes, ma’am. I was only—”
    “Miss Hayes will be returning to work today, and I’d like you to be here to assist her, so if you wouldn’t mind waiting to take your lunch break till two—”
    “I’m happy to,” Polly said, and meant it. Marjorie was coming back to work. Polly’d been afraid she’d been too traumatized by her experience to stay in London, but she was coming back.
    And when she arrived, she was nearly her old rosy-cheeked self. I was right, Polly thought. I didn’t alter the end result. Everything’s worked out just as it would have if Marjorie’d never been injured.
    “I’ll wrap your parcels for you till your arm’s better,” she told Marjorie, “though you can no doubt do better with one hand than I can with two. I never have got the hang of it, and now that the paper and string are rationed—”
    But Marjorie was shaking her head. “I’m not staying. I only came to tell everyone goodbye.”
    “Yes. I’ve handed in my notice.”
    “I … the nurses in hospital were so kind to me. I wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for them, and it made me think about what I was doing to help win the war. I couldn’t bear to see Hitler come marching down Oxford Street because I hadn’t done all I could.” She took a deep breath. “I’ve joined the Royal Army Nursing Service.”

    There are six evacuated children in our house. My wife and I hate them so much that we have decided to take away something for Christmas.
    London—November 1940
    I KNOW EXACTLY WHERE I CAN GET A MAP, EILEEN THOUGHT, hurrying out of Townsend Brothers and up Oxford Street to the tube station to catch a train to Whitechapel. Alf Hodbin has one. His planespotting map. Why didn’t I think of it before?
    She could get it from him and locate Gerald’s airfield—she was nearly positive she’d recognize the name when she saw it—and Polly and Mike would stop looking at her as though she were an imbecile for not remembering. And they could go to the airfield, find Gerald, and go home.
    If Alf still has the map, she thought. And if he’d give it to her. He might well refuse, especially if he sensed how badly she needed it. Hopefully he and Binnie would still be in school and she could get it from their mother instead and not have to worry about Alf’s refusing or about the children following her and finding out where she lived. Though it wouldn’t matter—she wouldn’t be here that much longer.
    She looked at her watch. It was just one. She should be able to get to Whitechapel well before school let out. But Alf and Binnie had constantly played truant in Backbury, and Mrs. Hodbin didn’t seem the type who’d see to it that they went to school. And if they were there …
    I’m going to have to bribe them, she decided. But with what?
    I know, she thought, and took a train to the Tower of London, where she bought a book on beheadings at the first souvenir shop she could find and a film-star magazine for Binnie, then set out for Whitechapel.
    Which proved nearly impossible to get to. The District Line was shut down. Polly said there weren’t any daytime raids today, Eileen thought nervously, going back upstairs to take a bus, but the damage turned out to have been from a raid the night before—damage which became apparent as she neared Whitechapel. There was a massive crater in the middle of Fieldgate Street and, a bit farther on, the wreckage of a warehouse lying across the road.
    Polly’d said the East End had been badly bombed, but Eileen hadn’t expected it to be this bad. On every street at least one of the clapboard tenements had collapsed inward in a heap of wood and plaster. Others had toppled sideways onto the next tenement and the next and the next, like a line of falling dominoes.
    Eileen was grateful there weren’t any raids today. She didn’t know how Polly and Mike stood them. “You’ll get used to them,” Polly’d said. “A few more weeks, and you won’t even hear them,” but it wasn’t true. She still jumped every time she heard the crump of an HE and flinched at the poom-poom-poom of the anti-aircraft guns. Even the wail of the sirens sent her into a panic. If there had been raids in the East End today, she wasn’t certain she could have summoned the courage to come, map or no map.
    At Commercial Street, she was supposed to change buses, but with every street barricaded she decided it would be faster to walk the half-mile to Gargery Lane. It was already three o’clock. But even walking was difficult. Entire streets had been reduced to rubble, and the tenements which still stood had their sides smashed in or their fronts torn away, the furniture inside exposed to the street. In one, a kitchen table set for breakfast stood on a now-slanting floor, food still on the plates. In another, a staircase climbed up into empty space. And in between, everything was smashed flat, including the corrugated iron roof of an Anderson shelter exactly like the one she and Theodore had spent so many nights in.
    In more than one place, rubble covered the street, too, and Eileen had to backtrack and go around, getting thoroughly lost in the process. She had to ask directions and then ask again—first of an elderly man pushing a pram full of household belongings and then of a middle-aged woman sitting on the curb with her head in her hands. “Gargery Lane? It’s down that way,” the woman said, pointing toward a line of gutted buildings. “If it’s still there. They were hit hard last night.”
    I should definitely have given Mrs. Hodbin that letter, Eileen thought guiltily. Alf and Binnie would have been safer on the torpedoed City of Benares than in this dreadful place. She hurried past the blackened shell of a tenement. What if Gargery Lane was a burnt-out ruin or a heap of plaster and bricks? What if Alf and Binnie had been killed, and it was her fault?
    But miraculously it was there, and fairly intact. The windows had been covered over with tacked-up pasteboard, but the row of houses still stood, and they were proudly flying Union Jacks. The tenement the Hodbins lived in had “Weel Gett Our Own Bak, Adolff!” written across its brown wooden front in red paint—no doubt Alf’s handiwork, since most of the words were misspelled. Its windows were boarded up, too, all except for one, which must have been just blown out. Shards of glass lay on the pavement in front of it.
    The door stood ajar. Good, Eileen thought. She could hopefully avoid the alarming woman with the red hands this time. She stepped over the broken glass and squeezed into the tiny front vestibule past a bicycle, a stirrup pump, and two buckets with ARP stenciled on them, one of which was full of soaking rags and the other of potato peelings.
    The door on her right shot open, and the woman with the red hands came charging out at her, brandishing a rag mop. “Thought you could sneak past me, did you?”
    she shouted, raising the mop above her head with both hands like an axe. “Not this time, you little bastard!”
    Eileen shrank back against the wall, her hand up to ward off the mop. “I’m Eileen O’Reilly. I was here before,” she said, and the woman lowered the mop and held it out in front of her like a bayonet. “I’m looking for Mrs. Hodbin.”
    “You and the greengrocer and the off-license,” the woman said scornfully. “Owes me four weeks’ rent, she does. And ten bob for the window in my parlor. As if
    ’Itler wasn’t breakin’ ’alf the windows in England, Alf ’Odbin’s got to smash the few we’ve got left. Threw a rock at it, ’e did, and when I get my ’ands on ’im and that sister of ’is …”
    It’s like being back in Backbury, Eileen thought. She’d had conversations just like this one with irate farmers at least a dozen times. But at least Alf and Binnie were all right, and apparently undaunted by the Blitz.
    “Them two’ll end up ’anged, you see if they don’t,” the woman said, “just like Crippen and—”
    “Mum!” a child’s voice called from inside the flat.
    “Shut it!” the woman shouted over her shoulder. “If you find ’em,” she said to Eileen, “you tell ’em to tell their mother either she pays me what she owes, or all three of ’em’ll be out on the street—”
    “Mum!” the child called again, shriller this time.
    “I said, shut it!” The woman stormed into the flat and slammed the door behind her. There was a smack and then a wail.
    Eileen hesitated. It was clear Mrs. Hodbin wasn’t at home and there was no point in going up, but the thought of having to come all the way back here again made Eileen hesitated. It was clear Mrs. Hodbin wasn’t at home and there was no point in going up, but the thought of having to come all the way back here again made her determined to at least knock on the door. And she’d best do it before the woman reappeared with her mop.
    She ran up the stairs to their flat and knocked on their door, but there was no response. “Mrs. Hodbin?” she called, and knocked again.
    Silence. “Mrs. Hodbin, it’s Miss O’Reilly. I brought Alf and Binnie home from Warwickshire.” She thought she heard a noise from inside. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I need to speak with you about something.”
    More muffled sounds, and then a “Shh!” that sounded suspiciously like Binnie.
    “Binnie? Are you in there?”
    Silence. “It’s Eileen. Let me in.”
    “Eileen? Wot’s she doin’ ’ere?” she heard Alf whisper, followed by an even fiercer “Shh!”
    “Alf, Binnie, I know you’re in there.” She took hold of the doorknob and rattled it. “Open this door at once.”
    More muffled voices, as if an argument was taking place, then a scraping sound, and a moment later the door opened a few inches and Binnie stuck her head out.
    “ ’Ullo, Eileen,” she said innocently. “What are you doin’ ’ere?”
    She was wearing the same summer dress she’d worn on the train, with a holey cardigan over it, and the same draggled hair ribbon, the same falling-down stockings.
    Her hair looked like it hadn’t been combed in days, and Eileen felt a pang of sympathy for her.
    She suppressed it. “I need to speak—”
    “You ain’t ’ere to evacuate us again, are you?” Binnie asked suspiciously.
    “No,” Eileen said. “I need to speak with Alf.”
    “ ’E ain’t here,” Binnie said. “ ’E’s in school.”
    “I know he’s here, Binnie—”
    “Not Binnie. Dolores. Like Dolores del Rio. The film star,” she added unnecessarily.
    “Dolores,” Eileen said through gritted teeth. “I know Alf is in there. I just heard his voice.” She tried to peer past Binnie into the room, but all she could see was a line of not-very-clean-looking washing.
    “No, ’e ain’t. There ain’t nobody ’ere but Mum and me. And Mum’s asleep.” Her eyes narrowed. “What d’you want with Alf? ’E ain’t in trouble, is ’e?”
    Very probably, Eileen thought. “No,” she said. “Do you remember that map Alf uses to do his planespotting?” She spoke loudly so Alf could hear her from inside the flat, and noticed Binnie didn’t shush her on behalf of her sleeping mother.
    “Alf never stole it,” Binnie said, instantly defensive. “You give it ’im.”
    “I know,” Eileen said. “I—”
    “It’s ’is planespottin’ map,” Binnie said, and Eileen was surprised Alf didn’t pop up to chime in in his own defense. Was he hiding? Or had he gone out the window? She wouldn’t put either past him.
    “Binnie—Dolores—no one’s accusing Alf of stealing it.”
    “Then why’re you takin’ it back?”
    “I’m not. I only want to borrow it, so I can look at something.”
    “At what?” Binnie asked suspiciously. “You ain’t a Nazi spy, are you?”
    “No. I need to look for the town where a friend of mine lives. I’ve forgotten the name.”
    “Then ’ow can you look for it?”
    Eileen knew from experience that this sort of back-and-forth could go on all day. “I’ll give you this if you’ll lend me the map,” she said, showing her the film-star magazine.
    Binnie looked interested. “Is Dolores del Rio in it?”
    Eileen had no idea. “Yes,” she lied, “and lots of other good names—Barbara and Claudette and—”
    “I dunno,” Binnie said doubtfully. “Alf’d be awful mad if ’e found out. S’pose ’e needs to do some planespotting?”
    “If you’ll let me in, I could look at the map here,” Eileen said, but that had the opposite effect from what she’d expected.
    “I dunno where it is. I’ll wager Mum threw it out,” Binnie said, and tried to shut the door.
    Eileen put her hand on it to stop her. “Then wake your mother and tell her I’m here,” she said, “and I’ll ask her,” and was surprised to see Binnie look frightened.
    “I got to go now.” Binnie glanced behind her and tried to pull the door to.
    “No, wait!” Eileen said. “Binnie, is anything wrong?”
    “No. I got to go.”
    “Wait, don’t you want your film magazine?” Eileen asked, and the sound of an air-raid siren starting up suddenly filled the corridor. “What—?” She looked frightenedly up at the ceiling. Polly’d said there hadn’t been any raids over the East End today. She’d said there hadn’t been any daytime raids at all. And it was only half past three.
    “Binnie! Where’s the nearest shelter?” she cried, but Binnie had already drawn her head in and shut the door.

    You have always told me it was Ernest. I have introduced you to everyone as Ernest … You are the most earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life. It is perfectly absurd your saying your name isn’t Ernest.
    Kent—April 1944
    AT CESS’S QUESTION, MONCRIEFF SLOWED THE CAR, AND Prism twisted around to look at them. “Well, are you a spy?” Cess asked Ernest.
    “Yes, Worthing,” Prism said, looking back at them from the front seat of the staff car. “Are you a German spy?”
    “If I were,” Ernest said lightly, “I’d be working for our side, like all the other German spies.”
    “All the spies we’ve caught,” Moncrieff said, without taking his eyes from the road. “Lady Bracknell evidently thinks there are some we haven’t caught, hence the memorandum.”
    “So Bracknell thinks one of us is a spy?” Cess asked.
    “No, of course not,” Prism said, “but this is a dangerous time. If the Germans were to find out that the First Army’s a hoax and we’re invading at Normandy instead of Calais—”
    “Shh.” Cess put his finger to his lips. “For all we know, Moncrieff here is sending secret messages to the enemy. Or you are, Worthing. You’re always typing up letters to the editor. How do we know some of them don’t have secret codes in them?”
    I have to get them off this subject, Ernest thought. “I think the bull’s your man,” he said. “He looked exactly like Heinrich Himmler. Is that Mofford House?”
    “Where?” Cess said. “I can’t see anything.”
    “There, beyond the trees,” Ernest said, pointing at nothing, and the three of them spent the next quarter of an hour attempting to catch sight of it, after which Cess spotted a turret and then the gates.
    “I say,” Cess said as they drove in through them, “one can’t have a hospital without nurses. Have we got some?”
    “Yes,” Moncrieff said. “Gwendolyn set it up.”
    “Are they the same girls who helped us when we did the oil-refinery opening?” Cess asked. “The ones from ENSA?”
    “No,” Moncrieff said. “These are the real thing. Gwendolyn borrowed them from the same hospital that lent us the beds.”
    Ernest looked up alertly. “The hospital in Dover?”
    “Yes, and don’t get any notions of flirting with them. There’ll be all sorts of higher-ups and Special Means people here. I don’t want any trouble.”
    I don’t either, Ernest thought, and the moment they pulled up in front of the manor house, he snatched up his nightclothes and the boxes of bandages and took off for the house.
    It was obvious why they’d chosen Mofford House. It had a moat and a distinctive turreted tower that the Germans would recognize, even though his newspaper story would say only, “One of England’s stately homes, whose name cannot be disclosed for security reasons, has been converted to a military hospital.”
    He hobbled quickly across the drawbridge, hoping that since today this was supposed to be a hospital, he wouldn’t run into a butler at the door who’d demand to know where he was going.
    He didn’t—only two soldiers attempting to wedge a hospital bed through the door. Beyond them he could see an entry hall and, off to the side, the room which was posing as the ward today. Inside it stood a cluster of older men in officers’ uniforms and several white-clad nurses.
    He squeezed past the wedged bed, keeping out of their sight, down a corridor, and into the nearest unoccupied room, which turned out to be the dining room. He shut the door, wedged chairs against it, and, using the mirror above the sideboard, began winding bandages around his head.
    He emerged ten minutes later in pajamas, robe, and slippers, his head and both hands swathed in bandages. “Where have you been?” Prism asked. “And what are you doing in that getup? You look like an escapee from an Egyptian tomb.”
    Ernest pulled him off to the side. “You said they’d be taking photographs, and my picture was already in the newspapers from the opening of Camp Omaha. If the Germans see me in more than one photo, they’ll spot a fraud.”
    “You’re right. Good show. Was Cess in the photo?”
    “He wasn’t there. He was off doing dummy landing craft.”
    “Good, then he can be the broken foot. Go help bring in the wheelchairs.”
    Ernest did and then carried two oil paintings, three watercolors, and an antique writing table upstairs for Lady Mofford, made up the hospital beds, bandaged several other “patients,” and helped lay out tea in the library.
    The tea included sandwiches, and he ate two, hid four more for Cess inside the bandages on his hands, and went to find him. Cess said, “You look like Boris Karloff in The Mummy. And don’t try to convince me you did it to keep from being recognized in the photo. I know the real reason.”
    “You do?” Ernest asked cautiously.
    “Yes. You didn’t want to be stuck in an itchy plaster cast all afternoon.”
    “You’re right. You can have my wheelchair, and I’ll do the crutches,” he offered, then regretted it. The crutches dug into his armpits, the afternoon turned beastly hot, and he began to sweat under his bandages.
    And the Queen was three-quarters of an hour late. “She’s royalty,” Moncrieff said when Ernest complained. “She can keep us waiting, just not the other way round.
    Why don’t you spend the time writing up those articles you said were due?”
    “I can’t.” He held up his bandaged hands.
    “That’s not my fault. You were the one who decided to come as the ghost of King Tut. I don’t know why you felt it necessary to use so much bandage.”
    Neither do I, he thought. Especially since it had turned out to be a false alarm. The hospital in Dover hadn’t been able to spare any nurses. These were from Ramsgate. He considered taking the facial bandages off, but just then the Queen—a stout, sweet-faced woman in pale blue—arrived along with a half dozen photographers from the London papers, and the affair commenced.

    “You never did tell me how to address her,” Ernest whispered to Prism, who was in the bed next to him as they proceeded down the row.
    “You don’t say anything unless she asks you a direct question,” Prism whispered. “And then it’s ‘Your Majesty.’ Shh. Here she comes.”
    He should have asked him if she knew this was a hoax or not. It was impossible to tell. She spoke to the “patients” as if they actually had been injured in battle, asking them what unit they were with and where they were from. If she did know, she was doing an excellent job of acting. We could use her in Special Means, he thought.
    The entire thing was over by half past two. The Queen declined to stay to tea and left at a quarter past, and the photographers took a few more pictures and departed. He could still make it to Croydon if they left now.
    He put the case to Moncrieff. “All right,” Moncrieff said. “We’ll leave as soon as we’ve loaded the beds back onto the lorry.”
    “And got me out of this plaster,” Cess said.
    The former was no problem—they had the lorry loaded and off by three. But Cess’s plaster cast was another matter. Both tin snips and a hacksaw failed to work.
    “Can’t we do this back at the post?” Ernest asked, but they couldn’t get Cess through the door of the car with the cast on. A servant had to fetch a hammer and chisel.
    It was nearly seven before they got home. “We’d better not have to blow up any more tanks tonight,” Cess said, limping inside.
    They didn’t, but Ernest had to write up the hospital event for the London papers and then phone it in, and it was past ten before he was able to start in on his own news articles. It was much too late for Croydon, but he’d made Moncrieff feel guilty enough about it on the way home that he’d promised to let him drive them over to Bexhill to meet the Village Gazette’s deadline, which meant he’d have an entire afternoon to do what he needed to do unobserved.
    He rolled a new sheet of paper in the typewriter and typed the letter he’d thought up about the bull, and then an ad for a dentist in Hawkhurst. “New patients welcome. Specializes in American dental techniques.”
    Cess leaned in the door. “Still at it?”
    “Yes, and if you’re here to ask me to go blow up an aircraft carrier, the answer’s no,” he said, continuing to type in the hope that Cess would take the hint and go away, but he didn’t.
    “I think I’m permanently crippled,” Cess said, coming in and perching on the desk. “It was worth it, though, to get to meet the Queen. D’you know what she said to me? She thanked me for my bravery in battle. Wasn’t that nice?”
    “It would have been if you’d actually been in battle,” Ernest said, continuing to type.
    “I was, when they were trying to get that plaster off my foot. And in that pasture with that bull last night. What did she say to you?”
    “She asked me to elope. She said The Mummy was her favorite film and asked me to run off to Gretna Green with her.”
    “All right, don’t tell me,” Cess said. “I’m off to bed.” He left and then leaned back in the door. “I’ll get it out of you eventually, you know.”
    No, you won’t, Ernest thought, though Cess wouldn’t know what it meant if he did tell him, and she had probably told hundreds of soldiers the same thing. But it had cut a little too close to the bone.
    He waited five minutes, typing up the fictitious wedding of Agnes Brown of Brixton to Corporal William Stokowski of Topeka, Kansas, “currently serving with the 29th Armored Division,” till he was sure Cess had really gone to bed. Then he took the manila envelope from the bottom drawer of the desk and rolled the story he’d been writing yesterday into the typewriter. But he didn’t begin to type. Instead, he stared at the keys and thought about the Queen and her words to him.
    “Your King appreciates your sacrifice and your devotion to duty,” she’d said. “He and I are grateful for the important work you are doing.”

    What of the future?… Will the rocket-bomb come? Will more destructive explosions come?
    6 July 1944
    Golders Green—July 1944
    THE BRIDGE LAY JUST AHEAD, AND THERE WERE NO TURNOFFS that Mary could see. Out of the frying pan, into the fire, she thought. The bridge was less than a hundred yards from the ammunition dump. If this was the bridge the V-1 had hit, they’d be blown to bits. She glanced at her watch. 1:07.
    Beside her in the ambulance Stephen Lang was still talking about the ineffectiveness of England’s rocket defenses. “The only way to stop them is to prevent them from being launched at all. I say, slow down a bit. You’ll get us both killed.”
    Not if I can get us over this bridge before 1:08, she thought, stepping on the accelerator pedal. She shot over the bridge, braced for the blast and trying to gauge how far away they had to be to not be hit.
    “The meeting’s not that important,” Stephen protested.
    “I have orders to get you there on time,” she said, roaring down the lane.
    And there was the road she’d taken to Hendon. Thank God. She turned south on it and, now that they were out of range, slowed down. “You were saying the only way to stop the rockets is to prevent them from being launched?” she asked.
    “Yes, which is why I should be flying a bomber in France instead of being stuck here—not that I’m complaining. After all, it affords me a chance to be with you again,” he said and smiled that heartbreakingly crooked smile. “Where were you before?”
    She looked at him, startled. “Before?”
    “Before Dulwich. I’m attempting to determine where it is we first met.”
    “Oh. Oxford.”
    “Oxford,” he said, and frowned as if he was truly trying to remember.
    Oh, no. She’d assumed he was only flirting. “Haven’t we met?” had been almost as common a pickup line during the war as “I’m shipping out tomorrow.” But there was a possibility she had met him. This was, after all, time travel. She might have known him on an upcoming assignment. And if she had, it could be a major problem, especially since she’d have been there under a different name. And if he’d seen her somewhere which didn’t match the story she’d told the FANYs and the Major, and he told Talbot … I need to get him off this topic before he remembers where he met me, she thought. “What do you fly?” she asked. “Hurricanes?”
    “Spitfires,” he said, and for the rest of the way to London regaled her with tales of his flying exploits. But as they were coming into the city, he asked, “Where were you before Oxford?”
    “I was in training. Were you in the Battle of Britain?”
    “Yes, till I was shot down. You weren’t ever posted near Biggin Hill, were you?”
    “No,” she said firmly. “I’m quite sure we’ve never met. I’m certain I’d remember someone as cheeky as you.”
    “You’re quite right,” he said. “And I could never have forgotten meeting someone as beautiful as you.” He stretched his arm across the back of the seat, shifted so he was facing her, and edged closer. “Perhaps it’s déjà vu.”
    “Or perhaps you’ve flirted with so many girls you’ve got them mixed. That’s what you get for having a girl in every port.”
    “Port?” he said. “I’m in the RAF, not the Navy.”
    “A girl in every hangar, then. Tell me, does that ‘destined to be together forever’ line of chat work on other girls?”
    He grinned at her. “As a matter of fact, it does.” Then he gave her a puzzled look. “Why didn’t it work on you?”
    Because I’m a hundred years older than you, she thought. You died before I was ever born, and then regretted it. He was a pilot. He might very well die before the end of the war.
    Or before they reached Whitehall. London had had eleven V-1 attacks between two and six. “Where in Whitehall is your meeting?” she asked.
    “The Ministry of Health,” he said wryly. “In St. Charles Street. Take the Tottenham Court Road. It’s quickest.”
    And it had had a V-1 hit at 1:52. “Turn left here,” he ordered, and as she turned right, “No, left.”
    “Sorry,” she said, continuing to drive away from Tottenham Court Road. “It was fate.”
    “That’s unkind,” he said. “Isolde would never have said something like that to Tristan.”
    “Sorry,” she said, turning down Charing Cross Road.
    “Why is it you’re completely immune to my charms?” he asked. “Oh, no, don’t tell me you’re engaged?”
    She wished she could. It would be the simplest way to put a stop to his nonsense, but it might create complications if Talbot drove him again. She shook her head.
    “Promised to someone?” he persisted. “Betrothed at birth?”
    “No,” she said, laughing, which was the worst possible thing to do. He wouldn’t take her protests seriously now. But his determination and irrepressible spirits were utterly disarming. It was a good thing they’d arrived. “Here we are,” she said, and pulled up in front of the Ministry of Health.
    “Bang on time,” he said, looking at his watch. “You’re wonderful, Isolde.” He got out of the Daimler and then leaned back in. “I’ve no idea how long this will take, an hour, perhaps two, but as soon as it’s done, I’ll take you to tea, and then we’ll go to the nearest church and post the banns.”
    “I can’t,” she said. “Those stretchers, remember?”
    “Stretchers be damned. This is destiny.” He gave her his crooked smile and loped off toward the building, and as he did, she had a sudden sense of déjà vu, too, a feeling that she had met him before.
    Which ruled out its having happened in the future. She couldn’t remember something which hadn’t happened yet. It had to have been here, on this assignment.
    Could they have met when she was on her way to Dulwich—in the railway station as she attempted to buy a ticket? Or in Portsmouth? No, she wouldn’t have forgotten those rakish good looks or that crooked smile. And it wasn’t so much that he looked familiar as that he reminded her of someone.

    forgotten those rakish good looks or that crooked smile. And it wasn’t so much that he looked familiar as that he reminded her of someone.
    Who? Someone in Oxford? Or on a previous assignment? She squinted, trying to remember, but she couldn’t place him. Perhaps she’d only had the sensation of déjà vu because of Stephen’s having suggested they’d met before.
    She gave up, reached for the map, and began plotting the coordinates of the V-1s which had fallen between two and five o’clock so she could plan a route back to Hendon which would avoid them. As soon as she’d finished, she mapped out a safe route back to Dulwich from Hendon. If Flight Officer Lang returned by four, and it didn’t take too long to get the stretchers in Edgware, she should be able to return the way she’d come, except that she’d have to go around Maida Vale and then cut through Kilburn.
    He wasn’t back by four. Or half past. Or five. He’d clearly underestimated the time the meeting would take. She made a mental list of the V-1s that had fallen between five and six—no, best make it seven—and redid the route back to Hendon and then the one home, which was far longer and more complicated. She hoped she could follow it. If he wasn’t here soon, she’d be driving home in the dark. And the blackout.
    He finally emerged from Whitehall at a quarter past six, looking furious. “Do you know what those fools said? ‘You in the RAF need to come up with more effective defensive tactics against the rocket bombs,’ ” he fumed, getting in and slamming the door. She started up the car and edged into traffic. “Exactly what do they suggest?” he said angrily. “It’s not as though there’s a pilot we can shoot, or a way to defuse the bomb en route. It’s already triggered when it’s launched.”
    She nodded absently from time to time and concentrated on getting them out of London and onto the road to Hendon. At least he’d abandoned the “Haven’t I met you somewhere?” topic.
    “And if we shoot them down,” he raved on, “we can’t control where they’ll land and we may end up killing more people than would have been killed if we’d let them continue on to their target. But could I make them understand that? No.”
    She drove through the evening with her foot down hard on the accelerator pedal, wanting to reach Edgware Road while she could still make out landmarks, as he ranted on about how the generals knew nothing about rockets or aeroplanes.
    “They demanded to know why the RAF couldn’t invent some method whereby the rockets would hit woods or a meadow instead of a populated area,” he told her, incensed. “But not a pasture, mind you. No, the explosion might disturb the cows!”
    It was half past seven when they finally reached the turn to Hendon. By the time she dropped him off, went to Edgware, and talked the ambulance post out of the stretchers, it would almost certainly be dark.
    “And you can imagine what wonderful sorts of suggestions they came up with,” Stephen said. “One of the generals suggested we use nets, and another—a hundred if he was a day; I shouldn’t be surprised to find he’d led the Charge of the Light Brigade—asked why we couldn’t toss a rope round the rocket’s nose, like roping a mare, and lead it back to France. A brilliant suggestion. Why on earth didn’t I think of that?
    “Sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t mean to inflict my rantings on you, even though we are destined to spend the rest of our lives together. I don’t suppose you gave any thought to where we should be married while I was in with that lot of fools, did you?”
    “Yes,” she said. “I decided we shouldn’t, that wartime attachments are a bad idea. Particularly if you’re going to be lassoing flying bombs.”
    “Well, then, I’ll simply have to think of something better. And in the meantime, I’ll take you to tea and—” He seemed suddenly to take in their surroundings.
    “We’re not out of London already, are we? I intended to take you to tea at the Savoy for being so patient. Where are we exactly?”
    “Home.” She pulled up to the airfield gate.
    “Wait,” he said as she brought the Daimler to a stop. “You can’t go yet.” He reached to take her hand.
    She avoided letting him by reaching past him for the transport form at the same time. “Have you a pen?” she asked innocently. “Oh, never mind, I have one.”
    He tried again. “You can’t go yet. We’ve only just met.”
    “You forget, we met before,” she said, filling up the transport form. “You really do need to keep your pickup lines straight, Flight Officer Lang.”
    “So I do,” he said ruefully. “But just because I’ve failed in the romance department doesn’t mean you should starve. You’ve already gone all day without food, thanks to me. Look, there’s a nice little pub only a few miles from here.”
    She shook her head. “I must go to Edgware for those stretchers, remember?”
    “I’ll go with you. I’ll help you load your stretchers, then we’ll have dinner and work out where it was we’ve met before.”
    That was the last thing she needed. “No, I must get back. My commanding officer’s extremely strict.” She handed him the form to sign. “Sorry,” she said, and smiled at him. “It’s fate.”
    “All right. You win, Isolde.” He signed the form, climbed out of the Daimler, and then leaned back in. “But keep in mind this is only round one. I have all sorts of techniques I haven’t tried yet, which I promise you, you will not be able to resist—though I’m forced to admit you have better defenses than any girl I’ve ever met.
    Perhaps we should use you to stop the V-1s. You could turn them away with a flick of your hand or a well-timed word—”
    He stopped and looked blindly at her, as if he’d suddenly remembered something.
    Please don’t let it be where we met, she thought. “I really must be going,” she said quickly.
    “The stretchers.”
    “Oh. Right,” he said, coming back from wherever he’d been. “Adieu, Isolde, but don’t think you’ve seen the last of me. It’s our destiny to meet again very soon.
    Very soon. It wouldn’t surprise me if I needed a driver again tomorrow.”
    “I’m on duty tomorrow, and you’re lassoing V-1s, remember?”
    “Quite right,” he said, and got that odd, looking-straight-through-her gaze again. She took the opportunity to say goodbye, pull the door shut, and drive off quickly.
    “One can’t escape one’s destiny by driving away from it!” he called after her. “We were meant to be together, Isolde. It’s fate.”
    I’ll have to make certain I’m on duty or away from the post for the next few days, she thought, turning toward Edgware. After which he’ll forget all about attempting to remember where he met me and begin calling some other girl Isolde.
    She should have found a way to escape from him sooner. By the time she located Edgware’s ambulance post and managed to talk them out of one lone stretcher, it was not only dark but past eight o’clock. She was in unfamiliar territory, her shuttered headlamps gave almost no light at all, and if she got lost and took the wrong road, she’d be blown up.
    But she also couldn’t creep along. Dulwich had had three V-1s tonight. They’d need every ambulance, and the route she’d mapped out was only good till twelve, and with the blackout, she’d have no way to look at the map. I must be home by midnight, she thought, leaning forward, both hands on the wheel, peering at the tiny area of road her headlamps illuminated. Just like Cinderella.

    area of road her headlamps illuminated. Just like Cinderella.
    There wasn’t enough light to see signposts by, even if there were any, which there weren’t. The threat of invasion’s long since over, she thought, annoyed. There’s no reason for them not to have put the signposts back up.
    But they hadn’t, and as a result, she made two wrong turns and had to retrace her way for a tense few minutes, and it was half past twelve by the time she reached Dulwich.
    The garage was empty. They’ve already left for the V-1 that fell at 12:20. Good, that means I can have my tea before the next one. But she’d no sooner pulled in than Fairchild and Maitland piled in beside her. “V-1 in Herne Hill, DeHavilland,” Fairchild said. “Let’s go.”
    “They’ve had three in the last two hours,” Maitland said, “and they can’t handle it all.”
    And for the rest of the night, Mary clambered over ruins and bandaged wounds and loaded and unloaded stretchers.
    It was eight in the morning before they came home. “I heard you got stuck with my job, Triumph,” Talbot said when she went into the despatch room. “Which one was it? I hope not the Octopus.”
    “The Octopus?”
    “General Oswald. Eight hands, and cannot keep any of them to himself.” Talbot shuddered. “And very quick, even though he’s ancient and looks like a large toad.”
    “No,” Mary said, laughing. “Mine was young and very good-looking. His name was Lang. Flight Officer Lang.”
    “Oh, Stephen.” Talbot nodded wisely. “Did he convince you he’d met you somewhere before?”
    “He attempted to.”
    “He uses that line on every FANY who drives him,” Talbot said, which should have been a relief, but part of her had been secretly looking forward to the possibility of seeing him on her next assignment.
    “I wouldn’t set my cap for him,” Talbot was saying. “He’s definitely not interested in wartime attachments.”
    “Good,” Mary said. “I’m not either. If he rings up saying he needs a driver, would you—”
    “I’ll see to it the Major sends Parrish.”
    “Thank you. Talbot, I wanted to apologize again for pushing you down. I am sorry.”
    “No harm done, Triumph,” Talbot said, and the next day she hobbled into the common room on her crutches and kissed her on the cheek.
    “What was that for?” Mary asked.
    “This,” Talbot said, waving a letter at her. “It came in the post this morning. Listen, ‘Heard about your accident. Get better soon so we can go dancing. Signed, Sergeant Wally Wakowski,’ ” she read. “And in the parcel with it were two pairs of nylons! Your pushing me down was an absolute godsend, DeHavilland! As soon as my knee’s healed, I’ll take one—no, two—of your shifts for you.”
    But over the next week, the Germans increased the number of launchings till nearly two hundred and fifty V-1s were coming over every twenty-four hours, and everyone, including Talbot, went on double shifts. If Stephen had called and pretended he needed a driver, there wouldn’t have been any drivers or vehicles to send.
    Mary and Fairchild drove the Rolls to three separate incidents, and the Major spent most of her time on the telephone attempting to talk HQ into an additional driver and/or ambulance.
    But the next week, the number of V-1s arriving abruptly dropped. Mary wondered if the Germans had finally begun acting on the false information Intelligence had been feeding them and recalibrated their launchers to send the V-1s to pastures in Kent. Or perhaps Stephen had thought of a way to shoot them down. Whichever it was, the ambulance unit was able to go back to regular shifts and going to dances.
    Parrish, Maitland, and Reed dragged Mary to one in Walworth. Since she now knew what a V-1 sounded like—she’d heard one on a run to St. Francis’s—and since there weren’t any within a twenty-mile radius of Walworth on the day of the dance, she thought she could risk it.
    She was wrong. She met an American GI with exactly the same “Haven’t we met somewhere before?” line as Stephen Lang, none of Stephen’s charm or wit, and no dancing ability at all. She came home limping almost as badly as Talbot.
    The GI rang her up every day for a week, and on Thursday, when she and Fairchild got back from their second incident of the day—one dead, five injured—
    Parrish met them as they came in from the garage with “Kent, there’s someone waiting to see you in the common room.”
    “American?” she asked.
    “I don’t know. I’m only relaying a message from Maitland.”
    “I do hope it’s not that GI who couldn’t dance.”
    “Would you like me to come rescue you?” Fairchild offered.
    “Yes. Wait five minutes, and then come tell me I’m needed at hospital.”
    “I will. Here, give me your cap.”
    She handed it to Fairchild, went down the corridor to the common room, and opened the door. Maitland sat perched on the arm of the sofa, swinging her legs and smiling flirtatiously at a tall young man in an RAF uniform.
    It wasn’t the GI. It was Stephen Lang. “Isolde,” he said, smiling crookedly at her. “We meet yet again.”
    “What are you doing here?” she asked. “Do you need a driver?”
    “No, I came to thank you.”
    “Thank me?”
    “Yes, on behalf of the British people. And to tell you I finally remembered.”
    “Yes. I told you we’d met before. I finally remembered where.”

    Do not tell the enemy anything. Hide your food and your bicycles. Hide your maps.
    London—November 1940
    EILEEN LUCKED UP WILDLY AT THE SOUND OF THE SIREN. It wound up to a full-throated wail, its rising and falling notes filling the corridor outside the Hodbins’ flat. “Binnie!” Eileen shouted through the door. “Where’s the nearest shelter?”
    She rattled the knob, but the door was locked. “Binnie, you can’t stay in there!” she called through the door. “We must get to a shelter!”
    Silence except for the siren, which seemed to be right there in the tenement with her, it was so loud. “Binnie! Mrs. Hodbin!” She pounded on the door with both fists. The tube station they’d come from that day she first brought the children home was over a mile away. She’d never make it in time. It would have to be a surface shelter. “Mrs. Hodbin! Wake up! Where’s the nearest shelter? Mrs. Hod—”
    The door flew open and Binnie shot past her down the stairs, shouting, “It’s this way! Hurry!” Eileen ran after her down the three flights and past the landlady’s shut door, the siren ringing in her ears. She heard the outside door bang shut, but by the time she got outside, Binnie’d vanished. “Binnie!” she called. “Dolores!”
    There was no sign of her, and no one else in sight to tell her where the nearest shelter was. Eileen ran back inside and along the corridor, looking for steps that would lead down to a cellar, but she couldn’t find any.
    And these tenements collapse like matchsticks, she thought, panic washing over her. I must get out of here.
    She ran outside and back along the street, searching for a shelter notice or an Anderson, but there were only smashed houses and head-high heaps of rubble. The planes would be here any moment. Eileen looked up at the sky, trying to spot the black dots of the approaching bombers, but she couldn’t see or hear anything.
    There was a thump, followed by the slither of falling dirt, and Alf leaped down from the rubble and landed at her feet. “I thought I seen you,” he said. “What’re you doin’ ’ere?”
    She was actually glad to see him. “Quick, Alf,” she said, grabbing his arm. “Where’s the nearest air-raid shelter?”
    “What for?”
    “Didn’t you hear the siren?”
    “Siren?” he said. “I don’t ’ear no siren.”
    “It stopped. Is there a surface shelter near here?”
    “Are you sure you ’eard a siren?” he said. “I been out ’ere ages, and I ain’t ’eard nothin’, ’ave I?”
    I take it back about being glad to see him, Eileen thought. “Yes, I’m certain I heard it. I was in there”—she pointed back at their tenement—“talking to Binnie—”
    His eyes narrowed. “What about?”
    “It doesn’t matter. Alf, we must get to a shelter now, before the raid—”
    “You ain’t ’ere ’cause of Child Services, are you?”
    Why on earth would she be here on behalf of Child Services? “No. Alf—” She tugged on his arm.
    “We don’t need to go till the planes come,” he said maddeningly. “ ’Sides, me and Binnie ain’t afraid of a little raid. There was one last week what blew up a
    ’undred ’ouses. Ka-boom!” He flung his arms up to show her. “Bits of people all over. What did Binnie tell you?” he asked suspiciously.
    We are going to be killed standing here, she thought desperately. “Alf, we can discuss all this later.”
    “Wait,” he said as if he’d suddenly had an idea. “What did the siren sound like?”
    “What do you mean, what did it sound like? An air-raid alert. Alf, we must—”
    “Where was you when it went?”
    “In the corridor outside your—Why?” she asked, suddenly suspicious.
    “I’ll wager you ’eard Mrs. Bascombe.”
    “Mrs. Bascombe?” What would Mrs. Bascombe be doing here in Whitechapel?
    “Our parrot.”
    A parrot.
    “We taught ’er to do the alert and the all clear,” Alf said proudly. “And HEs. Blooey! Ka-blam!”
    “You have a parrot that can imitate an air-raid alert?” Eileen said furiously, thinking, Of course they do. This is the Hodbins. Binnie had told it to do its siren imitation and then led her on a merry chase down the stairs and hid behind the tenement, where she no doubt still was, laughing her head off.
    “Mrs. Bascombe sounds just like ’em,” Alf was saying. “ ’Specially the HEs. She scared old Mrs. Rowe so bad she fell down the stairs. You thought it was a real siren,” he said, pointing at her and then doubling up with laughter. “What a good joke! You shoulda seen your face. Wait’ll I tell Binnie!” He started to run off, but Eileen hadn’t spent nine months with them for nothing. She was not leaving without the map. She grabbed Alf’s collar and held on in spite of his wriggling.
    “Stop squirming and stand still,” she said. “I want to talk to you. Do you still have the map the vicar gave you?”
    “I dunno,” he said. “Why?”
    “I need to borrow it.”
    “What for?” he said, his eyes narrowing again. “You ain’t one of them fifth columnists, are you?”
    “Of course not. I need it to look up something. If you’ll lend it to me, I’ll give you a book.”
    Alf snorted. “A book?”
    “Yes,” she said, attempting to decide whether she dared let go of him long enough to take it out of her bag. “About chopping people’s heads off.”
    He was immediately interested. “Whose ’eads?”

    He was immediately interested. “Whose ’eads?”
    “Anne Boleyn’s. Sir Thomas More’s. Lady Jane Grey’s.” She took the book from her bag.
    “Does it got pictures?” he asked, and when she nodded, “Can I see ’em?”
    “Not till you bring me the map.”
    He thought it over. “No,” he said finally. “What if a Messerschmitt comes over? ’Ow’ll I mark it if I ain’t got—”
    “I only need it for a day or two. After they chopped their heads off, they put them up on spikes on London Bridge.”
    His face lit up. “Does it got pictures of that?”
    “Yes,” she lied.
    “All right. Only you got to pay me. Five quid.”
    “Five quid?” Eileen said. “Do you know how much money that is? I have no intention—”
    Alf shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
    Very well, Eileen thought. “Where did you get that parrot, Alf?” she asked. “You stole it, didn’t you?”
    “No!” he said, outraged. “We never. We found it in the rubble. There’s all sorts of things in the rubble.”
    “That’s looting,” Eileen said, “and looting’s a crime.”
    “It ain’t looting!” he protested, his hands going defensively to his pockets. “ ’Ow can it be looting if the people what owned it’s dead?”
    Which was a good point, but Eileen needed that map, and they’d just taken ten years off her life with that parrot. “It’s still looting in the eyes of the law.”
    “Mrs. Bascombe woulda died if we ’adn’t found her. We rescued ’er.”
    “That may be, but I’m still going to have to call a constable and tell him you’re keeping a stolen parrot in your rooms.”
    He went white as a sheet. “Wait! Don’t!” he pleaded. “You can borrow the map.”
    “Thank you,” she began, and he wrenched suddenly free of her grasp, snatched the book out of her hands, and went racing off across the rubble. “Alf, you come back here!” Eileen called after him, but he’d already disappeared.
    And so had her chances of getting the map. She would have to admit defeat, go to Charing Cross Road, and hope she could find a map in a travel guide.
    She began walking toward Mile End Road, hoping the journey back wouldn’t be as—
    “Eileen!” Alf called, running up to her, Binnie at his heels. “You was s’posed to wait,” he said accusingly, and handed Eileen the map.
    “You needn’t bring it back,” Binnie said. “You can keep it. He don’t do planespotting no more. Now he collects shrapnel.”
    “And UXBs,” Alf said.
    Of course, Eileen thought.
    “So you needn’t come back,” Binnie finished.
    Eileen needn’t have worried about them following her back to Mrs. Rickett’s. On the contrary, they couldn’t wait to be rid of her. Why? What were they up to now? Alf had turned pale when she’d mentioned calling a constable. Had he “collected” a UXB and taken it home? But surely not even Mrs. Hodbin would have let them keep—
    “ ’Ad’nt you better be goin’?” Binnie said. “It’s gettin’ late.”
    She was right, and whatever mischief they were up to, it was no longer her responsibility. “Yes,” Eileen said. “Thank you for the map, Alf. Goodbye, Binnie.”
    I’ll almost miss you, Eileen thought. Almost.
    “Goodbye, Dolores,” she said and pulled the film magazine from her bag and held it out to Binnie. “Here.”
    Binnie clutched it to her chest and ran off, as if she expected Eileen to change her mind and snatch it away from her.
    Alf still stood there.
    “It’s all right,” Eileen said. “I know you need your map for your planespotting. I’ll bring it back to you.”
    “You don’t hafta if you don’t want to. It’s like Binnie said, I don’t need it.”
    They definitely did not want her coming around. “I could send it back to you by post,” she suggested.
    “That’d be ’eaps better,” he said, looking relieved, but he continued to stand there. “You ain’t gonna tell the constable, are you?”
    “Not if you promise me you’ll keep out of the rubble,” she said, with no hope of his actually obeying her. “And that you won’t collect any more UXBs.”
    “I only collect little ones.”
    “No bombs,” she said firmly.
    “I can still collect shrapnel, can’t I?”
    “Yes,” she said, “but no watching raids. I want you to promise me you and Binnie will go to a shelter as soon as the sirens go.”
    Amazingly, he nodded. “Do you want I should show you where to catch the bus?”
    “No, that’s all right. I know the way home.” It’s somewhere on this map, and had to fight the impulse to open the map and look for the name of the airfield then and there, but it was growing late. It would have to wait till she got on the bus.
    But the bus was filled to capacity, and ten minutes after Eileen got on, it drove over a piece of shrapnel that Alf hadn’t collected and burst a tire, and she had to walk several streets over to catch another one, which was even more crammed. She had to stand, hanging on to a strap, the entire way, and there were so many barricades and diversions that by the time the bus reached Bank Station, it was so late she was afraid if she went to Townsend Brothers, she’d miss Polly.
    Instead, she went to Mrs. Rickett’s and straight up to their room, where she sat down on the bed and opened out the map. It was badly worn and ripped along the folds, and the panel where the index of place-names should have been had been torn off. She’d have to locate the name on the map itself. Alf had marked Xes and dates all over the lower half of it, obscuring the names underneath. Luckily, they were in pencil and could be erased; hopefully, doing that wouldn’t also erase the names underneath. She hoped Alf hadn’t spotted a Messerschmitt over the airfield where Gerald was, or that it wasn’t on one of the torn folds.
    Polly and Mike thought his airfield was near Oxford. She began searching the section between there and London, bending over the tiny print, looking for Bs.

    Polly and Mike thought his airfield was near Oxford. She began searching the section between there and London, bending over the tiny print, looking for Bs.
    Boxbourne … Bishop’s Stortford … Banbury …
    There was a timid tap on the door. She opened it a crack, just like Binnie had, and poked her head out. It was Miss Laburnum. “We’re just going down to dinner,”
    she said. “Are you coming?”
    “No, Polly’s not here yet,” Eileen said. “I’m waiting for her.”
    “Wise decision,” Mr. Dorming growled, passing in the corridor. “It’s boiled tripe tonight.”
    Boiled tripe, Eileen thought, making a face as she shut the door. I must find that name. She bent over the map again. It wasn’t anywhere on the railway line between Oxford and London, which must mean it was farther east. Baldock … Leighton Buzzard … Buckingham …
    There it was! I knew I’d recognize it if I saw it, she thought. And she’d been right about it being two words. Now if Polly would only come. She went out into the corridor to look down the stairs. An appalling stench somewhere between rotting flesh and mildewed sponge bags assailed her, and she clapped her hand to her nose and mouth and retreated into the room. A moment later Polly came in the door, gasping. “What is that wretched odor? Has Hitler begun using mustard gas?”
    “It’s boiled tripe,” Eileen said, “but it’s all right.”
    “How can it possibly be all right?” Polly said, unbuttoning her coat. “We have to eat that.”
    “No, we don’t,” Eileen said. “We’re going home. I know where Gerald is.”
    Polly stopped in the act of taking off her coat. “You found a map.”
    “Yes. I got it from Alf Hodbin.”
    “But I thought you said the Hodbins were horrid. They’re not. They’re wonderful. Oh, Alf, you dear, darling boy!”
    “I wouldn’t go so far as that,” Eileen said. “He and his sister have a parrot they’ve trained to imitate an air-raid siren. But it doesn’t matter. I found the airfield.” She grabbed the map and shoved it under Polly’s nose to show her. “He’s at Bletchley Park.”

    I can’t believe we will ever get away with this.
    Kent—April 1944
    “WORTHING!” CESS SHOUTED FROM THE HALLWAY, AND Ernest could hear him opening doors. “Ernest! Where are you?”
    Ernest yanked the sheet of paper he was working on out of the typewriter, slid it under a stack of papers, and threaded a new one in. He called out, “In here!” and began typing, “On Tuesday, the Welcome Committee of Derringstone held a ‘Hands Across the Sea concert.’ Mrs. Jones-Pritchard—”
    “There you are,” Cess said, carrying in some papers. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Didn’t you hear me?”
    “No,” Ernest said, typing, “—sang ‘America the Beautiful’—”
    “What does Mrs. Jones-Pritchard have to do with the First Army Group?” Cess asked, coming around the desk to read it as Ernest had been afraid he might.
    “ ‘—and Privates First Class Joe Makowski, Dan Goldstein, and Wayne Turicelli,’ ” Ernest recited, typing, “of the Seventh Armored Division, who gave a spirited rendition of ‘Yankee Doodle’ on the spoons. A good time was had by all,” he typed with a flourish. He pulled the sheet out of the typewriter and handed it to Cess.
    “Ingenious,” Cess said, reading it. “The Seventh Armored Division only moved to Derringstone last week, though. Would they have had time to practice?”
    “All Americans are born knowing how to play ‘Yankee Doodle’ on the spoons.”
    “True,” Cess said, handing the sheet of paper back.
    “Did you come to tell me something?” Ernest asked.
    “Yes, we must go to London.”
    “Yes, and don’t say you’ve got to stay here and finish your newspaper stories because you’ve been in here typing all day.”
    “But I have to deliver them to Ashford and Croydon,” Ernest protested.
    “Not a problem. Lady Bracknell said we can drop them off on the way.”
    “Exactly where in London are we going?” Ernest asked, wondering if he was going to have to fake a sudden toothache.
    “Bookshops. We’re buying up travel guides to northern France and copies of Michelin Map 51. The Pas de Calais area.”
    Bookshops should be safe enough. He just needed to be careful. And Cess said they were going as British Expeditionary Force officers, but after he handed in his articles to Mr. Jeppers at the Call in Croydon, he put on a false mustache just to be certain. He talked Cess into doing Oxford Street while he did the secondhand bookshops on Charing Cross Road, which meant he was able to make several calls, and the whole thing went off without a hitch, but he was still relieved when it was over—so much so that he didn’t even complain when Lady Bracknell sent him to pick up a load of old sewer pipe for the dummy oil depot Shepperton Film Studios was building in Dover.
    The assignment left him smelling so bad no one would come near him for two days, and he took advantage of the time to get caught up on his fake wedding announcements and roadway-accident reports and irate letters to the editor, all referencing Americans and the fictional First Army Group. And to work on his own compositions. He also tried to wangle ways to deliver his work to the newspaper offices on his own, but without success, and on Saturday Cess informed him they had to go to London again.
    “More travel guides?” he asked.
    “No, rumor-mill duty, and this time we get to be Yanks. Do you think you can manage an American accent?”
    Absolutely, he thought. “I believe so,” he said. “I mean, you bet, kiddo.”
    “Oh, good show,” Cess said, and Ernest went back to typing, “Special Yank Movie Night at the Empire Theatre in Ashford Saturday. American servicemen admitted half price.”
    Half an hour later, Cess reappeared with an American major’s dress uniform. “I thought you said we were on rumor-mill duty,” Ernest said. “Isn’t that a bit dressy for a pub?”
    “We’re not going to a pub. We’re going to London. To the Savoy, no less.”
    “Is it the Queen again?”
    “No. Someone far more important,” Cess said. He draped the uniform over the typewriter. “Make certain you’ve a crease in your trousers and that your shoes are polished.”
    “Lady Bracknell will have to find someone else. I haven’t any shoes that could pass as a major’s.”
    “I’ll find you a pair.” He came back in a few minutes with a pair of Lady Bracknell’s.
    “These are two sizes too small,” Ernest protested.
    “Don’t you know there’s a war on?” Cess handed him a tin of shoe polish and a rag. “They need to be shined to a high gloss. He’s a stickler.”
    “Who is?” Ernest asked, thinking, It can’t be the King. He’s in Dover with Churchill touring the “fleet.” He’d just written up the press release. “Is this reception for Eisenhower?”
    “No,” Cess said. “He’s running the real invasion. We’re in charge of the phoney one, remember? And tonight’s star attraction is in charge of us,” he said mysteriously.
    Who did he mean? Special Means was in charge of them, but they didn’t frequent the Savoy, and neither did Intelligence’s top brass. The whole idea was invisibility.
    Prism came in, dressed as an American colonel. “Did you hear we’re going to dinner with Old Blood and Guts?”
    “The Supreme Commander of the First Army Group.” He clicked his heels together and saluted. “General George S. Patton.”

    “The Supreme Commander of the First Army Group.” He clicked his heels together and saluted. “General George S. Patton.”
    “Yes, now do hurry along,” Cess said. “We need to leave. The reception’s at eight.”
    “We’re supposed to be Yanks,” Ernest said, trying on the shoes. “It’s not ‘Do hurry along.’ It’s ‘Hurry up, chum, or you’ll miss the bus.’ And ‘lieutenant’ is pronounced ‘lootenant,’ not ‘leftenant.’ ”
    “Not to worry,” Cess said and pulled a pack of Juicy Fruit gum out of his jacket pocket. “All I need to do is chew this, and everyone will be convinced I’m a Yank.” He held out a stick to Ernest. “Want some gum, chum?”
    “No, I want a pair of shoes that fit.”
    But due to all the time spent in muddy fields and muddier estuaries, there wasn’t another decent pair in the whole unit. He didn’t change into Lady Bracknell’s shoes till London, but still, by the time they entered the lobby of the Savoy, he could scarcely walk. “You’d best not limp like that in front of General Patton,”
    Moncrieff said. “He’ll likely slap you for being a weakling.”
    But Patton wasn’t there yet. A number of British officers and middle-aged civilians in evening dress stood in small clusters. “Are they dummies as well?” Cess asked.
    “I don’t know,” Moncrieff said, “but just in case they aren’t, steer clear of them. I don’t want any of you hanged for impersonating an officer. You’ve got two ideas to push tonight: one, the invasion can’t possibly take place till the middle of July. And two, it will definitely be at Calais. But I don’t want any of you talking outright about it. You’re supposed to have been sworn to secrecy, and an obvious breach will look suspicious. I want subtle hints, and only if the subject comes up in the conversation. I don’t want you introducing the topic yourself.”
    “What about a careless lapse, the sort you’d make if you’d had a bit too much to drink?” Cess asked, eyeing the guests’ cocktail glasses.
    “Fine,” Moncrieff said. “Chasuble, fetch them their drinks. Mingle. And remember—subtle.”
    Cess nodded. “This is just like a night at the Bull and Plough only with superior food and liquor.”
    “An American would say, ‘better chow and hooch,’ ” Ernest corrected, but he soon found out that wasn’t true. The cocktails Chasuble handed them were weak tea.
    “Sozzled lips sink ships,” he explained. “Moncrieff doesn’t want us spilling what we really know.”
    “Are those dummy canapés, too?” Cess asked, watching the white-gloved servants circulating with small silver trays.
    “No, but don’t make pigs of yourselves. You’re supposed to be officers.”
    That turned out not to be a problem. The elegant-looking hors d’oeuvres on the silver trays turned out to be cubes of Spam and rolled-up pilchards on toothpicks.
    “This damnable war,” a red-faced man in the group Ernest had drifted over to said, waving a toothpick. “There hasn’t been anything decent to eat in five years.”
    The conversation turned to the deprivations of rationing and the “criminal” shortage of sugar, fresh fruit, and “a really nice brisket”—none of which would have afforded any opportunities for hints about the invasion, if they’d included him in the conversation, which they didn’t. They hadn’t even noticed him. He stared into the weak tea at the bottom of his cocktail glass and mentally composed a letter to the East Anglia Weekly Advertiser: “Dear Editor, The present rationing situation is simply criminal, and it has been made far worse by the arrival of so many American and Canadian troops in our area …”
    “Oh, and that dreadful wheat-meal loaf,” one of the women was saying. “What do they put in it? One’s afraid to ask.”
    Ernest let Chasuble give him another weak-tea cocktail and wandered over to where Cess was talking to an elderly gentleman. The gentleman appeared to be deaf
    —a good thing, since Cess seemed to have completely forgotten he was supposed to be using an American accent.
    “So then the bloke says to me,” Cess said, “ ‘I’ll wager we won’t invade till August.’ ”
    Ernest wandered back to within earshot of the first group. The woman was still talking. “And jam’s simply disappeared from the shops. Even Fortnum and Mason’s haven’t—” She stopped, staring at the door.
    Everyone did, including the deaf gentleman and the white-gloved servants. “Sorry I’m late,” General Patton boomed. He was standing in the doorway, flanked by aides and looking even more dramatic than Ernest had expected, in full brass-buttoned field uniform, from his star-studded helmet liner right down to his polished riding boots. There were spurs on his boots and more stars on his collar and his field jacket.
    Cess had abandoned the deaf gentleman to come over for a closer look. “He looks like the bleeding Milky Way!” he whispered to Ernest.
    “Not bleeding. Goddamned Milky Way,” Ernest whispered back.
    “And look at that armament!”
    Ernest nodded, staring at the pair of ivory-handled revolvers on his hips. And at the white bull terrier panting at Patton’s feet.
    “Darforth!” Patton bellowed, and strode into the ballroom and over to the host, followed by the bull terrier. And his aides. “Sorry we didn’t get here earlier.” He grabbed Lady Darforth’s hand and began pumping it up and down. “Came here straight from the field. Didn’t have time to change. We were down in Keh—”
    “Would you like me to take Willy outside for you, sir?” an aide cut in, stopping him in mid-word.
    “No, no, he’s all right,” Patton said impatiently. “Willy loves parties, don’t you, Willy?” He turned back to the host. “As I was saying, I just got back from—” He glared at the disapproving-looking aide. “From an undisclosed location, and didn’t have time to change.”
    “I quite understand,” Lady Darforth said. “Allow me to introduce you to Lord and Lady Eskwith, who’ve been eager to meet you.” She led him over to the far side of the room.
    “Thank God he isn’t really in charge of the invasion,” Cess whispered. “They’d never be able to keep it secret. He stands out—what’s the American expression?”
    “Like a sore thumb,” Ernest said. “Which I’d imagine is why he was chosen for this assignment.”
    “Mingle,” Moncrieff whispered, coming up behind them.
    Ernest nodded and wandered over to the edge of another group who had watched Patton and then begun talking animatedly among themselves, but they were discussing food, too. “Last night I dreamt of roast chicken,” a horsy-looking woman said.
    “It’s pudding I always dream of,” the woman next to her said. “They say things will be better after the invasion.”
    “Oh, I do hope it will come soon. All this waiting makes one so nervy,” the horsy-looking woman said, and Ernest moved closer.
    “Of course it’s coming soon,” the plump woman’s husband said. “The question is, where will it come?” He, and the rest of the group, turned to look pointedly at Ernest. “Well, sir? You’re undoubtedly in the know. Which is it to be, Normandy or the Pas de Calais?”
    “I’m afraid I wouldn’t be allowed to tell, sir,” Ernest said, “even if I knew.”

    “I’m afraid I wouldn’t be allowed to tell, sir,” Ernest said, “even if I knew.”
    “Oh, bosh, of course you know. Wembley and I have a wager going,” he said, pointing with his glass to a mustached man. “He says Normandy, and I say Calais.”
    “You’re both wrong,” a third, balding man said, coming over. “It’s Norway.”
    Which meant Fortitude North in Scotland was doing its job.
    “Can’t you at least give us a hint?” the horsy woman said. “You can’t know how difficult it is to make plans, not knowing what’s going to happen.”
    “Everyone knows it’s Normandy,” Wembley said. “In the first place, the Pas de Calais is where Hitler will be expecting it.”
    “That’s because it’s the only logical point of attack,” the other man said, his face getting red. “It’s the shortest distance across the Channel, and the shortest land route to the Ruhr is from there. It has the best ports—”
    “Which is why we’re going to invade at Normandy,” Wembley said loudly. “Hitler will be concentrating his troops at Calais. He won’t be expecting the attack to come at Normandy. And Normandy—”
    Ernest had to stop this. It was all much too close to the truth. “You both make interesting cases,” he said, and turned to Mrs. Wembley. “Have you read Agatha Christie’s latest mystery novel?”
    “Hmmph,” Wembley said, drawing himself up.
    Ernest ignored him. “Have you?”
    “Why, yes,” she said. “Are you saying her book—”
    He leaned toward her confidentially. “I can’t say anything about the invasion—it’s all top secret, you know—but if I were in charge of it,” he lowered his voice,
    “I’d take all of Agatha Christie’s novels off the shelves till fall.”
    “You would?” she said breathlessly.
    “Or I’d have their titles painted over, like you English did with your train stations,” he whispered, emphasizing the word train.
    “Now if you’ll excuse me, ladies,” he said, then bowed slightly and limped back over to Cess and Chasuble, who were plotting how to get their hands on the real liquor.
    “I fail to see what detective novels have to do with the invasion,” he heard Wembley grumble as he walked away.
    “It’s a riddle, darling,” his wife said. “The answer’s in the title of one of her books.”
    “Oh, I do love puzzles,” the horsy woman said.
    “He mentioned railway stations,” Mrs. Wembley said musingly. “Let’s see, there’s The Mystery of the Blue Train. And The A.B.C. Murders. A.B.C. Could that be some sort of code, do you think?”
    Cess looked over at the group. “What did you say to them?” he asked curiously.
    Ernest told them. “I got the idea from those mysteries Gwendolyn’s always reading. Moncrieff told us ‘subtle,’ ” he said, picking up an impaled pilchard-on-a-toothpick and eyeing it dubiously. “But I think it may have been a bit too subtle.” He put the pilchard back on the tray and rejoined the group.
    “It could be something with a place-name in it,” Mrs. Wembley was saying. “There’s Murder in Mesopotamia—”
    “As much as the Allies cherish the value of a surprise,” the balding man said, “I doubt very much they will invade by way of Baghdad.”
    “Oh, of course,” she said, flustered. “How silly of me. Oh, I can’t think. What else did she write? There’s Murder at the Vicarage, but that can’t be it, and the one where he did it, and the one where the two of them—”
    “I’ve got it,” the horsy woman said, looking triumphant. She turned to Ernest. “Very clever, Major, particularly the clue about trains.”
    “Well?” Wembley said impatiently to her. “What is it?”
    “We should have guessed it at once,” she said to Mrs. Wembley. “It’s one of her best-planned-out books, and one the reader won’t guess till the very last moment.”
    And when Mrs. Wembley still looked blank, “It’s set on a train, dear.”
    “Oh, of course,” Mrs. Wembley said, “the one where everyone did it.”
    “Are you or are you not going to tell us what the title is?” Wembley said.
    “I’m not certain we should,” Mrs. Wembley said. “As the Major said, it’s top secret.”
    “But since all we’re discussing is mystery novels,” the horsy woman said, “you simply must read Murder in the Ca—”
    “Anderson!” Patton’s unmistakable voice bellowed, and everyone looked over at where he stood, riding crop raised, waving at a British officer on his way out.
    “Goodbye! See you in Calais!”

    Ultra was decisive.
    London—November 1940
    JESUS, MIKE THOUGHT, BLETCHLEY PARK. I SHOULD HAVE gone to Coventry. “You’re sure Gerald didn’t say Boscombe Down or Broadwell?” he asked Eileen.
    “No, it was definitely Bletchley Park,” Eileen said. “Why? Isn’t it an airfield?”
    “No,” Polly said grimly.
    “What is it then?”
    “It’s where they worked on Ultra,” Mike said. And at her blank look he added, “The top-secret facility where they decoded the messages of the German Enigma machine.”
    “Oh, but then that’s definitely where he is,” Eileen said eagerly. “Decoding would be much more suited to him than the RAF, with his skill at maths and—”
    “Blenheim has a park, too,” Mike interrupted. “You’re sure he didn’t say Blenheim Park?”
    “No,” Polly said. “He’s at Bletchley Park.”
    He turned on her angrily. “How do you know?”
    “Because of the joke Gerald told Eileen about the rain getting her driving authorization wet. Remember? And her not being able to drive?”
    “What does that have to do with Bletchley Park?”
    “The driving authorization form is printed in red.”
    “The bigram codebooks the German Navy used on its U-boats were printed in a special red water-soluble ink, so that if the submarine was sunk, the codes couldn’t be captured.”
    “And those codebooks were what they used to break the Ultra naval code at Bletchley Park.”
    “I can’t believe this!” Mike said. “The one person who can get us out of here, and he’s in goddamned Bletchley Park.”
    “I don’t understand,” Eileen said, looking upset. “Why don’t you want him to be at Bletchley Park?”
    “Because it’s a divergence point,” Polly said.
    “But Dunkirk was a divergence point,” Eileen said, bewildered, “and Mike went there.”
    “Bletchley Park isn’t just a divergence point,” Polly explained. “It’s the divergence point. Ultra was the most critical secret of the war. It helped us sink the Bismarck and win in North Africa. And Normandy. If the Germans had had so much as an inkling that we’d cracked their codes and had access to their top-secret communications, we’d have lost the advantage that won us the war. If we were to cause that to happen—”
    “But how could we? Historians can’t alter events,” Eileen said innocently. “Can they?”
    “No,” Mike said. “She just means it’ll be tough to get Phipps out with all the security they’re bound to have.”
    But as soon as he got Polly alone for a moment, he asked her, “What’s happened? Did you find a discrepancy while I was gone?”
    “I don’t know. Marjorie—the shopgirl I worked with at Townsend Brothers and who Eileen told she worked at Padgett’s—is enlisting in the Royal Army Nursing Service.”
    Which made no sense at all. He sat her down and made her explain it to him. When she finished, he said, “But lots of women enlisted.”
    “But she said she enlisted because of having been rescued from the rubble, and she wouldn’t have been in the rubble if it hadn’t been for me.”
    “You don’t know that,” he said. “She might have eloped even if nothing had happened to you.”
    “But that’s not all,” she said, and told him about the UXB at St. Paul’s. “Mr. Dunworthy said it took three days to get it out, which means it should have been removed on Saturday, not Sunday.”
    “No, it shouldn’t,” he said, relieved that that was all. “It’s not a discrepancy.”
    “You don’t know that.”
    “Yes, I do. While I was looking for you, I went to St. Paul’s. I figured any historian of Dunworthy’s would have heard all about the cathedral from him and might show up there, and you did, just not on the same day as me. And anyway, this old guy who worked there—”
    “Mr. Humphreys?” Polly said.
    “Yeah, Humphreys. He gave me a tour of the whole place—sandbags and all—and told me all about the UXB. And he said it hit the night of the twelfth, which would make it three days if they got it out Sunday afternoon. So there’s no discrepancy there, and lots of women eloped with enlisted men during the war. And the increase in slippage would make it harder for us to alter events, not easier.”
    “But if that isn’t what’s going on, and we can affect events—”
    “Then Phipps has no business being at Bletchley Park, and the sooner we get him out of there, the better. If he’s still there. If he went through just after his recon and prep, he might already have gone back.”
    “I don’t think so,” Polly said. “His joke about the water-soluble ink makes me think he’s probably there to observe the cracking of the naval Enigma code, and they didn’t capture U-boat 110 and get the bigram books until May of 1941.”
    Great, Mike thought. Phipps would have six months to louse up the war. If he hadn’t already. Maybe that was why their drops wouldn’t open. It wasn’t something Mike had done—it was Phipps’s fault.
    Mike didn’t say that. He just told them he intended to leave for Bletchley right away. “Shouldn’t we both go?” Eileen asked. “I know what Gerald looks like. And with two of us, we’ll be twice as likely to find him. We can split up—”

    “No, I’m going alone.”
    “If it’s her being conspicuous you’re worried about,” Polly said, “there were more women than men working at the Park. They did all the transcribing of the intercepts and ran the computers, and some of them even worked on the decoding. So if you’re worried about Eileen standing out—”
    That’s not what I’m worried about, Mike thought. “Two people are more likely to attract attention than one,” he said, “especially if they’re both snooping around and asking questions.”
    “Mike’s right,” Polly said. “The people who worked there were under a good deal of surveillance.” Which wasn’t exactly reassuring.
    “If only one of us can go, it should be me,” Eileen said. “Gerald knows me. He may spot me even if I don’t spot him.”
    Which was true. “He’ll recognize me, too,” Mike said, though he wasn’t at all sure he would. “I need you and Polly here to go meet the retrieval team if they answer our ads. And I’ll have more freedom of movement than you would. A man can go into restaurants and pubs alone without attracting attention.”
    “Not if you’re an American,” Polly said. “The Americans didn’t come to Bletchley Park till February of ’41. Do you think you could pass as an Englishman?”
    “I am an Englishman. I had an American L-and-A, remember? But how am I supposed to pull off working there? It took clearance to get into Bletchley Park. I’d never be able to pass the background check.”
    “Gerald did,” Eileen said.
    “With carefully forged school records and letters of recommendation. That’s probably what his recon trip was about, planting documents that could stand up to Bletchley Park’s background check. My history wouldn’t.”
    “You needn’t actually work there,” Polly said. “And by the way, it’s BP or the Park, not Bletchley Park. And not Bletchley—Bletchley’s the town. Bletchley Park is the Victorian manor outside of town where the decoding was done. Only a few codebreakers lived on the estate. Everyone else was billeted in Bletchley or the surrounding villages.”
    “Then why do I have to pretend at all? Why can’t I go as a reporter and talk to them in the town, say I’m working on a story?”
    “Because they’ve all been forbidden to talk to anyone. They’ve all signed the Official Secrets Act. They can get the death penalty if they talk. Besides, you’d be hauled in by the authorities instantly if they heard you were planning to write about Bletchley Park.”
    “I could say I was doing a story on something else,” he said, but Polly was shaking her head.
    “No, people will be much more likely to talk to you if they think you’re one of them. If they ask what your job is, which they won’t, you can say you work for the War Office. That was the official cover for intelligence work.”
    “How can you be so sure they won’t ask me what my job is?”
    “No one was allowed to discuss what they were doing. People who worked in one but didn’t even know the names of the people in the other huts.”
    Then how am I supposed to find out if Gerald’s there? he wondered. “What if Gerald’s one of the people living on the estate?” he asked.
    “He won’t be. That was mostly the top codebreakers, like Dilly Knox and Alan Turing. Turing was Ultra’s computer genius.” She was looking critically at him.
    “You haven’t any other clothes, have you?”
    “No, these are the best I’ve got. Aren’t they good enough?”
    “They’re too good. If you’re going as a cryptanalyst—that’s what they called the codebreakers—you’ll have to look the part. Don’t worry, we’ll find you something.”
    The “something” turned out to be a secondhand tweed jacket with patches at the elbows, a scruffy-looking wool vest, and a tie with a large grease spot on it. “Are you sure this is what they wore, Polly?” Mike asked doubtfully.
    “Positive, although the waistcoat may be too nice.”
    “Too nice?”
    “These are physicists and mathematicians we’re dealing with. Can you play chess?”
    “No. Why?”
    “There weren’t enough cryptanalysts in England at the beginning of the war, so they recruited anyone they thought might be good at decoding—statisticians and Egyptologists and chess players. If you could play, it would make a good conversational opening.”
    “I could teach you,” Eileen said.
    “There isn’t time,” he said. “I want to leave tomorrow.”
    “No, you need to wait till Sunday,” Polly said. “It’ll be less conspicuous. Lots of BPers will be coming back from the weekend then. And I need to prep you.”
    She did, telling him everything she knew about Bletchley Park and Ultra and the principal players in such detail that he wondered if she was still worried about his altering events, too, in spite of his reassurances. She even told him what the various codebreakers looked like.
    So I can keep out of their way, he thought. Which wasn’t a bad idea, just in case. He memorized the names she gave him: Menzies, Welchman, Angus Wilson, Alan Turing.
    “Turing’s blonde, medium height, and stammers. Dilly Knox—he heads up the main team of cryptanalysts—is tall and thin and smokes a pipe. And he’s absent-minded. He’s been known to fill his pipe with bits of his sandwich. Oh, and he’s usually surrounded by young women. Dilly’s girls.”
    “Dilly’s girls?”
    “Yes. They played a vital role in the decoding. They searched through millions of lines of code, looking for patterns and anomalies.”
    “How do you know all this?” he asked. A horrible thought struck him. “You didn’t do an assignment at Bletchley Park, did you?” If she had, and she had a deadline …
    “No,” she said. “I considered it, but after I’d researched it, I decided the Blitz might be more exciting.”
    Not if historians can alter the course of the war, he thought.
    On Sunday Polly and Eileen went to the station to see him off and to give him last-minute instructions. “The Park’s in walking distance of town,” Polly said, “but I don’t know in which direction, and asking might look suspicious.”
    “I won’t ask,” he assured her. “I’ll find a likely prospect and follow him when I get off the train.”
    “And I’m not sure the project’s called Ultra at this point. ‘Ultra’ stood for ultra-top-secret, the most classified category of military secrets, and I think in 1940 the

    “And I’m not sure the project’s called Ultra at this point. ‘Ultra’ stood for ultra-top-secret, the most classified category of military secrets, and I think in 1940 the project may just have been called Enigma, and not—”
    “It doesn’t matter what it’s called. I have no intention of mentioning Enigma or Ultra. I intend to find Gerald and get out.”
    “There’s the boarding call,” Eileen said. “Perhaps you’ll be in the same compartment with someone who works there, and you can ask them if they know Gerald and how you can get in touch with him, and you won’t need to go to Bletchley at all.”
    Jesus, he hadn’t thought about running into them on the train. “What does Turing look like again?” he asked Polly.
    “Blonde hair. Stammer.”
    “And Dilly Knox is tall and smokes a pipe.”
    “And has a limp like yours. And Alan Ross has a long red beard, and when it’s cold wears a blue snood over it.”
    “Over his beard?” Mike said. “And you’re worried about me being conspicuous? They sound crazy.”
    “Eccentric,” Polly said. “Oh, and Ross has a little boy, and when he traveled, he doped him with laudanum—”
    “Laudanum,” Eileen said wistfully, and when they looked at her, she explained, “Sorry, I was just thinking how useful laudanum would have been on that journey to London with the Hodbins.”
    “Yes, well, I don’t know if Ross’s son was a terror or not,” Polly said, “but he gave him laudanum and stowed him in the luggage rack, so if you see a little boy sleeping up in the luggage rack, you’ll know that’s the compartment Alan Ross is in.”
    And I can make sure I keep out of it. “Look, I’d better get out to the platform,” he said.
    “Wait,” Eileen said, grabbing his sleeve. “What happened?”
    “What happened?” he repeated blankly.
    “To Ross’s son?” Polly asked.
    “No, to Shackleton. When he left his crew on the island and went off to get help. Did he come back?”
    “Yes, with a ship, to take them all home. He didn’t lose a single man.”
    “Good,” she said, and smiled at him.
    “Ring us as soon as you get there,” Polly said.
    “I will,” he promised, thinking, If I can get there. Just because he’d gone to one divergence point didn’t mean the continuum would let him near another, especially one where a single person could mess up everything. His train could be blown up en route. Or the train might be too crowded to get on, which looked like it was going to be the case.
    It was packed to the gills, but he managed to squeeze on, and on the train from Oxford, he was even able to find a seat—taking care to pick a compartment that didn’t have any blonde stammerers, tall pipe-smokers, or doped-up children in it. He picked one occupied by five soldiers and two elderly ladies. He slung his bag up onto the luggage rack—which only held brown-paper-wrapped packages, no children—and sat down in the single empty seat.
    He was almost instantly sorry. As soon as the train pulled out of the station, the soldiers left the compartment to go have a smoke, and a bald, spectacled man dressed in tweeds, with a knitted vest even rattier and more full of holes than the one Eileen had found for Mike came in and sat down between Mike and the door, stretching out his legs so it was impossible for Mike to get out of the compartment without asking him to move, and he didn’t want to have any contact with him.
    The man was too bald to be Turing and too short to be Knox, and he didn’t have a red beard, but he definitely worked at the Park. The moment the train left the station, he pulled out a book titled Principia Mathematica and buried his nose in it, ignoring Mike and the two ladies, who were cheerfully discussing various physical ailments.
    “The pain begins in my foot and works its way all up my spine,” the one in the brown hat said. “Dr. Granholme says it’s sciatica.”
    “I have a dull throbbing pain in my knees,” the other one, in a black hat with a bird on it, said. “Dr. Evers prescribed a course of nutrient baths, but it didn’t do a bit of good.”
    “You should go to Dr. Sheppard in Leighton Buzzard. My friend Olive Bates says he’s wonderful with knees. I didn’t tell you, her son was called up last week.
    Poor Olive, she’s frightfully worried he’ll be sent somewhere dangerous.”
    Like Bletchley Park, Mike thought, pretending to look out the window. BP was an exponentially more dangerous divergence point than Dunkirk because it involved a secret, and secrets were the most fragile and easily altered divergence points in the continuum. Because even though it took the combined efforts of many people to keep a secret, a single person, a single careless remark, could reveal it. Like a delayed-action bomb, which the slightest touch could set off.
    All he had to do was ask the wrong question. Or too many questions. Or blow his cover. That meant he’d have to watch every word. His American L-and-A still hadn’t worn off, so he’d have to remember to keep his vowels clipped and to use the English terms for things. No “flashlights” or “elevators,” though he doubted Bletchley was a big-enough town to have elevators—correction, lifts—and it—
    The train jerked to a stop. Black Hat with Bird looked nervously out the window. “Oh, dear, I do hope it’s not an air raid. I’d hoped to arrive in Bletchley before dark.”
    And I’d hoped to arrive in Bletchley, period, Mike thought, hoping a passing troop train had delayed them, but they weren’t on a siding, and after a minute the guard came through apologizing for the delay and asking them to pull down the blackout blinds.
    “Is it a raid?” Brown Hat asked.
    “Yes, madam,” the conductor said, “but I’m certain there’s no danger.”
    Except from me, Mike thought, listening for approaching planes, but nothing happened. They didn’t start up again either, and as they sat there, everything Polly’d told him about how she’d influenced the shopgirl Marjorie came back to him, and he found himself thinking about Dunkirk and all the other things he’d done besides unfouling that propeller, from tossing those gas cans overboard to hauling the dog up over the side. He’d lost his life jacket in the water. Had it floated off somewhere to entangle itself in some other propeller? And what about the body? And now here he was going to a place where a single mistake, a single word, could—
    The train jerked sharply and started moving again, and the ladies went back to discussing their ailments. “All autumn I’ve had a dreadful pain in my heel,” Brown Hat said. “A friend of mine told me about Dr. Pritchard’s manipulation treatments, so I’m going to his clinic in Newport Pagnell.”
    “Newport Pagnell?” Black Hat with Bird cried. “Why, that’s quite near Bletchley! You must come for tea one day. Are you getting off there, too?”
    “Yes. Dr. Pritchard’s sending a car.”
    Good, that meant he wouldn’t have to ask the spectacled man which station was Bletchley.

    Good, that meant he wouldn’t have to ask the spectacled man which station was Bletchley.
    “If Dr. Pritchard’s treatment isn’t satisfactory,” Black Hat with Bird went on, “you must go to Dr. Childers in St. John’s Wood.”
    St. John’s Wood. The lab had had a permanent drop there in the early days of time travel, before they’d figured out how to set up remotes. He wondered if Polly or Eileen knew where it was. When their drops malfunctioned, the lab might have reopened it to use as an alternative. He would have to tell Eileen and Polly that when he called them—correction, rang them up—to tell them he’d arrived safely.
    If they ever got there. He had to sit through a seemingly endless discussion of bunions, rheumatism, lumbago, and palpitations before Black Hat with Bird said,
    “Oh, good, we’re coming into Bletchley,” and both ladies began collecting their things. The man continued reading even when they pulled in to the station, and Mike wondered if he’d been wrong about him being one of Bletchley Park’s cryptanalysts. But the second the train stopped, the man clapped his book shut and, without so much as a glance at any of them, was out the door and walking rapidly along the platform toward the station. Mike stood up, intending to follow him, but the ladies asked him to help them take their packages down from the overhead rack, and by the time Mike did, the man had vanished.
    But there were plenty of people still in the station and outside—unlocking bicycles and walking away from the station—whom he could follow. As soon as he found a phone. He’d promised Polly he’d call to tell her he’d got there okay. He only hoped it didn’t take forever to put the call through.
    The phone booth—correction, box—wasn’t occupied, and the operator put the call through fairly quickly, but Mrs. Rickett answered and, when he asked for Polly, said sourly, “I don’t know if she’s here,” and when he asked her to go check, gave a put-upon sigh and went off for so long he had to put more coins in.
    When Polly finally answered, he said, “I’ve got to make this quick.” The stuff about St. John’s Wood could wait till next time. “I got here all right.”
    “Have you found a room? Or Gerald?”
    “Not yet for either one. I just got off the train. I’ll call you as soon as I know where I’m staying,” he said, then hung up and hurried out into the station, but it had already emptied out, and when he went outside into the gathering dusk, there was no one in sight.
    I should’ve watched to see which way they were all going and then called, he thought, kicking himself. Well, it was too late now. It was already getting dark. He’d have to wait till tomorrow morning to find out where Bletchley Park was. Right now he needed to find the center of town and a room. But there wasn’t a taxi in sight either, and no sign saying To City Centre.
    He set off along the likeliest-looking street, but its brick buildings quickly gave way to warehouses, and when he reached the corner, he couldn’t see anything promising in either direction. This is ridiculous, he thought. How big can Bletchley be? If he kept walking, he’d eventually have to come to something, even if it was only the edge of town, but it would be completely dark in a few more minutes, and his bad foot was beginning to ache. He looked up the side street again, trying to decide which way to go.
    And glimpsed two people in the dusk. They were a block and a half away—too far ahead for him to catch up to them with his limp, but he hobbled after them anyway.
    The pair reached the corner and stopped, as if waiting to cross, even though there weren’t any cars he could see. Mike labored to catch up to them. It was two young women, he saw as he got closer, obviously two of the hundreds Polly had said worked at Bletchley Park. Good. After he’d asked them for directions, he could say, “You wouldn’t happen to know a Gerald Phipps, would you?” and since Phipps was such a jerk, they’d make a face and say, “Why, yes, unfortunately we do,”
    and he could be on the train back to London to pick up Eileen and Polly by tomorrow.
    Only half a block to go. The young women were still standing there talking, totally caught up in what they were saying and oblivious to his approach. And no wonder they’d been known as “girls.” They didn’t look more than sixteen. They were talking animatedly and giggling, and it was clear as he got closer to them that they weren’t waiting to cross. They’d simply stopped to talk.
    Keep talking till I catch up, girls, he willed them, but when he was still a hundred feet away, they crossed the street, walked to the second building, and started up the steps to the door.
    Oh, no, they were going in. He hobbled quickly to the corner. “Hey!” he called, and both girls turned at the door and looked back at him. “Wait!” He stepped out into the street. “Can you tell me the way to—”
    He didn’t even see the bicycle. His first thought as his bag flew out of his hand and both palms and his knee hit the pavement was that a bomb must have exploded and the blast had knocked him down, and he looked toward the girls, afraid they’d been hit, too. But they were running down the steps and over to him, exclaiming,
    “Are you all right? Did he injure you?”
    “He?” he said blankly.
    “When he ran his bicycle into you,” the first girl said, and it was only then that he realized he’d been knocked down by a bicyclist. He looked on down the street to see the bicycle wobble and swerve and then crash into the curb, spilling its rider onto the pavement and clattering onto its side.
    The girls saw the bike crash, too, but they paid no attention, even though it looked like the rider had taken a much worse fall than Mike had. They were busy picking Mike up. “Are you injured?” the first girl asked anxiously, putting her hand under Mike’s arm to help him up.
    “I think he only clipped me,” Mike said.
    The other was standing with her hands on her hips, staring at the rider, who was getting slowly to his feet. “He shouldn’t be allowed on the streets,” she said, annoyed.
    “Do give us a hand, Mavis,” the first one said to her, and Mavis came over to take Mike’s other arm. Mike stood up, more or less. “Are you certain you’re not hurt?” she asked.
    “I don’t think so,” he said, taking stock. His knee was beginning to throb, but he was able to put weight on it, so it wasn’t broken or sprained, and it and his hands had struck the pavement first. He flexed his fingers. “I think I’m fine. Anyway, nothing’s broken. I should have been looking where I was going.”
    “You should have?” Mavis exploded. “He should have. It’s the third time he’s knocked someone down this week! Isn’t it, Elspeth?”
    Elspeth nodded. “He nearly killed poor Jane on her way to the Park last week.” She glared at the rider, who was righting his bicycle. He got on and rode off down the street, apparently unharmed. “Watch where you’re going!” she shouted after him, to no effect. He didn’t even look back.
    “You’re certain you’re all right?” Mavis was asking. “Oh, you’re limping.”
    “No, that isn’t from—”
    “I knew he’d end by injuring someone,” Mavis said angrily. “He never watches where he’s going.”
    “My foot’s not hurt,” Mike said, but neither girl was listening.
    “He’s an absolute menace,” Mavis said angrily. “He should be forbidden from riding a bicycle.”
    Elspeth shook her head. “He’d only begin driving his car again, and that would be even worse,” she said. “Turing’s a wretched driver.”

    Elspeth shook her head. “He’d only begin driving his car again, and that would be even worse,” she said. “Turing’s a wretched driver.”

    In wartime the truth is so important it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies.
    London—November 1940
    POLLY AND EILEEN WAITED TO MAKE SURE MIKE’S TRAIN actually left for Bletchley Park, and then Eileen went to Whitechapel to return Alf Hodbin’s map. “I told them I’d post it to them, but I promised Theodore Willett I’d go see him, so I may as well run it by. And I want to talk to Alf. I got the feeling last time that he and Binnie are up to something.”
    “Like what?” Polly asked.
    “I’m not certain, but knowing the Hodbins, it’s something illegal. There weren’t any Nazi child spies, were there?”
    Polly saw her to her train and then went to the British Museum—“Darling, so sorry. If you can forgive me, meet me by the Rosetta stone Sunday at two”—to wait for the retrieval team. And fret.
    In spite of Mike’s reassurances that they hadn’t affected events, she was still worried. Her actions hadn’t affected only Marjorie. They’d also affected the warden who’d found her and the rescue squad and ambulance driver, her nurses and doctors, the airman she hadn’t met who’d gone off on his mission thinking she’d changed her mind about eloping, even Sarah Steinberg, who’d been given Marjorie’s job, and the shopgirl Townsend Brothers had hired to replace Sarah. The ripples spread out and out. And now Marjorie was going to be a nurse. She was going to be saving soldiers’ lives.
    Like Mike had saved Hardy’s. And unlike Hardy, there was nothing else which could have caused what had happened. Marjorie had said quite plainly that she’d decided to run off with her airman because of having seen Polly standing there looking so shell-shocked the morning after St. George’s was hit. That had led directly to her having been in Jermyn Street when it was hit, and to her deciding to become a nurse and thus altering who knew what other events. Polly saw now why Mike had been so worried that morning outside Padgett’s when he thought he’d saved Hardy.
    And now Mike was on his way to Bletchley Park, where he could do far more damage to the war than a hospital nurse could. If Gerald Phipps hadn’t already beaten him to it.
    But if he had, there should be more discrepancies than just a siren going off when it shouldn’t have. And Mike was right, there were all sorts of instances in history when an action which should have had a major effect had been counteracted by something else, like the Verlaine-poem invasion signal. Or the appearance of
    “Omaha” and “Overlord” in the Herald’s crossword puzzle, which hadn’t affected the invasion after all.
    But that was also an example of how a single small action could have tremendous consequences. A few words in a crossword puzzle had nearly derailed an invasion involving years of careful planning and two million men. If D-Day had had to be delayed, the invasion’s location would almost certainly have leaked out, and Rommel’s tanks would have been waiting for the invasion troops at Normandy. And all because of a bit of carelessness and a teenaged boy. “For want of a nail …”
    So what sort of impact could the combined actions of Marjorie and Hardy, and Gerald’s and now Mike’s wandering around the place where the most important secret of the war was being kept have? If Mike got there. Just because he’d gone to Dunkirk didn’t mean he’d be allowed to reach Bletchley Park.
    She gave the retrieval team another half hour to show and then went back to Mrs. Rickett’s to see if Mike had phoned. He hadn’t, and by the time Eileen returned, there’d still been no word from him. “Did you find out what the Hodbins were up to?” Polly asked her.
    “No, no one was there,” Eileen said, frowning. “I had to slide the map under the door. Did Mike ring up?”
    “No, not yet. His train was likely delayed by a troop train or something.”
    But she must not have succeeded in hiding her anxiety, because Eileen asked, “No trains were bombed today, were they?”
    “No.” Not in London.
    “Was Bletchley bombed?”
    “I don’t know, but there were never any casualties at Bletchley Park. Come along, it’s time for supper. One of Mrs. Rickett’s Sunday-night ‘cold collations.’ ”
    Tonight it consisted of sliced tongue and nettle salad. “I’m sorry I ever got my ration card,” Eileen said when she saw it. “I can’t wait till Mike finds Gerald and we can go home. Perhaps that’s why he hasn’t rung us, because someone on the train knew where Gerald was, and he’s gone off to find him.”
    But when Mike finally rang up, moments before Polly had to leave for Notting Hill Gate for rehearsal, it was only to say he’d arrived. He hadn’t even left the station yet. And he was in a hurry. He told them he’d phone them again when he knew where he was staying and rang off before Polly could warn him to be careful.
    But if the problem’s an increase in slippage, then it would have prevented him from going to Bletchley Park if he could affect events. There’s nothing to worry about, she told herself, and forced herself to concentrate on the problems of the admirable Crichton and Lady Mary.
    The troupe was in their final week of rehearsals, and Sir Godfrey was in a foul mood. “No, no, no!” he shouted at Viv. “You say, ‘Here comes Ernest,’ before Ernest makes his entrance! Again. From ‘Father, we thought we should never see you again.’ ”
    They started through the scene again.
    “No, no, no!” Sir Godfrey thundered at Mr. Dorming. “Why can’t you remember? This is a comedy, not a tragedy. At the end of Act Three you are rescued from this island.”
    “By a prince?” Mrs. Brightford’s little girl Trot asked.
    “No, by a ship. Or, considering the rate at which this production is progressing, by the end of the war.”
    “I think it should be by a prince,” Trot said.
    “Take it up with the author,” Sir Godfrey growled. “Try it again. From ‘Here comes Ern—’ ”
    “Sir Godfrey,” Lila interrupted. “You keep saying it’s a comedy, but how can it be when Lady Mary and Crichton are separated at the end?”
    “Yes,” Viv said, “and why can’t they be together?”
    “Because he is a butler and she is a lady. You and Mary,” he said, glaring at Polly as though this was her fault, “are far too young to ever have loved someone whom, for reasons of social class or age or circumstance, you could not be with, but I assure you lovers do sometimes face insurmountable obstacles.”
    “But if they didn’t have to part,” Viv said, “it would make the ending so much more romantic.”
    “As I told Trot,” Sir Godfrey said dryly, “take it up with the author. Again. From the beginning. We are going to get this right if it kills me. Which it may very well

    “As I told Trot,” Sir Godfrey said dryly, “take it up with the author. Again. From the beginning. We are going to get this right if it kills me. Which it may very well do. Unless the Luftwaffe gets me first.” He looked up at the ceiling. “The raids seem rather excessive tonight.”
    They did, but they began and ended when they were supposed to and hit the correct targets, and there was nothing in Sir Godfrey’s Times the next night about security breaches or captured spies, though Mike hadn’t phoned again.
    Tuesday there was a letter for Eileen. “Is it from Mike?” Polly asked. Perhaps he had decided to write instead of phoning.
    “No, it’s from the vicar, Mr. Goode,” Eileen said, smiling. She opened it and began to read. “Oh, no, he says he’s writing with bad news … But that can’t be right …”
    “What can’t?”
    “He says Lady Caroline’s son’s been killed, but it was Lord Denewell—”
    “Read the letter,” Polly ordered.
    “ ‘Dear Miss O’Reilly, I am writing with sad news. Lady Caroline’s son was killed on the thirteenth of November.’ ”
    So it couldn’t have been an error in the death notice the vicar had read. Lord Denewell had been killed on the second.
    “ ‘His plane was shot down over Berlin,’ ” Eileen went on, “ ‘during a bombing run.’ ”
    It’s a discrepancy, Polly thought, a chill going through her. The son was killed instead of the father.
    “ ‘This is such sad news,’ ” Eileen read on, “ ‘coming as it does so soon after Lord Denewell’s death.’ ”
    So it wasn’t a discrepancy, after all, only a horrible coincidence of the war, and she should have felt reassured, but that night after rehearsal, as she and Eileen composed more messages for the retrieval team, she found herself looking through the newspapers for possible discrepancies, and the next morning she told Eileen she had to be at work early to tidy the workroom and went to Westminster Abbey to see if it had been hit.
    It had, and the damage to Henry VII’s chapel and the Tudor windows and the Little Cloisters matched that which she’d read of during her prep. You didn’t alter events, she told herself. The drops won’t open because there’s been an increase in slippage. That’s why your retrieval team’s not here. Unless Mike was right, and they’re in the wreckage of Padgett’s.
    Just because the three fatalities had turned out to be charwomen didn’t mean there couldn’t be other bodies buried in that pit. Or in the wreckage opposite her drop.
    The retrieval team could have come looking for her that night that she was trapped in Holborn. They could have been leaving her drop to look for her just as the parachute mine exploded. No one would have had any idea they were there. Like Marjorie. If the warden hadn’t heard her, no one would have ever thought to look for her there in the rubble in Jermyn Street.
    Or the retrieval team could have been killed on their way to her drop, in that burnt-out bus she’d seen on her way to Townsend Brothers. Or on the way to Backbury or Orpington.
    Or what if Colin had come after her when he found out about the increased slippage? He’d promised to come rescue her. What if he’d followed her to Padgett’s? Or been killed in a raid on his way to Oxford Street?
    Don’t be ridiculous, she told herself. He’d know better than to get himself killed. Besides, if he came here, he couldn’t catch up in age.
    But she immediately began thinking she saw him—on the escalators at Oxford Circus after work, in a knot of soldiers, stepping off a train onto the District Line platform at Notting Hill Gate.
    It wasn’t him. The soldier she saw was speaking fluent French. The man on the escalator had Colin’s sandy hair and gray eyes, but when he saw Polly looking at him, his answering smile was nothing at all like Colin’s crooked grin, and he was far too old. He was at least thirty, and Polly knew instantly that he wasn’t Colin, but in that first moment, her heart jerked painfully.
    When the seventeen-year-old who looked like him stepped off the train, she was in the middle of the rescue scene with Crichton, and she stopped in midline and stared after him till Sir Godfrey said, “We are doing The Admirable Crichton, Lady Mary, not Romeo and Juliet.”
    “What? I … sorry, I thought I saw someone I knew.”
    “And I thought this misbegotten play was opening two nights from now,” Sir Godfrey grumbled, and kept them rehearsing till the all clear went.
    On the way home Eileen asked, “Did you think you saw Mike?”
    “Yes,” Polly lied.
    “I’m certain he’ll ring us soon. Perhaps he hasn’t found a room yet. Or perhaps he’s having difficulty finding a place to phone from where he won’t be overheard.”
    Or his asking about Gerald has attracted attention, and he’s been taken in for questioning, Polly thought, but she had no time to worry over it. The play opened on Friday, and Townsend Brothers was full of customers. Christmas shoppers were already beginning to come in.
    Just after Mike had left, Polly had asked Miss Snelgrove if Townsend Brothers planned to hire on extra help for the holidays and, when she said yes, Polly’d told her about Eileen having lost her job at Padgett’s. Miss Snelgrove had hired her on the spot to help on third and then had had to move her up to the book department the next day when Ethel, who’d discussed ABCs and planespotters with Polly, was killed by shrapnel. But even though they weren’t working on the same floor, Eileen was grateful to be working in a department store which wouldn’t be bombed, delighted at being surrounded by so many Agatha Christies, and certain there was an innocent explanation for why Mike hadn’t telephoned yet.
    Eileen was the only one who was cheerful. The troupe was nervy about the play, and everyone else was jumpy and ill-tempered from lack of sleep, even though the raids only happened intermittently now. Or perhaps because they did. In those first weeks, the raids had become background noise that it was possible to ignore, but now that they didn’t occur every night, there was constant discussion of whether and when “they” would come and in what nasty new forms—like delayed-action bombs wired to go off as they were being defused or magnetic mines which exploded when a wristwatch came near them—and discussion of what they could do.
    By now everyone had a horror story. The rector’s sister had found a blown-off arm in her rose garden; a man Lila had gone dancing with had been blinded by flying glass; and everyone knew someone who’d been killed. It was no wonder everyone’s nerves were frayed.
    The weather didn’t help—it had rained steadily since the day Mike had left—and neither did the shorter days. “It’s as if the darkness were closing in all round us,”
    Miss Laburnum said, shivering, on their way to Notting Hill Gate.
    It is, Polly thought, and was glad to enter the brightly lit tube station, in spite of its crowdedness and the overpowering smell of wet wool.
    Friday and Saturday night they performed The Admirable Crichton in the lower-level hall of Notting Hill Gate. Opening night went perfectly except for the moment at the end of Act Two when the rescue ship arrived. Mr. Simms was supposed to cock his head and ask uncertainly, “Was that a gun I heard?” Unfortunately, he had to shout the line over a deafening anti-aircraft barrage. The audience roared, and an elderly man shouted out, “What are ya, lad, deaf?”

    Mr. Simms was mortified.
    “Nonsense!” Sir Godfrey, clad in rolled-up pants and the plimsolls Miss Laburnum had actually managed to track down, told him during the interval. “It was marvelous. You must see if you can work it into the show again tomorrow.”
    The rest of the show came off without incident. “You and Sir Godfrey were simply wonderful together,” Miss Laburnum enthused to Polly.
    “This has been wonderful for morale,” Mrs. Wyvern said. “It’s a pity we can’t do more than two performances. Perhaps we could arrange to perform it in other stations.”
    Sir Godfrey looked appalled.
    “We can’t,” Polly said quickly. “We’re only allowed to do two performances without paying royalties,” she lied.
    “Oh, what a pity,” Mrs. Wyvern said, and Sir Godfrey whispered, “Again do I owe my life to you, fair maid.”
    Saturday night went off even better. After the curtain, which consisted of Trot holding a placard reading Curtain, rang down and the cast had taken their bows to a necessarily standing ovation, Mrs. Wyvern gathered everyone on the platform to present Sir Godfrey with a copy of J. M. Barrie’s Complete Plays.
    “ ‘Thus were the Trojans murderously undone, by treacherous gifts as these,’ ” Sir Godfrey murmured to Polly.
    She was afraid he was right. “I have wonderful news!” Mrs. Wyvern said. “I met with the head of London Transport, and he has agreed to allow us to perform in the other Underground stations Christmas week.”
    “But the royalties—” Polly began.
    “Not The Admirable Crichton,” Mrs. Wyvern said. “A Christmas play.”
    “Peter Pan!” Miss Laburnum burst out. “How wonderful! I love the scene where Wendy asks, ‘Boy, why are you crying?’ and Peter Pan says—”
    “No, not Peter Pan,” Mrs. Wyvern said. “Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol!”
    “The very thing,” the rector pronounced. “It has a message of hope and charity which is badly needed in these dark times.”
    “And Sir Godfrey will make a wonderful Scrooge!” Miss Laburnum cried. And they were off and running.
    “But at least it’s not Barrie,” Sir Godfrey whispered to Polly, and on the way home after the all clear, Eileen said, “It’s good that all the female roles are small. When Mike finds Gerald, they’ll be able to easily replace you.”
    If Mike finds Gerald, Polly thought. If he’s not in the Tower, awaiting trial as a German spy.
    Instead of going to the London Zoo to meet the retrieval team, as per the ad they’d put in the papers, she sent Eileen instead so she wouldn’t miss his call. Eileen didn’t mind. “I’ll take Theodore,” she said. “He’s been wanting to go. The zoo wasn’t hit, was it?”
    “Yes.” It had suffered fourteen HEs. “But not today.”
    “Oh, good. If Mike’s found Gerald and wants us to come to Bletchley, we’ll be in the elephant house. I won’t be home to supper, thank heavens. I’ll eat at Theodore’s.”
    Mike didn’t phone, and Eileen was back by three. “What happened?” Polly asked. “How was the zoo?”
    “Dreadful. The retrieval team wasn’t there, and neither were the animals. Nearly all of them have been moved to the country for safekeeping, including the elephants, which Theodore particularly wanted to see, and ten minutes after we got there he decided he wanted to go home. And when I got him home, his mother was just going out, so I wasn’t asked to stay to supper,” she said, looking as if she was about to burst into tears. “And now I’ll have to eat one of Mrs. Rickett’s horrid cold collations.”
    “No, you won’t,” Polly said. “I can’t face it either. The play’s over, so there’s no rehearsal tonight. As soon as Mike phones, we’ll go to Holborn’s canteen and have sandwiches.”
    “What if he doesn’t phone?”
    “We’ll wait till seven—he’ll expect us to have left for Notting Hill Gate by then—and then go. And while you’re waiting, you can think about whether you’ll order a cheese sandwich or fish paste.”
    “Both,” Eileen said happily, and went off to sit on the stairs with Murder in the Calais Coach so she could hear the phone. Polly ironed her blouse and skirt for work and worried about Mike’s failure to call. And about the retrieval team and Colin and her deadline and discrepancies.
    It can’t be all of them, she told herself sternly. They’re mutually exclusive. If it’s increased slippage that’s keeping your drops from opening, then you can’t have altered events and the retrieval teams can’t come through, so they can’t be buried in the rubble at Padgett’s or your drop. And if they are, then the drops must be working again, so you didn’t lose the war, and you needn’t worry about your deadline. You can worry about one or the other, but not all of them at once.
    Unless they were connected. Unless the slippage had increased because they’d altered events, and the net was ensuring that other historians didn’t make the discrepancies worse.
    No, that wouldn’t work. The increase had happened before Mike rescued Hardy and before she’d come through to the Blitz. And before Gerald had gone to Bletchley Park. And it couldn’t have been anything she did before because she’d been able to go back through to Oxford after VE-Day. And Eileen had—
    “It’s seven,” Eileen said, coming back upstairs.
    Polly insisted they wait another half hour, and then they went off to Holborn, after first extracting a promise from Miss Laburnum to take down any messages for them and promising in turn to try to find a suitable candle for the Ghost of Christmas Past’s crown.
    “And a green fur-lined cloak for the Ghost of Christmas Present,” Miss Laburnum said.
    “If I had a green fur-lined cloak, I’d wear it myself,” Eileen said as they walked over to Notting Hill Gate. “My coat isn’t half warm enough for this horrid weather.
    And black is so grim.”
    “Everyone’s wearing black,” Polly snapped. “There’s a war on. And no one has a new coat. Everyone’s making do.”
    “I didn’t…,” Eileen said, turning puzzled eyes on her. “I was joking.”
    “I know, I’m sorry,” Polly said. “It’s only—”
    “You’re worried about Mike,” she said. “I know. He knew you were busy with the play. He probably didn’t want to distract you by phoning.”
    Distract me? Polly thought bitterly.
    “I’m sure he’ll ring us tomorrow.” Eileen linked her arm through Polly’s and chattered the rest of the way to Holborn about how wonderful the play had been and

    “I’m sure he’ll ring us tomorrow.” Eileen linked her arm through Polly’s and chattered the rest of the way to Holborn about how wonderful the play had been and how hungry she was and about Agatha Christie.
    “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I actually saw her? She lived in London during the war and worked as a dispenser in the hospitals. Unfortunately, she won’t be in the tube shelters. She had an irrational fear of being buried alive.”
    Not all that irrational, Polly thought, remembering Marble Arch. And Marjorie.
    But it was a pity they had no chance of encountering her. They could have used her help, though Polly doubted whether even Agatha Christie could solve The Mystery of the Drops Which Wouldn’t Open.
    “I wonder if she took the tube to work,” Eileen said. “If she—here’s our stop—if she did, we might see her on her way home.”
    They got off the train.
    “I do hope the queue for the canteen isn’t very long,” Eileen said, starting through the clot of passengers getting off and on and down the platform past a band of urchins up to no good, toward a group of young women in FANY uniforms.
    Polly stopped.
    “Come along, I’m starving,” Eileen said, beckoning to her.
    A sailor passed, going the other way. Polly turned and walked swiftly after him along the platform as the train pulled out and then, as she reached the safety of the archway, looked back.
    Eileen was coming after her, pushing through the FANYs, calling “Polly!”
    She hurried through the arch and along the tunnel to the hall and onto the escalator.
    “Where are you going?” Eileen asked breathlessly, catching up to her halfway up.
    “I thought I saw someone,” Polly said.
    “Who? Agatha Christie?”
    “No, an historian. Jack Sorkin.”
    “I thought he was in the Pacific.”
    “I know, but I could have sworn …,” Polly said.
    They reached the top of the escalator. Polly looked around at the crowd, frowning. “Oh, it isn’t him, after all,” she said, pointing at a sailor on the far side of the hall.
    “Too bad.”
    “It’s all right,” Eileen said. “We can still go to the canteen.” She started over to the escalator to go back down.
    “Wait, I’ve just had a brilliant idea,” Polly said. “Let’s go to Lyons Corner House instead.”
    “Lyons?” Eileen repeated doubtfully. “Why?”
    “There aren’t any raids tonight. They’re bombing Bristol. We can have a proper meal, and you can tell me all about Murder in the Whatever It Is.”
    “The Calais Coach,” Eileen said. “Do you think they may have bacon at Lyons? Or eggs?”
    They had both, and tea that didn’t taste like dishwater. And pudding that didn’t taste like wallpaper paste.
    “That was the most wonderful meal I’ve ever had,” Eileen said blissfully on the train home. “I’m glad you thought you saw Jack.”
    “You were going to tell me about Murder in the Calais Coach,” Polly said.
    “Oh. Yes. It’s wonderful. Everyone has a motive for the crime, and you think, ‘It can’t be all of them. It’s got to be one or the other,’ but then it turns out … but I don’t want to spoil it for you. Would you care to borrow it? I’m sure the librarian at Holborn wouldn’t mind if I kept it a bit longer.”
    Polly wasn’t listening. She was thinking about the slippage and their altering events. “Eileen,” she asked, “did Linna or Badri say anything about what was causing the increase in slippage?”
    “No, not that I remember,” Eileen said, and when they got back to their room, she handed Polly a sheet of paper. “Here, I wrote down everything I could remember, the way you and Mike told me to.”
    On the sheet was scrawled, “G had umbrella, ddn’t offer it—Badri wking console—Linna on tphne—mad abt. Bastille—L sd she kn R of T first.”
    “What’s R of T?”
    “The Reign of Terror. Linna was talking to this person on the telephone about the lab changing whoever it was’s drop to the storming of the Bastille, and the person on the other end was obviously angry, and she said, ‘I know you were scheduled to go to the Reign of Terror first.’ But she didn’t say anything about slippage to them.”
    Whoever it was had been scheduled to do the Reign of Terror, and they’d changed it so he or she went to the storming of the Bastille. Which had happened before the Reign of Terror.
    “Where was Mike going before his assignment got changed to Dunkirk?” she asked Eileen. “Was it Pearl Harbor?”
    “I don’t know. I believe so. They’d changed his entire schedule.”
    “Where else was he supposed to go?”
    “I don’t remember. Salisbury, I think, and the World Trade Center. I wasn’t—”
    Really listening, Polly thought, wanting to shake her. Of course not. Just like you weren’t listening to Gerald Phipps.
    “You can ask Mike when he rings us,” Eileen was saying. “Why do you need to know?”
    Because Pearl Harbor happened on December 7, 1941. And the storming of the Bastille was before the Reign of Terror.
    Mike had said Mr. Dunworthy had been shuffling and canceling dozens of drops. What if he’d been doing it because the slippage increase was a matter not of months but of years? What if Mr. Dunworthy had been putting all the drops in chronological order and canceling ones where there was already a deadline because he had been afraid their drops wouldn’t open in time? What if the increase had been four years? Or the length of the war, and that was why she’d seen Eileen at VE-Day?
    Because they hadn’t got out?
    But if that was it, then why hadn’t he canceled her drop?
    Perhaps the increase isn’t that large, she thought. Pearl Harbor was only a year and a half after Dunkirk. She didn’t know how far apart the two events in the Perhaps the increase isn’t that large, she thought. Pearl Harbor was only a year and a half after Dunkirk. She didn’t know how far apart the two events in the French Revolution were. The storming of the Bastille was July 14, 1789, but she didn’t know when the Reign of Terror had begun. If it was less than three years …
    Or that might not be the reason they’d changed the schedules at all. It might be something else altogether. When Mike phones. I need to ask him the original order of his assignments and what it was changed to, she thought. If he phones. And in the meantime, it’s pointless to worry.
    But it was impossible not to. She spent her lunch break going to Selfridges and Bourne and Hollingsworth’s to look at women’s coats—which were luckily all far too expensive for Eileen to afford, even at Bourne and Hollingsworth’s “Bomb Damage” sale. And when clothing rationing went into effect, it would be impossible to save up enough points to buy one. But it still made Polly more cheerful to see that the only colors available were black, brown, and navy blue.
    Mike phoned Monday night, and it was exactly as Eileen had predicted. He’d had difficulty finding a phone where he could speak without being overheard. “Either I’m going to have to find a phone booth that’s closer,” he said, “or we’ll have to conduct our conversations in code.”
    “You’re surrounded by England’s greatest cryptanalysts,” Polly said. “I wouldn’t recommend that.”
    “You’re right, it’ll have to be letters. Does Mrs. Rickett steam open your mail?”
    “I wouldn’t put it past her.”
    “Well, don’t worry. I’ll think of something. I don’t suppose the retrieval team’s answered one of our ads yet?”
    “No. You were supposed to do your Pearl Harbor assignment first, is that right?”
    “Yes, and then the World Trade Center and the Battle of the Bulge, so I could use one L-and-A implant for all three.”
    “And what did they change it to? Were Dunkirk and Pearl Harbor the only two they switched?”
    “No, they switched them all around. After Pearl Harbor they wanted me to do El Alamein and then the Battle of the Bulge—”
    I was right. They put them in chronological order. Polly felt the familiar flutter of panic. But El Alamein’s only seven months after Pearl Harbor, and the Battle of the Bulge is only two and a half years after that. It’s still not as great a length of time between as mine.
    “—followed by the second World Trade Center attack—”
    Which was nearly sixty years after the Battle of the Bulge.
    “—and the beginning of the Pandemic in Salisbury,” Mike said.
    Twenty years later.
    But that didn’t prove anything. The lab might have put his assignments in chronological order because of Pearl Harbor, not the others.
    I need to find out when the Reign of Terror began, Polly thought, and tried to think of who would know. Not Eileen. Polly didn’t want her to begin asking questions. And because Eileen was working in the book department, she couldn’t look it up in a book on the French Revolution.
    Sir Godfrey would no doubt know—he’d almost certainly played Sydney Carton on the stage. But he’d ask questions as well, and he saw far too much as it was.
    The librarian at Holborn, she thought.
    When they got to Notting Hill Gate, she told Eileen she’d forgotten to give Doreen a message and had to go to Piccadilly Circus to tell her. Instead she took the train to Holborn.
    “The Reign of Terror?” the ginger-haired librarian said promptly. “It began in September of 1793.” Four years and two months after the storming of the Bastille.

    Don’t leave it to others.
    Oxford—April 2060
    MR. DUNWORTHY WENT OVER DR. ISHIWAKA’S CALCULATIONS again and then called, “Eddritch, come into my office, please.” When his secretary appeared in the doorway, he said, “I need you to ring up the lab and see why they haven’t sent over that slippage analysis yet.”
    “They did send it, sir,” Eddritch said, and just stood there.
    I should never have let Finch become an historian, Dunworthy thought, thinking longingly of his previous secretary. “Well, then, where is it?”
    “On my desk, sir.”
    “Bring it to me,” Dunworthy said, and when Eddritch came back with the file, he asked, “Has Research telephoned?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “What did they say?”
    “They said they had the information you requested and that you were to ring them back,” Eddritch said. “Would you like me to ring them for you?”
    No, because you would very likely fail to inform me you’d put the call through, Dunworthy thought. “I’ll do it myself,” he said, and rang them up.
    “There were two hundred fatalities that night,” the tech who answered the telephone said. “Twenty-one in the area you asked about. But that figure doesn’t include those who might have been injured on that date and later died of their wounds.”
    Or anyone who was killed days—or weeks—later as a consequence of what they did, Dunworthy thought.
    “Do you want us to attempt to find out about those who suffered eventually fatal injuries?” the tech asked.
    “We’ll see. Give me what you’ve found thus far. You said twenty-one that night?”
    “Yes, sir,” she said. “Six firemen, an ARP warden, a Wren, an officer in the Lancaster Rifles, a WAAC, a seventeen-year-old boy, and two charwomen.”
    “No naval officers?”
    “No, sir. But as I said, this is only the people who died that night.”
    “Have you the exact locations where they were killed?”
    “For some of them. The officer and two of the firemen were killed in Upper Grosvenor Street, and the others fighting a fire in the Minories. The ARP warden was killed in Cheapside. The post was hit.”
    “What about the Wren?”
    “She was killed in Ave Maria Lane.”
    Only a few streets away from St. Paul’s. “Is there a photo of her?”
    “No, not with the death notice. Do you want me to try to find one?”
    “Yes. And I need the names of the fatalities and, if possible, photographs. As soon as you can. When you have it, phone me directly.”
    He gave her the number, rang off, and started through the slippage analysis, afraid that it held more bad news. But although there was a slight increase in the average amount of slippage per drop, it wasn’t as large as Ishiwaka had predicted, and several of the drops were in areas where their opening was highly likely to be observed, which could account for the increase. And there was nothing to indicate a spike.
    But the analysis didn’t include this week’s drops. He told Eddritch to ring him at the lab if Research phoned, and went out Balliol’s gate and over to the Broad.
    As Dunworthy turned up Catte Street, Colin Templer caught up with him. “I’m glad I found you,” he said breathlessly. “That idiot secretary of yours wouldn’t tell me where you were.”
    He should reprove Colin for calling Eddritch an idiot, but there was a certain amount of truth to his assessment. “Why aren’t you in school?” he demanded instead.
    “We had a holiday,” Colin said, and at his look added, “No, truly. You can ring up the school and ask them. So I came up to see you. I’ve an idea for an assignment,” he said, walking beside Dunworthy. “Do you know the land girls?”
    “The land girls?”
    “Yes. In World War II. They were these women who—”
    “I am familiar with the land girls. You’re proposing to pose as a female and enlist in the Women’s Land Army?”
    “No, but the reason they had to have land girls was because the farm laborers had all gone off to the war, and the farmers hired boys as well, so I thought I could say I was fifteen—that way I’d be too young to be called up—and I could observe wartime farm life. You know, food shortages and all that.”
    “And what’s to stop you from enlisting the moment you get there? Or haring off to London to see Polly Churchill?”
    “That’s the last thing I’d do,” Colin said fervently, and Dunworthy wondered what that was all about. Had she laughed at him and hurt his feelings? “And I promise I won’t enlist. I’ll swear to it if you like. Or sign an oath in blood or something.”
    “But I’ve found a farm in Hampshire where there wasn’t a single bomb or V-1 for the entire war. And I’ve researched milking cows and gathering eggs—”
    They’d reached the lab. Dunworthy stopped outside the door. “I am not sending you anywhere until you have passed your examinations, been admitted to Oxford, and completed your undergraduate degree—none of which look likely at this point.”
    “That’s unfair. I rewrote my essay on Dr. Ishiwaka and got high marks on it, even though I still think his theory’s rubbish.”
    And let’s hope you’re right, Dunworthy thought. “Run along,” he said. “I have business to conduct.”
    “I don’t mind waiting.”
    “There’s no point. I do not intend to change my mind. And in case you were hoping to sneak into the drop with me the way you did when I went after Kivrin

    “There’s no point. I do not intend to change my mind. And in case you were hoping to sneak into the drop with me the way you did when I went after Kivrin Engle, I am not here to use the net. I am here to talk to Badri.”
    “Then there’s no need to bar me from the lab, is there?” Colin said, sidling in before Dunworthy could shut the door. “I’ll wait till you’re done and then tell you my other idea. You won’t even know I’m here.”
    “See that I don’t,” Dunworthy said, and started over to Badri, who was at the console.
    “If you’re here about your drop to St. Paul’s,” Badri said, “we just finished calculating the coordinates, so you can go at any time.”
    “Good,” Dunworthy said. “I want to see the slippage for this week’s drops. Is the amount still increasing?”
    “Yes.” Badri called it up on the screen. “But the rate of increase is less than last week.”
    Good, Dunworthy thought. Perhaps it was only a temporary anomaly.
    “I’ve been looking at the individual drops,” Badri said. “The elevated slippage seems to be confined to drops back to World War II, so the increase could be due to the greater incidence of divergence points wars produce. Or to wartime conditions—civilian observers, ARP patrols, that sort of thing.”
    But scores of historians had gone to World War II over the years, and there’d been no increase in the average slippage. “Have all the historians I spoke to you about been canceled or rescheduled?”
    “Yes, sir,” Badri said, and Linna handed him a list.
    “What about Michael Davies?” Dunworthy asked, looking at it.
    “We rescheduled him to do his Dunkirk evacuation observation first. He left”—he consulted the console screen—“four days ago. He’ll be back six to ten days from now.”
    “And the Pearl Harbor drop’s scheduled for when?”
    “The end of May.”
    Good, Dunworthy thought. I’ll have six weeks before I need to make a decision. “Why the uncertainty in when he’ll return? Was the projected slippage high?”
    “No, sir, but his drop’s outside Dover, so it may take him a day or two to make it back there after the end of the evacuation.”
    “We had a dreadful time finding him a drop site,” Linna volunteered. “The only one we could find was five miles from Dover.”
    Dunworthy frowned. Difficulty in finding drop sites was one of the signs Dr. Ishiwaka had predicted. “An abnormal amount of difficulty?”
    “Yes,” Linna said.
    “No,” Badri said, “not considering the large number of people in the area. And the high level of secrecy surrounding the operation.”
    “Any other instances of difficulty finding a drop site?” Dunworthy asked.
    “We had some minor difficulty finding Charles Bowden one in Singapore, but we were finally able to send him through on the British colony’s polo grounds. And we had a good deal of difficulty with Polly Churchill’s, but that was because of your location requirements and the blackout.”
    “Send her to see me as soon as she returns from the Blitz. When is that?”
    “She should be reporting in tomorrow or the day after with the address of the boardinghouse where she’ll be staying.”
    “What? Do you mean to tell me she hasn’t reported in yet?”
    “No, sir, but there’s nothing to worry about,” Badri said. “She may have had difficulty finding a room to let, or she may have decided to wait till she had a job as well. That way she could tell us the name of the department store—”
    “She’s been there a month,” Dunworthy said. “It can’t possibly have taken her that long to find a job. Why wasn’t I told she hadn’t reported in?” He turned accusingly to Colin. “Did you know about this?”
    “I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Colin said. “She hasn’t been there a month. Has she, Badri?”
    “No. She’s only been there two days.”
    “What? Eddritch told me a month ago that she’d left on assignment.”
    “She did, sir, but not for the Blitz,” Linna said. “We were having difficulty finding a drop site for her, so she suggested we send her to one of the other parts of her project first.”
    “And you did? You sent her to the zeppelin attacks on London without obtaining my approval first?”
    “You’d already approved the project, so we thought … But we couldn’t send her to the zeppelins. She hadn’t done her World War I prep yet. We sent her to the third part.”
    “The third part?” Dunworthy thundered. “And then you sent her to the Blitz?”
    “Yes, sir, we—”
    “In spite of the fact that I’d told you to cancel all out-of-order drops?”
    “Out-of-order?” Badri said. “I … you didn’t say that was what you were doing. You only gave us a list—”
    “Of drops which were to be rescheduled so they’d be chronological. Or canceled if that wasn’t possible.”
    “You didn’t say anything about chronology,” Linna said defensively.
    “I … I’d no idea,” Badri stammered. “If we’d known—”
    “Is something wrong?” Colin asked, coming over. “Has something happened to Polly?”
    Dunworthy ignored him. “What do you mean you had no idea?” he said to Badri. “Why else did you think I was rescheduling them? And if Polly Churchill was on assignment, why wasn’t she on the list you gave me?”
    “You asked for a list of every historian in the past,” Linna said, “and she’d already returned.”
    Dunworthy wheeled on Colin. “You knew she’d gone, didn’t you? Why didn’t you tell me?”
    “I thought you knew,” Colin said. “What’s wrong? Why wasn’t she supposed to go to the Blitz?”
    Dunworthy turned back to Badri. “How long will it take to set up the coordinates on Polly’s drop?”
    “Has something happened to Polly?” Colin said again.

    “Has something happened to Polly?” Colin said again.
    “No, because I’m pulling her out of there.”
    “You’re sending a retrieval team after her, sir?” Badri said.
    “No. That will take too long. I’ll go myself. How long?”
    “But you don’t know where she is,” Badri argued. “She’ll be checking in in another day or two. Wouldn’t it be easier to wait till—”
    “I know she’s looking for a job on Oxford Street. How long?”
    “I’d have to change her drop to send mode,” Badri said. “It’s set up for a return drop at the moment. A day or two.”
    “Too long,” Dunworthy said. “I want her out of there now. And I don’t want anything to interfere if she tries to check in. How long to set up a new drop nearby?”
    “A new drop?” Badri said. “I’ve no idea. It took us weeks to find Polly’s. The blackout—”
    “What about the St. Paul’s drop?” Dunworthy asked Badri. “How long to set new temporal coordinates?”
    “An hour perhaps, but you can’t go through to St. Paul’s. John Bartholomew was there in—”
    “Not in early September. He didn’t go through till the twentieth.”
    “But you can’t go through in early September. It’s too dangerous.”
    “St. Paul’s wasn’t bombed till October,” Mr. Dunworthy said.
    “I’m not talking about St. Paul’s. I’m talking about your—”
    “What day did Polly go through?” Dunworthy interrupted.
    “September tenth.”
    “Has something happened to her?” Colin said. “Is she in some sort of trouble?”
    “What time was her drop set for?” Dunworthy asked Badri.
    “Five A.M. The raids on the night of the ninth were over at half past four, and the all clear didn’t go till 6:22.”
    “Set mine for four A.M. That way the fire watch will still be up on the roofs and I’ll have the entire day to find her.”
    “You’re pulling her out the same day she went through?” Colin asked.
    Badri said, “Sir, you can’t go through with a raid in progress. And the tenth is too close to—”
    “I’ll only be there the few hours it takes to find her, and there’s a tube stop just down from the cathedral. I can go straight to Oxford Street from there. And the raids that night were over the East End, not the City.”
    “Tell me why you need to pull her out,” Colin said, his voice rising. “What’s happened?”
    “Nothing’s happened,” Dunworthy said. “I’m merely pulling her out as a precaution.”
    “What do you mean, a precaution? Against what?”
    I knew I shouldn’t have let Colin into the lab, Dunworthy thought. “There’s been a slight increase in the amount of slippage,” he said. “And until we know what’s causing it, I’m not sending historians on multi-part drops, that’s all. I was unaware that Polly had left on hers or I would have stopped her from going. Since she’s already there, I’m bringing her back.”
    “I’m going with you.”
    “Don’t be ridiculous.”
    “No, I must,” Colin said earnestly. “I promised her I’d come rescue her if she was in trouble.”
    “She is not in trouble—”
    “Then why are you pulling her out? And what do you mean, a slight increase? How much?”
    “Only a few days.”
    “Oh,” Colin said, and Dunworthy could see the relief in his face.
    But he was a bright lad; he’d make the connection. Dunworthy needed to get him out of here. “Colin, I need you to go to Props and tell them I need a 1940 identity card,” he said, afraid Colin would balk at leaving, but he was eager to help.
    “What name do you want on the card?” he asked.
    “There’s no time to make up a special one. Have them give you whatever they have on hand.”
    Colin nodded. “You’ll need a ration book, as well, and a shelter assignment card and—”
    “No, I’m only going through for a few hours,” he said. “Just long enough to locate Polly and bring her back.”
    “But you’ll need money for the tube and things. And what about clothes? Should I go to Wardrobe and—”
    I can just imagine what Wardrobe would come up with, Dunworthy thought. “No, I’ll wear what I have on,” he said. A tweed jacket and wool trousers had, thankfully, been wardrobe staples for a century and a half.
    “But you’ll need a gas mask. And a steel helmet,” Colin said. “It’s the Blitz—”
    “I am fully aware of the Blitz’s dangers,” Dunworthy said. “I have been there several times.”
    “Sir?” Badri interrupted. “I think you should send a retrieval team instead of going yourself. It would only take a short time to set one up and a day or two to prep them—”
    “There is no need for a retrieval team.”
    “Then at least someone who hasn’t been to 1940—”
    “You could send me,” Colin said eagerly. “I know all about the Blitz. I helped Polly with her prep—”
    “You are not going anywhere,” Dunworthy said, “except to Props to fetch me an identity card.”
    “But I know when and where all the raids were, and—”
    “Go,” Dunworthy said. “Now.”

    “But … yes, sir,” Colin said reluctantly, and ran out.
    “How long before Linna will have those coordinates set up?” Dunworthy asked Badri.
    “A few minutes. But I really think you should send someone who hasn’t been to 1940 before. You’re clearly worried about the increase in slippage making it impossible to pull people out by their deadlines, which means you shouldn’t—”
    “The increase in slippage at this point is only two days, which would put me through on the twelfth at the latest, and I will be there less than a day. I’ll be in no danger. Linna, do you have those coordinates?” he called over to her.
    “Nearly,” she called back, and Dunworthy took off his watch and began emptying his pockets.
    The door to the lab banged open, and Colin came skidding in, waving a handful of papers. “You’re Edward T. Price,” he said. “You live at eleven Jubilee Place, Chelsea. I brought you two five-pound notes.”
    “And I see you’ve changed out of your school blazer into something Wardrobe fondly imagines young boys were wearing during the Blitz,” Dunworthy said.
    Colin flushed. “I think I should go with you. With two people looking, we can find Polly twice as fast, and I know where every single bomb fell on the tenth.”
    “As do I. Give me my money and identity card.”
    “And here’s your ration book,” Colin said, handing them to him. “You might get hungry. I brought you a pocket torch. To help you see where you’re going.”
    Dunworthy handed it back. “All that will do is get me arrested by the local ARP warden. Pocket torches weren’t allowed in the blackout.”
    “But that’s all the more reason for me to go with you. I can see really well in the dark—”
    “You are not going, Colin.”
    “But what if you’re hit by a bus? That happened a lot in the blackout. Or get into some other sort of trouble?”
    “I will not get into trouble.”
    “You did last time,” Colin said, “and I had to rescue you, remember? What if that happens again?”
    “It won’t.”
    “Mr. Dunworthy?” Linna said from the console. “I have the coordinates if you’re ready.”
    “Yes,” he said, and saw Colin dart a calculating glance at the draped folds of the net and the distance between it and where they were standing. “Thank you, Linna, but I need a few more minutes. Colin, on second thought, I believe you’re right about the torch. If I’m to get Polly out quickly, I can’t afford to sprain an ankle falling off a curb.”
    “Good,” Colin said, holding the torch out to him.
    “No, this one won’t work,” he said. “It’s too modern. And it needs to be fitted with a special blackout hood to eliminate the beam’s being seen from above. Go ask Props if they have one with a hood, and if they haven’t, then paste strips of black paper over the glass. Hurry.”
    “Yes, sir,” Colin said, and dashed out.
    “You have the coordinates ready?” Dunworthy asked Linna as soon as Colin was gone.
    “Yes, sir,” she said. “We can do it as soon as Colin—”
    He went over to the door and locked it. “Send me through.”
    “But I thought—”
    “The last thing I need is a seventeen-year-old tagging along while I’m trying to find a missing historian,” he said, walking over to the net and ducking under its already descending folds. “A seventeen-year-old who, as Badri can attest, has a history of stowing away on journeys to the past.” He centered himself on the grid.
    “Ready,” he said to her.
    “I think you should at least wait until we’ve set up the return drop,” Badri said. “If there’s increased slippage, and you go through later than—”
    “You can set it up after you send me through. Now, Linna.”
    “Yes, sir,” she said. She began typing, and he saw the beginnings of the shimmer.
    “Don’t send anyone else through on assignment till I return. And if Polly comes back through to check in, keep her here.”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “And Colin’s not to be allowed anywhere near the net while I’m gone.”
    The shimmer was beginning to grow and flare, obscuring Linna’s features. “He’s not to come through after me—or Polly—under any circumstances,” he said, but it was too late. The net was already opening.

    Very well met and well come!
    Bletchley—November 1940
    TURING. OH, GOD. HE’D COLLIDED WITH ALAN TURING AND nearly got him killed. “That was Turing?” Mike asked, and grabbed for the wall, his legs suddenly unsteady.
    “Oh, you are hurt!” Elspeth said. “Here, come inside and sit down. And you’re limping!”
    “No, that’s not—” he began, but the girls were already helping him up the steps and inside.
    “People like that should be forbidden from riding bicycles,” Mavis said indignantly. “Let me see your foot.”
    “Did you say Turing?” Mike said. “Alan Turing?”
    “Yes,” Elspeth said. “Do you know him?”
    “No. I knew a guy named Turing in college. A math—”
    “That’s him. They say he’s a genius at maths.”
    “Well, I don’t care if he’s a genius or not,” Mavis said. “I intend to give him a piece of my mind!”
    “No! Don’t say anything to him. I’m all right.”
    “But he may have broken your foot—”
    “No, he didn’t. It was shot off.”
    Their eyes widened, and Elspeth, obviously impressed, said, “Were you at Dunkirk?”
    “Yes. The point is, he didn’t hurt me. I was just shaken up for a minute. There’s no need to say anything to Mr. Turing. I was the one who wasn’t watching where I was going.”
    “You were the one?” Mavis said indignantly. “Turing never pays the slightest attention to where he’s going. He simply plows through pedestrians.”
    Elspeth nodded. “Someone needs to tell him he must be more careful! He could have injured you!”
    And I could have injured him, Mike thought. Or killed him. If Turing had lost control of his bicycle and crashed into a lamppost instead of the curb, or into a brick wall …
    Mavis said, “I’ve a good mind to tell Cap—”
    “No. There’s no need to tell anybody. I’m fine. No harm done. Thank you for picking me up and dusting me off.” He picked up his bag, which Mavis had carried in.
    “Oh, don’t go,” Elspeth said. “We want to hear about Dunkirk.” She perched on the arm of the couch. “Was it exciting? It must have been dangerous.”
    “Not half as dangerous as this place,” he said.
    Elspeth laughed, but not Mavis. She was looking curiously at him. “Why were you at Dunkirk? Aren’t you an American?”
    Oh, Jesus, worse and worse. He hadn’t even been thinking what he was saying, he’d been so upset about nearly killing Turing, and now he’d just blown his cover.
    “Yes,” he admitted.
    “I knew it,” Mavis said smugly, and Elspeth added, “Oh, good, we adore Americans. But what were you doing at Dunkirk?”
    You can’t say you’re a reporter. “A friend of mine had a boat. We thought we’d go over and see if we could lend a hand.”
    “Oh, how thrilling!” Elspeth said. “You’ve no idea how exciting it is to meet someone who’s actually doing something important in the war.”
    “You must stay to tea and tell us all about it,” Mavis said. “I’ll go put the kettle on.”
    “No, don’t.” He stood up. “I’m sure you’re busy, and I’m interrupting—”
    “No, you’re not,” Elspeth said. “We’re off duty tonight.”
    “But it’s getting late, and I have to find a place to stay. I don’t suppose you know of any rooms that are available?”
    “In Bletchley?” Elspeth said, as if he’d asked for an apartment on the moon.
    “I’m afraid everything’s filled up for miles around,” Mavis said. “We’re three to a room here.”
    “Did I hear someone say we’re getting a new roommate?” a female voice called down from upstairs. “Tell her there’s no room.” A young woman came running down the stairs. She was very buxom and very blonde. “We’re crammed in like pilchards as it is—oh, hullo,” she said, coming over to meet Mike. “Are you going to be billeted here? How lovely!”
    “He’s not billeted here, Joan,” Mavis said. “Even if we weren’t full up, Mrs. Braithewaite only lets to girls,” she explained to Mike. “She says it saves complications.”
    I can imagine, Mike thought, looking at Joan.
    “Have you been to the billeting office yet?” Elspeth asked.
    Billeting office? “No,” he said. “I just arrived.”
    “Well, when you go,” Elspeth said, “tell them it’s essential you live close in, or they’ll put you up in Glasgow.”
    “And you must insist on seeing your billet first,” Mavis added. “Some of them are dreadful. WC at the bottom of the garden, and bedbugs!”
    He was still thinking about what they’d said about a billeting office. He should have thought of that. Of course the administration at Bletchley Park would be in charge of assigning lodgings. He’d been thinking he could rent a room and hint to his landlady that he worked out at the Park, but if everyone who worked there got lodgings through the billeting office—
    “He might try the Empire Hotel,” Joan said to Mavis.
    “It’s full up,” Mavis said, and to Mike, “Everything’s full up. Even closets. Our friend Wendy’s sleeping in the pantry at her billet, in among the bottled peaches.”

    “It’s full up,” Mavis said, and to Mike, “Everything’s full up. Even closets. Our friend Wendy’s sleeping in the pantry at her billet, in among the bottled peaches.”
    “The billeting office isn’t open on a Sunday,” Joan said. “We could sneak him upstairs for tonight.”
    “No,” the other two said in unison.
    “What about the Bell?” Elspeth asked.
    Mavis shook her head.
    “Well, maybe they’ll let me sleep in the lobby,” Mike said, and went to the door.
    “You’re certain you can’t stay a bit longer?” Joan asked.
    “Afraid not. Thanks for all your help. Do any of you happen to know—” But before he could ask whether they knew a Gerald Phipps, they began giving him directions to the Bell. “And if it hasn’t any rooms, the Milton’s two streets down—”
    “Watch out for Turing on your way there,” Joan cut in.
    “And for Dilly,” Elspeth said. “He’s even worse about not watching where he’s going, and he has a car! Whenever he comes to a crossing, he speeds up.”
    “Dilly?” Mike said hoarsely.
    “Captain Knox,” Mavis said. “We work for him. He has some sort of mathematical theory that by going faster he’ll hit fewer people, because of being in the crossing a shorter time.”
    My God. First Alan Turing and now Dilly’s girls. He was smack in the middle of Ultra, and he’d only been in Bletchley half an hour. “I refuse to accept lifts from him anymore,” Elspeth was saying. “He forgets he’s driving and takes both hands off the—are you all right? You’re pale as a ghost.”
    “Turing did injure you,” Mavis said. “Come sit down while we phone for the doctor. Elspeth, go put the kettle—”
    “No!” he said. “No. I’m fine. Really.” And he left before they could protest. Or Dilly Knox showed up.
    “But we don’t even know your name!” Mavis called after him.
    Thank God for that at least, he thought, pretending he hadn’t heard her. And thank God he hadn’t asked about Phipps. He hurried off toward the Bell. What next?
    Would there be an Enigma machine in his room?
    If you can find a room, he thought. But surely they’d have saved a hotel room or two for people passing through, billeting or no billeting.
    Wrong. The desk clerk hooted when he asked.
    “You don’t know of anywhere?” Mike asked.
    “In Bletchley?” the clerk said, and turned to the young man who’d just come up to the counter. “Yes, Mr. Welchman?”
    Gordon Welchman? Who’d headed up the team which had broken the German Army and Air Force Enigma codes? Christ, he thought, retreating hastily. At this rate he’d have met all the key players by morning. He headed for the Milton, wondering if he should go back to the station right now and catch the first train going anywhere.
    No, with his luck, Alan Ross would be on it with Menzies sound asleep in the luggage rack. But it didn’t look as if he could stay here either. Neither the Milton nor the Empire had a room, and going back to the Bell was out of the question. “You might try one of the boardinghouses on Albion Street,” the clerk at the Empire said,
    “but I doubt you’ll find anything.”
    He was right. Every house had a No Rooms Available or No Vacancy placard in its front window. May be the reason the Germans never found out about Ultra was because their spies couldn’t find anywhere to stay, Mike thought, crossing the street—after first looking carefully in all directions—and starting down the other side, peering through the dark at the signs: No Rooms, Full Up, Room to Let.
    Room to Let. It took a moment for that to sink in, and then he was up the steps and pounding on the door. A plump, rosy-cheeked old lady opened the door a sliver, smiling. “Yes?”
    “I saw that you have a room. Is it still available?”
    She stopped smiling and folded her arms belligerently across her stomach. “Did the billeting office send you?”
    If he said yes, he might have to produce some sort of official form, and if he said no, she was likely to tell him all her rooms had already been co-opted. “I saw your notice,” he said, pointing at it. The smile came back, and she motioned him to come in.
    “I’m Mrs. Jolsom,” she said. “I didn’t think you looked like one of them.”
    Polly and Eileen won’t be happy about that after all their efforts, he thought, wondering what was wrong with his appearance.
    “I don’t let rooms to that lot at the Park. Unreliable. Coming and going at all hours, scattering papers everywhere, and when you try to tidy up after them, shouting at you not to touch anything, like it was something valuable instead of a lot of papers covered with numbers. Ten and four.”
    For a moment he thought she was talking about the numbers on the papers, then realized she meant the price of the room. “Paid by the week. In advance,” she said, leading him upstairs. “Room only, no board—the rationing, you know. I ask two weeks’ notice if you’re leaving,” she said, leading him up a second flight, “so the room won’t stand empty.”
    She apparently hasn’t heard about Wendy having to sleep in the pantry, Mike thought, following her down a hall. The room was the size of a closet, but it was a room and in Bletchley. “I’ll take it,” he said.
    “I’ve had them go off without a word,” she said indignantly. “Or not come when they said they would. And after I’d saved the room for them. ‘There must have been a miscommunication,’ the billeting officer said. ‘Miscommunication!’ I said. ‘What about this letter? And what about my four weeks’ rent?’ ”
    Mike finally stopped her by handing her the week’s rent and asking if she had a telephone. “No, but there’s one at the pub two streets over,” she said. “Claimed he hadn’t sent the letter, he did. ‘Well, then, that’s the last one you billet here,’ I told him. ‘What about your patriotic duty?’ he says. ‘What about their patriotic duty?’ I says, ‘lazing about here messing with multiplication tables like a lot of schoolboys when they ought to be in the Army?’ ” She looked at Mike suspiciously. “Why aren’t you in the Army?”
    He wasn’t about to blow it now, when this was the only room for miles, and in the one house where he wouldn’t have to worry about running into a famous cryptanalyst on the way to the bathroom. “I was injured at Dunkirk.” He pointed at his foot. “Dive-bomber.”
    “Oh, my,” Mrs. Jolsom said, pressing a hand to her bosom. “Only just think, a hero here under my own roof.” She bustled off to make him tea and a soft-boiled egg. He’d have felt ashamed of himself for passing himself off as a war hero if he hadn’t still been spooked by his encounters with Turing, Dilly’s girls, and Welchman.
    You didn’t do any damage, he told himself. Turing wasn’t hurt, and all he’d done to Dilly’s girls was talk to them. And blow your cover, he thought. But they You didn’t do any damage, he told himself. Turing wasn’t hurt, and all he’d done to Dilly’s girls was talk to them. And blow your cover, he thought. But they hadn’t thought there was anything odd about an American being in Bletchley. And if Dilly’s girls and Turing were this easy to find, then Gerald Phipps should be a snap. And you have a room, and since Mrs. Jolsom’s making you supper, you don’t have to go out, so you can’t get into any more trouble tonight. But he’d have to go out tomorrow to look for Phipps, which meant being in places where he was likely to run into BPers.
    Or maybe not. Instead, he could pretend to be looking for a room to rent. Nobody could be suspicious of that, given the housing situation, and after they’d turned him down, he could say casually, “Oh, by the way, you don’t have a boarder named Gerald Phipps, do you? Sandy-haired guy with spectacles?” And he wouldn’t have to go anywhere near Bletchley Park.
    His plan worked like a charm—except that he didn’t find Phipps. And if he’d really been looking for a room, he wouldn’t have found that either. He’d apparently got the last one in Bletchley. After four days of knocking on doors and asking at every hotel and inn, he was certain Phipps wasn’t living anywhere in the town.
    Which meant he was billeted in one of the surrounding villages, but according to Dilly’s girls, BPers were scattered all over the area. It would take him forever to find Phipps that way. Looking out at Bletchley Park would be much more efficient.
    If he could find it. He doubted if Mrs. Jolsom would tell him, given her enmity against the Park, and he didn’t dare ask a passerby. With his luck it would turn out to be Angus Wilson. Or Winston Churchill.
    But the Park turned out not to be that hard to find. All he had to do was follow the stream of naval officers and professors and pretty girls out of town, along a paved road clogged with bicycles ridden by people who didn’t pay any more attention to where they were going than Turing had.
    Polly’d been right. He didn’t need to get into Bletchley Park to see who worked there. He could watch them all from the cinder-covered driveway that led up to the guarded gate. Beyond it lay long gray-green buildings and a gabled red-brick Victorian mansion. He limped a few feet up the drive and then stopped and knelt, pretending to tie his shoe, though nobody was taking any notice of him. The pretty girls were chattering to one another, and the professors were in another world. The guard paid no attention either. He checked off names on a roster and glanced cursorily at the identity cards people held out to him. Mike had the feeling he could hold out his press pass and get in.
    He finished tying his shoe and stood up. Several men were standing around smoking and apparently waiting for someone. I need to buy some cigarettes, he thought.
    No, a pipe. He could spend a long time filling it, trying to light it, patting his pockets for matches. For now, he glanced impatiently at his watch and scanned the people coming out. He didn’t see Phipps, though there were several sandy-haired, spectacled, tweed-clad men, and he caught a glimpse of two more inside the grounds.
    Let’s hope I don’t have to sneak inside to find him, Mike thought, though if he did, at least it wouldn’t be hard. There was a fence but no barbed wire, and the gate’s bar wasn’t even lowered. It didn’t look at all like a military installation, let alone the site of the most closely guarded secret of the war. It looked like Balliol in midterm.
    The young women walking between the buildings, file folders clasped to their breasts, could be students; the men playing a game on the lawn could be the cricket team.
    He could imagine what the regimented, spit-and-polish Germans would make of this place and its inhabitants. Maybe that was why they’d never figured out that the British had cracked the Enigma code. It wouldn’t have occurred to them that these giggling young women and disheveled daydreamers could be a threat. The Nazis would have had nothing but contempt for Dilly’s girls and the stammering Turing.
    Which was why they’d been defeated. They shouldn’t have underestimated them. And he’d better not underestimate them either. For all he knew, the scruffy professor smoking over by the gate or the blonde dabbing powder on her nose worked for British Intelligence and would shortly knock on his landlady’s door to “ask him a few questions.” In which case he’d better get out of here before he attracted their attention.
    He waited till a staff car pulled up to the gate and the guard leaned in the window to talk to the driver and then casually joined the stream of people walking back to town. Once there, he bought a pipe, tobacco, and a newspaper, went to the lobby of the Milton, looked around to make sure Wilson or Menzies wasn’t there, and sat down in a chair by the window to wait for the four o’clock shift change and look for Gerald.
    When he didn’t see him, he followed two men who looked like cryptanalysts to a pub, ordered a pint of ale, and spent the evening nursing it and observing everyone who came in.
    He did the same thing at a different pub over the next few nights. The first night he pretended to be reading a newspaper, but it was awkward seeing over it, so the next night he folded it open to the crossword and pretended to be working it, like he had in the hospital sunroom at Orpington. That way he could stare thoughtfully into space—as if trying to think of an answer—while scanning the room, though he wasn’t sure it was necessary. No one paid any attention to him. The men either talked in heads-bent-together groups, scribbled busily, or sat with their heads in a book—Haas’s Atomic Theory, Broglie’s Matter and Light, and, in one instance, an Agatha Christie. He’d have to tell Eileen.
    He didn’t run into Turing again—literally or figuratively. Or Welchman. He did see Dilly Knox at the wheel of a car, and the girls hadn’t exaggerated about his bad driving. The two naval officers ahead of him had to leap for the curb. He glimpsed the girls twice but managed to escape both times without their seeing him.
    His only problem (aside from not having found Phipps) was staying in contact with Eileen and Polly. Wednesday night he’d realized he hadn’t told them his address yet and had spent the next two days trying to find a phone where he could talk and not be overheard. He finally went back to the train station—after first watching Dilly’s girls leave for their shift so he wouldn’t run into them—and called from there, but no one answered, and the station was full of people all through the weekend.
    He wasn’t able to get hold of Polly till Monday. He told her where he was living and what he was doing to find Gerald. “Good,” Polly said, and asked him what the original order of his drops had been.
    He told her. “Why?” he asked curiously.
    “I was just trying to remember other historians who might be here,” she said, “or might be Historian X, and I wanted to make certain they weren’t you.”
    “They weren’t,” he said and asked her if the retrieval team had responded to any of their ads, which they hadn’t. He didn’t tell her about Dilly’s girls or Welchman or about colliding with Turing that first night. There hadn’t been any repercussions from that. The accident hadn’t even made Turing mend his ways. On Saturday night he’d overheard a Wren complaining loudly about his having nearly run her down the night before.
    Nobody seemed to worry about being overheard, and listening to them and watching their casual comings and goings, he wondered how the government had managed to keep Ultra’s secret from getting out. New people arrived every day, jamming the already overcrowded town. And the station. He gave up on the idea of calling Polly and Eileen again and sent them a note hidden in the squares of a torn-out newspaper crossword puzzle, instructing them to check the old remote drop in St. John’s Wood and hoping Polly would recognize it was a code, and then went back to trying to find Gerald.
    He made the rounds of the Park gates, the boardinghouses, the hotels, and then went back to sitting in the pubs, though they were so crowded he couldn’t find an empty table. Monday night Mike had to squeeze to the counter to order his pint of ale and then lean against the bar for over an hour, waiting for one where he could sit, pretend to work his crossword, eavesdrop, and watch for Phipps.
    A small knot of men stood in the far corner, talking and laughing, but they were all too tall to be Phipps. At the table next to them sat a bald man, doing calculations on the back of an envelope, and next to him, his back to Mike, was a sandy-haired guy. He was talking to a pretty brunette, and from the annoyed look on her face, he on the back of an envelope, and next to him, his back to Mike, was a sandy-haired guy. He was talking to a pretty brunette, and from the annoyed look on her face, he might very well be telling her an unfunny joke.
    Mike moved his chair, trying to see his face. No luck. He looked down at his crossword for a moment, then up again, tapping his pencil against his nose, waiting for the guy to turn around.
    The men in the corner were leaving, stopping as they went out to talk to the girls at the table between Mike and the sandy-haired guy.
    Get out of the way, Mike thought, leaning so he could see past them.
    “Good Lord,” a man’s voice behind him said, “you’re the last person I expected to see here.”
    Mike looked up, startled. He’d completely forgotten about the possibility that Phipps might recognize him. But it wasn’t Phipps standing over the table. It was Tensing, the officer he’d conspired with in the sunroom of the hospital at Orpington.

    We’ll Meet Again.
    Dulwich—Summer 1944
    “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU’VE REMEMBERED WHERE WE met, Officer Lang?” Mary said, trying not to look as cornered as she felt seeing him standing there in the common room of the ambulance post. “I thought we agreed that line of chat didn’t work.”
    “It’s not a line, Isolde,” he said, and smiled his crooked smile. “I have remembered where we met.”
    Oh, no. Then she had met him—or rather, would meet him—on her next assignment. And now she’d have to pretend she remembered him, too, without knowing how well she’d known him or under what circumstances. And she’d have to hope he hadn’t remembered what her name had been—correction, would be.
    Where’s Fairchild? she thought, looking toward the door. She promised she’d come rescue me.
    “You said you have good news to tell me as well?” she said, stalling.
    “I have indeed.” He bowed formally. “I’m here to deliver my thanks and the thanks of a grateful nation.”
    “The thanks … for what?”
    “For giving me a smashing idea, which I shall tell you all about when I take you to that dinner I owe you, and don’t say you can’t because I’ve already found out from your fellow FANY here that you’re off duty tonight. And if it’s flying bombs you’re worried about, I can assure you there won’t be any more tonight.”
    “But…,” she said, glancing hopefully back at the door. Where was Fairchild?
    “No buts, Isolde. It’s destiny. We’re fated to be together through all time. Not only have I remembered where we met, I also know why you don’t remember.”
    You do? Could she somehow have betrayed her identity, and he knew she was an historian? I should have told Fairchild to come in immediately instead of waiting five minutes.
    “I only just remembered, I forgot to log in,” she said, starting toward the door. “I’ll be back straightaway.” But he grabbed her hand.
    “Wait. You can’t go till I’ve told you about the flying bombs. I’ve found a way to stop them. Remember how I told you the generals were after me to invent a way to shoot them down before they reached their target?”
    “And you thought of one?”
    “I told you, shooting them down doesn’t work because the bomb still goes off.”
    “So you’ve found a way to keep the bomb from going off?” she said, thinking, He can’t have. The RAF was never able to devise a way to disable the V-1s’ bombs in flight.
    “No. I found a way to turn them round and send them back across the Channel. Or at any rate away from the target.”
    “This isn’t the lassoing-it-with-a-rope plan, is it?”
    “No.” He laughed. “This doesn’t require a rope or cannons. All that’s needed is a Spitfire and some expert flying. That’s the beauty of it. All I do is catch up to the V-1 till the Spitfire’s just below it—”
    And edge your wing under the V-1’s fin, she thought, and then angle your plane slightly so the fin tips up and sends the rocket careening off course.
    She had read about the practice of V-1 tipping when she was prepping for this assignment. But it was an incredibly dangerous thing to attempt. The Spitfire’s wing could be crumpled by the heavier metal of the V-1, or the contact could send the Spitfire into a disastrous tailspin. Or, if the Spitfire came up on the V-1 too fast, they could both explode.
    The sickening thought flickered through her mind that this was the reason the net hadn’t prevented her from driving him out of the way of those V-1s. It hadn’t mattered that she’d saved his life because he was going to be killed tipping them.
    “And then we come up under the wing,” he was saying, and demonstrated, bringing one of his hands up under the other, “and tilt it ever so slightly”—he nudged the hand on top—“so that it tips.” The hand on top angled up and then veered off. “The rocket’s got a delicate gyroscopic mechanism. Most of the time we needn’t even touch it.”
    He demonstrated it again, this time without his hands touching, and as she watched him, boyishly intent on explaining how it worked, she had the same feeling she’d had in Whitehall that afternoon, that there was something familiar about him.
    “The slipstream does the work for us,” he said, “and the V-1 goes spiraling down into the Channel, or, if we’re truly lucky, back to France and the launcher it came from, without us so much as laying a finger on it. We’ve downed thirty already this week.”
    And that’s why the number of rockets has been down, she thought. Not because of Intelligence’s misinformation campaign, but because Stephen and his fellow pilots have been playing “Tag, you’re it” with the rockets.
    “—And not a single casualty on the ground,” he was saying happily. “But that’s not the best of it. What I came to tell you—”
    “Triumph!” someone called from the corridor.
    Finally, she thought. “In here!” she called back.
    “Triumph?” Stephen said. “I thought your name was Kent.”
    “They’ve been calling me that since the motorcycle incident,” she explained, wondering why Fairchild hadn’t appeared. “That and DeHavilland and Norton,” she said. “The name of every motorcycle they can think of, in fact. Oh, and also Lawrence of Arabia. Because he crashed his motorcycle, you know.”
    “I quite understand,” he said, grinning. “My nickname at school was Spots. And the name Triumph suits you. Which reminds me, I was going to tell you where we met.”
    Where was Fairchild? “I really must go log in. The Major—” she began, and the door opened.
    But it was only Parrish. “Oh, sorry,” she said when she saw Stephen, “didn’t mean to interrupt. You haven’t got the keys to Bela, have you, DeHavilland?”
    “No,” she said. “I’ll come help you look for them—”
    “No, I wouldn’t dream of dragging you away from such a handsome young man,” Parrish said, smiling flirtatiously at Stephen. “You wouldn’t happen to have a

    “No, I wouldn’t dream of dragging you away from such a handsome young man,” Parrish said, smiling flirtatiously at Stephen. “You wouldn’t happen to have a twin, would you? One who’s fond of jitterbugging?”
    “Sorry,” he said, grinning.
    “Truly. I can help you look—” Mary began.
    “Don’t bother. They’re probably in the despatch room,” Parrish said. “Ta.” And she left, closing the door behind her.
    “Lieutenant Parrish is a very good dancer,” Mary said. “And she’s very much in favor of wartime attachments. You should ask her to go—”
    “It won’t work, you know,” he said. “You can’t get rid of me. Or deny our destiny. And the reason you don’t remember our meeting is because it was in another lifetime.”
    “A … another … lifetime?” she stammered.
    “Yes,” he said, and smiled that heartbreakingly crooked smile. “Far in the distant past. I was a king in Babylon, and you were a Christian slave.”
    And that was a poem by William Ernest Henley. He’s quoting poetry, not talking about time travel, she thought. Thank goodness. She was so relieved she laughed.
    “I’m deadly serious,” he said. “Our souls have been destined to be together throughout history. I told you, we were Tristan and Isolde.” He moved in closer. “We were Pelleas and Melisande, Heloise and Abelard.” He leaned toward her. “Catherine and Heathcliff—”
    “Catherine and Heathcliff are not historical figures, and there weren’t any Christian slaves in Babylon,” she said, slipping neatly away from him. “It was B.C., not A.D.”
    “There, you see,” he said, pointing delightedly at her. “What you did just then, that’s exactly it! That’s what—”
    “Norton!” a voice called from the corridor. “Kent!”
    And there’s Fairchild, she thought wryly, when I no longer need to be rescued. She hadn’t met him on an upcoming assignment, or on any assignment. He was only flirting—and he was so good at it she was almost sorry she’d asked Fairchild to come drag her away.
    Though it was probably just as well. Stephen was entirely too charming, and it was entirely too easy to forget that she was a hundred years too old for him, that they were even more star-crossed than the lovers he’d named. If he’d been from 2060 instead of 1944—
    “Kent!” Fairchild called again. “Mary!”
    “I’d best go see what’s wanted,” she said, and started for the door, but Fairchild had already flung it open.
    “Oh, good, there you are. You’re wanted on the telephone. It’s the hospital. You can take it in the—oh, my goodness!” she shouted, and, astonishingly, shot past Mary and launched herself at Stephen. “Stephen!” she cried, flinging her arms about his neck. “What are you doing here?”
    “Bits and Pieces! Good God!” he said, hugging her and then holding her at arm’s length to look at her. “What am I doing here? What are you doing here?”
    “This is my FANY unit,” Fairchild said. “And I’m not Bits and Pieces. I’m Lieutenant Fairchild.” She saluted smartly. “I drive an ambulance.”
    “An ambulance?” he said. “You can’t possibly. You’re not old enough.”
    “I’m nineteen.”
    “Don’t be ridiculous.”
    “I am. My birthday was last week, wasn’t it, Kent?” she said, looking over at Mary. “Kent, this is Stephen Lang, the pilot I told you about.”
    The person Fairchild had been in love with since she was six, the one she’d said was in love with her as well, only he didn’t know it yet. Oh, God.
    “Our families live next to each other in Surrey,” Fairchild said happily. “We’ve known each other since we were infants.”
    “Since you were an infant,” Stephen said, smiling fondly at her. “The last time I saw you, you were in pigtails.”
    “You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here,” Fairchild said. “I thought you were stationed at Tangmere. Mother said—”
    “I was, and then at Hendon,” he said, looking at Mary. “But I’ve just been transferred to Biggin Hill.”
    “Biggin Hill? What good news! That means you’ll be only a few miles away.”
    And squarely in the heart of Bomb Alley. It was already the most-hit airfield, and when Intelligence’s misinformation made the rockets begin to fall short, it would be even more dangerous. As if tipping V-1s wasn’t dangerous enough.
    “How lovely!” Fairchild was saying. “How did you find out I was here? Did Mother write to you?”
    “No,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I had no idea you were here. I came to see Lieutenant Kent.”
    “Lieutenant Kent? I didn’t know you two knew each other.”
    “I drove him to a meeting in London last month after Talbot wrenched her knee. The Major asked me to substitute. But I had no idea you knew him,” Mary said, thinking, Please believe me.
    “And I had no idea you knew my little sister,” he said.
    “I’m not your sister,” Fairchild said. “And I’m not an infant. I told you, I’m nineteen. I’m all grown up.”
    “You’ll always be sweet little Bits and Pieces to me.” He tousled her hair and smiled at Mary. “I hope you girls are taking good care of this youngster.”
    Oh, worse and worse. “She doesn’t need taking care of,” Mary said. “She’s the best driver in our unit.”
    “Oh, no, she’s not. You are,” he said. “That’s one of the things I came to tell you. Do you remember when I told you to turn down Tottenham Court Road on our way to Whitehall, and you turned the wrong way? Well, it was fortunate you did. A V-1 smashed down in the middle of it not five minutes later.”
    He turned to Fairchild. “She saved my life.” He smiled at Mary. “I told you our meeting was destiny.”
    “Destiny?” Fairchild said, looking stricken.
    “Absolutely not,” Mary cut in before he could ruin things even more completely, “and I fail to see how making a wrong turn constitutes expert driving. And the reason we met was because I couldn’t tell a flying bomb from a motorcycle.”
    She turned to Fairchild. “Did you say there was a trunk call for me? I’d best go take it.” She started for the door. “It was nice seeing you again, Flight Officer Lang.”
    “Wait, you can’t go yet,” Stephen said. “You still haven’t said you’ll go out to dinner with me. Bits, convince her I’m not a bounder.”
    You are a bounder, Mary thought. You’re also an utter fool. Can’t you see the poor child’s in love with you?

    You are a bounder, Mary thought. You’re also an utter fool. Can’t you see the poor child’s in love with you?
    “Tell her what a nice chap I am,” he said to Fairchild. “That I’m entirely trustworthy and upstanding.”
    “He is,” Fairchild said, looking as though she’d been cut to the heart. “Any girl would be lucky to get him.”
    “There, you see? You have my little sister’s endorsement.”
    “Oh, but the two of you must have tons of catching up to do,” Mary said desperately. “Childhood memories and all that. I’d only be in the way. You two go.”
    “I can’t,” Fairchild said, managing somehow to keep her voice natural. “I must go fetch a shipment of medical supplies for the Major.” And Stephen at least had the decency to say, “Can’t you get one of the other girls to go in your place?”
    “No. We’ll do it next time you come. You go, Kent.”
    And if I do, Mary thought, watching her make her escape, she’ll never forgive me. She might not forgive her anyway, but Mary had no intention of making it worse than it already was. “I really must go take that call from HQ,” she said, “and if it’s about what I think it is, I won’t be able to go to dinner either.”
    “Then tomorrow.”
    “I’m on duty, and I told you, I don’t believe in wartime attachments. There must be scores of other girls dying to go out with you.”
    “None I knew in a previous life. The day after tomorrow?”
    “I can’t. I really must take that call.” She started for the door.
    “No, wait,” he said and grabbed her hands. “I haven’t thanked you yet.”
    “I told you, I didn’t save your life. Tottenham Court Road is a very long road, and—”
    “No, not for that. This is about the V-1s.”
    “The V-1s?”
    “Yes. Do you remember how you managed to slip out of my grasp just as I was about to kiss you before Bits and Pieces came in?”
    “About to kiss—”
    “Yes, of course. That was the entire point of all that Babylon rot, don’t you know?” he said, grinning. “And just as I thought it was working, you eluded my grasp, more’s the pity.”
    “I thought you were going to tell me about the V-1s.”
    “I was. I am. You did the same thing that day you drove me. Twice. My line of attack was working splendidly, and then suddenly I found myself totally thrown off course, even though I’d never got near enough to lay a hand on you.”
    “I still don’t know what this has to do with—”
    “Don’t you see?” he said, squeezing her hands. “That was where I got the notion of throwing the V-1s off course. You’re the one who gave me the idea. If it hadn’t been for you, I’d have been blown up by now, trying to shoot them down.”

    We are hanging on by our eyelids.
    London—November 1940
    AFTER POLLY FOUND OUT THAT THE REIGN OF TERROR had been over four years after the storming of the Bastille, she attempted to convince herself that there couldn’t possibly be that much slippage. The most on record for a non-divergence point had been three months and eight days. Someone had had six months’ slippage, and Mr. Dunworthy had overreacted and canceled everyone’s drops, that was all. And the fact that he hadn’t canceled hers proved it.
    But the fear still nagged at her, so much so that she redoubled her efforts to find a way out. She put a new set of ads in the papers and went to Charing Cross to see if there was any spot in the sprawling station where Mr. Dunworthy could have come through on his earlier journeys. There wasn’t. Even the emergency staircase was filled with amorous couples. His drop had to have been somewhere else.
    There was no sign of a younger Mr. Dunworthy either, though she wasn’t certain she’d recognize him if she saw him. The first few times he’d gone to the past, he’d been scarcely older than Colin. She tried to imagine him Colin’s age—lanky, eager, taking the escalator steps two at a time—but she couldn’t manage it, any more than she could imagine Mr. Dunworthy sending them knowingly into danger. Or not coming to get them if he could.
    She wondered suddenly if it was not just an increase in slippage that was keeping him from pulling them out, but the fact that he was already here on a previous assignment and couldn’t come through till after his younger self had returned to Oxford. Which would be when?
    Mike didn’t phone again on Tuesday or Wednesday, or write, which Eileen was convinced was a good sign. “It means he’s found Gerald, and they’re on their way to check his drop,” she said. “You mustn’t worry so. Just when things are in a complete mess, and you can’t see how they can possibly work out, that’s when help arrives.”
    Not always, Polly thought, remembering the thousands of soldiers who hadn’t made it off Dunkirk’s beaches, or the victims who’d died in the rubble before the rescue teams reached them.
    “When I took Theodore to the station on the train,” Eileen was saying, “he grabbed hold of my neck and wouldn’t let go, and the train was leaving. And just as I was about to despair, who should show up but Mr. Goode, the vicar, to rescue me.” She smiled at the memory. “And we’ll be rescued, too. You’ll see. I’m certain we’ll hear from Mike tomorrow. Or from the retrieval team.”
    They heard from Mike, a scrawled note saying, “Arrived safely and am in comfortable lodgings. More later.” There was also a newspaper clipping in the envelope, of a sale on men’s suits at Townsend Brothers.
    “Why did he write that? We already know it. And why did he put the clipping in?” Eileen asked. “Is he saying the jacket and waistcoat we sent him in were the wrong sort of clothes?”
    “I don’t know,” Polly said, turning the clipping over, but the only thing on the back was a filled-in crossword puzzle.
    When he’d phoned, he’d said he was doing crosswords as a cover while he looked for Gerald in pubs. Could he have accidentally stuck it in the envelope along with the note?
    “Oh, Miss O’Reilly,” Miss Laburnum said, coming in from the parlor. “You had another letter in the afternoon post.” She handed it to her.
    “Perhaps it explains this one,” Polly said, but it was from the vicar.
    Eileen went up to their room to read it. Polly stayed in the vestibule, looking at the clipping. Mike had talked about sending a message in code, and she’d told him about the D-Day code words appearing in the Daily Herald puzzle. Could he have hidden some message in the crossword answers?
    She grabbed a pencil, went up to the bathroom, locked the door, and sat down on the edge of the tub to decipher it. I hope the code’s not too complicated, she thought.
    It wasn’t. It wasn’t even a code. He’d simply printed his message in the puzzle’s squares, beginning with 14 Across: NO LUCK YET CHECKING BILLETS DO
    The lab had had a remote drop in St. John’s Wood, which they’d used for a number of years. Apparently Mike thought they might have opened it so they could employ it as an emergency exit, though why it would open if the problem was an increase in slippage, Polly didn’t know. But she wasn’t in a position to leave any stone unturned, so instead of going to meet the retrieval team at Trafalgar Square after work, she took the tube to St. John’s Wood. She didn’t know where the old remote drop was, but she hoped it was in some immediately obvious spot.
    It wasn’t, and she didn’t know of any other London drops earlier historians had used. Except for hers in Hampstead Heath, which she’d last used just before midnight of VE-Day eve. At this point, it didn’t exist yet, but the lab might have reset its coordinates for 1940, so the next morning she put an ad in the Times, telling
    “R.T.” to meet her at St. Paul’s on Sunday.
    Eileen was unexpectedly argumentative about it. “But we already placed one meeting the retrieval team at the National Gallery concert,” she said.
    “You can do that one, and I’ll do St. Paul’s,” Polly said.
    “But I’ve always wanted to see St. Paul’s,” Eileen argued. “Mr. Dunworthy was always talking about it. Why don’t I do it, and you do the concert?”
    Because it’s more difficult faking having been to a concert, Polly thought. And besides, I’m not certain how long this will take.
    “No,” she said. “I know one of the vergers at St. Paul’s—Mr. Humphreys—and he’ll know if any strangers have been in.”
    “I could go with you. The concert isn’t till one.”
    I should have said I was going to Westminster Abbey or something, Polly thought. “But I don’t know when the retrieval team will be there. I forgot to give a time,”
    she said. “I’ll meet you after the concert and we’ll go to Lyons Corner House for tea, and then I’ll take you on a guided tour of St. Paul’s.” And make certain she was gone before Eileen woke up.
    Sunday morning she took the tube to Hampstead Heath and climbed the hill. It was raining, a fine mist, which was good—there wouldn’t be that many people about
    —but she wished she’d brought her umbrella. She hadn’t been able to find it in the dark this morning, and she’d been afraid to switch on the light for fear of waking Eileen and having her insist on coming with her.
    She hurried across the heath and into the trees, hoping she’d recognize the spot. The last time she’d been here, it had been May. Now the trees were russet and brown and heavy with rain.

    No, there was the weeping beech, its golden-leaved branches sweeping the ground. The rain was coming down harder. Good, she thought, pushing the curtain of leaves aside. If anyone catches me, I can say I was taking shelter from the rain.
    She stepped quickly under it, let the concealing leaves fall together behind her, and looked around at the dim, tentlike space. The ground was covered with curling yellow leaves and twigs. A lemonade bottle and a torn paper ice cream horn lay half buried in the leaves, but both were weather-faded.
    The retrieval team hasn’t been here, Polly thought, looking at the undisturbed leaves.
    But the drop might only have been set up for them to return through. She sat down against the beech’s mottled white trunk, checked her watch for the time, and settled in to see if the drop would open.
    It was cold. She pulled her knees up under her skirt and hugged her arms to her chest. The rain wasn’t coming through the leaves, but the leaf- and bark-covered ground was icily damp, its wetness soaking through her coat and skirt.
    And as she sat there, all the things she was worried about began to soak through her, too—her deadline, and Mike, and whether the incident which had destroyed St. George’s and the shops hiding her drop was a discrepancy. She’d assumed the church hadn’t been on Mr. Dunworthy’s forbidden list because she’d intended to stay in the tube shelters, but it hadn’t been in the implant Colin had made for her either.
    Which meant he could have been near her drop when the parachute mine exploded.
    No, he couldn’t, she thought, fighting down sudden nausea. He didn’t put it in the implant because he thought I’d be safely in a tube shelter when it went off.
    And Colin had talked to her about parachute mines. He’d lectured her on the dangers of shrapnel and the blackout, and he was endlessly resourceful. And she knew from experience that he wouldn’t take no for an answer. If anyone could find a way to get them out of here, he could.
    Unless Oxford’s been destroyed, and he’s dead, she thought. Or there was an increase in locational slippage as well, and the net sent him through to Bletchley Park. Or Singapore.
    She sat there as long as she could stand it, and then wrote her name and Mrs. Rickett’s address and phone number on the paper ice cream horn, took an Underground ticket stamped Notting Hill Gate out of her pocket, wrote “Polly Churchill” on it, stuck it under the lemonade bottle, and went to St. Paul’s, even though the retrieval team wouldn’t be there either.
    The journey back into London took forever. There were three separate delays due to air raids, and she was glad she’d refused to trade with Eileen and go to the concert. She didn’t reach St. Paul’s Station till after noon, and it was pouring outside. By the time she made it to the cathedral, she was drenched.
    On the porch lay an order of worship someone had dropped. She picked it up. She could show it to Eileen as proof that she’d spent the entire morning here. The sermon this morning had apparently been on the subject “Seek and Ye Shall Find.”
    If only that were true.
    She shook out her wet, clinging skirts and went inside. The partition in front of the Geometrical Staircase was still up. The fire watch must have decided that preserving the stairway was more important than having access to the west end.
    She walked out into the nave. It was dim and gloomy today, gray instead of golden, and so dark she couldn’t even see the far end of it. And cold. The elderly volunteer selling guidebooks at the desk had her coat on.
    A guidebook was a good idea. She could pretend to be reading it while she looked for the retrieval team. She went over to the desk.
    The volunteer was helping a middle-aged woman choose a postcard like the ones Mr. Humphreys had shown her. “This one of the Wellington Monument is very nice,” she said. “It shows Truth Plucking Out the Tongue of Falsehood.”
    “You haven’t any of the High Altar?” the woman asked.
    “I’m afraid not. They went very quickly.”
    “Of course,” the woman said, shaking her head, “such a shame,” and began browsing through the rack of postcards again. “Have you any of the Tijou gates?”
    They’ve been removed for safekeeping, Polly thought, blowing on her numb hands and wishing the woman would make up her mind. It was even colder in here than it had been on Hampstead Heath, and there was an icy draft from somewhere.
    She looked up. Two of the gallery’s stained-glass windows had been blown out, and fairly recently. No attempt had been made to cover them, and jagged edges of red and blue and gold still lined the frames. A bomb must have exploded near the cathedral, and the blast had broken them.
    “What about The Light of the World?” the woman was asking. “Have you any postcards of it?”
    “No, but we’ve a lovely lithograph,” the volunteer said, indicating it on its stand. “It’s sixpence.”
    Polly looked at the print. Its color was slightly bluer than the painting, and Christ looked as chilled as she was, his face pinched with cold.
    It’s too bad that lantern he’s holding isn’t real, she thought, gazing at its warm glow. Mr. Humphreys was right about seeing something new each time one looked at it. She hadn’t noticed before that the door Christ was about to knock on was medieval. Neither it nor the lantern he was carrying could possibly have existed in 33
    He must be a time traveler like us, Polly thought. And now he’s trying to get back home, and his drop won’t open either.
    The woman had finally made up her mind and paid. Polly stepped up to buy her guidebook. “Three pence,” the volunteer said, and Polly reached into her purse for the coins, but her hands were so stiff with cold, she dropped them. They made an unholy, echoing clatter on the marble floor.
    Well, thought Polly, if the retrieval team is here, this is one way to get their attention, but no one turned around.
    “Sorry,” she said, gathering up the coins and paying for the guidebook.
    The volunteer handed it to her. “I’m afraid the Crypt and the choir are closed today.”
    The choir? Polly thought, wondering why, but asking would mean continuing to stand there in the draft from the windows.
    She thanked the volunteer and walked up the nave. No one approached her, and she didn’t see anyone who seemed to be there to meet someone. Several people knelt praying in the middle of the nave. Two Wrens stood in front of the bricked-up Wellington Monument, looking puzzledly up at it, and a pair of soldiers stood a few feet away, looking at the Wrens.
    Just past the next pillar, a young woman stood, wearing a pair of open-toed shoes that looked like one of Wardrobe’s bright ideas for an icy 1940 November and gazing around as though searching for someone. But before Polly could make her way around the chairs and across the nave to her, a member of the fire watch came up to the woman, and it was obvious from his smile, and hers, that they knew each other.
    So clearly not the retrieval team, Polly thought. She turned to go see if anyone was in the transept. And nearly collided with a beaming Mr. Humphreys.

    So clearly not the retrieval team, Polly thought. She turned to go see if anyone was in the transept. And nearly collided with a beaming Mr. Humphreys.
    “I thought you’d come when you heard about our incident,” he said. “We’ve had any number of people come to see the damage.”
    “Yes, it’s dreadful about the windows,” Polly said.
    “It is,” he agreed, looking back at them. “They should have been taken to Wales for safekeeping along with the other treasures. Still, it may turn out to have been a blessing in disguise. Sir Christopher Wren designed St. Paul’s to have clear panes of glass in the windows, and now there is a good chance he will see his dream realized.”
    He would. At the end of the Blitz, there’d only be one intact window left in the entire cathedral, and that would be broken in 1944 by a V-1 that had exploded nearby, and all the replacement windows would be of clear glass.
    “In the case of the altar, however,” Mr. Humphreys went on, “I’m afraid it’s another matter.”
    The altar?
    “Luckily, the bomb damage was confined to it and the choir.”
    The choir. That’s why the volunteer at the desk had said it was closed today.
    Mr. Humphreys walked across the space under the dome and to the choir. The entrance was blocked off with a sawhorse. He moved it aside and led Polly through.
    “And the bomb went through to the Crypt, unfortunately just at the spot where our fire watch sleeps …”
    She wasn’t listening. She was staring at the choir. And the destruction beyond.
    Where the altar had been was a tumbled heap of timbers and shattered stone. Polly looked up. There was a gigantic jagged hole in the ceiling. A gray tarpaulin half covered it, water dripping from its edges onto a rickety-looking scaffold beneath.
    But St. Paul’s wasn’t hit, she thought, staring unseeing at the gaping hole, at the rubble. It survived the war.
    “When did this happen?” she demanded.
    “The morning of October tenth, just as we were making one last round of the roofs. I was—” he said, and must have seen her face. “Oh, I am sorry. I thought from what you said that you knew. I should have prepared you. It gives one a shock, I know, seeing it for the first time.”
    Mr. Dunworthy hadn’t said a word about a bomb hitting the altar. He’d spoken of the UXB and the incendiaries on the twenty-ninth of December, but nothing about an HE on October tenth. “The altar was entirely destroyed, and these two windows were broken,” Mr. Humphreys explained.
    “And the windows in the nave,” Polly said. It hadn’t been blast from a bomb the next street over which had broken them. It had been this bomb. Which Mr.
    Dunworthy had never mentioned.
    “Yes. The bomb brought down more of the lower courses there.” Mr. Humphreys pointed up at the edges of the hole. “Which hit the reredos. You can see where it’s chipped, and where St. Michael’s nose was broken off.”
    He went on, pointing out the damage, but she could scarcely hear him over the thudding of her heart. What if the reason Mr. Dunworthy hadn’t told her about it was because it hadn’t happened? Till now.
    She’d persuaded herself there weren’t any discrepancies, that the problem was increased slippage. Which was frightening enough. But this was even worse.
    This is the proof that we’ve altered events, she thought.
    “How bad is the damage to the structure?” she asked, afraid of the answer.
    “Dean Matthews is hopeful the underlying supports weren’t cracked,” Mr. Humphreys said worriedly, “but we won’t know till the engineers have completed their examination. The explosion lifted the roof off from end to end, and when it came down it may have damaged the supporting pillars.”
    In which case the blast from the bombs falling all around the cathedral on the twenty-ninth might bring the weakened pillars down, and St. Paul’s with it. And what would that do to civilian morale? St. Paul’s had been the heart of London. The photo of her dome standing firm above the fire and smoke had lifted the contemps’
    spirits and hardened their resolve for the remaining long, dark months of the Blitz. What would its destruction do to them? And to the outcome of the war?
    “We were actually very lucky. It could have been far worse. The bomb struck the crown of the transverse arch and detonated in the space between the roofs. If it had hit farther down the apse or in the choir, or if it had fallen on through the roof before it exploded, the damage would have been far greater.”
    But this much damage may well be enough to alter the course of the war. I must write to Mike, she thought. He’s got to get out of Bletchley Park.
    “The organ case was badly damaged,” Mr. Humphreys was saying. “Luckily, the pipes had been taken down to the Crypt for safekeeping—”
    “I must go,” Polly said. “Thank you for showing me the—”
    “Oh, but I haven’t shown you what the bomb did to the choir. Luckily, these pillars protected the stalls from—”
    “Mr. Humphreys!” someone called. It was the firewatcher who’d been talking to the young woman with the open-toed shoes. He pushed past the barricade and came up to them. “Sorry to interrupt,” he said, nodding to Polly, “but we need the duty roster, and Mr. Allen said you had it.”
    “You’re busy,” Polly said, taking advantage of the interruption. “I mustn’t keep you. Goodbye.” She walked quickly away.
    “I gave it to Mr. Langby,” she heard Mr. Humphreys say as she squeezed past the barricade.
    Polly hurried down the nave and out of the cathedral. It had stopped raining, but she scarcely noticed, she was so intent on getting home and writing to Mike.
    I hope Eileen’s not there, she thought, and only then remembered she’d promised to meet her.
    She glanced at her watch to see if she had time to go home, write the letter, and come back, but it was after two. The concert would be nearly over. And if I’m not there, she’ll know something’s wrong.
    And she might know if it’s truly a discrepancy or not, Polly thought. She said Mr. Dunworthy spoke to her about St. Paul’s. He may have told her about the altar’s being hit. If it was hit.
    But it could easily have been hit without my knowing about it, Polly tried to persuade herself. The tenth of October would have been when she was preoccupied with Marjorie, not with reading newspapers, and before she’d gone to the morgue to look for her own death notice.
    Or the bombing might not have been in the papers, given St. Paul’s vital importance to the war, she thought, heading for the tube station. They wouldn’t have wanted the Germans to know about it.
    She reached Trafalgar Square just as the concert was letting out. Concertgoers were streaming out the doors and onto the porch where she’d seen Paige standing on VE-Day eve, buttoning coats and pulling on gloves, holding their hands out to see if it was raining, opening umbrellas.
    Polly looked for Eileen. She was standing off to one side. Her face looked drawn and worried, and she’d wrapped her black coat tightly about her. The National Polly looked for Eileen. She was standing off to one side. Her face looked drawn and worried, and she’d wrapped her black coat tightly about her. The National Gallery must have been as frigid as St. Paul’s.
    “Eileen!” Polly called, and hurried across the wet square, the pigeons scattering before her, flying up to perch on the lions at the base of the monument.
    Eileen saw her and raised her hand in recognition, but she didn’t wave. Or smile. Polly glanced at her watch. It wasn’t that late, and the concert had obviously just let out. And Eileen was always so cheerful and optimistic. Some of Polly’s anxiety these last few weeks must have infected her.
    Perhaps I shouldn’t say anything about St. Paul’s, she thought. It will only make things worse.
    But Polly had to know. And there was no one else to ask. She ran up the steps and over to Eileen. “I need to ask you something,” she said urgently. “Was St. Paul’s
    But Eileen cut her off. “The retrieval team didn’t come to the concert,” she said. “Did you find them?”
    “No, there was no one at St. Paul’s.”
    “No one?” Eileen said, and there was an edge to her voice. Was she angry at her for insisting she go to the concert? If she was, it couldn’t be helped. There were more important matters at hand.
    “No historians at all?” Eileen persisted.
    “No, and I was there from nine o’clock on. Eileen, do you know if St. Paul’s was hit by any HEs during the Blitz?”
    She looked surprised. “Hit by HEs?”
    “Yes. Not incendiaries, high-explosive bombs. Did Mr. Dunworthy say anything about its being hit?”
    “Yes,” Eileen said. “But you—”
    “Did he say when and which part of the cathedral?”
    “I don’t know all the dates. A UXB landed under the—”
    “I know about the UXB. And the twenty-ninth.”
    “And the altar was hit on October tenth.”
    Thank God, Polly thought. It was supposed to have been hit.
    Eileen was frowning. “If you were at St. Paul’s this morning, then you saw the damage, didn’t you?”
    Oh, no. In her anxiety about the bombing, she’d totally forgotten Eileen knew nothing about her and Mike’s fears that they’d altered events. “Yes, I mean, I did see it,” she stammered, “but I didn’t know … Mr. Dunworthy had told me all about the UXB and the incendiaries, but not about the altar, and when I saw it, I—”
    “Thought it might have happened this morning?”
    This morning? What did that mean? But at least Eileen hadn’t guessed the real reason she’d asked all these questions. “No, last night,” Polly said. “And there was so much damage, it looked like the entire thing could collapse any minute, and even though I knew St. Paul’s had survived, I thought … I mean, I wasn’t thinking. It was such a shock, seeing it. I hadn’t realized St. Paul’s had ever been hit by an HE.”
    “Two,” Eileen said.
    Two? Mr. Humphreys had said one.
    “The other one was in the transept,” Eileen said. “I don’t know when.”
    “The north transept?” Polly asked, thinking irrelevantly of the memorial to Captain Faulknor. Mr. Humphreys would be so upset if that was destroyed.
    “I don’t know which transept. Mr. Bartholomew didn’t say.”
    Mr. Bartholomew? Who was Mr. Bartholomew? Had someone here at the concert told her about the bombing of the altar? If so, then it could still be a discrepancy.
    “Mr. Bartholomew?” Polly asked.
    “Yes, John Bartholomew. He gave a lecture about it when I was a first-year.”
    Oh, thank goodness, it was someone from Oxford. “He’s a professor at Balliol?”
    “No, an historian. He gave a lecture about his experiences on the St. Paul’s fire watch during the Blitz.”
    “He’s here?” Polly grabbed Eileen’s arms. “Why didn’t you say something?”
    “No, he’s not here now. He was here years ago.”
    “In the Blitz. In 1940,” Polly said, and when Eileen nodded, “It doesn’t matter when he was here Oxford time. This is time travel. If he was here in 1940, he’s still here now.”
    “Oh!” Eileen clapped her hand to her mouth. “I didn’t even think of that! Is that why you—?”
    “How could you not think of it?” Polly burst out. “Mike asked us to try to think of any past historians who might be here,” she said, but even as she said it, she thought, That was that day he came to Townsend Brothers, before he left for Beachy Head, and Eileen wasn’t there. And immediately after that, all their attention had turned to Bletchley Park.
    “Mike never said a word to me about past historians,” Eileen said defensively. “How—?”
    “It doesn’t matter. Now that we know he’s here—”
    “But he’s not. He was injured when the bomb fell on the altar and went back to Oxford.”
    “How long after the bombing?”
    “The next day.”
    Which meant he’d gone back two weeks before Mike had found her and the two of them had found Eileen.
    “Oh, if I’d only realized,” Eileen lamented.
    “It wouldn’t have made any difference,” Polly said, sorry she’d upset her. “By the time we found one another and realized there was something wrong with our drops, it was already too late. He was already gone. You’re certain he went back on the eleventh?”
    “Yes. I don’t remember very much about the lecture because it was on 1940, and the only part of World War III wanted to go to at that point was VE-Day—”
    So you didn’t pay attention, just as you didn’t pay attention to Gerald, Polly thought bitterly. But that was unfair. Eileen could scarcely be expected to know that So you didn’t pay attention, just as you didn’t pay attention to Gerald, Polly thought bitterly. But that was unfair. Eileen could scarcely be expected to know that three years later the details of a first-year lecture would prove to be vitally important.
    “—but I do remember Mr. Bartholomew talking about going back the morning after St. Paul’s was attacked,” Eileen went on. “Because I assumed it was because he was injured and needed medical attention.”
    Like Mike, Polly thought. Only no one had come to pull him out. “I don’t suppose he said where his drop was, did he?”
    “No. But if he’s gone back, his drop wouldn’t be working now, would it?”
    It might, Polly thought, but she couldn’t tell Eileen that or she might begin questioning Polly about her earlier assignments. Might his drop have been in St. Paul’s?
    No, not with people there all day and the fire watch there at night. She wondered suddenly if John Bartholomew had been in the cathedral that first day she’d gone there. He might very well have been that firewatcher she’d seen coming on duty as she left. Or one of the men out by the UXB.
    If I’d known he was there, I could have gone back to St. Paul’s and told him I was in trouble as soon as I found out my drop wouldn’t open, she thought, and he could have got word to Mr. Dunworthy …
    “Would it?” Eileen was asking. “Still be working? Mr. Bartholomew’s drop? I thought drops shut down when the historian returned and the assignment was over.”
    “They do,” Polly said. Standing here was only going to get her into trouble. “It’s starting to rain again. We don’t want to get drenched.”
    But Eileen made no move to leave the shelter of the porch. “You still haven’t told me about St. Paul’s. Nobody came in all morning who might have been the retrieval team?”
    “No, there was scarcely anyone there at all, not even for the morning service.”
    “The morning service?”
    Polly nodded, glad she’d picked up that order of worship. “The place was almost completely deserted. Let’s go before it gets any worse.”
    Eileen still didn’t budge. “You needn’t protect me, you know. I know this is my first assignment, but that’s no reason for you and Mike to treat me like a child. I know how much trouble we’re in—”
    No, you don’t, Polly thought. You have no idea.
    “—and I know how dangerous it is here. You needn’t keep things from me.”
    “No one’s keeping anything from you,” Polly said. “If this is about our not telling you about the historians who were here before, I intended to, but then you remembered Gerald was at Bletchley Park, and I didn’t think we’d need to find anyone else—”
    “Then why have we been putting all those personal ads in the paper?” Eileen asked belligerently. “Why did you send me to the concert today and go to St. Paul’s?”
    “As backup. In case Mike can’t find Gerald. Come along—”
    Eileen shrugged off her hand. “Has something happened to Mike?”
    “To Mike?”
    “Yes. We haven’t heard from him in days.”
    “No, nothing’s happened to Mike. He very likely doesn’t want to communicate any more than necessary so as not to arouse suspicions.”
    “And you haven’t been in touch with him? You didn’t go meet him today?”
    “Meet him?” Polly said, surprised. Was that why Eileen had been so upset since she got here? Because she thought Mike had returned and the two of them were meeting secretly?
    “Yes, meeting him. Was that clipping Mike sent a signal the two of you’d arranged for you to go meet him?”
    “No, of course not,” Polly said, and Eileen must have heard the bewilderment in her voice because she looked relieved. “Is that why you think I went to St. Paul’s, to meet Mike? I didn’t. I haven’t seen Mike since he said goodbye at the station weeks ago. I went to St. Paul’s to see if the retrieval team showed up in answer to our ad, that’s all. And I nearly froze to death. I had to sit through an absolutely interminable sermon on the subject of ‘Seek and Ye Shall Find.’ ”
    Eileen stiffened. “ ‘Seek and Ye Shall Find’?”
    “Yes. It wasn’t nearly as good as the one your vicar gave that day I went to Backbury. And it was twice as long. You should be glad you didn’t come with me.
    We’ll go to St. Paul’s another day, when it’s warmer. Now come along. You’ll get soaked.” She took Eileen’s arm and propelled her across the wet square. “We’ll have a nice tea, and no cottage pie. Do you know, I think Mrs. Rickett makes hers from actual cottages.”
    Eileen didn’t even crack a smile. “I don’t want tea,” she said, hugging her arms to herself against the cold. “I want to go home.”

    Oh, you’ve come to join us? Good. Have you a pencil? We’re cracking ciphers.
    Bletchley—December 1940
    MIKE STARED AT TENSING, STUNNED. “THIS IS THE CHAP I was telling you about, Ferguson,” Tensing said. “The one who served as lookout for me when I was in hospital.”
    “The American?” his companion said.
    Christ, if he’d gone ahead with his plan to pose as an Englishman …
    “Yes,” Tensing said. “I’d still be lying in that wretched hospital bed in Orpington if it weren’t for his unique talent for deception.”
    “It’s a distinct pleasure to meet you, Mr. Davis,” Ferguson said, shaking Mike’s hand and then turning back to Tensing. “I do hate to hurry you, but we really should be going.”
    Thank God he can’t stay and ask me what I’m doing here, Mike thought, because he’s obviously connected to Bletchley Park. Mike suddenly remembered Sister Carmody saying that Tensing worked at the War Office. He should have realized he was in Intelligence.
    “No, we’ve enough time,” Tensing said. “You go settle the bill while I catch up with Davis. This is lucky, running into you! I’m just on my way to London. I can’t believe you’re here in Bletchley, of all places. When did you get out of hospital?”
    “September. Let me get you a chair,” Mike said, to stall.
    “That’s all right, I’ll get it,” Tensing said, waving him back down and looking around for a vacant chair. “Hang on.”
    Hang is exactly what I’ll do if I don’t come up with a plausible reason for being here, Mike thought. “I’m here on special assignment” was out of the question.
    Should I say I’m visiting a friend?
    Tensing was back with a chair. “Mavis told me there was an American here,” he said, sitting down, “but I never imagined it was you. I understand you had an unfortunate encounter with a bicycle. I must warn you, this place has some very bad drivers. But you still haven’t told me what brings you here. It’s not an assignment for your newspaper, I hope. Bletchley’s deadly dull, I’m afraid.”
    “I’m finding that out. No, actually, I’m here about my foot. I came to see Dr. Pritchard,” he said, calling up the name of the doctor the old ladies on the train had said had a clinic in Newport Pagnell. “He has a clinic in Leighton Buzzard. He’s supposed to be an expert at reattaching tendons. I’m hoping he can fix me up enough to get back in the war.”
    “A sentiment with which I can completely sympathize,” Tensing said. “I thought I’d go mad in hospital, listening to the bad news on the wireless day after day and not being able to do a damned thing about it.” He looked down at Mike’s newspaper. “Still interested in crosswords, I see.”
    Mike shrugged. “It passes the time. As you say, Bletchley isn’t particularly exciting.”
    Tensing nodded. “It’s a good deal like the sunroom. All that’s wanted is a potted palm and Colonel Walton, rattling his Times and harrumphing.” He tapped the crossword. “You were quite good at these, I recall.”
    “As I recall, I had help.”
    “Still, though, most Americans find our crosswords completely unintelligible.”
    His tone had changed. Did I say something to give myself away? Mike wondered. What? He’d purposely said Dr. Pritchard was at Leighton Buzzard instead of Newport Pagnell to make it harder for Tensing to track the doctor down if he checked up on Mike’s story. Had Tensing by some horrible coincidence gone to see Dr.
    Pritchard, too?
    No, Tensing had hurt his back, not his foot. But something had made him suspicious.
    Could it be the crossword puzzle? Mike wondered, remembering the story Polly’d told him about D-Day and the suspicious clues. Could Tensing suspect him of sending messages to the Germans?
    But he was solving a crossword, not constructing one. And Tensing had seen him doing the same thing countless times in the hospital.
    Ferguson was working his way back toward them between the tables. Good, this conversation couldn’t end too soon. “All set,” Ferguson said.
    “In a moment,” Tensing said over his shoulder, and then to Mike, “Were you serious? About wanting to get into the war?”
    I’m already in it, Mike thought, and can’t get out. “Yes.”
    “How long will you be here seeing this doctor—what was his name?”
    “Pritchard,” Mike said. “I’m not certain. It all depends on what he says. He thinks I may have to have surgery.”
    “But you’ll be here for a week at the least?”
    So you can check and see whether I’ve been to see Dr. Pritchard, or if the Omaha Observer exists? “Yes, I have another full month of treatments.”
    “Good. I must go down to London for three or four days, but when I get back, there’s something I want to have a chat with you about. Where are you staying?”
    “I haven’t found a room yet. Every place I’ve tried so far is full.”
    “So you’re at the Bell?” Tensing said and thankfully didn’t wait for an answer. “Is this pub where you take your meals?”
    Not after tonight. “Usually, unless the doctor’s treatments go too long.”
    “Good. I’ll see you when I return.” Tensing stood up. “It’s odd your happening to turn up here. Almost as if it was meant.” He turned to Ferguson. “Come on, let’s catch that train,” he said, and they left.
    What the hell had just happened? Was Tensing suspicious, or did he just want to reminisce about their time together in the hospital? And if he was suspicious, what had given Mike away?
    I need to talk to Polly, he thought, but the only secure phone was at the station, and Tensing and Ferguson were on their way there. If they missed their train, he’d run smack into them.
    Besides, Polly and Eileen wouldn’t be home. They’d be at the shelter.
    He waited till the pub closed, then walked over to the station and called, hoping the all clear might have gone early, but it apparently hadn’t. They weren’t there.

    He waited till the pub closed, then walked over to the station and called, hoping the all clear might have gone early, but it apparently hadn’t. They weren’t there.
    They weren’t there the next morning either. Were there raids in London this week? He should have asked Polly. If there were, it could take all week to get them.
    He went over to the Bell and, after making sure Welchman wasn’t in the lobby, bought a paper, tore out its crossword, wrote “URGENT WILL CALL WED
    NITE” in it, mailed it, and then walked out to the Park. He didn’t find Gerald, but on the way back he overheard a conversation between two Wrens. “Do you know anything about the new man in Hut Eight?” one asked.
    “Yes,” the other Wren said disgustedly. “His name’s Phillips. He’s billeted in Stoke Hammond, and you can have him. He’s a dreadful stick.”
    The “dreadful stick” part definitely sounded like Phipps, and Phillips would be a natural cover name for him. Mike took the bus to Stoke Hammond and spent the rest of the day and half of Wednesday pretending to look for a room there and asking, “You don’t happen to have a lodger named Phillips, do you?”
    On the tenth try Wednesday, the landlady said, “No, a young man by that name came looking for a room, Monday it was. I sent him to Mursley.”
    Mursley was six miles farther on. By the time Mike had caught the bus there, tried half a dozen places without success before he found a woman who said she remembered someone named Phillips and that she’d sent him over to Little Howard, and Mike had come back to Bletchley, it was nearly seven. He took off immediately for the train station to call Polly.
    And ran straight into Dilly’s girls. “Hullo!” Elspeth said happily. “We’d been wondering what happened to you!”
    “We’ve looked for you every day at the Park,” Joan said.
    “This is the American we were telling you about, Wendy,” Mavis said to the fourth girl. “The one Turing nearly killed.”
    “The handsome one,” Wendy—who looked none the worse for sleeping in the larder—said, batting her eyes at him. “I’ve been dying to meet you!”
    “I saw him first,” Joan said.
    “I picked him up after Turing ran him down,” Elspeth said, linking her arm possessively in his.
    “Girls, girls, this is no time to be greedy,” Mavis said, taking his other arm. “In wartime we must share and share alike.” How the hell was he going to get away from them? He couldn’t even get a word in edgewise. “Did the billeting officer find you a place to stay?” Mavis asked him.
    “Of course he hasn’t,” Wendy said bitterly. “I’ve been after him for weeks. There hasn’t been a vacancy anywhere for months.”
    “We’ve been out looking for a room for Wendy,” Elspeth explained.
    “Not only does she have to sleep among the bottled peaches,” Mavis said, “but now the billeting officer’s assigned her two roommates.”
    “We heard a rumor there was a vacancy on Albion Street,” Wendy told him, “but when we got there it was already taken.” She sighed. “I should have known it was too good to be true.”
    “And now you’ve got to come buy all of us a drink to cheer us up,” Joan said.
    “I’d love to, but I can’t. I’m meeting someone—”
    “I knew it,” Elspeth said morosely.
    “Is she pretty?” Joan asked.
    “Not a girl, an old friend,” Mike said.
    “Well, then, Friday,” Mavis said.
    “Friday,” he said, “and I promise I’ll let you know if I hear of any vacant rooms,” and was finally able to escape, but it was nearly eight. Please, please, let Polly still be there, he thought, hobbling to the station.
    Eileen answered. “Have you found Gerald?” she asked eagerly, and there was a terrific crashing sound on her end.
    “What was that?” Mike asked.
    “An HE. We’re in the middle of a raid.”
    Of course. Jesus, could their luck get any worse?
    “Did you?” Eileen persisted. “Find Gerald?”
    “Not yet. Is Polly there? Put her on.”
    There was a loud whistle and another crash, and Polly came on the line. “What’s happened?” she asked.
    “I ran into this guy I was in the hospital with. Tensing, his name is.”
    “And he knows you’re an American, not an Englishman. Did he blow your cover?”
    “No. I mean, I’d decided not to tell people I was an Englishman, after all, which was a good thing. Anyway, I’m pretty sure he works at Bletchley Park. I told him I was here to see a doctor about my foot, and he bought that. Anyway,” he said, shouting over the racket on Polly’s end—the anti-aircraft guns must have started up
    —“he saw me in a pub, and we talked for a few minutes, and then he asked me if I was still interested in doing crossword puzzles.”
    “In what? I can’t hear you. It’s rather noisy here.”
    “Crossword puzzles!” he shouted. “I’d done them in the hospital, and I was pretending to work on one while I sat there looking for Phipps. He asked me if I was still interested in doing them, and when I said yes, he asked me how long I’d be in Bletchley, that he had to go to London for a few days but that he wanted to talk to me when he got back.”
    “Did he say anything else? About the crossword puzzles?”
    “Yeah, he said he remembered I was good at them and that most Americans weren’t able to solve English crosswords. Do you think they could already be looking for spy messages in crosswords, like the D-Day thing you told me about?”
    “No. He’s going to offer you a job at Bletchley Park. Remember how I told you BP recruited anyone they thought might be good at decoding—mathematicians and Egyptologists and chess players? Well, they recruited people who were good at crosswords, too. They even had the Daily Herald sponsor a crossword contest, and then offered jobs at the Park to all the winners. But they were still short of decoders, and they were always looking for potential prospects. When did you say he was coming back from London?”
    “I’m not sure. Tomorrow or the next day.”
    “You need to get out of there tonight, then.”
    “Hang on. Maybe I should take the job. If Gerald’s staying at Bletchley Park—”

    “Hang on. Maybe I should take the job. If Gerald’s staying at Bletchley Park—”
    “No, that’s a dreadful idea. You’d never get out. They couldn’t afford to let people leave because of the secrets they knew, so anyone who worked at BP was there for the duration. You need to get out of there tonight.”
    “But I just got a lead on Phipps.”
    “Eileen will have to follow it up for you. Is there a train out tonight? You probably won’t be able to get to London—the raids are too bad—but you can at least get out of Bletchley.”
    “But I don’t see what all the hurry is. Why can’t I just turn the job down, now that I know what he’s going to ask? I already told him I was having treatments on my foot. I could tell him I have to have surgery—”
    “That won’t be enough of an excuse. It’s a desk job, and remember, Dilly Knox has a limp.”
    “Well, then, I just tell him I’m not interested.”
    “An American reporter who smuggled his way aboard a boat so he could get to Dunkirk isn’t interested in being involved in the most exciting espionage work of the war? He won’t buy it.”
    She was right. Someone like Tensing, who’d been so determined to return to action that he’d defied his doctor’s orders, would never understand why Mike was turning down a chance to “get back in the war”—especially since Mike had told him that was why he was seeing Dr. Pritchard. He’d begin to wonder what was behind the refusal and start snooping around. And find out he’d lied about Dr. Pritchard.
    “You need to get—” A deafening whistle drowned out the end of Polly’s sentence. Another bomb, he thought, and then realized it was a train.
    He glanced at his watch: 8:33. The train from Oxford. “Sorry, I didn’t hear what you said. A train’s coming in.”
    “I said, get out of there now,” Polly said urgently. “If Tensing’s thinking of offering you a job, he may already be doing a background check and have realized you’re not who you say you are. You can’t take the risk of running into him and—” There was a screech, and the line went dead.
    “Polly?” he said. “Polly?”
    “I’m sorry, sir,” the operator said. “There’s a disruption on the line. I can attempt to reconnect you, if you like.”
    But if the disruption was a bomb, the lines might not be repaired for days, and Mike was just as glad. If he talked to Polly again, she’d just insist he get out, and she was right, he had to, but there was no need to do it tonight. Tensing wouldn’t be back before tomorrow at the earliest, and he didn’t know where Mike was living.
    And since Mike hadn’t got his room through the billeting office, it would take Tensing a while to find him, and by the time he’d tried the pub and then the hotels, Mike would have found out whether Phipps was in Little Howard. “Thanks, I’ll try later,” he told the operator, hung up, and stepped out of the phone booth.
    The train had apparently arrived. Passengers were coming along the platform. An elderly army officer, two WAVEs, a—
    Jesus, it was Ferguson, and, just stepping down from the train after him, was Tensing. They hadn’t looked this way yet. Instinctively, Mike ducked back into the phone booth, but it was useless as a hiding place, and there wasn’t enough time for him to hobble across the station and out the door before they saw him. Mike lurched through the other door to the deserted eastbound platform, and all the way down to the end of it, listening for pursuing footsteps and trying to think what to do.
    Polly was right—he needed to get out right now. But not on this train. With his luck, Tensing would have left his hat on it or something and come back to catch him in the act of leaving. He’d have to take the next one. It wasn’t till 11:10, but he’d still better stay here. If he tried to go back to Mrs. Jolsom’s for his bag, he was liable to run straight into Tensing. Or Dilly’s girls. He needed to sit right here, out of sight.
    But if he didn’t go collect his bag and Tensing did manage to find out where he’d been staying, his suddenly disappearing and leaving his luggage behind would look wildly suspicious, and Mrs. Jolsom was bound to tell him. And if Tensing concluded he was a spy, that would do as much or more damage as his being caught by Tensing and offered a job. And even if Tensing was suspicious of him and that was why he’d come back early, he wouldn’t go to Mrs. Jolsom’s. He’d try the pub first—and the hotels, and by the time he got around to knocking on boardinghouse doors, Mike would be long gone.
    He waited another fifteen minutes on the platform to give Tensing and Ferguson time to get well away from the station, then hurried back to Mrs. Jolsom’s, taking a roundabout route so he didn’t have to pass Dilly’s girls’ house or the Bell, and looking carefully in all directions before he crossed each street.
    It was after ten by the time he got to Mrs. Jolsom’s. May be she’ll have already gone to bed, and I can leave her a note, he thought hopefully, but she opened the front door before he could put his latchkey in the lock. She was wearing an apron and drying her hands on a tea towel. “Oh, it’s you, Mr. Davis,” she said. “I was doing the washing up and heard someone at the door. How are you this evening?”
    “Not very well, I’m afraid,” he said, following her into the kitchen. “I don’t know if I told you, but I came here for medical treatment. For my foot. I’ve been seeing Dr. Granholme in Leighton Buzzard, and I was sure he could help me, but he said he couldn’t, and sent me to Dr. Evers in Newton Pagnell, and he says I’ll have to have surgery, so he’s sending me to Dr. Pritchard in Banbury,” he said, giving the wrong villages for all three doctors in the hope that when Tensing couldn’t find him, he’d conclude Mrs. Jolsom had got the names and places mixed up. “The problem is, he wants to do the surgery right away, so I can’t give you the two weeks’
    notice you—”
    “Oh, you mustn’t worry yourself over that,” Mrs. Jolsom said, drying a cup and saucer and putting them away in the cupboard. “I only asked for that because of the boarders from the Park going off without bothering to notify me.” She folded the tea towel and hung it over the edge of the counter. “Or not coming at all, and me left holding the room for weeks. And do you know what the billeting officer said when I told him? He said he didn’t know anything about it. He even denied sending the letter!”
    The letter. That day in the lab, when Phipps had returned from his drop, he’d said he’d sent the letter. Could it have been the letter reserving a place to stay? But he was supposed to have come through in the summer, not the fall.
    You don’t know that, Mike thought. July was when the recon and prep was, not necessarily the assignment. Maybe that was why the first drop had been necessary
    —because of the lodging shortage and the necessity of making arrangements months in advance. And if there’d been increased slippage on his drop, Mrs. Jolsom would have been left holding the room. Which was why she had the only vacancy in Bletchley.
    I should have made that connection, Mike thought.
    “Do you leave in the morning, Mr. Davis?” Mrs. Jolsom was asking.
    No, tonight, he started to say, and then remembered there wasn’t a train to Banbury till morning. “Yes, but I need to go see Dr. Pritchard first, so I’ll probably be leaving before you’re up. Your boarder who didn’t show up, what was his—”
    The doorbell rang. Jesus, Mike thought, it’s Tensing. I shouldn’t have underestimated him.
    Mrs. Jolsom took off her apron and went to answer it. Mike tiptoed to the kitchen door and opened it a crack. A man’s voice, and Mrs. Jolsom answering him, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying.

    Mike heard the front door shut and moved away from the kitchen door. Mrs. Jolsom came in. “It was a young man looking for a room.”
    What if it was Phipps? “Did he leave?” Mike asked, then ran to the door, opened it, and looked out, but he couldn’t see anyone on the blacked-out street. “What did he look like?” he asked Mrs. Jolsom, who’d followed him to the door.
    “He was an older gentleman,” Mrs. Jolsom said, clearly taken aback. “Why?”
    “I thought it might be a patient I met yesterday at Dr. Pritchard’s,” Mike said, cursing himself. Talk about behaving suspiciously. “I was going to tell him I could get out tonight so he could move in. I can go to a hotel.”
    “I wouldn’t think of doing that to you, Mr. Davis,” she said, “and certainly not for someone who would come looking for a room this time of night. You stay as long as you like.” She started for the stairs. “Good night.”
    Mike reached across and put his hand on the railing to stop her. “I just didn’t want to leave you stuck with a vacant room like that boarder of yours who didn’t show up—”
    “Oh, you mustn’t worry about that, Mr. Davis.” She patted his hand. “I quite understand your needing to leave. Is it quite a serious surgery?”
    If he said yes, she’d ask a bunch of worried questions, but if it wasn’t serious, then why was it so urgent? And either answer would get them back to the subject of her boarder who hadn’t showed up, and he had to know his name. Before the 11:10 train.
    “I should imagine I’ll come through all right,” he said. “It’s funny the billeting officer making a mistake like that. They’re usually extremely efficient. You said the billeting officer said there’d been a miscommunication. Couldn’t you have got the dates wrong or—”
    “I most certainly did not,” she said, bristling. “Miscommunication? The billeting officer wouldn’t even admit he’d sent me the letter, when his signature was right there on it.” She marched into the parlor and came back with a letter. “There’s his name, plain as day, Captain A. R. Eddington.”
    She thrust the letter in Mike’s face. It read, “Billeting order for Professor Gerald Phipps, arriving 10 October 1940.”

    You lived from day to day in the war … you might suddenly hear that someone you were very fond of had been killed.
    Dulwich—Summer 1944
    FLIGHT OFFICER STEPHEN LANG TELEPHONED MARY NINETEEN times over the next two weeks. She instructed the other girls to tell him she was out on a run or fetching supplies. “Or tell him I was hit by a V-1,” she said to Talbot in exasperation when he rang up for the sixteenth time. “Tell him I’m dead.”
    “I doubt that would stop him,” Talbot said. “You do realize you’re only making things worse, don’t you? There’s nothing a man finds so attractive as a woman who plays hard to get.”
    “So you think I should go out with him? Fairchild’s my partner, and Stephen’s her true love. She’s been mad about him since she was six!”
    “I’m only saying that the more you run, the more he’ll pursue you.”
    “So what do you think I should do?”
    “I’ve no idea.”
    Mary had no idea either. She obviously couldn’t go out with him—just the fact that he wanted her to was killing poor Fairchild—and she didn’t dare talk to him on the telephone. But he refused to take no for an answer.
    “I think you should go out with him, Triumph,” Parrish said, “and use the occasion to convince him Fairchild’s the one he should be going out with.”
    Which had been a dreadful idea ever since the days of the American Pilgrims, when John Alden had attempted to persuade Priscilla Mullins to go out with Miles Standish, and Priscilla had said, “Speak for yourself, John.” The last thing she needed was for Stephen to say, “Speak for yourself, Isolde.”
    She wondered if John Alden had been a time traveler, who’d then had no idea how to get out of the muck-up he was in. And it was a muck-up. Everyone at the post got involved, and Reed and Grenville were both furious with Mary. “I think it’s positively skunky to steal another girl’s man,” Grenville said, and when Mary attempted to explain, she added, “Well, you must have done something.”
    “Look at her,” Reed whispered, glancing over at Fairchild. “She’s absolutely heartbroken.”
    She was, though she hadn’t said a word of reproach to Mary. She hadn’t said anything to her. She was silent on their runs, except for saying, “I need a stretcher over here!” and “This one’s got internal injuries,” and at the post she kept carefully out of hearing of the telephone, but she was obviously suffering. And Mary was clearly responsible for that suffering, which meant either her being here had altered events, which was impossible—historians couldn’t do that—or that her coming between Fairchild and Stephen didn’t matter, that they wouldn’t have got together even if she hadn’t been here. Because Stephen had been killed.
    Of course he’d been killed. He was not only tipping V-1s but living in the middle of Bomb Alley. And hundreds of thousands of charming young men just like him had been killed at Dunkirk and El Alamein and Normandy.
    But it will kill Fairchild, she thought, and was afraid it might have done exactly that. She wouldn’t have been the first person in World War II to have lost someone and volunteered for dangerous duty. And Mary couldn’t help feeling that if Fairchild did that, it would have been her fault, that both their deaths would be on her head. If she hadn’t been here and pushed Talbot into the gutter, Talbot wouldn’t have wrenched her knee. She wouldn’t have had to substitute for her, and Stephen would never have come to the post.
    Or perhaps he would have. Perhaps he’d have asked Talbot out to dinner, and exactly the same thing would have happened, with Talbot the villain. Or perhaps Talbot would have gone to that dance they never got to and met a GI who promised her nylons, and he’d made a date with Talbot for that day, and she’d asked Fairchild to drive to Hendon in her place. And she and Stephen had fallen in love on the way to London, and they’d have had a wartime wedding and lived happily ever after.
    Fairchild could just as easily have driven him through Golders Green or down Tottenham Court Road and they’d both have been killed, Mary told herself. And either way, you can’t change the outcome. If you could have, the net wouldn’t have let you come through.
    But just because historians couldn’t affect events didn’t mean they should intentionally create problems, so she made certain she was unavailable when Stephen rang up, spent her off-duty time away from the post, and volunteered to go after the supplies the Major constantly wangled out of other posts, hoping Stephen would get bored and turn his attentions to Fairchild, where they belonged.
    But he continued to ring her up. Fairchild looked more and more wan, and nothing, not even the arrival of a new ambulance—which the Major had managed against all odds to talk HQ out of—stopped the FANYs from discussing “poor Fairchild.”
    And on the first of September, the Major made it worse by issuing a new duty roster on which she and Fairchild were no longer partnered, leading to endless speculation over whether she or Fairchild had asked for the change.
    Mary was almost grateful when the V-2 attacks began in September. It gave them all something else to think about, and it gave Stephen’s squadron a new challenge. His calls became less frequent and then ceased as the RAF wrestled with the problem of how to stop these new, much more deadly attacks.
    Even Spitfires had no chance of catching up to the V-2s—they flew at nearly four thousand miles an hour, which was faster than the speed of sound, and took only four seconds to reach their target. As a result, there was no siren or warning rattle. The only sound they made was a sonic boom, and if one heard that, one had already survived the explosion.
    The rockets struck out of nowhere, and it was amazing just how terrifying that was. Even the unflappable FANYs began staying indoors and stealing surreptitious glances at the sky when they were on a run. Sutcliffe-Hythe moved all her belongings down to the cellar, and Parrish told a GI who wanted to take her to a jitterbugging contest that she had to stay in and wash her hair.
    On the way home from a run one morning, they saw a group of children with suitcases and with pasteboard tags around their necks being loaded onto buses.
    “What’s happening?” Mary asked.
    “They’re being evacuated to the north,” Camberley explained, “out of range.”
    Reed said wistfully, “I wish I could go with them.”
    The damage from the V-2s was terrifying, too. Instead of smashed houses, there were entire flattened areas, so obliterated it was impossible to tell what had been there. The number of victims taken away from incidents in mortuary vans went up sharply, and so did the number who died en route to hospital. Some casualties simply vanished, vaporized by two thousand pounds of explosives. And the things the FANYs saw at the sites became markedly more grisly and unspeakable.

    But within the month they’d adjusted to the V-2s and invented a new—and totally spurious—mythology regarding them. “They never land where any other rocket’s hit,” Maitland pronounced, “because of the magnetism. So we’re perfectly safe while we’re at the incident. The trick is in getting there.”
    But they had that covered as well. “They never come till an hour after the first V-1 volley of the day,” Sutcliffe-Hythe said, and Talbot reported that one of her beaus at the motor pool had told her the V-2 motor wouldn’t work when it got cold, so the number would be less as winter approached—neither of which was true.
    But it made it possible for the FANYs to face sleeping and working and driving to incidents every day, knowing they might be blown to bits at any moment.
    And by the time another fortnight had passed, they were back to discussing clothes—Mary’s blue organdy had got a tear in the skirt, and there was a debate over whether to mend the sheer cloth or take out an entire width—and men. Sutcliffe-Hythe had met an American sailor from Brooklyn named Jerry Wojeiuk, and Parrish had broken it off with Dickie.
    Unfortunately, they also went back to discussing “poor Fairchild.” “Perhaps you could get engaged to someone else,” Reed suggested to Mary when Stephen began telephoning again.
    “Or married,” Maitland put in—suggestions which were so ridiculous that it was a relief when Talbot came in and said the Major wanted her to drive to Streatham to pick up bandages.
    “I suppose I’ve got to drive Bela Lugosi,” Mary said.
    “No, it’s in the shop. And Reed’s not back yet. She had to drive the Octopus to Tangmere. Your luck is in. You get to drive the new ambulance. Camberley’s going with you. I’ll tell her to meet you in the garage.”
    But when the passenger door opened, it was Fairchild who got in. “Camberley’s feeling under the weather. She asked me to fill in for her,” she told Mary, and sat silently as Mary pulled out of the garage and set off for Streatham. She wondered if she should try one more time to explain about Stephen, but she was afraid she’d only make things worse.
    Streatham couldn’t give them any lint or bandages. “We’re nearly out ourselves. Those horrid V-2s,” the FANY at the post told them. “I’m going to have to send you to Croydon for them.”
    Croydon? Croydon had been hit by more rockets than any other borough, and it was outside the area Mary’d memorized. “Couldn’t we get them from Norbury?”
    she asked. “It would be a good deal closer.”
    The officer shook her head. “They’re worse off than we are. I’ve telephoned, and Croydon said they’d have them ready for you so you won’t need to wait.”
    Well, that was something, and no ambulance post had been hit in 1944. Which didn’t help as far as the way there and back were concerned. I’ll just have to drive very fast and hope the Germans aren’t paying attention to British Intelligence tonight.
    At least she didn’t have to worry about Fairchild’s talking distracting her—she sat stonily silent. And Mary had no attention to spare for conversation. She had all she could do to find the post in the blanketing darkness. The FANYs would have a dreadful time dealing with their incidents tonight. There was no moon at all and a heavy October mist that seemed to swallow up the headlamps. She couldn’t see a thing.
    It took her over an hour to find the post in Croydon, and then the FANY on duty couldn’t find the supplies. “I know they were set aside,” she said vaguely, and looked all over while the sirens went three separate times. She finally had to box up more lint and bandages and make Mary fill up a different requisition form.
    By the time she’d finished, Fairchild was in the ambulance in the driver’s seat. Mary considered telling her she should drive because she knew the way, but the set look on Fairchild’s face made her decide not to. They’d only waste more time in arguing, and she wanted to get out of there before the sirens went again.
    She climbed in the passenger side, and Fairchild drove along Croydon’s blacked-out high street and turned onto the road to Dulwich. Good, Mary thought. In another ten minutes we’ll be safely back inside the area I’ve memorized.
    Fairchild pulled the ambulance over to the side of the road and stopped. “What are you doing?” Mary asked.
    Fairchild switched off the ignition and pulled on the hand brake. “I lied about Camberley,” she said. “I was the one who asked to change shifts so I could come with you. I needed to talk to you, Mary.” Mary. Not Triumph or DeHavilland or even Kent. “That is, if you’re still speaking to me.” Fairchild’s voice faltered. “After the beastly way I’ve behaved to you. Are you?”
    It was too dark to see her face, but Mary could hear the anxiety in her voice. “Of course I am,” she said. “You haven’t been beastly, and I wouldn’t blame you if you had been. But can’t we discuss this when we get home?” Or at least inside the area where she’d memorized the rockets?
    “No,” Fairchild said. “This can’t wait. Yesterday Maitland and I pulled a thirteen-year-old boy out of the wreckage of his house in Ulvers-croft Road. It was a V-2.
    His mother was killed. Direct hit, nothing left of her at all. The boy kept sobbing that he’d been angry with her for making him sleep in the Anderson, and he had to tell her he was sorry he’d called her an old cow. It was dreadful watching him, and I began thinking about how either of us might be killed at any moment, too, and how important it is to mend things before it’s too late.”
    “There’s nothing to mend,” Mary said. “Let’s at least go somewhere warmer to talk. There’s a Lyons in Norbury. We’ll have a cup of tea—”
    “Not till I’ve told you how sorry I am for the way I’ve been acting. It’s not your fault that Stephen fell in love with you and not me—”
    “He’s not in love with me. He’s only interested because I represent a challenge by refusing to go out with him.”
    “But that’s what I wanted to tell you. You should go out with him. I’d much rather he was in love with you than Talbot or someone else who might hurt him.”
    “He’s not in love with me,” Mary insisted, “and I’m not in love with him.”
    “You needn’t try to spare my feelings. I’ve seen the way you look at him.”
    “No one’s in love with anyone, and I have no desire to go out with him. He’s your—”
    “No, he’ll never think of me as anything but his little sister. I thought when he saw me in uniform, he’d realize I’d grown up, but he’ll always see me as little Bits and Pieces, six years old and in pigtails. Which isn’t your fault, Mary, and I don’t want this to ruin our friendship. It’s dreadfully important to me, and I couldn’t bear it if—”
    “Shh,” Mary said, putting her hand up to stop her, even though Fairchild couldn’t see it in the dark.
    “No, I need to say this—”
    “Shh,” Mary ordered. “Listen. I thought I heard a V-1 …”

    Hie you, make haste, for it grows very late.
    London—December 1940
    MIKE HAD PHONED FROM BLETCHLEY ON THE WEDNESDAY after Polly’d gone to Hampstead Heath to say he’d run into Tensing, and Polly had told him to leave Bletchley immediately. Which meant he should have been back by Friday morning at the latest, but he wasn’t. He didn’t come Friday afternoon either, or telephone, or write, and Polly was nearly frantic. Where was he?
    Tensing found him before he could get out of Bletchley, she thought, and talked him into working for him. He’ll never survive the background check.
    “You didn’t tell Mike about the troupe deciding to do A Christmas Carol, did you?” Eileen asked. “Perhaps he’s been ringing up while we were at rehearsal. I’ll stay home tonight in case he telephones again.”
    But he didn’t phone Friday night either, or over the weekend, and Polly could tell Eileen was just as worried as she was. She was irritable and jumpy, and she didn’t offer any optimistic theories or say anything more about being rescued just when she thought all was lost.
    She scarcely said anything, and she was getting no sleep at all. Because of the rehearsals for A Christmas Carol, they’d abandoned the emergency staircase for the District Line platform, and whenever Mr. Dorming’s snoring woke Polly, she found Eileen sitting against the platform wall, arms huddled around her knees, staring bleakly into space.
    Polly did her share of that, too, over the next few nights, and spent hours trying to think of a plausible reason he hadn’t phoned or sent a message. He found Gerald, she thought. He said he had a lead. What if Mike had run into him as he left Bletchley, and they’d gone back to Oxford?
    They couldn’t have. If they had, the retrieval team would be here already. Unless there was slippage. Or it was Tensing Mike ran into, not Gerald, and Mike’s under arrest.
    He knew how much danger he was in, she told herself. He wouldn’t have been stupid enough to stay. He’s simply having difficulty getting back to London. He’ll be here tomorrow morning.
    But he wasn’t. If he hasn’t contacted us by next Monday, we’ll have to go to Bletchley and find out what happened to him, Polly thought.
    But what if he was fine and by going, by inquiring after him, they jeopardized his safety or the safety of Ultra’s secret? Or what if Mike had already jeopardized it?
    Polly hadn’t found any large discrepancies—Southampton and Birmingham and the air-raid shelter at Hammersmith had all been bombed on schedule—but the raids on Tuesday had begun ten minutes earlier than they were supposed to, and on Friday Townsend Brothers was evacuated for two hours because of a UXB on Audley Street which wasn’t in her implant.
    Because it didn’t go off, she told herself, and while they were waiting in the shelter for the bomb to be removed, forced herself to concentrate on composing messages for contacting the retrieval team: “Lost, near Notting Hill Gate Station, cocker spaniel, answers to Polly. Contact O. Riley, 14 Cardle Street,” and “Dearest T., Sorry couldn’t come to Oxford as planned. Meet me Peter Pan statue 10 A.M. Sunday.”
    “But if Mike comes on Sunday,” Eileen protested, “how will he find us if we’re in Kensington Gardens?”
    “Not we, I. I’m supposed to be meeting my dearest Terence or Tim or Theodore. This is supposed to be a romantic tryst. If Mike arrives, the two of you can come fetch me.”
    Eileen looked like she was going to argue, then turned away and began reading her Agatha Christie again, and when Sunday came made no attempt to go with Polly.
    Kensington Gardens didn’t look much like a place for a romantic rendezvous. Two anti-aircraft guns stood on either side of the Round Pond, rows of half-tracks filled the lawns, and the Victorian railings edging the bounds of the park had been taken down, presumably for the scrap-metal drive.
    So many slit trenches had been dug in the area near the Peter Pan statue that Polly began to worry it might have been removed for safekeeping, but the bronze statue was still there in a little wooded glade, its base crawling with fairies and woodland creatures. If Sir Godfrey were here, he’d no doubt have some pithy comment to make about J. M. Barrie.
    But he wasn’t here, and neither was the retrieval team. Polly glanced at her watch. It wasn’t ten yet. She sat down on a bench across from the statue from which she could see anyone approaching and prepared to wait.
    Ten o’clock came and went, but no one appeared, not even any children or nannies with prams—and by a quarter past she was sorry she hadn’t let Eileen come with her. Sitting here gave her time to think. What if Mike never came back? What if their drops never opened and—
    She caught a sudden flash of movement beyond the bushes off to the left. A bird? Or someone standing there watching her? It couldn’t be the retrieval team. They’d have revealed themselves as soon as they recognized her. A purse snatcher? Or worse?
    She was suddenly aware of just how isolated the spot was. But it was midmorning, and there were soldiers within screaming distance. But what if British Intelligence had thought there was something suspicious about the ad? What if they were watching to see whom she met? Had there been something suspicious in the ad? She didn’t think so.
    She needed to act the way she would if her young man was late. She glanced at her watch, frowned, stood up, and walked along the path a short way as if searching for someone, trying to look hopeful and a bit annoyed, and then strolled back to the statue.
    There was definitely someone there in the bushes. “Hullo?” Polly called. “Who’s there?”
    A hushed silence, as if someone was holding his breath.
    “I know you’re in there,” Polly said, and Eileen emerged from the bushes. “Eileen? What on earth are you doing here? Has Mike come back?”
    “No. I decided to come along and see if anyone had answered your ad. I told Mrs. Rickett where we’d be, and I left a note for Mike with Mrs. Leary.”
    Which didn’t explain what she had been doing lurking in the bushes, and Eileen seemed to realize that because she added, “But then I couldn’t find the statue, and I ended up in among the trees,” which was clearly untrue. The signposts pointing the way to the Peter Pan statue were the only ones in England which hadn’t been taken down, and at any rate Eileen was looking guilty of something, though Polly had no idea what.
    “What’s going on?” she asked. “Why did you really come?”
    “Eileen!” Mike called. “Polly!”

    “Eileen!” Mike called. “Polly!”
    He was limping up the path toward them, waving.
    Mike. Oh, thank God. He wasn’t dead.
    “Mike!” Eileen cried, and ran to meet him. “You’re back! Thank heavens. We’ve been so worried!”
    “Tensing didn’t find you, did he?” Polly asked anxiously.
    “Then where were you?”
    “In Oxford.”
    “Oxford?” Eileen gasped. “Oh, God, you’ve found Gerald! Thank heavens.”
    “No, no, Oxford right now. In 1940. I’m sorry,” he said, looking in dismay at her disappointed face. “I didn’t mean to get your hopes up like that. I didn’t find Gerald. I—”
    Polly cut him off. “We want to hear all about your journey,” she said loudly, and then in a whisper, “but not here. Somewhere where we can’t be overheard. Come along. I know just the place.”
    She tucked her arm in Mike’s and led him down the path, chattering brightly. “We thought you’d never come, didn’t we, Eileen?”
    “Yes. If you’d told us which train you’d be on,” Eileen said, playing along, “we’d have come to meet it.”
    “I didn’t know myself,” Mike said. He dropped his voice to a whisper. “What’s going on? Was someone spying on us back there?”
    Only Eileen, Polly thought. “I don’t think so,” she said, “but loose lips sink ships. Come along.”
    She led them past the trenches to an open lawn with a large monument in its center. From here, they’d be able to see anyone coming from any direction. “All right,”
    she said, sitting down on the monument steps. “Now we can talk.”
    “What did you mean, ‘loose lips sink—’?” Mike stopped, staring at the statuary around the monument. “Jesus, what is this thing?”
    “The Albert Memorial. Possibly the ugliest monument in all of England.” Polly smiled happily at the elephant, the water buffalo, the semi-naked young women clustered round them, at Prince Albert sitting on top reading a book. She felt giddy in her relief that Mike wasn’t in the Tower. Or dead.
    “It’s hideous. It wasn’t destroyed in the Blitz, was it?” he asked hopefully.
    “No, only minor damage, I’m afraid, though supposedly at one point someone put up a large arrow to guide the Luftwaffe to it.”
    “It’s too bad it didn’t work,” Mike said, still staring, appalled. “Christ, is that a buffalo?”
    “Who cares what it is?” Eileen said impatiently. “Tell us what happened and why you went to Oxford.”
    “Okay. After I called you about Tensing, I went back to Mrs. Jolsom’s to pack my stuff, and she told me the room I’d rented was supposed to have been Phipps’s.”
    “It was Gerald’s room?” Polly said.
    “Yes. He was supposed to have come two months ago, but he never arrived, so I went to Oxford to see if I could find out whether something had happened to him on the way.”
    “He never came through. He’d made a reservation at the Mitre in Oxford for the night he arrived, but he never showed up there either.”
    “The increased slippage could have sent him through late,” Eileen said, “and he decided to go straight to Bletchley instead of stopping in Oxford.”
    Mike shook his head. “He’d mailed a package addressed to himself to the Mitre. He never picked it up.”
    “Do you know what was in it?” Polly asked.
    “Yeah, that’s why I was gone so long. It took me forever to steal it.” He pulled a sheaf of papers from his pocket and laid them out on the steps of the monument.
    “It’s all the papers documenting that he was who he said he was—letters of recommendation, school records, security clearances, everything he’d need to pass a background check. Plus train tickets and money. And a letter from his sister in Northumbria informing him his mother was ill. Addressed to Mrs. Jolsom’s address.”
    He looked up at them. “He obviously never came through.”
    The net wouldn’t let him, Polly thought, which means its safeguards are still functioning. Only it didn’t necessarily mean that at all. It might just as easily mean that there was no Oxford from which to send him.
    She glanced anxiously at Eileen to see how she was taking the news, but she didn’t look upset.
    Because she doesn’t believe it, Polly thought. In a moment she’ll say Mr. Dunworthy must have rescheduled Gerald’s assignment and Mike shouldn’t have taken the parcel because Gerald will need it.
    Mike said it instead. “I intended to put the package back, but when I saw what was in it, I thought I’d better not leave it there for some curious hotel clerk to open.”
    “Will the Mitre notice it’s missing?”
    “No. I wrapped my wool vest up in the brown paper—and had a hell of a time doing it, I might add; I couldn’t get the string tied around it for the life of me—and sneaked it back on the shelf, and I stuck a Notting Hill Gate ticket stub in the pocket, so if Phipps does come through, he’ll know where to look for us.”
    “If he can get to London,” Polly said, looking at the money on the steps.
    “I stuck enough money for the train fare to London in the pocket, too,” Mike said. “I was going to leave all of it, but I decided we might need it to tide us over till we find some other way out. I assume our retrieval teams still haven’t shown up?”
    “No,” Eileen said. “Have you heard from Daphne?”
    “I don’t know. I haven’t been to Mrs. Leary’s yet. I came straight to Mrs. Rickett’s to find the two of you. I’ll check when we go back. But if Phipps’s drop didn’t open, then our retrieval teams’ drops probably can’t either, which explains why they’re not here. But if that’s what happened, then Oxford knows something’s wrong, and they’ll start working on figuring out a way to get us out of here. We’ll be home in no time. We just need to make sure they can find us when they get here, so we need to—”
    “Will we be home in no time?” Eileen asked challengingly. “Or will we still be here when the war ends, Polly?”
    “When the war ends?” Mike said. “What are you talking about? None of us knows how long we’ll—”
    “She does,” Eileen said. “She was already here.” She turned to Polly. “That’s why the night you found me in Padgett’s you asked me if the manor in Backbury was

    “She does,” Eileen said. “She was already here.” She turned to Polly. “That’s why the night you found me in Padgett’s you asked me if the manor in Backbury was my first assignment. Because you were afraid I had a deadline like you.”
    “A deadline?” Mike said. “You were here before, Polly?”
    “Yes,” Eileen said, looking steadily at Polly. “That’s why she asked me whether you were supposed to go to Pearl Harbor first. She was afraid that you had one, too. And that the increased slippage means we won’t get out before her deadline.”
    I should never have underestimated her and her mystery novels, Polly thought.
    All those weeks Polly’d been trying to protect her from the truth, Eileen had been patiently collecting clues and piecing them together. But she can’t know when—
    “I don’t understand,” Mike said. “When I asked you if you’d been to Bletchley Park, you said no.”
    “Not Bletchley Park,” Eileen said. “VE-Day.”
    “Yes,” Eileen said, her face stony. She turned to confront Polly. “That’s why when I saw you in Oxford, you asked me if that was where I was coming back from.
    And why, when we asked you who’d gone to VE-Day, you changed the subject. You saw me there, didn’t you?”
    As long as VE-Day was all Eileen knew about, it would be all right. She could tell them.
    “Is what she’s saying true?” Mike asked. “Were you at VE-Day, Polly?”
    “And you saw me there,” Eileen said.
    Polly hesitated so it would sound like she was reluctantly admitting to it. “Yes.”
    “Why didn’t you tell us?” Mike asked.
    “I … at first, in Oxford, I didn’t want Eileen to be angry with me. I hadn’t known Mr. Dunworthy wasn’t going to let her go to VE-Day. I didn’t want her to think I’d stolen the assignment from her. And then when we found out the drops weren’t working, we were already in so much trouble, and you were both so distraught, I didn’t want to add to your worries.”
    “But if we’d known—” Mike began.
    “If you’d known, what? There wasn’t anything either of you could do about it,” Polly said angrily, hoping the show of anger would stop them from asking any more questions. “And you already had more than enough to deal with.”
    “You say you saw Eileen,” Mike said. “Are you certain it was her? Did you talk to her?”
    “No. I saw her from a distance. In the crowd in Trafalgar Square the night before VE-Day. She was standing next to one of the lions. The one whose nose had been knocked off in the Blitz.”
    “You were in Trafalgar Square on VE-Day,” Mike said. “When did you come through?”
    Polly thought rapidly. They’d never believe she’d only been there for the two days of the victory celebration. “April eighth,” she said. “I was there to observe the winding down of the war during its last few weeks. I posed as a Wren working as a typist in the War Office.”
    “A typist,” Eileen said.
    “April eighth,” Mike said. “That gives us four years—”
    “Four years and five months,” Eileen said.
    “Right,” Mike said. “Nearly four and a half years. And when I was talking about increased slippage, I meant a few months, not years. We’ll be out of here long before your deadline, Polly.”
    “Which is what?” Eileen asked.
    Mike looked at Eileen in surprise. “She just told us. She said she came through April eighth—”
    “She’s lying. That isn’t her deadline.”
    There was a silence, and then Mike said, “Is she right, Polly? Are you lying?”
    “Yes,” Eileen answered for her. “When I told her about one of the historian’s drops to the Reign of Terror and the storming of the Bastille being switched, she went absolutely white, and they were only four years and two months apart.”
    And I’m obviously not as good an actress as Sir Godfrey’s always telling me I am, Polly thought, cursing herself for not having said she’d gone through earlier than April. “It was Pearl Harbor I was worried about, not—”
    “Wait. Stop,” Mike said. “Pearl Harbor? The storming of the Bastille? I have no idea what either of you are talking about. Explain.”
    Polly said, “After you and I talked about an increase in slippage possibly being the problem, it occurred to me that Mr. Dunworthy might have been putting all the assignments in chronological order.”
    “Chronological? You’re right. He did put all mine in chronological order. That’s why you asked me about the order of my drops when you called.”
    “Yes.” Polly explained about Eileen’s notes and her concluding that the increase might be much longer than a couple of months. “And I was frightened. Some of the worst raids of the Blitz will be after the first of the year, and we don’t even know when and where they are. And I’m not even certain our boardinghouses are safe from January on.” Which had the advantage of being true.
    And let’s hope it convinces them, Polly thought.
    “That isn’t the only reason,” Eileen said grimly. “Ask her why, if she was a typist in the War Office, she knows all about driving an ambulance. When I told her I had to learn to drive that day we talked to you in Oxford, Mike, she offered to teach me. On a Daimler, because that was what all the ambulances were.”
    “I’d learned that from my prep for the Blitz,” Polly said. “I studied the Civil Defence—”
    “And ask her why she turned and ran from a group of FANYs we saw on the platform in Holborn. She knew them from her assignment, that’s why. She never tried to avoid walking past Wrens.”
    And all the time I was afraid she was fretting over Mike, she was actually playing detective like a character in one of her Agatha Christies, Polly thought. I And all the time I was afraid she was fretting over Mike, she was actually playing detective like a character in one of her Agatha Christies, Polly thought. I underestimated her. But she can’t have figured it all out.
    “And ask her where she went when she said she was going to St. Paul’s to meet the retrieval team.” She turned on Polly. “When I got to the National Gallery, it was pouring rain and the concert wasn’t till one, so I thought I’d come to St. Paul’s and meet you. But you weren’t there.”
    “Yes, I was. We must just have missed each other. St. Paul’s is huge, and there are so many chapels and bays—”
    “I saw you come in. I saw you buy that guidebook and spill pennies all over the floor. She was drenched,” Eileen said to Mike, “like she’d been out in the rain all morning. And don’t bother pretending you were up in the Whispering Gallery, Polly. It’s closed. And the sermon wasn’t ‘Seek and Ye Shall Find.’ It was ‘The Lost Sheep.’ You must have picked up an order of service for the early mass by mistake. Where were you?”
    At least this was a question she could answer. “I was at Hampstead Heath. That was where my drop for VE-Day was.” She looked at Mike. “When you sent that message from Bletchley about older drops, I went to see if they might have opened mine to use for an emergency exit. And I couldn’t tell you, Eileen, because I didn’t want you to find out I’d been here before.”
    “Is that the truth?” Eileen said.
    “Yes.” And please, please, let that be all you know.
    “You swear?” Eileen said.
    “Then why didn’t you know about the bomb at St. Paul’s, but you knew all about V-1s and V-2s?” She turned back to Mike. “She knew the exact date the V-1
    attacks began. Don’t you see? She was the historian who did the rocket assignment. She drove an ambulance in Bethnal Green. Didn’t you, Polly? That’s why you were so upset when I told you we had to go there to get me a new identity card. Because you were afraid someone in Bethnal Green would recognize you. You were attached to the ambulance unit there, weren’t you?”
    “No,” Polly said. “To the ambulance unit in Dulwich.”

    Wars are not won by evacuations.
    Oxford—April 2060
    THE SHIMMER FLARED. “COLIN’S NOT TO COME THROUGH AFTER me,” Dunworthy said again, though the shimmer was too bright—Badri would never be able to hear him. But he tried nonetheless. “He’s not to come. No matter what excuse he gives you.”
    It was too late. He was already through. And definitely in St. Paul’s, though he couldn’t see a thing. His words echoed and then died away into the hush of a high, open, vaulted space. He’d have recognized it anywhere, just as he’d have recognized the distinctive chill. It had always felt like the dead of winter in St. Paul’s. He peered into the solid darkness, waiting for his eyes to adjust. It clearly wasn’t four A.M. Or if it was, there’d been locational slippage, and he’d come through in the Crypt instead of the north transept.
    No, this couldn’t be the Crypt. The fire watch had their headquarters down there, and there’d be lights. But he might be inside one of the staircases. No, the sound wasn’t that of an enclosed space. He wasn’t willing to take chances, though. He’d come through on a flight of stairs one time early in his career and nearly pitched off it and killed himself. He slid one foot forward and then the other, feeling for an edge.
    He was on a flat surface. A stone floor, so this had to be on the main floor of the cathedral, which meant it was far earlier than four A.M. But even if it were midnight, there should be some light. The raids in the early morning hours of the tenth had been less than half a mile from here, and some of the docks had still been burning from the first two nights’ raids. And there should be searchlights.
    And noise. But he couldn’t hear anything—no clatter of incendiaries, the bane of St. Paul’s. No muffled thud of bombs. No droning of planes overhead. No sound at all, except the distinctive hush. What if Linna had got the coordinates wrong in her haste, and this wasn’t 1940? Or what if Dr. Ishiwaka had been right?
    But when Dunworthy put his hand out, it connected with canvas and a yielding weight, which could only be a sandbag. He patted around it. More sandbags, and when he felt his way around them to the wall and along it, he came to a carved wooden doorway. The north doors. Which meant he was exactly where he was supposed to be, and the sandbags meant he was in the general vicinity of when.
    There should be two steps leading down to the doors. He felt his way carefully down and tried to open them. They were locked. Locked? John Bartholomew had said they kept the cathedral unlocked. But he wasn’t here yet. He wouldn’t arrive till the twentieth, and perhaps St. Paul’s hadn’t unlocked the doors till later, after the necessity of getting fire hoses in became apparent.
    It should have been apparent from the beginning, Dunworthy thought irritably, groping his way back up the steps. Now he’d have to go all the way down the nave to the west doors. Which would take him an hour at this rate.
    Perhaps he should sit down and wait for it to grow light enough to see, but it was too cold. His teeth were already chattering. And the longer he waited, the more likely he was to run into the fire watch and have to explain what he was doing here. He could always tell them he’d come in looking for shelter when the sirens went and had fallen asleep, but if he and Polly were seen when he brought her back here, there could be complications. Worse, they might decide they needed to make a sweep of the cathedral every night. Or lock the west doors.
    He needed to get out now, before anyone saw him. And if he was lucky, and it was as early as the darkness and the lack of raids suggested, the trains would still be running, and he could make it to Notting Hill Gate before they stopped. He could spend the night searching that station, search High Street Kensington and the others on the list as soon as the trains began again in the morning, and find Polly before nightfall and have her back in Oxford before breakfast. And he could stop worrying over what might happen to her if Dr. Ishiwaka was right.
    He patted his way cautiously back along the wall, around the sandbags. Wall, more sandbags, pillar …
    His foot hit something metal, and it fell over with a terrific, echoing clatter. He dived to silence whatever it was, and his hand came down in a bucket of freezing water and nearly knocked it over. He felt frantically for the thing he’d banged into.
    A stirrup pump. He could tell by the metal handle, the rubber hose. He straightened, clutching the pump in both hands and peering anxiously into the blackness, listening for running footsteps or a shouted “What was that?”
    Neither came, which meant the entire fire watch was still up on the roofs, thank heavens, and if he could just reach the nave with its high windows, there should be a bit more light and he’d be able to see where he was going.
    There wasn’t any more light. The wall he’d been patting his way along ended and the quality of the hush changed, so that he could tell he was in a wider, higher space, but it was still pitch-black. Bartholomew had said they’d kept a small light burning on the altar at night for the fire watch to orient itself by, but when he looked toward where the choir and the altar should be, there was nothing but a black blankness.
    And I will have a few things to say to Mr. Bartholomew on the accuracy of his historical reporting when I return to Oxford, he thought, feeling for the angled and fluted pillars that formed the corner of the wall. He didn’t dare go out into the middle of the nave. It was full of wooden folding chairs to crash into. He’d best keep to the north aisle.
    He felt along the aisle’s wall, one hand on the cold stone and the other hand in front of him, attempting to remember what lay along it. Lord Leighton’s statue, he thought, and promptly stumbled over it, the sandbags breaking his fall.
    I’m too old for this, he thought, getting to his feet again and working his way past it, past an alcove, a rectangular pillar, another alcove. And another bucket, this one full of sand—which he nearly broke his toe against but, thankfully, did not knock over.
    Colin was right, I should have brought a pocket torch, he thought, feeling his way around another pillar. And up against what was unmistakably a brick wall.
    There aren’t any brick walls in St. Paul’s, he thought. Could I be somewhere else altogether? Then he realized what it was. The Wellington Monument, which they’d bricked up because it was too large to move. He worked his way quickly along its face to the next pillar. After this there should be only the All Souls’ Chapel and then St. Dunstan’s Chapel before he reached—
    A door slammed somewhere behind him, and footsteps hurried down the nave toward him. Dunworthy ducked behind the pillar, hoping he was out of sight. “I’m certain I heard something,” a man’s voice said.
    “An incendiary?” a second voice asked.
    No, you heard me crashing about, Dunworthy thought. They were obviously members of the fire watch.
    A pocket torch flashed briefly. Dunworthy shrank further behind the pillar. “I don’t know,” the first man said. “It might have been a DA.”

    A pocket torch flashed briefly. Dunworthy shrank further behind the pillar. “I don’t know,” the first man said. “It might have been a DA.”
    A delayed-action bomb, Dunworthy thought.
    “Bloody hell, that’s all we need,” the second one said. And bloody hell was right. They’d search the entire cathedral.
    “It sounded like it was in the nave,” the first one said, and Dunworthy braced himself, wondering what sort of tale he could concoct to explain his presence. But when the torch flashed again, it was over toward the south aisle, and their footsteps grew softer as they moved away from him.
    Dunworthy stayed where he was, trying to hear what they were saying, but he only caught snatches. “… have been on the south chancel roof? … likely put it out …”
    They must have decided it was an incendiary after all. They were all the way to the west end of the nave. He caught, “… over for tonight …” and something that sounded like “Coventry,” though that was unlikely. He didn’t think Coventry had been bombed before the fourteenth of November.
    “… north aisle?” one of them said, and Dunworthy looked back toward the transept, wondering if he should retreat there.
    “No … check the gallery first.” There was a brief flash of light, and Dunworthy heard a clank of metal and footsteps ascending.
    They’re going up Wren’s Geometrical Staircase, he thought, and took advantage of the covering sound of their footsteps to walk quickly along the aisle, his hand on the wall for guidance. Pillar, pillar, iron grille. That was St. Dunstan’s Chapel. The vestibule and the door should be just beyond.
    “… find anything?” he heard from somewhere above him. He ducked for cover moments before the pocket torch’s light flared down.
    “Here it is!” one of them shouted; it must have been the first one because he said triumphantly, “I told you I heard something. It’s an incendiary. Fetch a stirrup pump.”
    Dunworthy heard the second one racket along the gallery overhead. He felt his way quickly to the door, opened it, and slipped out to the porch and the steps.
    And into pouring rain. Which explains why it’s so dark, he thought, ducking back under the porch’s roof. It was nearly as dark out here as inside. If he hadn’t known there was a pillared porch and then steps, he couldn’t have found his way down to the courtyard.
    He squinted across it. He could only just make out the dark outlines of the buildings opposite. The rain also explained the absence of searchlights and of bombers droning overhead—the Luftwaffe would have had to call off the raids when this started. And it explained there not being any fires. The rain would have put all of them—except for the incendiary that had come through the gallery’s roof—out.
    Dunworthy glanced up at the bell tower to see if they were up there and then splashed down the steps. To reach the tube station, he needed to find Paternoster Row and then Newgate.
    And watch where he was going, though that was almost impossible to do in this downpour. It beat against him icily, more like sleet than rain. He hunched forward, ducking his head against its onslaught.
    At any rate, no one else will be mad enough to be out in this, he thought, pulling the collar of his tweed jacket up tightly round his neck, but he was wrong. There were two figures walking straight toward him. Members of the fire watch? Or civilians on the way home from the tube station? Or an ARP warden who would demand to know what he was doing out on the streets and hustle him off to a surface shelter?
    He splashed quickly across the road and down the narrow lane to his left. It was scarcely six feet across, and what little light he’d had to see by was utterly shut out by the buildings on either side. It was as dark as it had been inside the cathedral. He had to return to feeling his way, and it took him forever to reach Paternoster Row.
    If it was Paternoster Row. It didn’t look like it. It was no wider than the lane and was lined with ramshackle houses instead of publishers’ offices and book warehouses. It also seemed to have a deeper descent than it should, though that might be a trick of the darkness.
    Its abrupt end in a courtyard wasn’t. He must have missed Paternoster Row in the dark. He retraced his way back to the lane and up the way he’d come.
    But it wasn’t the same lane. This one ended in a wooden stable. You’re lost, he thought furiously. You should have known better than to wander about in the dark in the City.
    There was no worse place in London—or history—to be lost. The area surrounding St. Paul’s had been a rabbit warren of confusing lanes and mazelike passages, most of them leading nowhere. He could wander in here forever and never find his way out. And the rain was coming down harder than ever.
    “I am positively too old for this,” he muttered, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of St. Paul’s, but the buildings were too tall, and there was nothing to orient himself by. He no longer even knew which direction the cathedral lay in.
    Yes, you do, he thought. You know exactly where it is. On top of Ludgate Hill. All you need to do is climb up the hill. But that was easier said than done. There were no streets going up. They all led inexorably downhill, away from St. Paul’s and from the tube station. But if he continued downhill, he’d eventually come to Blackfriars, or, if he was too far east, Cannon Street. Either tube station would have trains which could take him to the station where Polly was. He turned down a lane and then another.
    After two more turns and another cul-de-sac, he came to a broader street. Old Bailey? If so, Blackfriars lay at the foot of it. It was finally growing light, at least enough to see that the street was lined with shops, and the shops had awnings. He splashed across the street, eager to get even partially out of the rain.
    Nearly all the shop windows were boarded up. Only the second from the corner still had glass in it, and as he drew nearer, he saw it was boarded up as well. What he’d thought was glass was actually a reflection from a garland of silver-paper letters nailed to the wood. They spelled out Happy Christmas.
    It can’t be Christmas, he thought. If it was, there’d have been a Christmas tree in the nave and another outside in the porch. John Bartholomew had talked about its having been repeatedly knocked over by blast.
    But the trees could very well have been there. He wouldn’t have seen them in the darkness.
    But if it’s Christmas, he thought, that means there’s been nearly four months’ slippage, and that’s impossible. The increase was only two days. But he knew it was true. That was why it was so cold. And so dark. The net had sent him through at four A.M., but in December four A.M. would be pitch-black.
    “Ascertain your temporal location immediately upon arrival.” Wasn’t that what he was always enjoining his students to do? He should have realized it couldn’t be September tenth when there weren’t any fires. They hadn’t got the ones on the docks out for nearly a week.
    But he’d ignored the clues, and now he’d have to climb all the way back up that hill in the rain. Because Polly wasn’t here. Her assignment had ended the twenty-second of October. She’d been safely back in Oxford for at least a month and a half, and this had been an exercise in futility.
    Except that now he had the proof he’d been looking for that the slippage was beginning to spike. He had to return to St. Paul’s immediately, go back through to Oxford, and tell Badri to pull all the historians out. He started back up the hill, looking for a taxi, but the streets were completely deserted.
    No, wait, there was one, in the darkness at the end of a side lane. He stepped into the lane and hailed it.
    It had seen him. It pulled out and began to move toward him, and thank God Colin had insisted on his bringing money. Dunworthy pulled out his papers and It had seen him. It pulled out and began to move toward him, and thank God Colin had insisted on his bringing money. Dunworthy pulled out his papers and shuffled through them, looking for the five-pound notes, and then looked up again.
    The taxi was moving away. It hadn’t seen him after all. “Hullo!” Dunworthy shouted, his voice echoing in the narrow street, and rushed toward it, waving.
    There, it had seen him now. The taxi began to move toward him again. It must be farther away than he’d thought because he couldn’t hear the engine at all. He hurried toward it, but before he’d gone half the distance, he saw it wasn’t a taxi. What he’d thought was the vehicle’s bonnet was the rounded edge of a huge black metal canister, swinging gently back and forth from a lamppost. A dark shroud was draped over the lamppost. A parachute.
    It’s a parachute mine, he thought, watching as the canister swung gently back and forth, missing the lamppost by inches. And if the wind shifted slightly, or the parachute ripped …
    He took two stumbling steps backward, and then turned and ran for the mouth of the lane, listening for the tearing of parachute silk, for the scrape of the mine against the lamppost, for the deafening boom of the explosion.
    It didn’t come. There was a faint sigh, and he was suddenly on the ground, his hands out in front of him on the pavement. He thought at first he must have tripped and fallen, but when he got to his feet, he was covered with dust and glass.
    It must have broken the stationer’s window, he thought, and then, confusedly, The mine must have gone off.
    He brushed the glass and dirt off his trousers, his coat. And he must have cut himself in the process because the palms of his hands were scraped and bloody, and blood was trickling down behind his ear. He could hear ambulance bells.
    I can’t let them find me here, he thought. I must get back to Oxford. I must pull everyone out. He started down the lane, wishing there was a wall to lean against for support, but all the buildings seemed to have fallen down except the one at the very end. He walked toward it as quickly as he could. The bells were growing louder.
    The ambulance would be here any second, and so would an incident officer. He needed to be out of the lane, across the road, around the corner …
    He made it just past the corner before he collapsed, falling to his knees.
    Colin was right. He said I’d get into trouble, he thought. I should have let him come with me. And he must have been unconscious for a few minutes, because when he opened his eyes, it was nearly light and the rain had stopped. He got heavily to his feet and then stood there a moment, looking confused. What had he—?
    Oxford, he thought. I must get back to Oxford. And started down the hill to Blackfriars to take the tube to Paddington Station to catch the train.

    The rain it raineth every day.
    London—December 1940
    MIKE STARED AT POLLY, SITTING THERE ON THE STEPS OF the Albert Memorial. “You were the historian we were talking about that day in Oxford?” he said angrily. “The one we couldn’t believe Mr. Dunworthy would let do something so dangerous?”
    Polly nodded.
    “Which means your deadline’s not April second, 1945. It’s what? When did the V-1 attacks start?”
    “A week after D-Day.”
    “A week—in 1944?”
    “Yes. June thirteenth.”
    “Jesus.” VE-Day had been bad enough, but D-Day was only three and a half years away, and if the slippage had increased enough for Dunworthy to be canceling drops right and left … “Why didn’t Dunworthy cancel your assignment if you had a deadline?” he asked.
    “I don’t know,” Polly said.
    “But if he didn’t, then perhaps he was changing the order for some other reason,” Eileen suggested. “Because he was putting the less dangerous ones first or something. The Reign of Terror was more dangerous than the storming of the Bastille, wasn’t it? And Pearl Harbor was more dangerous than—”
    She stopped, flustered, and looked down at Mike’s foot.
    “It would have been more dangerous,” Mike said, “if I’d gone to Dover like I was supposed to. Eileen’s right, Polly. The assignments could have been switched for lots of reasons. And the fact that they didn’t cancel yours is a good sign Oxford doesn’t think you’re in danger.”
    “And her seeing me at VE-Day might be a good sign, too. I could have gone there after we got back to Oxford. Because Mr. Dunworthy felt badly about our having been trapped. He knows I’ve always wanted to go to VE-Day.”
    You may get your wish, Mike thought grimly.
    He looked at Polly, who hadn’t said anything. Her expression was guarded, wary, as if there was still something she hadn’t told them, and he thought about her saying, “You asked me if I’d been to Bletchley Park.” Could she still be lying to them and carefully answering exactly what they asked and nothing else?
    “Is the V-1 assignment your only one to World War Two?” he asked, and Eileen looked, horrified, at him and then Polly.
    “Is it?” he pressed her. “Or did you go to Pearl Harbor? Or the end of the Blitz?” he asked, remembering she’d known all about those attacks, too.
    “No,” she said, and looked like she was telling the truth. But then, he’d thought she was telling the truth before.
    “You weren’t here in World War Two on any other assignment besides this one and the V-1s and V-2s?”
    Thank God, he thought, but the V-1s assignment was bad enough. Denys Atherton wouldn’t be here till March of 1944, which was cutting it awfully close.
    If he’d come through. And to get to him, they had to survive the next three years and the rest of the Blitz, and in another few weeks they wouldn’t know when or where the bombs were going to be. And if the increase in slippage was bad enough for Dunworthy to have switched drops that were years apart, there might not be anything they could do till well after Polly …
    But they didn’t know the increase was that big. And even if it was, the increase might only be on a few drops. And there might be some other reason Phipps hadn’t come. Bletchley Park was still a divergence point, and, for all they knew, so were these months of the Blitz. And the soldiers at Dunkirk had thought they were licked, and look how that had turned out.
    “Don’t worry, Polly,” he said. “We’ll get you out of here. We’ve got three years to figure out something. And there’s still Denys Atherton.”
    “And Historian X,” Eileen said. “The historian who’s here till the eighteenth.”
    He’d hoped they’d forgotten about that. “Afraid not,” he said.
    “Why not?” Eileen said.
    “Because Historian X was Gerald,” Polly said. “Wasn’t it, Mike?”
    “Are you certain?” Eileen asked.
    “Yes.” He told them about the date on the letter. “And there was a train ticket to Oxford for December eighteenth, and his departure letter was postmarked the sixteenth.”
    “Oh, dear,” Eileen said.
    “But we still have the drop in St. John’s Wood,” Mike said. “And on my way here, I saw that hoardings have gone up on the site in front of your drop, Polly.”
    “So if the drop wouldn’t open because people could see into it,” Eileen said eagerly, “it may begin working again.”
    “Exactly,” Mike said. He stood up. “What say we get out of here and give the Luftwaffe a clear shot at this atrocity?” he suggested, looking around at the Albert Memorial statuary. “I’ll take you two to lunch and we’ll plan our strategy for finding the drop. Eileen, did you hear from Lady Caroline?”
    “Yes, but not from the officer at the manor.”
    “Write them again, and write your vicar and see what you can find out about the riflery range. Maybe they’ve moved it. And I’ll write my barmaid and see if they’ve taken the beach defenses down. You said the invasion had been called off, didn’t you, Polly?”
    “Yes, but that doesn’t mean they’ll take the defenses down.”
    “You don’t know that,” Eileen said. “Or maybe Mike’s barmaid’s written to say the retrieval team’s been there, and all our problems will be solved.”
    “Eileen’s right. We’ll stop by Mrs. Leary’s on our way to lunch and pick up my mail. Come on,” he said, pulling Polly and then Eileen to their feet and walking

    “Eileen’s right. We’ll stop by Mrs. Leary’s on our way to lunch and pick up my mail. Come on,” he said, pulling Polly and then Eileen to their feet and walking them back to Mrs. Leary’s.
    When they arrived, Eileen said, “While you’re collecting your letters, I’ll go see if we’ve had any.”
    “It’s Sunday,” Polly said. “There’s no post on Sunday.”
    “But the retrieval team may have rung up,” she said, and hurried off toward Mrs. Rickett’s.
    Mike watched her till she rounded the corner and then turned to Polly.
    “You said you saw Eileen on VE-Day. Was she the only person you saw?”
    “What do you mean? There were thousands of people in Trafalgar Square that night—”
    “Was I one of them?” If she had seen him, it would be proof they hadn’t got out, that they’d still been there when Polly’s deadline passed.
    “No,” Polly said. “I didn’t see you.”
    “Did you see something else, something that made you think she was there because we didn’t get out?”
    “No, nothing except that our drops won’t open and Mr. Dunworthy was worried about a slippage increase and was changing assignments to chronological—”
    “But he didn’t change yours. And the fact that you didn’t see me there with Eileen means she’s right. She was there on a later assignment. Otherwise, I’d have been there with her. How did she look? Excited? Sad?”
    “Not sad,” Polly said, frowning as if trying to remember. “Optimistic,” she said finally.
    He looked hard at her, trying to decide if she was still keeping something from him. “You’re sure it was Eileen? That it wasn’t just somebody who looked like her?”
    “No, I’m certain it was her.”
    “Then why, when I left for Bletchley Park, were you so worried about Marjorie?”
    “Because I did change what happened. And a nurse is in a position to save who knows how many lives—”
    “But whatever she does, we know it can’t lose the war. You may have gone to VE-Day before all this other stuff happened, but Eileen didn’t. She hasn’t gone yet.
    She went after I saved Hardy and after Marjorie was dug out of the rubble.”
    “I hadn’t thought of that,” Polly said.
    “Well, it’s true. Either we didn’t alter events or there was no lasting harm done,” Mike said. “I wish you’d told me all this before I left for Bletchley Park. I got worried after that encounter with Turing.”
    “Turing? Alan Turing?” Polly cried. “What encounter?”
    “He nearly ran me down with his bicycle,” Mike said. “He swerved at the last minute, and crashed into a lamppost. He wasn’t hurt, and neither was his bike, but when I found out it was him, it scared me to death. But thank God it didn’t do any damage. I’ll be right back.”
    He ran inside to ask Mrs. Leary if he’d received anything while he was gone and then came back out. “No letter and no messages,” he said. “Where’s Eileen? Isn’t she back?”
    “No, she must have got caught by Miss Laburnum. She’s doing the costumes for the play. We’d best go rescue her.” But as they came round the corner they saw Eileen running toward them, waving a letter.
    “I thought you said there wasn’t any mail delivery on Sunday,” Mike said to Polly.
    “You’ve had a letter from Daphne,” Eileen called excitedly, running up. “It came yesterday, but since it was addressed to you, Mrs. Rickett thought it had been sent to the wrong address, and she was planning to send it back. Thank goodness I saw it before she did.”
    She handed it to Mike. He opened the letter and then frowned.
    “What’s wrong?” she asked.
    “The letter’s dated a week ago. She must have forgotten to mail it.” He began reading the letter. “She also misplaced the other address I gave her. That’s why she sent it to Mrs. Rickett’s. And—”
    He stopped short, reading silently. “Oh, my God!”
    “What?” Eileen and Polly said in unison.
    “I don’t believe this. Listen to this,” he said excitedly. “ ‘You said to tell you if anyone came round asking after you. Two men came in to the Crown and Anchor last night, asking all sorts of questions. They said they were friends of yours and that they needed to get in touch with you and did I know where you were.” He looked up at Eileen. “Christ, you were right. The retrieval team’s here. They’ve been here for over a week.”
    “I told you they’d find us,” Eileen said smugly. “Did she tell them where you were?”
    Obviously not, or they’d have been here by now. “No,” he said, and told them he’d leave for Dover that night.
    “I think we should go with you,” Eileen said, “or at least Polly should. She’s the one it’s the most urgent to get out.”
    He shook his head. “I’m going to have to get the information out of Daphne, and she wouldn’t appreciate my showing up with another woman.”
    “She wouldn’t need to go with you to the pub,” Eileen argued. “She could stay at the inn or—”
    “The inn and the pub are one and the same,” he said, “and even if they weren’t, Saltram-on-Sea’s a tiny village. Daphne’d know about Polly within five minutes of her arrival. Besides, I have no idea how I’m going to get there.”
    He explained about the bus service having been discontinued and the gasoline rationing making it hard to rent a car. “I’ll probably have to hitchhike, and it could take two or three days. Plus, it’s a restricted area. I’ve got a press pass, but neither of you do.”
    Polly agreed. “The trains will be jammed with Christmas travelers and soldiers home on leave. Perhaps instead of going there, you should write to Daphne. It might be quicker.”
    “Unless the retrieval team’s there in Saltram-on-Sea. Or unless she doesn’t know where they are. I may have to track them down after I’ve talked to her. I’ll phone you as soon as I’ve found them.”
    “But if they’re in Saltram-on-Sea, how will we get there?” Eileen asked worriedly. “You said it was a restricted area.”
    “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Mike said.
    Eileen was still looking anxious.

    Eileen was still looking anxious.
    “Don’t worry. If the retrieval team’s here, they can go back through to Oxford and get you all the passes and papers you need. Or they may decide it’s easier to set up another drop closer to London. Look, I’ll call you as soon as I know what the plan is.”
    “How much money do you think you’ll need?” Polly asked, digging in her shoulder bag. “Never mind. Take this.” She handed him some money.
    “What about you two?” he asked.
    “I’ve kept back enough for our tube fares, and we’ll be paid the day after tomorrow.”
    She handed him a handwritten list. “Here are the raids on London and the southeast for the next week. The Luftwaffe was concentrating mostly on the Midlands and the ports in December, so it’s not a very long list, and I’m sorry I don’t know more about the raids on southeastern England. I didn’t have those implanted. Oh, and when you get to Dover, you need to be especially careful. It was under bombardment for nearly the entire war. The list I made for you only goes to the twentieth.
    If you think you’ll be gone longer than—”
    He shook his head, folded up the paper, and put it in his pocket. “We’ll be back in Oxford long before that.”
    “Oh! Wouldn’t it be heaven if we were home by Christmas?” Eileen said rapturously.
    “It would,” Mike said, “but first I’ve got to get to Saltram-on-Sea, which means I’ve got to get to Victoria Station before the Underground shuts down. Are there any raids tonight, Polly?”
    “Yes,” she said, “but not till 10:45.”
    “Then if I want to be out of London before they start, I’d better get going.”
    “Do you want us to go with you to Victoria?” Polly asked.
    “No, you need to be here where the retrieval team can find you, in case they gave up on me. Is your play group still putting on The Admirable Crichton?”
    “No, now we’re in rehearsals for A Christmas Carol.”
    “You’d better tell them you can’t do it,” he said.
    He gave both of them a peck on the cheek, said, “I’ll call as soon as I know anything,” and took off. If he could get an express to Dover, he could be there by midnight and on the main road to Saltram-on-Sea by dawn and maybe be able to hitch a ride with a farmer heading up the coast early.
    But Polly had been right. The trains were jammed, and as the agent informed him when he bought his ticket, military personnel were being given first priority.
    “I’m willing to stand in the corridor,” Mike said.
    “First priority is standing in the corridor,” the ticket agent said. “I can get you out on the 2:14 Tuesday.”
    “Sorry, sir. It’s the best I can do. The holidays, you know. And the war, of course.”
    Of course. “You don’t have anything sooner than Tuesday?”
    “No, sir. I can get you on the 6:05 to Canterbury tomorrow. You might be able to get a train to Dover from there.” And after Mike had attempted unsuccessfully to buy a ticket off several people in the queue for the 9:38 to Dover, that was what he opted for, a move he regretted almost immediately.
    Since the train went before the tube began running in the morning, he couldn’t go back to Notting Hill Gate to spend the night, and there wasn’t anywhere in Victoria to sleep. He had to sit up all night on an unbelievably uncomfortable wooden bench.
    And once he got on the train, he was even sorrier. Not only did it turn out to be a local, and even more packed than the Lady Jane had been on the way back from Dunkirk, but less than five miles out of London it was shunted onto a siding while three troop trains and a freight train loaded with military equipment passed.
    After nearly an hour and a half, the train started up again, went half a mile, and stopped again, this time for no reason at all. “Air raid,” a soldier close to the window said, looking out. “I hope the jerries aren’t out hunting trains today. We’re sitting ducks, aren’t we?” after which everyone spent the next few minutes looking up at the ceiling and listening for the deadly hum of approaching HE 111s.
    “I’d rather be back on the front line than here,” another soldier said after a few minutes. “Waiting about for the blow to fall, and not a bloody thing you can do about it.”
    Like Polly, Mike thought. It must have been hell for her when she realized her drop wouldn’t open, and worse keeping it to herself these last weeks while he and Eileen talked about options she knew wouldn’t work. But the worst must have been not being able to do anything about it. His lying there in the hospital worrying about what had happened to the retrieval team and whether he’d messed things up by saving Hardy had been bad enough. He couldn’t imagine what it would have been like if he’d already been to Pearl Harbor, even if it was a year from now, or, like the day the V-1s started, three and a half years off.
    It didn’t matter when it was. It was still heading straight at you. Like the German Army getting closer and closer to Dunkirk, and you sitting there helplessly on the beach, listening to the guns in the distance, and hoping to God a ship would show up and take you off before the Germans got there, and nothing for you to do in the meantime but wait.
    Which is what all three of them would have been doing right now if he hadn’t got Daphne’s letter. Thank God it had come when it did. He couldn’t have stood just sitting there cooling his heels. It was a hell of a lot easier to fire a machine gun at the Zeroes or hand up ammunition than to just sit there and be shot at, a hell of a lot easier to take a leaky launch over to Dunkirk than to sit on a beach waiting for the Germans to come.
    Or the Japanese. He’d assumed, when he found out Gerald hadn’t come through, that his roommate Charles hadn’t either, but what if he had? What if he was in Singapore, and his drop wouldn’t open, and the Japanese would be there any minute, and he didn’t dare leave Singapore for fear he’d miss the retrieval team?
    Charles won’t be in Singapore, Mike told himself, because as soon as I find them, I’ll tell them they’ve got to pull him out. I’ll go with them to get him if I have to.
    But that wouldn’t take anywhere near as much courage as Charles having to sit there at the country club in his dinner clothes and listen to radio bulletins describing the Japanese Army’s approach.
    When he’d read that book Mrs. Ives had given him in the hospital, he’d thought Shackleton was the hero, taking off in a tiny boat and braving Antarctic seas to bring help, but now he wondered if it hadn’t taken more courage to stay on that barren island and watch the boat disappear, and then wait as weeks and months went by, with no guarantee that anybody was ever coming, while their feet froze and the food ran out and the weather got worse and worse.
    Back when he’d been scanning the newspapers, looking for the names of airfields, there’d been a story about an old woman being dug out of the wreckage of what had been her house and the rescue crew asking her if her husband was under there with her. “No, the bloody coward’s at the front!” she’d said indignantly.
    He’d laughed when he read it, but now he wasn’t so sure it had been a joke. Maybe England was the front, and the real heroes were the Londoners sitting in those tube stations night after night, waiting to be blown to smithereens. And Fordham, lying there in the hospital in traction. And everyone on this train, waiting patiently tube stations night after night, waiting to be blown to smithereens. And Fordham, lying there in the hospital in traction. And everyone on this train, waiting patiently for it to begin moving again, not giving way to panic or the impulse to call Hitler and surrender just to get it over with. He was going to have to rethink the whole concept of heroism when he got back to Oxford.
    If he got back to Oxford. At this rate, he wasn’t sure he’d even make it to Canterbury, let alone Saltram-on-Sea.
    He did, but it took him two more days of delayed departures, waits on sidings, and fruitless trips to garages. He ended up hitching rides in a half-track, a sidecar, and a turnip truck.
    The truck was driven by a pretty land girl who’d grown up in Chelsea and was now slopping hogs and milking cows on a farm a few miles west of Saltram-on-Sea.
    “The work ruins your hands,” she said when he asked her how she liked it, “and I despise getting up before dawn and smelling of manure, but if I didn’t have something to do, I’d go mad with worry. My husband’s serving in the North Atlantic, escorting convoys, and sometimes I don’t hear from him for weeks at a time.
    And I feel as though I’m contributing something.”
    She smiled at him. “There are four of us girls, and we all get along famously, so that helps, and Mr. Powney’s not nearly so gruff as some of the other farmers.”
    “Wait—you work for Mr. Powney?”
    “Yes. Why?”
    “I can’t believe it,” he said, laughing. “Does he have a bull?”
    “Yes, why? Have you heard of it? It hasn’t killed anyone, has it?”
    “Not that I know of.”
    “Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had. It’s the worst, most ill-tempered bull in England. How do you know of it?”
    He explained about having waited around for Mr. Powney to come back from buying it so he could get a ride. “And I finally have.”
    “Well, I wouldn’t be too glad about that just yet, if I were you,” she said. “This lorry has the worst tires in England.”
    She wasn’t exaggerating. They had two flats between Dover and Folkestone, and there was no spare. They had to take the tire off both times and patch it—the second time in a driving sleet—and then reinflate it with a bicycle pump.
    It was half past three and beginning to grow dark before they came within sight of Saltram-on-Sea. He could see the gun emplacement, flanked now by row after bristling row of concrete tank traps and sharpened stakes.
    There was razor wire all along the top of the cliff, and signs warning, Danger: This Area Mined. He wondered what the retrieval team had thought when they’d seen all that.
    “Do you mind if I drop you at the crossroads?” the land girl, whose name was Nora, asked him. “I want to get home before dark.”
    “No, that’s fine,” he told her, but was sorry from the moment she let him out. The wind coming off the Channel was bitter, and the sleet was turning to snow.
    Damn it, the retrieval team had better be here after all this, he thought, limping down into the village, his head bent against the wind, his coat collar pulled up around his neck. And the drop they’d come through had better be here, too.
    At least Daphne will be, he thought, going into the inn, but she wasn’t behind the bar. Her father was.
    “I’m looking for Daphne,” Mike said.
    “You’re that American reporter, aren’t you?” her father said. “The one who went to Dunkirk with the Commander?” and when Mike nodded, “Sorry, lad. You’re too late.”
    “Too late?”
    “Aye, lad,” he said. “She’s already married.”

    I pray you tell me, hath anybody enquir’d for me today?
    Saltram-on-Sea—December 1940
    “Aye,” her father said, placidly toweling a glass dry. “To one of the lads what was putting in the beach defenses.”
    I obviously didn’t need to worry about accidentally breaking her heart and keeping her from marrying anybody else, Mike thought ruefully.
    “Beach defenses,” the pipe-smoking fisherman he’d talked to on the quay snorted. “Didn’t know much about defenses, if you ask me. Couldn’t defend himself against your Daphne, could he now?” He nudged Mike. “Looks like you couldn’t either, eh, lad?”
    There was general laughter, under cover of which Mike asked, “Can you tell me where I can find her?”
    Daphne’s father frowned. “I don’t know as that’s a good idea, lad. She’s Mrs. Rob Butcher, and there’s naught you can do about it.”
    “I don’t want to,” Mike said.
    Her father scowled.
    “I mean, I don’t want to make trouble. I just need to talk to her about something. She wrote me a letter—about some men who were asking for me—and I need to ask her if she knows where I can get in touch with them. Or maybe you can help me. Daphne said they came in—”
    Her father shook his head. “I know nothing about any men, and as for Daphne, she’s in Manchester with her husband.”
    Manchester? That was more than two hundred miles from Saltram. It would take him at least two days to get there by train. If he could even get on one. They’d be jammed with soldiers going home on leave for Christmas.
    “I don’t suppose you have a phone number where she can be reached?” Mike asked. “Or an address?”
    “You’re not thinkin’ of goin’ there to make mischief, are you?”
    “No, I just want to write to her,” Mike lied, hoping the address wouldn’t be a post office box.
    It wasn’t. It was an address on King Street. “Though I had a letter from her yesterday saying their lodgings were very unsatisfactory,” Daphne’s father told him,
    “and they were hopin’ to find somethin’ better.”
    Let’s hope they didn’t, Mike thought, writing the address down.
    “If anyone comes in asking for me, tell them I can be reached here,” he said, giving him Mrs. Leary’s address and telephone number. He congratulated him on his daughter’s marriage, then set out for Manchester.
    It didn’t take two days. It took nearly four of fully booked trains, delayed departures, missed connections, and compartments crammed full not only of soldiers but of civilians with packages, plum puddings, and, on one leg of the journey, an enormous unplucked Christmas goose. Apparently no one in England was obeying the government order posted in every station to “avoid unnecessary travel.”
    He didn’t reach Manchester till late afternoon on December twenty-second—by which time Daphne and her new husband had found “something better.” He limped all the way to King Street, only to be sent back across town to Whitworth. And then the landlady, who looked exactly like Mrs. Rickett, wasn’t sure Daphne was in.
    “I’ll go and see,” she said, and left him standing at the door.
    Please let her be in, he thought, leaning against the doorjamb to take the weight off his aching foot.
    She was. She came halfway down the stairs and stopped, just like she had that first day in Saltram-on-Sea. “Why, Mike,” she said, her eyes widening, “I never expected to see you in Manchester. Whatever are you doing here?”
    “I came to find you, to ask you—”
    “But didn’t Dad tell you? Oh, dear, this is dreadful! I didn’t mean for you to find out like this! You’re a lovely boy, and now you’ve come all this way, but the thing is, I was married last week.”
    “I know. Your father told me,” he said, trying to get the right mixture of heartbreak and resignation into his voice. “I really came about your letter.”
    “My letter?” she said, bewildered. “But I didn’t … I thought about writing and telling you about Rob, but I didn’t know where you were or what you were doing, and I thought if you were off covering the war, it would be unkind—”
    “No, the letter you wrote me about the men who came in asking about me,” he said, pulling it out of his coat. “There was a mix-up with the mail, and I just got it.”
    “Oh,” she said, sounding vaguely disappointed.
    “I went to Saltram-on-Sea to talk to you about it, and your father told me you’d gone to Manchester and that you’d got married. Congratulations to both of you.
    Your husband’s a very lucky man.”
    “Oh, but I’m the lucky one,” she said, blushing. “Rob’s wonderful, so kind and brave. He’s working on repairing the docks just now, but he’s put in for combat duty. He’s determined to do his bit for England. I said, ‘You are doing your bit. You’re seeing to it England doesn’t starve, aren’t you? It may not look as grandly heroic as shooting Germans or sinking U-boats, but—’ ”
    And if he didn’t cut her off, he’d be here all night. “If I could just ask you a couple of questions.”
    “Oh, of course. Where are my manners, keeping you standing in the door like that? Come through to the parlor. Would you like some tea?”
    He’d love some tea—he hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast—and he’d love to take the weight off his foot, but he didn’t want to do anything to encourage her to talk longer than she already was. “No, thanks, I have a train to catch. You said these two men came into the pub asking for me.”
    Daphne nodded. “Twice. The first time they asked everyone in the pub if they knew a war correspondent named Mike Davis, and Mr. Tompkins said I did, and they asked me if I knew how they could get in touch with you.”
    “And did you tell them?”
    “No. I remembered what you said about letting you know straightaway if anyone came round asking for you. That’s why I wrote to you instead of giving them your address.”

    Mike groaned inwardly. “Did they say why they were trying to get in touch with me?”
    “No, they said it was something to do with the war, and that it was very important that they contact you, but they didn’t say what it was.”
    “Did they tell you their names?”
    “Yes. Mr. Watson and Mr.…” She frowned and bit her lip. “I can’t remember, it began with an H, like Hawes or …”
    “Mr. Holmes?”
    “Yes, that was it. Mr. Watson and Mr. Holmes.”
    That cinched it. It was the retrieval team.
    “They knew all about you having been at Dunkirk and in hospital,” Daphne said. “They said one of the nurses told them you might have gone to Saltram-on-Sea.”
    Which meant they’d traced him as far as Orpington, but they obviously hadn’t talked to Sister Carmody or she’d have told them he was in London. “What did they look like?” he asked. “Were they in uniform?”
    “No. Civilian clothes. Very posh, and very posh accents, and they were both terribly handsome”—she cocked her head flirtatiously—“though not so handsome as you, speaking quite impartially. I’m a married woman, you know.”
    Yes, I know.
    “You said they came in twice,” he said, trying to get her back to the subject at hand. “The same day?”
    “No, they came in on, let me see, when was it? The first Saturday in December, I think.”
    When he was in Oxford, trying to find out whether Gerald Phipps had been there.
    “And then they came in again the next night, and that was when Rob got jealous and told me to stop flirting with them, and I said, ‘I wasn’t flirting, and even if I was, you’ve got no call to tell me not to, Rob Butcher. I’m not your wife,’ and he said, ‘I wish you were,’ and the next thing you know he’s been to Dover and got a special license so the vicar could marry us straightaway. Dad wanted us to wait, but Rob said no, who knew what might happen tomorrow or how much time we might have together, and then he found out he was being sent here, and—”
    “When the men came the second time,” Mike finally managed to get in, “what did they say?”
    “They said if I did hear from you, to contact them immediately, and they wrote down their address for me. I meant to send it on to you, but then in the excitement of the wedding and all, I forgot. Oh, it was a lovely wedding. Rob looked terribly handsome in his uniform, and the church was all decorated with holly and—”
    “Do you remember the address?”
    Of course not.
    “But I’ve got it. I put it”—she frowned in consternation—“now, where did I put it?”
    Please don’t say you stuck it behind the bar, and now I’ll have to trudge all the way back across the country to Saltram-on-Sea for it, Mike thought.
    “I put it … oh, I know,” she said. “I put it in my vanity case so I wouldn’t go off without it. It’s upstairs. Hang on.” She started up and then turned to look at him over the railing. “You’re not in any trouble, are you?”
    Not anymore, he thought.
    “I mean, the authorities aren’t after you or anything?” she asked, concerned.
    “No. I think I know who the men were. They’re a couple of guys who were on the boat with me coming back from Dunkirk. Reporters.”
    “Oh, I wish I’d known they’d been at Dunkirk. I could have asked them about the Commander and Jonathan. They might know what happened to them.”
    “I’ll ask them when I see them,” Mike lied. “You were going to go get the address?”
    “Oh, yes,” she said, and pattered up the stairs, turning as she ran to give Mike one of those over-the-shoulder smiles that had no doubt snared her new husband. “I’ll only be a moment.”
    She was as good as her word, reappearing almost immediately with a sheet of lined paper torn from a notebook like the one he carried. “Here it is,” she said, handing it to him.
    He looked down at the address. It was in Edgebourne, Kent. That must be where their drop was.
    “It’s near Hawkhurst,” Daphne said.
    Hawkhurst. Well, he wouldn’t have to go all the way back to Saltram-on-Sea, but almost. He’d have to make that whole long, uncomfortable trip back in a packed train.
    At least it wasn’t on the coast, so he wouldn’t have to deal with guards and checkpoints. But he was afraid it wasn’t big enough to have a railroad station. But it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. He felt all the near panic of the last six months melt away. The retrieval team was here, and they were going home.
    “Thank you,” he said, and kissed Daphne impulsively on the cheek. “You’re wonderful.”
    “Now, then,” she said, blushing, “you mustn’t do that sort of thing, you know. I’m a married woman. Rob—”
    “Is a very lucky guy.” And so am I. You have just saved my life. All our lives. “Listen,” he said. “Be careful. When the sirens go, don’t be a hero. Get yourself to the shelter. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
    “Oh, dear, I did break your heart, didn’t I?” She smiled sympathetically at him. “You mustn’t worry. You’ll meet someone, and you’ll be just as happy as Rob and I are. You’ll see, it will all work out for the best. Rob says—”
    The sirens went, and Mike used them as an excuse to leave. “Remember what I said,” he told her. “You get to that shelter.” And he limped off before she could tell him what Rob had said and what her wedding dress had looked like and how he’d find a nice girl.
    I already have a nice girl, he thought. Two of them.
    Who he needed to call and tell the good news to as soon as he got to the station. He hadn’t wanted to call them before for fear he wouldn’t be able to find Daphne or for fear she wouldn’t have the retrieval team’s address, but now they needed to quit their jobs and get ready to go. And he needed to ask Polly if Manchester had been bombed on the twenty-second and how badly.
    In spite of the sirens having gone nearly fifteen minutes ago, he still didn’t hear any planes. Manchester must have a longer warning period than London, since they In spite of the sirens having gone nearly fifteen minutes ago, he still didn’t hear any planes. Manchester must have a longer warning period than London, since they were farther north and west. He didn’t hear any guns either, and the only searchlights were out toward the docks. But they gave off enough light to see his way by.
    He hobbled on toward the train station, cursing his limp. Which I won’t have in a few more days, he thought. I’ll have a brand-new foot, and Polly won’t have to worry about still being here on her deadline, and Eileen won’t ever have to suffer through another raid.
    A man hurried past him, carrying a spray of holly.
    We’ll be home for Christmas, Mike thought. He pushed through the station door and headed for the line of red phone booths along the far wall to call Polly and Eileen. Would it be better for him to go back to London and get them, and the three of them go to Edgebourne together, or should he have them meet him there? That would be faster, and it would mean Eileen and Polly were safely out of London sooner. But if something went wrong and they got separated …
    Maybe he’d better go get them. That way they’d all be together and—
    What am I talking about? he thought. All I have to do is get to Edgebourne and tell them where Polly and Eileen are, and they can have another team go get them.
    Tonight if they want. Or the night I left for Saltram-on-Sea. This was time travel. Eileen and Polly were probably already in Oxford. In which case all he needed to do was get back to Kent and tell the retrieval team where they were the day he’d left.
    He looked up at the departures board. There was an express leaving for Reading in six minutes. He limped over to the ticket counter. “One way to Reading on the 6:05,” he said.
    The ticket agent shook his head.
    “Or on the next train east I can get a space on.”
    “No departures during a raid,” the agent said, and pointed up at the high ceiling, where a sudden buzz of planes was becoming a dull roar. “You’re not going anywhere tonight, mate. I’d find a shelter if I were you.”

    Happy Blitzmas!
    London—December 1940
    THREE NIGHTS AFTER MIKE LEFT FOR SALTRAM-ON-SEA, Eileen asked anxiously, “Shouldn’t we have heard from him by now?”
    Yes, Polly thought. They were at Mrs. Rickett’s. The sirens hadn’t gone and the rehearsal for A Christmas Carol didn’t begin till eight, so Eileen had insisted on their waiting till the last moment to leave for Notting Hill Gate, hoping Mike would phone, but he hadn’t.
    “I doubt if he’ll phone before next week,” Polly said reassuringly.
    “Next week?”
    “Yes. He may not even be there yet, given all the wartime travel delays and no bus service from Dover. And the retrieval team may not be in Saltram-on-Sea. They may be in Folkestone or Ramsgate, or they may have gone off looking for Mike after they spoke to Daphne—”
    “In which case it might take Mike days to locate them,” Eileen said, sounding relieved.
    “Exactly,” Polly said, not mentioning that it didn’t matter how long it took Mike to contact the team because this was time travel. If he did find them, all he needed to do was tell them where she and Eileen were and a second team could have been at Mrs. Rickett’s immediately after Mike left for Victoria Station. Which meant either he hadn’t found them or something had happened to him, and she had no intention of telling Eileen that. It would only frighten her, and Polly was already frightened enough for both of them—correction, for all three of them.
    The letter from Daphne combined with Eileen having told him she’d witnessed the end of the war seemed to have convinced him they hadn’t altered the future.
    He’d even brushed off his collision with Alan Turing.
    But he didn’t know about Eileen’s withholding the City of Benares letter from Alf and Binnie Hodbin’s mother. Or about Eileen’s having given Binnie aspirin when she had the measles.
    Mike had said Turing hadn’t been injured by the collision, but he wouldn’t have had to be. This was Alan Turing, the man who was behind Bletchley Park’s success, and he still hadn’t cracked the naval Enigma code. What if Mike’s colliding with him had interrupted his train of thought at a crucial moment, and he didn’t crack the code? Or what if Mike had done something else while he was in Bletchley which—combined with Hardy’s rescue and what she and Eileen had done—
    would tip the balance of the war later on? Or what if he’d done something now in Saltram-on-Sea?
    I should have warned him, she thought. I should have told him about the City of Benares and about the possible discrepancies. But she wasn’t certain they were discrepancies. And he’d been so distraught when she told him about her deadline, and then, after he’d got the letter from Daphne, so certain that the retrieval team had come.
    And if they have, then there’s no reason to worry him with any of this. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
    But what if they haven’t?
    “You are worried, aren’t you?” Eileen asked anxiously. “About Mike’s not phoning.”
    “No,” Polly said firmly. “Remember, he said the phone at the Crown and Anchor wasn’t at all private. He may have to wait till he arrives back in Dover to find one that is. Or the telephone lines may be out.”
    From the shelling Dover is taking every night, Polly added silently, wishing Mike would find a way to phone so she could tell him about the shelling and the upcoming raids. He’d be all right for the next few days—the raids would all be in the Midlands or the west—Liverpool on the twentieth, Plymouth on the twenty-first, and Manchester the night after that. But on the twenty-fourth Dover would undergo a major shelling, and two trains in Kent would be machine-gunned from the air.
    They waited another quarter of an hour, hoping he’d phone. “It’s twenty till,” Polly said finally. “We really must leave, or I’ll be late for rehearsal.”
    “All right,” Eileen said reluctantly. “Wait, was that the phone? It’s Mike. I knew it!” She pelted down the stairs to answer it.
    It was Mrs. Rickett’s sister, and it was clear they intended to talk for some time. “She’s phoned twice in the past three days. Mike’s very probably phoned already and couldn’t get through,” Eileen said as they walked over to Notting Hill Gate. She paused. “You knew Lady Caroline, didn’t you? When you were in Dulwich.”
    And when Polly looked at her in surprise, “The day I got the letter from the vicar about Lady Caroline and Lord Denewell, you said ‘You worked for Lady Denewell?’ ”
    And what else has she worked out? Polly wondered.
    “Yes,” she said. “She was my commanding officer.”
    Eileen nodded as if she already knew that. “And she made you do all the work.”
    “No. She was a wonderful commanding officer, hardworking, always thinking of her girls, determined to get us the supplies we needed. That’s why I was so surprised. From what you’d told me about her—”
    “I think it must have been because of losing her husband and her son. War changes people. It makes people do things they never thought they could,” Eileen said thoughtfully. “In Mrs. Bascombe’s last letter, she said Una’s become quite a good driver in the ATF. You don’t suppose the war will improve Alf and Binnie Hodbin, do you?”
    “I very much doubt it.”
    “So do I,” Eileen said as they turned onto Kensington Church Street. “Have you told the troupe that you may not be here for the performance of A Christmas Carol and that they need to arrange for an understudy?”
    “Not yet,” Polly said, wishing she could believe that Mike had simply been delayed and that the retrieval team would be waiting for them when they arrived at the tube station, or that when Mrs. Rickett came, she’d tell them Mike had phoned after she’d rung off.
    She didn’t, and there was no one at the tube station or at Townsend Brothers the next morning. “He’ll phone today, I know it,” Eileen said confidently, going up to the book department. “I’ll see you at lunch.”
    But there was no time for lunch. There were Christmas decorations to put up—evergreen and cellophane garlands and paper bells (the aluminum-foil ones had gone to Lord Beaverbrook’s Spitfire drive) and banners reading There’ll Always Be a Christmas. And there was a horde of customers to contend with.

    to Lord Beaverbrook’s Spitfire drive) and banners reading There’ll Always Be a Christmas. And there was a horde of customers to contend with.
    “The only good thing,” Polly told Eileen when they met after work, “is that we’ve sold so much we’ve run completely out of brown paper.”
    But when she arrived at Townsend Brothers the next day there was a large stack of Christmas paper on her counter. “Miss Snelgrove found it in the storeroom,”
    Doreen said. “From Christmas two years ago. Wasn’t that lucky?”
    Polly stared hopelessly at the holly-sprigged sheets. “Haven’t we a duty to turn it in to the War Ministry for the war effort, to make stuffing for gun casings or something?” she asked.
    Miss Snelgrove glared at her. “We have a duty to our customers to make this difficult Christmas as happy as possible.”
    What about my Christmas? Polly thought. She attempted to convince her customers it was their patriotic duty to take their purchases home unwrapped, but to no avail. It was the only wrapping paper they were likely to get their hands on for the duration, and they didn’t intend to pass up the chance. Some of them even bought things just to obtain the paper, as witness all the bilious lavender-pink stockings she sold. She spent nearly all her time struggling with knots and corners and the rest of it struggling to learn her lines for A Christmas Carol.
    She had been wrong about the play. The female roles were small, but there were a great many of them, and Polly found herself playing not only Scrooge’s lost love, Belle, but also the eldest Cratchit daughter, one of the businessmen soliciting a charitable donation from Scrooge (in a false mustache and sideburns), the boy sent to buy the turkey (in a cap and knee pants), and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
    How appropriate, she thought. She hadn’t realized till now that the play was about time travel, and that Scrooge was a sort of historian, journeying to the past and then back to the future.
    And he had altered events. He’d given Bob Cratchit a raise, he’d improved the lot of the poor, he’d saved Tiny Tim’s life. But in A Christmas Carol, there wasn’t the possibility that what he’d done would have a bad effect. In Dickens, good intentions always resulted in good outcomes.
    And none of his characters had deadlines.
    They can occupy the same time twice, Polly thought enviously, watching the rector playing the young Scrooge and Sir Godfrey playing the elder in the same scene.
    When Sir Godfrey wasn’t onstage, he was berating Miss Laburnum for her failure to secure a turkey for the Christmas-morning scene.
    “There are simply none to be had, Sir Godfrey,” she said. “The war, you know.”
    Or he was shouting at Viv (Scrooge’s nephew’s wife) and Mr. Simms (the Ghost of Marley) for their inability to learn their lines.
    “I suppose you don’t know your lines for the tombstone scene either, Viola,” he growled at Polly when she missed a cue.
    “I haven’t any lines,” Polly reminded him. “All I do is point at Scrooge’s grave.”
    “Bah, humbug!” he said, bellowed at Tiny Tim (Trot) to get her cane out of the way, and started them through the Scrooge-confronts-his-own-death scene.
    “Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” he said, quailing from the pasteboard tombstone, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be only?”
    I don’t know, Polly thought.
    The war still seemed to be on track. Liverpool, Plymouth, and Manchester had been bombed, Victoria Station had been hit, and the British had counterattacked the Italian forces in North Africa, all on schedule.
    But would they stay that way? Or would Marjorie—who’d sent Polly from Norwich, where she was doing her training, a card saying, “Wishing you anything but a Jerry Christmas!”—save the life of someone who would make a decisive error at El Alamein or on the HMS Dorsetshire?
    “Spirit!” Sir Godfrey shouted. “Lady Mary! Viola! Kindly remember this is a holiday play, and you are the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, not Dark Unyielding Doom. I realize the thought of performing in Piccadilly Circus is grim, but if you look like that during the performance, you’ll terrify the children. This is a comedy, not a tragedy.”
    I haven’t seen any proof of that, Polly thought. But she attempted—both onstage and off—to put on a face more in keeping with the season. Like everyone else was doing in spite of their facing a future which was just as uncertain as hers and civilian casualties which were mounting daily. The contemps entered wholeheartedly into the Christmas spirit, pinning decorations to their blackout curtains and greeting one another gaily with “Happy Christmas!”
    And preparing presents to give each other. “I went in to Miss Laburnum’s room just now to borrow her iron,” Eileen reported, “and caught her trying to cover up something on her writing table. I think she’s making us Christmas gifts.”
    “Or she’s a German spy,” Polly said, “and you caught her writing messages in code.”
    Eileen ignored that. “What if we’re still here on Christmas, and she gives us a gift and we haven’t one for her? We must get something for her and for Miss Hibbard and Mr. Dorming … oh dear, do you think Mrs. Rickett will expect a gift?”
    “She won’t be here. I heard her tell Miss Hibbard she’s going to her sister’s in Surrey for the holidays.” Polly started to say she doubted any of them would expect gifts in light of all the government admonitions to have a “frugal Christmas” to assist the war effort, and then thought better of it. Planning gifts might keep Eileen from fretting about Mike. “What about Theodore?” she said instead.
    “Oh, yes, I must definitely get Theodore and his mother something,” Eileen said, making a list. “I know we can’t spend much money because we’ve got to save for our train fares to the drop, but I should send a gift to Alf and Binnie as well. Speaking of which, do you think you could steal some Christmas paper at work to wrap them in?”
    “Gladly, if it will make us run through our supply sooner,” Polly said. “You’d best do your shopping soon, or the shops will be sold out.”
    Which was true. Townsend Brothers’ shelves were becoming barer and barer, and Polly spent half her time bringing out ancient, dusty stock from the storeroom to sell in place of the stockings and gloves she was out of—old-fashioned garters and bed jackets and Victorian nightgowns. Customers snapped them up.
    Both Townsend Brothers and Oxford Street were jammed with shoppers, parents bringing children to see Father Christmas, and elderly women soliciting donations for the Air-Raid Distress Fund, the Minesweepers Fund, and the Evacuated Children’s Fund. In front of bombed-out John Lewis’s, Victory bonds were being sold from the back of a lorry. Banners went up on government buildings proclaiming Not a Merry Xmas but a Happy Xmas—Devoted to the Service of Our Country, and Christmas trees went up in the shelters. Mistletoe hung from the tunnel arches, the canteen was swathed in fir branches, and WVS volunteers handed out sweets and toys and tickets to pantomimes.
    One of them gave two tickets for Rapunzel to a mortally offended Sir Godfrey, “because you like plays and things.” He promptly gave them to Polly. She gave them to Eileen to pass along to Theodore and his mother.
    “But they’re for Sunday the twenty-ninth, and she works Sundays,” Eileen said. “And I can’t take Theodore because we won’t be here. What do you think I should do? Give them to someone else?”

    do? Give them to someone else?”
    No, Polly thought, because if Mike’s still not here by the twenty-ninth, you’ll definitely need something to keep your mind off things.
    “Hang on to them for now,” she told Eileen. “Mike may have difficulty traveling this near the holidays. The trains and buses are jammed with soldiers coming home on leave. Did you find a gift for Miss Hibbard?”
    “Yes. Did you manage to pinch the wrapping paper?”
    “I did. Not that it helped the situation. We appear to have an endless supply. And Miss Snelgrove told us we’re to use less string. Have you ever tried to tie a knot with an inch of string?”
    “Give me the paper,” Eileen ordered. She vanished into the bathroom for several minutes and came back with a small, neatly wrapped parcel. “I’m giving you your Christmas present early,” she said, handing it to Polly.
    “But I haven’t anything for—”
    Eileen waved her objection away. “You need it now, and if Mike comes back tonight, you won’t have any use for it. Open it.”
    Polly did. It was two rolls of cellophane tape.
    “It was all I could find,” Eileen said. “I do hope it’s enough to get you through Christmas.” She looked anxiously at Polly, who was still staring down at the tape.
    “You like it, don’t you?”
    “It’s the nicest Christmas present anyone’s ever given me,” Polly said, and, to her horror, burst into tears.
    “Except for getting to go home, and we’ll get that soon. Don’t cry. You’re making the paper wet, and I need to use it again for Theodore’s gift.”
    “We’ll wrap it this minute,” Polly said, and waited impatiently as Eileen ironed the paper out and fetched Theodore’s toy Spitfire from the bureau drawer.
    The tape was wonderful. It held the ends of the paper beautifully. And now what was she going to get Eileen? And when? Christmas was only a few days off, Townsend Brothers was a zoo, and she’d promised Miss Laburnum, who was nearly hysterical about the prospect of their performing in other stations—“Leicester Square is in the heart of the West End, and who knows who might be in the audience?”—to help her with costumes and props. And she still hadn’t learned Belle’s lines. And tomorrow Dover would be shelled, and Mike still hadn’t phoned. Or written. Or sent another crossword puzzle. Because he’s dead, she thought.
    You don’t know that, she told herself. You thought something had happened to him when you didn’t hear from him when he was in Bletchley, and he was perfectly all right. And there could be all sorts of reasons why you haven’t heard from him. The retrieval team’s drop site is in Northumberland or Yorkshire, and Mike’s having trouble getting there. Or Daphne’s gone off to visit relatives for the holidays, and Mike has to wait for her to come back. Or the shelling on the coast has taken out the telephone lines, and it takes longer for a letter to be delivered because of the Christmas rush.
    We’ll hear from him tomorrow, she thought. But they didn’t.

    Do a good turn for Christmas.
    December 1940
    London—December 1940
    “Do you think he’ll come tonight?” Eileen asked Polly as they rode down the escalator to Piccadilly Station to perform A Christmas Carol.
    The man behind them said, laughing, “Ain’t you a bit old to believe in Father Christmas, dearie?”
    “You fool, she wasn’t talkin’ about Father Christmas,” his companion said. “She was talkin’ about ’Itler.” He nodded at Eileen. “I’ll give you six-to-one odds ’e’ll come tonight. It’d be just like ’im to try to ruin our Christmas, the little bastard.”
    They had obviously both had more than a little Christmas cheer.
    “That’s no way to talk in the presence of ladies, you bleedin’ sod,” the first man said belligerently, and Polly hoped they wouldn’t come to blows there on the escalator.
    But the other man tipped his cap and said, “Beggin’ your pardon, misses. I shouldn’t ’ave called ’Itler a little bastard. ’E’s the biggest bastard what ever lived. And I’ll wager five bob ’e’s up to something. A nasty Christmas surprise. You watch. Them sirens’ll go any minute now.”
    They wouldn’t, but it was obvious he wasn’t the only one who thought that. There were more people in the station than there had been in the last two weeks, all with their bedrolls and picnic baskets. The woman just below them on the escalator had a Harrods carrier bag full of Christmas presents, and two toddlers had each brought a long brown stocking with them.
    The two men weren’t the only ones who’d been drinking. There were periodic outbursts of too-loud laughter and unsteady choruses of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” on the platforms. And during their performance, when Sir Godfrey as Scrooge launched into his “Bah, humbug!” speech, someone shouted from the audience, “What you need is a spot of rum, you auld sod!”
    The troupe gave two performances, the first in the main hall and the second on a stage built out over the tracks on the westbound Piccadilly Line platform after the trains had stopped. Even with the stage, the platform was still too small to accommodate the crowd. “Do you see that crutch by the fireplace, tenderly preserved?” Sir Godfrey muttered to Polly. “That’s Tiny Tim’s. He was pushed onto the track by his adoring public and run over by a train.”
    “But at least he wasn’t doing panto when he died,” Polly whispered back.
    “Or, God forbid, Peter Pan,” Sir Godfrey said, and made his entrance.
    Scrooge bahhed, humbugged, saw the ghost of Marley (Mr. Simms), traveled to the past and back to the future, learned the error of his ways, made amends, and prevented Tiny Tim from dying, in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd, which Polly and Eileen both scanned for Mike.
    But he didn’t come. He wasn’t waiting for them outside Notting Hill Gate or at Mrs. Leary’s either. And all that was waiting for them at their boardinghouse was the news that Mrs. Rickett had taken the Christmas goose and plum pudding—purchased with her boarders’ ration points—with her when she went to her sister’s and left them turnip soup for their Christmas dinner.
    “No matter,” Miss Laburnum said. “My nephew in Canada sent me a Christmas box and the convoy got safely through.” She brought down a tin of biscuits, a packet of tea, and a bag of walnuts. Eileen and Polly chipped in their emergency stash of tinned beef, marmalade, and chocolate, and Mr. Dorming produced a tin of condensed milk and one of peaches.
    “In syrup,” Miss Laburnum said, as if it were ambrosia, and insisted on serving it separately in Mrs. Rickett’s sherry glasses.
    They put everything else in the center of the table, “just like a picnic,” as Miss Hibbard said.
    “This is a far better dinner than we would have had had Mrs. Rickett been here,” Miss Laburnum said. “Goose or no goose.”
    “There is no need to call Mrs. Rickett names,” Mr. Dorming said, and they all collapsed in giggles.
    After dinner, they listened to the King’s speech on the wireless. “This time we are all in the front line and the danger together,” he said in his stammering voice.
    “The future will be hard, but our feet are planted on the path of victory.”
    I fervently hope so, Polly thought.
    After the speech, they drank the King’s health—in tea, the peach syrup having all been consumed—and then exchanged gifts. Miss Laburnum presented Polly and Eileen each with a homemade lavender sachet, and Miss Hibbard gave them knitted scarves.
    “I made them for the soldiers, but after I’d finished them, I was afraid they were perhaps too bright and might endanger them.” They might indeed. They were a bright pumpkin orange, which would stand out like a target to the enemy.
    Polly gave Eileen tattered secondhand paperbacks of Murder at the Vicarage, Three Act Tragedy, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which Eileen clutched rapturously to her breast. Eileen and Polly gave Mr. Dorming a packet of tobacco, Miss Hibbard a box of soaps with a picture of the King and Queen on it, and Miss Laburnum a secondhand copy of The Tempest, all wrapped in smuggled-out Townsend Brothers Christmas paper.
    “Look at the frontispiece of your book,” Polly told Miss Laburnum. “Sir Godfrey signed it to you.”
    “ ‘To my fellow player and costumer extraordinaire,’ ” Miss Laburnum read aloud, “ ‘the best of Christmases from your fellow thespian, Sir Godfrey Kingsman,’ ”
    and burst into tears. “It is the best of Christmases,” she said. “I don’t know how I should get through this war without all of you.”
    And I don’t know how we’d have got through today—and these months—without you, Polly thought, grateful that Townsend Brothers would be open on Boxing Day.
    But even post-Christmas exchanges and taking down decorations and preparing for the New Year’s sales weren’t enough to take Polly’s mind off Mike, and she and Eileen raced home after work to see if he’d phoned.
    He hadn’t, and he didn’t come on the twenty-seventh, or the twenty-eighth. What if he’s dead? Polly thought, taking down paper bells. What if he was killed when they shelled Dover? Or on the day he left for Saltram-on-Sea, and he’s been dead all this time? Like Mr. Dunworthy. And Colin. Or what if the retrieval team was in Plymouth or Liverpool, both of which had been bombed, and he’d gone there to find them?
    There was a photo of Manchester’s ruined railway station in the Daily Mirror. I should have told him about Manchester before he left, she thought. I should have There was a photo of Manchester’s ruined railway station in the Daily Mirror. I should have told him about Manchester before he left, she thought. I should have told him about the raids tonight. And about the ones on Sunday night.
    On Sunday morning Eileen said, “I’m to take Theodore to the pantomime this afternoon, but perhaps I’d better not. If Mike comes—”
    “I’ll tell him where you are,” Polly said, thinking, If you’re at the pantomime, you won’t be here watching the clock and making me nervy.
    She was already nervy enough for both of them. Tonight was the attack on the City and St. Paul’s. The Germans had dropped eleven thousand incendiaries and damaged half the railway lines into town. If Mike attempted to come to London tonight …
    “What time is the pantomime over?” she asked Eileen.
    “I’ve no idea. It begins at half past two, so I should think four. Or half past.”
    “And then you must take Theodore back to Stepney?”
    Eileen nodded.
    “If the trains are running late and you’re still in Stepney when the sirens go, stay there. The raids will be bad tonight.”
    “But I thought the East End was the hardest hit—”
    “Not tonight. Tonight the City will be the target, and several of the tube stations. You’re safer in Stepney.”
    Eileen nodded. “I hate to leave you.”
    “I’ll be quite all right. I need to wash out some things.” And be here to warn Mike about tonight if he telephones. “If I get bored,” Polly said, “I’ll read one of the Agatha Christies I gave you and see if I can guess the murderer.”
    “You can’t,” Eileen said. “She’s far too clever. I always think I know who did the murder, but it always turns out to be someone I’ve never even thought of, though the clues were right there in front of me. You realize your theory of the crime was all wrong, that something else entirely was going on.”
    The frizzy-haired librarian at Holborn had said almost the same thing, that the ending made her realize she’d been looking at things the wrong way round.
    Eileen put on her coat. “The theater’s the Phoenix on Shaftesbury Avenue,” she said, and went off to Stepney to fetch Theodore. Polly washed out her blouse and stockings, hung them up to dry, fended off an invitation from Miss Laburnum to go to a prayer service at Westminster Abbey “for our dear boys in uniform,” and ironed her skirt, keeping one ear cocked the entire time for the telephone.
    It finally rang at half past eleven.
    It was Mike. “Mike! Oh, thank goodness!” she said. “Where are you?”
    “In Rochester. I’ve only got a couple of minutes to talk. The train’s about to leave. I just wanted to tell you I’m okay, and I’ll be there in a couple of hours.”
    “Did you find—?” She stopped and looked into the kitchen and then the parlor. She couldn’t see anyone, but she lowered her voice anyway. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
    “No,” he said. “It turned out to be a guy I knew in the hospital. In the bed next to me. Guy named Fordham. He’d finally got out and thought he’d look me up.”
    She had known for days it wasn’t the retrieval team, but she still felt a lurch of panic at his words. They were nearly out of options, and in two more days they wouldn’t know where or when the raids were, and what then?
    Mike was saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t call before, but it took me forever to track Daphne down. She’d got married and moved to Manchester.”
    “Manchester? Oh, God, you weren’t there during the bombing, were you?”
    “As a matter of fact, I was, and then couldn’t get out because the train station had been hit. I couldn’t call you either. The lines were down. I had to hitch a ride to Stoke-on-Trent and take the train from there.”
    “Oh, it’s my fault!” Polly cried. “I should have warned you. But I didn’t think you’d have any reason to be in the Midlands. I’m so sorry. Listen, I have to tell you”—she lowered her voice again and cupped her hand over her mouth and the receiver—“tonight’s a horrible raid, one of the worst of the war. A huge part of the City burned and St. Paul’s was nearly destroyed, and several of the railway lines and stations were hit—Waterloo and—”
    “What did you say?” Mike asked.
    “I said, Waterloo Station and—”
    “No, about St. Paul’s. You said it was nearly destroyed?”
    “Yes,” she whispered. “It was hit by twenty-eight incendiaries, and everything else around it burned, Paternoster Row and—”
    “I thought the incendiaries at St. Paul’s were on May tenth.”
    “No, you’re thinking of the House of Commons. It—”
    “But you said May ninth and tenth were the worst raids of the Blitz.”
    “They were,” Polly said, wondering what this had to do with anything. “They had the most casualties, and caused the most damage, but the worst fire was on the twenty-ninth.”
    “So the twenty-ninth is the night the fire watch is famous for? The night they saved St. Paul’s?”
    “Was St. Paul’s hit on the tenth?”
    “No. What’s this all—?”
    “Listen,” Mike said urgently. “I know where—damn it, my train’s pulling out. I’ve got to run for it. But, I need you to—”
    “Do you want me to meet you somewhere?”
    “No, you and Eileen both stay right where you are. And be ready to go when I get there. I know how we can get out. Bye.”
    “Eileen’s not here,” she said, but he’d already rung off.
    Polly replaced the receiver.
    At least I warned him about tonight, she thought, though she wasn’t at all certain he’d been listening. But if he was in Rochester and there weren’t any delays, he’d be here well before the raids began. Or if his train was delayed, he’d ring up again in a few minutes, and she could warn him.
    She stood there, looking down at the telephone, trying to decide whether she should go fetch Eileen. He’d said to be here and be ready to go when he arrived. But Eileen wouldn’t be at the theater yet—it was scarcely noon—and if Polly set out for Stepney, they’d be certain to miss each other.

    Eileen wouldn’t be at the theater yet—it was scarcely noon—and if Polly set out for Stepney, they’d be certain to miss each other.
    She rang the Phoenix, but no one answered. Or at half past. Or at one, and Mike didn’t phone again, which meant he was on his way.
    He’d obviously thought of an historian who was here now, and it had something to do with St. Paul’s. She doubted if another historian would have been assigned to observe the fire watch besides Mr. Bartholomew, so he—or she—must be observing something else in that area: the Guildhall fire or one of the Wren churches which had burned. But why wouldn’t Mike have thought of him or her before now? And how could he know for certain where this historian would be?
    Polly tried the theater again at half past one, but there was still no answer. She’d have to go there herself after Eileen, but she was afraid of missing Mike, and there was no one home to leave a message with. Miss Hibbard was visiting her aunt, Mr. Dorming was at a football match in Luton, and Miss Laburnum wasn’t back from Westminster Abbey yet. And a note left for Mike could easily go unnoticed or astray.
    She decided to keep ringing the theater and to wait another quarter of an hour and hope Miss Laburnum came home.
    She did.
    Polly didn’t give her a chance to tell her about the service. She said, “Will you be in this afternoon?” and, when Miss Laburnum said yes, ran upstairs to fetch her coat and hat.
    She pulled her coat on, snatched up her hat and bag from the bureau, and turned to see Mike burst, panting, through the door. “Oh, thank goodness,” she said. “I didn’t think you’d be here so soon.”
    “Where’s Eileen?” he demanded.
    “She took Theodore Willett to a pantomime.”
    “I told you two to stay put.”
    “She’d already gone when you phoned. I was just going to fetch her.”
    “Which theater is she at? Can we call her and tell her to meet us?”
    “I’ve tried. There’s no answer.”
    “Then we’ll have to go get her. Come on.”
    “What’s this all about, Mike? Did you think of someone who’s here?”
    “Yes. I’ll tell you on the way. Which theater is it?”
    “The Phoenix, but I don’t know if they’ll let us in after the play’s begun.”
    “Which is when?”
    “Half past two.”
    “Then we have to get there before that. Come on.” He hustled her down the stairs.
    Miss Laburnum was standing at the foot of them. “What was it you wished me to do, Miss Sebastian?” she asked.
    “Nothing, never mind, goodbye,” Polly said, hurrying outside after Mike, who, in spite of his limp, was already several doors down.
    “What’s the fastest way to the Phoenix?” he asked when she caught up to him.
    “A taxi, if we can find one,” she said. “Otherwise, the Underground.”
    “Where’s the best place to find a taxi?”
    “Bayswater Road. Now, tell me where we’re going after we fetch Eileen.”
    “To St. Paul’s,” he said without breaking stride, “to find John Bartholomew.”
    “John Bartholomew!” Polly said, halting. “But he’s already gone back. In October.”
    He stopped and faced her. “Who told you that?”
    “Eileen. She said he went back immediately after he was injured in the bombing on October tenth.”
    “Eileen knew about Bartholomew?” he said, grabbing Polly by the arms. “Why the hell didn’t she say something?”
    “She wasn’t there when you and I discussed past historians who’d been here, and I didn’t find out about him till after you’d left for Bletchley Park. And since he was already gone—”
    Mike shook his head. “He’s not gone. She got her dates wrong. And he wasn’t injured—another member of the fire watch was, and Bartholomew saved his life.
    And it didn’t happen in October, it was tonight.” They’d reached the Bayswater Road. “Damn it,” he said, looking up and down the empty street. “What the hell’s happened to all the taxis?”
    “It’ll have to be the tube,” Polly said.
    They hurried into Notting Hill Gate and down to the Central Line. A train was just pulling in, and the car they got on was, thankfully, empty, so they could talk.
    “You’re certain Bartholomew was here on the twenty-ninth?” she asked.
    “Yeah, I heard him give a lecture on it. He told all about the incendiaries and the tide being out so they didn’t have any water to fight the fires and the Wren churches burning and the fire watch saving St. Paul’s. He was up there on the roofs with them. Damn it. He’s been here this whole time! If I’d only known—” He broke off. “Well, it can’t be helped now. I just hope we can get to him in time—”
    “In time? But if you know he’s at St. Paul’s—”
    “He’s there tonight, but that’s all. Eileen was right about that part of it. He went back to Oxford immediately after the raid. Which means he leaves tomorrow morning. We’ve only got a few hours. What time do the raids start tonight?”
    “6:17, though that doesn’t mean the attack on St. Paul’s began then. It might have been later.”
    “When did the sirens go?”
    “I don’t know, but all the ones this month have gone at least twenty minutes before the planes arrived.”
    “So we’ve got till at least 5:45.” He looked at his watch. “It’s a quarter to two now. That gives us four hours, which should be more than enough to find him.”
    The train was pulling in to Holborn. “We change trains here,” she said, and led him quickly to the Northern Line platform, which was crowded with waiting passengers.

    She had to wait till they were on the train before she was able to say, “But I don’t understand. If you knew he was here—”
    “I didn’t know. He said the night St. Paul’s nearly burned down was the worst night of the Blitz, and you said that was May tenth, and since he’d said in his lecture that his assignment had lasted three months, I didn’t think he’d be here till February.”
    And if I’d told him about Bartholomew when he came home, we could have contacted him weeks ago, Polly thought guiltily. “How all occasions do inform against us.”
    “Don’t worry,” Mike said. The train pulled into Leicester Square. “What time is it?” he asked as they got off.
    “Five till two,” Polly said. “We’ll never make it.”
    “Yes, we will,” Mike said. “This is our lucky day.” And surprisingly, when they reached the Phoenix, there were still children and parents in the lobby and a queue in front of the box office. Polly sprinted up the stairs to the usher, followed by a limping Mike.
    “Tickets, please,” the usher said.
    “We’re not here to see the performance,” Mike said. “We just need to talk to somebody in the audience.”
    “I’m sorry, sir. You’ll have to wait till the interval to speak to them.”
    “We can’t wait.”
    “It’s terribly important we speak to her,” Polly pleaded. “It’s an emergency.”
    “I could have someone take her a message,” the usher said, relenting. “Where is she sitting?”
    “I don’t know,” Polly said. “Her name’s Eileen O’Reilly. She has red hair. She has a little boy with her—”
    “Look,” Mike said, “we’re not trying to sneak into your lousy pantomime.”
    The usher stiffened.
    “All we want—”
    “Are there still tickets available for this performance?” Polly cut in before Mike could do any more damage.
    “I believe so,” the usher said coldly.
    “Thank you,” Polly said. “Come along,” she ordered Mike, and ran back down the steps to the box office.
    “We don’t have time for this,” Mike said.
    “If we get thrown out of here, we won’t be able to speak to Eileen till the play’s over.” She leaned toward the ticket seller’s cage. “Have you any tickets left for this performance?”
    “I’m afraid all I have is two seats in the orchestra at eight and six. Row F, seats nineteen and—”
    “We’ll take them,” Mike said. He slapped down two half crowns and grabbed the tickets.
    They hurried back up the stairs, handed the tickets to the still-vexed-looking usher, and let him lead them to their row. He pointed at their seats, which were in the middle of the row, handed them back their stubs, and left. The man in the aisle seat stood up so they could go by him.
    “We need to find somebody first,” Mike said. “Can you see them, Polly? What color hat was she wearing?”
    “Black,” Polly said, scanning the audience, but every adult in the place was wearing a black hat, too, and the theater was a sea of children, bouncing up and down in the seats, chattering, laughing, wriggling, standing on the plush seats to talk to someone behind them. And all the mothers and nannies and governesses had their heads turned, attempting to make them sit down. “We’ll never find her in this mob.”
    “I know. Wait, there she is,” Mike said, pointing up at the balcony. “There, in the first row. Eileen!” He waved to her, but Eileen was speaking to Theodore, who was the only child sitting still in the entire theater, his feet stuck straight out in front of him, his hands sedately on the arms of his seat. “Eileen!”
    “She can’t hear us,” Polly said.
    She crossed over to the side aisle, as if headed for the ladies’ lounge, and then sprinted up the steps, flashed her ticket and program at the usher standing at the head of the staircase, and sped up and into the balcony, Mike keeping pace with her somehow in spite of his limp.
    Eileen was four seats from the end of the row, past a governess and three little girls, two of whom were hanging over the edge of the balcony tearing their programs to bits and dropping them on the heads of the people below while the governess remonstrated uselessly with them. “Girls, don’t! You’ll fall! You’re both being very naughty.”
    Eileen still didn’t see Polly and Mike. “Eileen!” Polly called to her across the girls and the governess, who was blocking her view.
    “Pauline! No, no, you mustn’t stand on the seat! You’ll tear the cloth. Violet!” the governess cried as one of the paper droppers threatened to topple over the edge.
    Eileen made a grab for Violet’s dress and hauled her back to safety.
    “Oh, thank you,” the governess said.
    “You’re wel—” Eileen said, and finally saw them standing there. “Mike! Polly! What are you doing here? Thank heavens you’re all right, Mike. We’ve been so worried! Did you—” She went suddenly pale. “You’ve found the retrieval team,” she breathed.
    “No,” Mike said, “but we’ve found a way out.”
    Polly looked nervously at the governess, wondering what she was making of this, but she was still attempting to persuade the little girls to sit down. “Oh, Henrietta, do be a good girl,” she said helplessly.
    “We’ve got to hurry,” Mike was saying.
    “But…,” Eileen said, “I promised Theodore—”
    “It can’t be helped. We’ve only got a few hours.”
    Eileen stood up, pulled her coat on, and reached for Theodore’s coat. “I’m afraid we can’t stay for the pantomime, Theodore,” she said, holding his coat out to him.
    “We must go home now.” She put his arm in his sleeve.
    “No!” Theodore cried in a piercing, siren-like wail that was audible all over the theater. “I don’t want to go home!”

    In war, time is all important.
    London—29 December 1940
    “I DON’T WANT TO GO HOME!” THEODORE SHRIEKED. “I WANT to see the pantomime!”
    “We can’t,” Eileen said, trying to put his wildly flailing arms into the sleeves of his coat. “We must go.”
    “Why?” Theodore wailed.
    “Here, let me take him,” Mike said, edging past the nanny and the three little girls to pick him up.
    “Oh, don’t—” Eileen said, but Theodore had already kicked him.
    Mike let go of him with a grunt.
    “Sorry. I should have warned you.” She turned sternly to Theodore. “No kicking. Now put your coat on, there’s a good boy—”
    “No! I don’t want to go!” he shrieked, and every child and adult in the audience turned to look disapprovingly at him.
    “Here, what’s all this then?” the balcony usher said, coming up followed by—oh, no—the one who’d refused to allow them in without tickets. “We can’t have this sort of disruption. The performance is about to begin.”
    “Are these two bothering you, miss?” the usher who’d refused to let them in asked Eileen.
    “No. Hush, Theodore,” Eileen said. “They—”
    “They attempted before to enter the theater without paying,” the usher who’d refused to let them in told the balcony usher.
    “The hell we did,” Mike said.
    “We have tickets,” Polly said quickly, handing the usher hers. “Show him your ticket, Mike. We only wanted to speak with our friend for a moment. Something’s happened at home—”
    “I don’t want to go home!” Theodore wailed and burst into noisy tears.
    The governess tugged on Polly’s sleeve. “You said something had happened at home? Has there been a raid? Has someone in his family been—”
    “No,” Polly said, and was instantly sorry. It was the perfect excuse for getting him out of there. But their usher had already pounced. “Then it’s scarcely an emergency,” he said, snatching the tickets from the balcony usher. He looked at them. “These tickets are for row eight in the orchestra. You don’t even belong in this section.”
    “I know,” Mike said angrily. “We were only trying to speak to this young lady—”
    The lights blinked off and then on again.
    “The curtain’s about to rise,” the balcony usher said. “I’m afraid I must ask you to return to your seats. You can speak to your friend during the interval.”
    “I want to see the pantomime!” Theodore wailed.
    “And so you shall, young man,” the usher said, glaring at Mike and Polly. “Sir, madam, either take your seats, or I’ll be forced to escort you from the theater.”
    “Go sit down,” Eileen said, leaning across the little girls to put her hand on Mike’s. “It’ll be all right.”
    “But we don’t have time—”
    “I know. It’ll be all right. I promise.”
    How? Polly wondered as they were led ignominiously back down to their seats.
    “What does she mean, it’ll be all right?” Mike asked her.
    “I don’t know. Perhaps she can persuade Theodore to leave—”
    “Persuade him? Fat chance.” He rubbed his leg where Theodore had kicked him. “And what if she can’t?”
    “Then I’m afraid we must wait for the interval,” Polly said, looking back up the center aisle where their usher stood guard, his arms militantly folded. “Perhaps you’d better go on to St. Paul’s, and I’ll bring Eileen when I can.”
    He shook his head. “We’re all going together or we’re not going at all.” They sat down. “How many acts till the interval?”
    Polly opened her program to see. The pantomime, which was titled Rapunzel: A Wartime Christmas Pantomime, consisted of only two acts, but under Act One were listed at least a dozen songs, as well as dance numbers, magic acts, juggling acts, and performing dogs.
    Oh, no, we’ll be here forever, she thought. And no wonder Sir Godfrey hated pantomime so. It looked more like a vaudeville show than a play.
    “I want it to begin,” the little boy next to Polly said.
    “So do I,” she told him.
    The asbestos fire-safety curtain went up, revealing red velvet curtains, and the audience applauded wildly. Good, she thought, but nothing else happened.
    “Maybe Theodore’ll have to go to the bathroom,” Mike said, looking up at the balcony where Eileen was talking earnestly to him, “and we can throw a coat over him and carry him out or something.”
    “Shh,” the little boy leaned across Polly to say sternly. “It’s beginning.”
    At last, Polly thought.
    The orchestra played a fanfare, and a pretty girl in tights and doublet came onstage with a large white card and said, “In case of an air raid, this notice will be displayed.” She flipped the card over to reveal Air Raid in Progress, then flipped it back to its blank side and set it on an easel at the side of the stage. “Thank you.”
    More raucous applause, and the curtains parted to reveal a forest of pasteboard trees and a tall pasteboard tower. Near the top was a small window with a blonde sitting in it, combing her long hair. “Oh, woe is me,” she said. “Here I sit, trapped in this tower! Who will come and rescue me?” She leaned out the window. “Oh, no!

    sitting in it, combing her long hair. “Oh, woe is me,” she said. “Here I sit, trapped in this tower! Who will come and rescue me?” She leaned out the window. “Oh, no!
    Here comes my cruel jailer, the wicked witch!”
    There was ominous music from the orchestra pit, and a Nazi officer goose-stepped onstage and stopped under her tower. “Sieg heil, Rapunzel, let down your hair!”
    he barked in a German accent. “Zhat’s an order!”
    Rapunzel dumped a huge mass of yellow yarn hair on him, knocking him flat, and then brushed her hands together briskly. The audience erupted in cheers and laughter, and above the deafening roar floated Theodore’s clear, piercing voice. “I don’t like the pantomime. I want to go home!”
    “That’s our cue,” Polly whispered. She grabbed Mike’s hand and hustled him up the aisle and down the stairs to the lobby.
    Eileen was already there, an impatient Theodore tugging on her hand. “I told you it would be all right,” she said.
    “I want to go home!” Theodore declared.
    “So do we,” Polly said, grabbing his other hand, and they hurried out of the theater, the glaring usher holding the door open for them.
    “What’s happened?” Eileen asked as soon as they were outside. “You said you didn’t find the retrieval team. Did you find some other historian?”
    “Yes,” Mike said. “John Bartholomew.”
    “Mr. Bartholomew?” Eileen said, looking from him to Polly. “But didn’t you tell Mike he’s already gone back?”
    “He hasn’t,” Mike said. “You heard wrong. He was here for the attack on St. Paul’s, which is tonight.”
    Theodore was listening avidly to them.
    “Shouldn’t we discuss this after we see Theodore home?” Polly said.
    “Yes, we need a taxi,” Mike said, looking down the street for one. “You know his address, don’t you, Eileen? We can pay the driver up front and tell him to—”
    “We can’t send him home alone,” Eileen said. “His mother’s not there. She’s at work. That’s why I had to bring him to the pantomime.”
    “Well, there must be a relative or a neighbor—”
    “There’s Mrs. Owens, but she may not be home either, and I can’t send him off not knowing whether there’ll be anyone at the other end,” Eileen said. “He’s six years old.”
    “You don’t understand,” Mike said. “We’ve only got today to find Bartholomew. He leaves tomorrow.”
    “But we’re not going with him, are we?” Eileen said. “We’re only sending a message telling Oxford where we are. So couldn’t you two go and I’ll take Theodore home and you tell the retrieval team to come get me at Mrs. Rickett’s tomorrow? Like Shackleton. And that way you’ll be certain to get Polly back, since she’s the one with the deadline.”
    “Polly doesn’t know what Bartholomew looks like, and you do,” Mike said. “And tonight’s”—he glanced at Theodore and lowered his voice—“one of the worst raids of the war, and Bartholomew’s going to be right in the middle of it. Which means we need to be out of here before it starts. We need to find him, get him to take us to his drop and go through with a message telling them to pick us up this afternoon.”
    “I know,” Eileen said, “but Theodore’s my responsibility. I can’t leave him.”
    “Perhaps we could find someone to take him,” Polly suggested. “Didn’t you say you sent him home from Backbury in the care of a soldier?”
    “Yes, but I knew his mother would be waiting for him at the station. And I can’t turn him over to a perfect stranger.”
    “Not a stranger,” Polly said. “We could go back to Mrs. Rickett’s and see if Miss Laburnum—”
    “Are you sure she’ll be there?” Mike asked.
    He frowned a moment, thinking, and then said, “It looks like it’ll be faster to take him ourselves. Do you think you’ll be able to find someone in the neighborhood to leave him with if we do?”
    “Yes, I’m certain we can.”
    “Then let’s go. Where’s the best place to find a taxi?”
    “The tube will be faster,” Eileen said. “There are so many diversions between here and Stepney.”
    And now let’s hope the trains to Stepney are running, Polly thought, and that Theodore doesn’t suddenly announce that he doesn’t want to go on the train. But he boarded the car eagerly, peeled a corner of the blackout paper back from the window, pressed his nose against the glass, and gazed happily out, even though they’d still be underground for several more stops and there was nothing to see.
    The three of them moved over to the opposite seats so they could talk. “What if we don’t reach him before the raids begin?” Eileen asked.
    “Then we get him to tell us where his drop is,” Mike said, “and we go there and wait for him to come when the raid’s over. I figure his drop’s got to be outside London to have been able to open the morning after the twenty-ninth.”
    “And you’re certain it will open?” Eileen asked.
    “It already did open,” Mike said. “Six years ago.”
    “Oh, that’s right, I’m sorry. And I’m sorry I thought he went back in October. I should have listened more closely to his lecture.”
    “And I should’ve told you both about Bartholomew when I thought of him,” Mike said.
    And I should have told Eileen what Mike said about trying to think of historians who’d been here earlier, Polly thought. But I didn’t want her to ask me about my last drop or my last assignment. So here we all are, making a last-minute dash to find an historian who was here six years ago.
    And if we succeed, Mr. Bartholomew will take a message through to Mr. Dunworthy, and he will wait six years and then send us through, he will lie to us for six years and then send us through to Dunkirk and an epidemic and the Blitz, knowing full well Mike will lose half his foot, knowing full well how terrified of the raids Eileen will be.
    She refused to believe it, in spite of the extra money he’d made her bring, the limitations he’d placed on where she could live. He wouldn’t lie to them like that.
    How do you know he wouldn’t? she thought. You’ve been lying to Eileen and Mike for weeks.
    What if, like her, Mr. Dunworthy had had a good reason for lying? What if he was trying to protect them, too? What if lying to them was the only way to save them?
    Save us from what? she thought. And even if he was convinced lying was the only way, there’d have been no way he could have kept it from Colin, and Colin Save us from what? she thought. And even if he was convinced lying was the only way, there’d have been no way he could have kept it from Colin, and Colin would never have gone along with it. He’d have warned her.
    Perhaps he had. He’d said, “If you get in trouble, I’ll come rescue you.” But he’d seemed boyishly earnest when he’d said it, not worried she might be in actual danger.
    If he thought you were, he’d have stopped you. Or moved heaven and earth to come fetch you. And he wouldn’t let a little thing like an increase in slippage stop him.
    Which means we didn’t find Mr. Bartholomew, we didn’t get a message through. We didn’t get there in time. Mike’s wrong, and Mr. Bartholomew went home in October or won’t be here till May. Or we won’t be able to find anyone to leave Theodore with. Or the train back to St. Paul’s will be delayed. It will jerk to a stop, and we’ll sit in a tunnel for hours and won’t be able to get to St. Paul’s.
    Or perhaps the delay’s already happened, she thought, remembering the fatal minutes they’d spent arguing with the usher, that they’d spent arguing over how to get Theodore home. We’re already too late.
    But they had to find Mr. Bartholomew. It was the only chance they had of getting out before her deadline.
    And not just her chance, but theirs. Mike and Eileen would never be able to find Denys Atherton among the hundreds of thousands of soldiers preparing for D-Day.
    They hadn’t even been able to find her at Townsend Brothers.
    Eileen had been at VE-Day because they hadn’t been able to get out. They’d still been here when Polly’s deadline arrived. And Mike …
    We’ve got to find him, she thought, trying to think what they should do if there was no one to leave Theodore with.
    But Mrs. Owens was there. “I was afraid he might not last through the whole pantomime,” she said, greeting them at the door. “I’m glad ’e didn’t. I’ve’ ad a feelin’
    all day there was going to be a raid tonight.”
    “Well, if there is,” Eileen said, “take Theodore to the shelter. That cupboard under the stairs isn’t safe.”
    “I will,” she promised. “And you three should be ’eadin’ for ’ome.”
    “We are,” Eileen said.
    “Theodore, tell Eileen goodbye, and thank her for taking you.”
    “I don’t want to,” Theodore said, and launched himself at Eileen. “I don’t want you to go.”
    This is the delay, Polly thought. We’re going to spend the next two hours attempting to pry Theodore loose from Eileen’s legs.
    But Eileen was ready for him. “I must go,” she said, “but I brought you a Christmas present.” She pulled a box wrapped in Townsend Brothers Christmas paper out of her bag and handed it to him.
    Theodore sat down immediately to open it, and they made a hasty exit and were back on the train in a thankfully empty car by half past four. “We should have plenty of time to get to St. Paul’s before the raids start,” Mike said.
    “But in case we don’t,” Polly said, “and in case we get separated, you need to tell me what Mr. Bartholomew looks like.”
    “He’s tall,” Eileen said, “dark hair, early thirties—no, wait, I keep forgetting he was here six years ago. He’d be in his late twenties.”
    “The fire watch’s headquarters are in the Crypt,” Polly said, “and the stairs to it are—”
    “I know,” Mike said. “I’ve been to St. Paul’s.”
    “To look for Mr. Bartholomew?” Polly asked.
    “No. I told you, I thought he came in the spring. I was looking for you, remember? Mr. Humphreys gave me a whole tour of the place. He told me all about this Captain Faulknor guy who saved the day by tying two ships together and showed me all the staircases and—”
    “But he didn’t show Eileen,” Polly said. “Or did he, that day you came looking for me, Eileen?”
    “Yes, but I had other things on my mind. Where did you say the steps down to the Crypt are?”
    “Here,” Polly said, drawing a map of St. Paul’s with her finger on the leather back of the seat and pointing to where the stairway down to the Crypt was.
    “Where are the stairs to the roof?” Eileen asked.
    “I don’t know, and it’s not roof, it’s roofs. There are layers and layers of levels and roofs. That’s what made putting out the incendiaries so difficult. But there’ll be someone in the Crypt who can take a message up to Mr. Bartholomew,” she said, and filled Eileen in on the raid. “St. Paul’s didn’t burn—”
    “Because of the fire watch,” Mike said.
    “Yes, but the entire area around it did. And Fleet Street and the Guildhall and the Central Telephone Exchange—all the operators had to be evacuated—and at least one of the surface shelters. I don’t know which one.”
    “Then we need to stay out of all of them,” Mike said. “You said some of the tube stations were hit? Which ones?”
    “Waterloo, I think,” she said, trying to remember. “And Cannon Street, and Charing Cross Railway Station had to be evacuated because of a land mine.”
    “St. Paul’s Station wasn’t hit?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “Did they drop lots of high-explosive bombs?” Eileen asked nervously.
    “No,” Mike said. “It was nearly all incendiaries, but the tide was out, and the primary water main got hit. And it was really windy.”
    Polly nodded. “The fires nearly became a firestorm like Dresden.”
    “Which means it will be a great time to have already gone home,” Mike said. “How many more stops do we have till we get to St. Paul’s?”
    “One more till Monument, where we change for the Central Line, and then one to St. Paul’s,” Polly said.
    But when they got to the Central Line platform, there was a sandwich board in the entranceway: No service on Central Line until further notice. All travelers are advised to take alternate routes.
    “What other line is St. Paul’s on?” Mike asked, starting over to the tube map.
    “None. We’ll have to use another station,” Polly said, thinking rapidly. Cannon Street was the nearest, but it had been hit, and she didn’t know at what time. “We need to go to Blackfriars,” she said. “This way.”
    She led them out to the platform. “Blackfriars isn’t one of the stations that burned, is it?” Eileen asked.

    She led them out to the platform. “Blackfriars isn’t one of the stations that burned, is it?” Eileen asked.
    “No,” Polly said, though she didn’t know. But it was only a bit past five. It wouldn’t be on fire now.
    “How far is Blackfriars from St. Paul’s?” Mike asked.
    “A ten-minute walk.”
    “And from here back to Blackfriars, what? Ten minutes?”
    Polly nodded.
    “Good, we’ve still got plenty of time,” he said and headed for the platform.
    But they had just missed the train and had to wait a quarter of an hour for the next one, and when they got off at Blackfriars, they had to work their way through scores of shelterers putting down their blankets and unpacking picnic hampers.
    Oh, no, the sirens must already have gone, Polly thought, looking at the crowd, and the guard won’t let us leave.
    A band of ragged children ran past them, and Polly grabbed the last one and asked him, “Have the sirens gone?”
    “Not yet,” he said, wriggling free of her, and tore off after the other children.
    “Hurry,” Polly said, pushing her way through the mob pouring in. Mrs. Owens must not have been the only one who’d “had a feeling” about there being a raid tonight.
    Polly led Mike and Eileen quickly toward the entrance, fearful that at any moment the siren would sound and that, even if they did make it out, it would be too dark to see anything. The tangle of narrow, dead-ending lanes around St. Paul’s was bad enough in daylight, let alone after dark and in the blackout.
    But when they came up the stairs and emerged onto the street, St. Paul’s dome was clearly outlined against the searchlit sky. They started up the hill toward it.
    We’re actually going to make it, Polly thought. Which meant it was true. Mr. Dunworthy and Mr. Bartholomew—and Colin—had kept what had happened secret all these years, had been willing to sacrifice them to keep the secret.
    Like Ultra, she thought. That secret had been kept by hundreds and hundreds of people for years and years—because it was absolutely essential to winning the war.
    What if their getting trapped, their coming back, had had to be kept secret for some reason equally vital to time travel? Or to history? And that was why they couldn’t be told, why they’d had to be sacrificed …
    “What time is it?” Mike asked.
    Polly squinted at her watch. “Six.”
    “Good, we’ve still got plenty of time—” Mike said, and a siren cut sharply across his words.
    I knew it, Polly thought, and took off at a trot, Mike and Eileen following.
    “It’s only the siren,” Mike said, panting. “That still gives us twenty minutes till the planes, doesn’t it?”
    I don’t know, Polly thought, sprinting up the hill. Please let there be twenty minutes. That’s all we need.
    And it looked like they’d be granted it. They were nearly to the top of Ludgate Hill before the searchlights switched on, and the anti-aircraft guns still hadn’t started firing by the time they came to the iron fence surrounding the cathedral. And why couldn’t it, of all the fences in London, have been taken down and donated to the scrap-metal drive so they could go in the north transept door? They’d have to go around to the west front.
    She started along the fence. “Damn it,” Mike said behind her.
    “What is it?” she asked, and heard what he had, the drone of a plane. “There’s still time. Come along,” and rounded the corner to the west front and started up the broad steps to where a Christmas tree stood in front of the Great West Door.
    “You, there!” a man’s voice called from behind them. “Where do you think you’re going?” A shuttered pocket torch fixed its narrow beam on Polly and then on Mike and Eileen. A man in an ARP helmet emerged from the darkness at the foot of the steps. “What are you lot doing outside? You should be in a shelter. Didn’t you hear the sirens?”
    “Yes,” Mike said. “We were—”
    “I’ll take you to the shelter.” He started up the steps toward Polly. “Come along.”
    Not again, Polly thought. Not when we’re so near.
    She glanced up the steps, wondering if she could make it the rest of the way up to the porch and over to the door before he caught her. She didn’t think so. “We weren’t looking for a shelter, sir,” she said. “We’re looking for a friend of ours. He’s on the St. Paul’s fire watch.”
    “We have to talk to him,” Mike said. “It’s urgent.”
    “So’s that,” the warden said, jamming a thumb skyward. “Hear those planes?”
    It was impossible not to. They were nearly overhead, and the fire watch would already be heading up to the roofs, preparing for them.
    “In a minute those planes’ll be here,” the warden said, “and the watch’ll have more than they can deal with. They won’t have time for any chats.” He extended his hand toward Polly. “Now, come on, you three. There’s a shelter near here. I’ll take you there.”
    “You don’t understand,” Eileen said. “All we need to do is to get a message to him.”
    “It’ll only take a minute,” Mike added, backing down the steps and off to the side so the warden had to turn to face him.
    He’s doing that to distract him, Polly thought, and took a silent backward step up the broad stone stairs, and then another, grateful for the growing roar of the planes, which hid the sound of her footsteps. “I know right where to find him!” Mike shouted to the warden over the noise. “I can be in and out in no time.”
    Polly took another step backward up the stairs.
    An anti-aircraft gun behind her started up, and the warden turned at the sound and saw her. “You there, where do you think you’re going?” He scrambled up the steps toward her. “What are the three of you up to?”
    There was a strange, swooping swish above them. Polly looked up and had time to think, If that’s a bomb. I shouldn’t have done that, and there was a clatter, like an entire kitchenful of pots and pans falling on the floor.
    Something landed on the stair between her and the warden and burst into a furious, fizzing fountain of sparks. Polly backed away from it, putting up her hand to shield her eyes from the blinding blue-white light. The warden had jumped away from it, too, as it sputtered and spun, throwing off molten stars.
    It’ll catch the Christmas tree on fire, Polly thought, and had turned to run into the cathedral for a stirrup pump when she realized this was her chance. She darted up It’ll catch the Christmas tree on fire, Polly thought, and had turned to run into the cathedral for a stirrup pump when she realized this was her chance. She darted up the stairs and across the porch to the door. She grabbed the handle.
    “Hey! You there!” the warden shouted. “Come back here!”
    Polly yanked on the heavy door. It didn’t budge. She yanked again, and this time it opened a narrow crack.
    She glanced back down at Mike and Eileen, but the incendiary was jerking and spitting too violently and erratically for them to risk running past it, and the warden was already nearly upon her.
    “Go!” Mike shouted, waving her on. “We’ll catch up with you!”
    Polly turned and fled into the blackness of the cathedral.

    Tonight, the bomber planes of the German Reich hit London where it hurts the most—in the heart … St. Paul’s Cathedral is burning to the ground as I talk to you now.
    29 December 1940
    St. Paul’s Cathedral—29 December 1940
    It was pitch-black inside the cathedral. There was supposed to be a light under the dome for the fire watch to orient themselves by, but she couldn’t see it. She couldn’t see anything. She couldn’t hear anything either, except the still-reverberating echo of the door shutting behind her. Not planes, not the sputtering incendiary, nothing, not even the sirens.
    But the warden had been just below her on the steps. He would come through that door any moment. She had to hide.
    She paused a second, willing her eyes to adjust, trying to remember what lay on this side of the cathedral. Not the Wren staircase—it was blocked off—and The Light of the World was too small to hide behind. She should have paid more attention when Mr. Humphreys was showing her around.
    She still couldn’t see anything, not even outlines. She groped for the wall, arms outstretched in front of her, like a child playing blind man’s bluff. Stone and then open space and narrow iron bars. The chapel’s grille. She ran her hand hurriedly along the bars, anxious to get past the chapel, and felt the gate open under her touch.
    She was through it instantly and into the chapel, feeling her way. The chapel had had an altar with a tall carved reredos behind it. She could hide behind that.
    She crashed into something wooden, banging her knee. The prayer stalls, she thought, reaching down to feel their waist-high fronts. They had lined either side of the chapel, which meant the altar was—
    A door opened somewhere. Polly dove down behind the prayer stall and crouched there, holding her breath, listening.
    A voice, too soft and too distorted to make out, and then a second, answering, and then footsteps. The warden? Or a member of the fire watch making the rounds?
    It must be the fire watch. She heard more footsteps, quicker this time, and walking away, and then a door—too quiet to be the heavy door she’d come in through—
    She waited a bit longer, hoping Mike or Eileen—or both of them—would have got away from the warden and come back. They both knew what John Bartholomew looked like, and Mike could pretend to be a volunteer on the fire watch. There hadn’t been any women on it, and it was unlikely they’d let one up on the roofs to look for someone, even if she knew how to get there.
    But she did know how to get to the Crypt. She could ask the officer in charge to take a message to Mr. Bartholomew.
    She crept cautiously out from behind the prayer stall, checked to make certain there was no sweep of a pocket torch in the aisle or in the nave beyond, and felt her way toward the gate.
    Light flashed suddenly in her face, blinding her. Polly dived for the haven of the stall, cracking her knee again, and then realized what she’d seen. A flare. A rattling clatter overhead like someone tossing a handful of pebbles made her look up. Incendiaries on the roofs. And then voices from the direction of the dome and more banging of doors and footsteps running up stairs.
    Still blinded, Polly felt for the gate and opened it, trying not to make any noise. She went out into the nave and stood for a minute, waiting for her eyes to recover.
    When they did, she could just discern the shadowy outlines of the arches, the bricked-up Wellington Monument across the nave, and the choir, and she thought her eyes must finally have adjusted to the darkness. But when she glanced up behind her she saw the windows were lit with yellow.
    Fire, she thought, guiltily grateful for the light. There was just enough for her to find her way and not crash into the tin baths full of water sitting at the base of the massive pillars or into the stirrup pumps propped against them.
    They’ll need all of those tonight, she thought, hurrying along the south aisle, past The Light of the World, though nothing of the painting but the lantern was visible in the near darkness. It glowed dimly golden, though the light from the windows seemed to be growing steadily brighter and oranger and to be coming from the north transept as well.
    Out here in the aisle she could hear the drone of the planes, punctuated by the thud of the anti-aircraft guns. Another batch of incendiaries clattered onto the roofs as she passed the ranked rows of wooden chairs, so loud she looked up, expecting them to clatter onto the marble floor in front of her, but there were no more running footsteps. The fire watch must all be up on the roofs already.
    A door banged heavily at the end of the cathedral she’d just come from, and this time it was definitely an outside door. Polly looked wildly about for a place to hide, then ducked behind the nearest pillar and flattened herself against it, listening. Whoever it was was running this way, straight down the middle of the nave, his footsteps ringing on the marble floor.
    Polly inched her way around the pillar to get a look at him. If it was a member of the fire watch, she could ask him to take her to Mr. Bartholomew. There wasn’t enough light to see him clearly, but she could see that he was wearing an overcoat. It flapped about his legs as he ran. It’s Mike, she thought.
    No, it wasn’t him. He wasn’t limping. Someone looking for shelter? People had taken shelter in the Crypt, hadn’t they? But whoever this was knew exactly where he was going. He ran between the rows of wooden folding chairs set up for evensong and toward the dome.
    He had to be one of the fire watch. She ran out from behind the pillar, but he was already across the wide floor under the dome. “Wait!” Polly called. “Sir!” She ran after him, but he’d already vanished into the shadows.
    A door slammed. Where? Had he gone into the south choir aisle or into the transept? She darted down the near side of the transept and then around to the other side, looking for a door. The stairs up to the Whispering Gallery were along here somewhere, but she didn’t know if they led on up to the roofs.
    Here were the stairs leading down to the Crypt, but they were barred by a gate, not a door, and what she’d heard was definitely a door. It must be somewhere in the choir. She started into it.
    And ran into a young man in a black robe. She jumped a foot, and so did he, but he recovered immediately.
    “Were you looking for the shelter, miss? It’s this way.” He took her arm and led her back to the Crypt stairs.
    “No, I’m looking for someone,” she said. “A member of the fire watch.”
    “They’re all on duty just now,” he replied, as if she’d asked for an appointment. “If you’ll come back tomorrow—”
    She shook her head. “I must speak to him now. His name is John Bartholomew—”

    She shook her head. “I must speak to him now. His name is John Bartholomew—”
    “I’m afraid I don’t know most of the watch by name.” He unlatched the gate. “I’m only filling in tonight, you see.”
    “Is Mr. Humphreys here?”
    “I don’t know if he’s on duty. As I said, I’m only—”
    “Then is there someone in charge I could speak to?”
    “No, I’m afraid Dean Matthews and Mr. Allen are both up on the roofs. The raids are very bad tonight. The shelter’s down these stairs,” he said, motioning for her to precede him.
    “I don’t …,” she began, and thought better of it. She didn’t want him taking her out through the nave and delivering her into the hands of the air-raid warden.
    They started down the stone steps. “Mind your step,” he said. “I’m afraid these stairs are rather badly lit. The blackout, you know.”
    “Badly lit” was an understatement. Below the first landing there was no light at all, and Polly had to put her hand on the cold stone wall and feel her way.
    “I’m only a chorister, you see. One of the volunteers fell ill, and Dean Matthews asked me to help out. Nearly there,” he said helpfully, and pulled aside a black curtain for Polly.
    She slipped through it into the Crypt. In spite of the vaulted ceiling and the tombs in the floor, it didn’t look like a crypt. It looked like an ARP post. A paraffin lamp sat on a wooden table next to a gas ring with a kettle on it, and beyond the table was a row of made-up cots, with coveralls and helmets hanging on hooks behind them. But no members of the fire watch.
    “Will they come back down during the night to rest and have a cup of tea?” Polly asked.
    “It’s not likely they will tonight,” he said, looking up at the low ceiling, through which the droning planes could be heard faintly. “The shelter’s along here.”
    He led her past what had to be Wellington’s tomb—an enormous black-and-gold sarcophagus—toward the west end. “I expect they’ll be up on the roofs all night, with all these bombs.”
    “Then could you go up and tell John Bartholomew that I must speak with him?”
    “Go up? Onto the roofs, you mean?” He shook his head. “I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to get up there. That’s why Dean Matthews put me in charge down here. Our shelter’s just over here,” he added and led her into a sandbagged arch at the end of the church where a half dozen women and a young boy huddled against one wall on folding chairs.
    “Here’s another for your little band,” the chorister said to them. He explained to Polly, “These ladies were evacuated from a shelter in Watling Street.”
    “It was on fire,” the boy explained, sounding disappointed that they’d been forced to leave.
    “You’ll be safe here,” the chorister said to all of them, and walked rapidly back to the watch’s headquarters. But not back upstairs, and it didn’t look like he was going to go upstairs. He was messing about with the kettle.
    Polly looked about for a stairway at this end of the Crypt, but she couldn’t see one. What now? Should she wait here on the off chance one of the fire watch would come down here, and try to persuade him to take a message to John Bartholomew?
    From the sound of things, that wasn’t likely to happen. More and more incendiaries were spattering overhead, and the roar of the planes was growing louder even down here. “Will St. Paul’s burn down?” the boy asked his mother.
    “It can’t,” the woman said. “It’s built of stone.”
    But that wasn’t true. The cathedral had wooden inner roofs, wooden supports, wooden beams, wooden choir stalls, wooden screens, wooden chairs. And hard-to-reach spaces between the roofs which seemed to have been designed just for incendiaries to melt through and lodge in. Which was what the fire watch were working frantically to keep from happening. And would be working frantically on all night. The chorister was right. They wouldn’t be down before morning.
    She couldn’t wait that long. But to get to the roofs, she’d have to get past the chorister. And away from the shelterers, which would be difficult. When the boy wandered a short way down the Crypt, the women made him come sit down, saying, “The gentleman in charge told us to keep to this end.”
    “I only wanted to look at the tombs,” the boy said, which gave Polly an idea.
    “Isn’t the artist who painted The Light of the World buried down here?” she asked no one in particular, and walked over to read the memorial tablets on the north wall, working her way slowly along them and waiting for her chance.
    The chorister looked at his watch, took the kettle off the gas ring, and disappeared into one of the bays. Polly waited for the next batch of incendiaries and when the shelterers automatically looked up at the ceiling, darted into the next bay and along the Crypt, keeping next to the wall and looking for another way up to the main floor. Or to the upper levels.
    Two of the bays had mounds of sandbags covering something—the organ pipes? John Donne in his shroud?—and the next had a grille across it with a padlocked and locked gate, but in the one after that there were several shovels and coils of rope and a large tub of water. And a stairway.
    It was the twin of the one she’d come down, which meant it would only go up to the main floor, but it would get her up out of the Crypt and away from the chorister. She ran quickly up the not-nearly-as-dark steps and out into the north transept.
    And into the arms of the chorister. “Not that way, miss,” he said, catching her with both hands. “Down this way.”
    He took her back down the steps.
    “I was only—”
    “Quickly,” he said; he didn’t seem angry, only in a great hurry.
    He hustled her at top speed through the Crypt to where the shelterers were sitting. “Attention, everyone,” he said. “Please collect your things. We need to evacuate the building.”
    The women began gathering up their belongings. “This is the second time I’ve had to move tonight,” one of them said disgustedly.
    “Is St. Paul’s on fire?” the boy asked.
    The chorister didn’t answer. “This way,” he said, and led the way to a narrow recessed door in the northwest corner. “I’ll see you all get to another shelter.”
    “But you don’t understand,” Polly said. “I must speak to Mr. Bartholomew.”
    “You can speak to him outside,” he said, herding them through the door. “The fire watch is being evacuated as well.”
    The fire watch? Why were they being evacuated? They were supposed to be putting out incendiaries. It doesn’t matter, she thought. It means you can tell Mr.

    “Will they come out this way?” she asked.
    “No, they’ll have gone out through the nave. It’s quicker,” he said, pushing Polly through the doorway, up the short flight of steps to the surface, and through the outer door. They emerged into the churchyard and a cacophony of sound—droning bombers, clanging fire bells, the deafening thud of anti-aircraft guns, the wind. It was blowing hard, fanning the flames of a Victorian house on fire just beyond the churchyard.
    The flames lit the churchyard with an eerie reddish light. The shelterers stood in a huddle among the tombstones, waiting for the chorister to take them to the shelter.
    Polly darted past them and around to the west front of the church. The fire watch was already there, standing in the courtyard. But there were far too many of them
    —an entire crowd—and they weren’t the watch, they were civilians. And beyond them, firemen were playing water on several buildings on fire in Paternoster Row.
    The people in the courtyard must have fled those buildings and come here for shelter.
    But they were making no attempt to go inside St. Paul’s. They were all standing well back from the steps, in the center of the courtyard, and they seemed oblivious to the fires behind them and to the deafening drone of planes overhead. They were looking, transfixed, up at the dome.
    Polly followed their gaze. Halfway up the dome was a small gout of blue-white flame. “An incendiary!” a man behind her shouted at her over the roar of the planes.
    “It’s too far up for the fire watch to reach.”
    “Once the dome catches,” the woman on her other side said, “the whole building will go up like a torch.”
    No, it won’t, Polly thought. St. Paul’s didn’t burn down. The fire watch put out twenty-eight incendiaries and saved it.
    The fire watch. She looked over at the porch, but no one was on it or on the steps or coming out either of the side doors. The chorister had said coming out through the nave was quicker. That meant the fire watch was already out here, somewhere in this crowd. Polly started through it, looking for men in coveralls and helmets.
    “Mr. Bartholomew!” she called, pushing between people, hoping someone would turn his head. “John Bartholomew!” but there was too much noise from the guns and the planes and the fire engines’ bells. She couldn’t make herself heard. And she couldn’t see any helmets.
    “Oh, look!” the woman she was shoving past said. “She’s going!” and Polly, shocked, turned and looked up. Where the small flame had been, large yellow flames were spurting, whipped by the wind. Even as she watched, the fire seemed to grow larger and brighter.
    “She’s done for,” someone said.
    “Can’t they do something?” a woman asked plaintively.
    A man’s voice in the middle of the crowd said with authority, “I think a prayer would be in order,” and the crowd went silent. “Let us pray.”
    That had to be Dean Matthews. The chorister had said he was up on the roofs. He and the fire watch would be standing together.
    Polly headed for his voice, but the crowd, spellbound by the drama on the dome, refused to let her through. Polly pushed out of the crowd and ran toward the cathedral and up the steps to see where Dean Matthews and the fire watch were standing. If she could spot Mr. Bartholomew from Eileen’s description and wave to him …
    She clambered up next to the lamppost at the end of the stairs and scanned the crowd, looking for a clerical collar. She still couldn’t see Dean Matthews or the fire watch. She moved a bit to the right, attempting to get a better angle from which to see their upturned faces, lit by the orange light from the fires in Paternoster Row.
    She noted and discarded the ones who couldn’t be on the fire watch—woman, woman, too young, too old—
    Oh, God. She grabbed for the lamppost, suddenly weak in the knees.
    It was Mr. Dunworthy.

    How all occasions do inform against me.
    St. Paul’s Cathedral—29 December 1940
    EILEEN WATCHED THE WARDEN START AROUND THE INCENDIARY and up the steps after Polly. “You there! Stop!” he called after her, but she was already inside and the door had closed behind her.
    For a split second Eileen was afraid he was going to go in after her, but the incendiary suddenly began gyrating and throwing off violent sparks and blobs of molten magnesium, and the warden stopped where he was, brushing wildly at his coat and arms. Mike leaped to his aid, slapping at the sparks.
    The incendiary’s spinning was bringing it closer to the men and to the edge of the step.
    “Look out!” Eileen shouted. It rolled over the edge, still spinning, and down two steps, sending off a shower of stinging sparks. Eileen instinctively backed away from it and fell off her step, stumbling and flailing her arms to keep her balance.
    There was another, higher-pitched swish. “Jesus!” Mike shouted, running toward her. “Here come some more. We’ve got to get out of here!” He grabbed her hand.
    They skirted the incendiary and ran up the steps, but too late. Another incendiary rattled down onto the porch, directly between them and the door, fizzing. They backed away from it.
    And straight into the arms of the warden. “This way!” the warden shouted. “Quick!”
    He grabbed their arms and herded them back down the stairs and around the side of the cathedral. More incendiaries fell, glittering among the trees and shrubs in the churchyard and along the lane as he propelled them down the hill.
    “Where are we going?” Mike shouted.
    “Shelter!” the warden yelled back over the roar of the planes. “Keep near the buildings!”
    There was another clatter, several streets away, and a heavier thump. That’s an HE, Eileen thought. But Mike said it was all incendiaries.
    They rounded a corner. A woman and two children were huddling in a doorway. “Come along,” the warden said, letting go of Mike’s arm to take charge of them, too. “We must get out of this.”
    He was right. Fires were springing up all around them, turning the garish white light of the incendiaries to orange. The group went faster, heads down, hugging the line of wooden warehouses, and two elderly men fell in behind them.
    Mike leaned close to Eileen as they ran. “If we get separated,” he said, “go to Blackfriars with him and wait for me there.”
    “Why? What are you going to do?”
    “I’ve got to get into St. Paul’s.”
    “But—” Eileen said, looking fearfully back up the hill. Fires were burning all along its crest.
    “We’ve only got tonight to find Bartholomew,” Mike said, “and Polly doesn’t even know what he looks like.”
    “But I thought you said we needed to keep together.”
    “We do. But if we should happen to get separated, we can’t afford to waste time running around looking for each other. We may only have a couple of hours’
    leeway to get to the drop—”
    He broke off as the warden turned his head to say, “We’re nearly there.” The warden pointed down a side street. “There’s a surface shelter just round the corner from here.”
    A surface shelter. Polly had said one of them had been hit. “I thought you were taking us to Blackfriars,” Eileen shouted over the anti-aircraft guns.
    “This is nearer!” the warden shouted.
    They rounded the corner and stopped. The building at the end of the block was on fire, flames and smoke boiling from its upper story. In front of it, filling the narrow street, was a fire engine. Firemen swarmed around it, uncoiling hose, spraying a stream of water on the blaze. Eileen stepped back involuntarily, and bumped right into another fireman. “This lane’s off-limits!” he shouted at her, and then at the warden, “What are these people doing here?”
    “I was taking them to the shelter in Pilgrim Street,” the warden said defensively.
    “This whole area’s restricted,” the fireman said. “You’ll have to take them down to Blackfriars.”
    “Wait,” another fireman said, coming over from the engine. He was carrying an infant. He thrust it into Eileen’s arms. “Here. Take this with you,” he said, as if it were a parcel.
    The baby immediately began to scream. “But I can’t—” Eileen protested, and turned to Mike for support.
    He was nowhere to be seen. He must have taken advantage of the confusion to go assist Polly. And left her here. With an infant.
    The fireman was already walking away. “Wait, where’s its mother?” she shouted over the baby’s ear-splitting screams. “How will she know where to find it?”
    He looked at her and then back at the burning building and shook his head grimly.
    “Come along,” the warden said, and led Eileen and the others back to the corner and down the hill, stepping over the tangle of fire hoses which seemed to be everywhere.
    The infant was screaming so loudly that Eileen couldn’t even hear the guns. “Shh, it’s all right,” she whispered to it. “We’re going to the shelter.”
    It redoubled its screams. I know just how you feel, Eileen thought.
    The couple and the teenaged girl had all hurried ahead, and the warden called back impatiently to Eileen, “Can’t you keep that child quiet?” as if she were violating some rule of the blackout.
    At least they were going to Blackfriars. And between the fires and the searchlights, she could see the street ahead and the tube station below them. “Shh, we’re here, sweetheart. We’re at the shelter,” she told the baby, hurrying to the entrance, down the stairs, and inside.
    The baby abruptly stopped crying and looked around at the busy station, rubbing its eyes. It was perhaps a year old, and covered with soot. Perhaps it got burned, and that’s why it’s screaming, Eileen thought, and examined its chubby arms and legs.

    and that’s why it’s screaming, Eileen thought, and examined its chubby arms and legs.
    She couldn’t see any injuries. Its cheeks were very red, but that was probably from crying, which it looked like it was winding up to do again. “What’s your name, sweetheart?” she asked, to distract it. “Hmm? What’s your name? And what am I going to do with you?”
    She needed to find someone in a position of authority to give the infant to. She went over to the ticket booth. “Can you—?” she said, and the baby began to scream again. “This child’s been separated from its mother,” she shouted over its shrieks, “and the fireman asked me to take her to the authorities.”
    “Authorities?” the ticket seller shouted back blankly.
    A bad sign. “Have you an infirmary here?”
    “There’s a first-aid station,” he said doubtfully.
    “On the eastbound platform.”
    But it wasn’t there, though she walked the full length of the platform, the baby squalling the entire time. “I don’t recall ever seeing one,” a shelterer said when she asked him. “Is there a first-aid station here, Maude?” he asked his wife, who was putting her hair up in pincurls.
    “No,” Maude said, opening a bobby pin with her teeth. “There’s a canteen in the District Line hall.”
    “Thank you,” Eileen said, and started along the tunnel. Surprisingly, it was deserted.
    Or perhaps not so surprisingly, she thought, walking through a puddle and then another. Water was dripping from the ceiling, and there was a distinctly unwaterlike odor. She walked rapidly toward the stairs at the end.
    Halfway there, she was suddenly surrounded by a gaggle of children. They ranged in age from about six to twelve or so, and were incredibly grubby. Fagin’s band of pickpockets, she thought, and tightened her grip on her handbag and the baby.
    “Give us a tuppence?” one of them asked, holding out his hand.
    “Sorry,” she said.
    “Why’s your baby cryin’?” the eldest one asked challengingly.
    “Is it sick?”
    “Wot’s its name?”
    “Has it got the colic?” the others chimed in, dancing around her.
    “It’s crying because you’re frightening it,” she said. “So run along.”
    “I ’eard ’er tell the ticket seller it weren’t ’er baby,” the girl said. “I think that’s why it’s crying.”
    “I bet she pinched it,” the eldest boy said.
    The girl circled around behind her.
    “That’s why she won’t tell us its name,” the smallest one said, pointedly not looking at the girl, who was edging closer to Eileen’s handbag. “Because she don’t know it. If it is your baby, wot’s its name?”
    “Michael,” Eileen said, and walked rapidly away.
    They ran to catch up with her. “What’s your name?”
    “Eileen,” she said without breaking stride and rounded the corner to a stairway crowded with people.
    The sitting and reclining bodies made it nearly impossible to get up the stairs, but it didn’t matter. The children had melted away so quickly she thought there must be a guard at the head of the stairs and scanned the crowd eagerly for him, but there was no one who looked official, only people in coats and nightclothes. Shelterers and evacuees. Eileen shifted the baby to a more comfortable position and picked her way up the stairs and out into the District Line’s hall.
    Where there was no canteen and no first-aid station. “Oh, dear,” she said, and was immediately sorry. The baby, whose crying had subsided slightly during the interesting encounter with the urchins, went off again.
    “Shh,” Eileen said, walking over to two women standing in an alcove, talking. “I’m supposed to deliver this baby to the authorities,” she said without preamble. “It lost its mother in a fire. But I can’t find—”
    “You need to take her to the WVS post,” one of the women said promptly. “They’re in charge of incident victims.”
    “Where’s that?” Eileen asked, looking round at the hall.
    “Embankment? Oh, but—”
    “The westbound platform,” the woman said, and the two of them walked quickly away.
    Before I could fob the baby off on them, Eileen thought.
    What now? She couldn’t take it to Embankment. Mike had told her to wait for him here. If he found John Bartholomew …
    But she couldn’t go with him with this infant on her hands. And Embankment was only two stops away.
    But Polly’d said some of the lines had been hit. What if she couldn’t get back? She couldn’t risk it. She’d have to find someone here to take the baby. She surveyed the platform, looking for a motherly type.
    There was one, bathing a baby in a dishpan. “Shh, sweetheart, don’t cry,” Eileen said, stepping carefully between people’s shoes and their stretched-out stocking feet to get to her.
    “I was wondering if you could help me,” she said to the woman, who was wringing out a washcloth. “I’m trying to find this baby’s mother.”
    “I’m not it,” the woman said, and began washing her baby’s face.
    It didn’t like it. It began to cry, and so did Eileen’s baby. “I know,” Eileen shouted over the din. “I was wondering if you could watch the baby since you have one of your own.”
    “I’ve six of my own,” the woman said, grabbing a bar of soap and rubbing it vigorously over her baby’s hair. It screamed even louder. “I can’t take on another.
    You’ll have to find someone else.”
    But everyone Eileen asked refused to help. Maybe I should just wait till no one’s looking, she thought, and set the baby down in the middle of them and walk off.

    But everyone Eileen asked refused to help. Maybe I should just wait till no one’s looking, she thought, and set the baby down in the middle of them and walk off.
    They won’t even notice it’s not one of theirs. And even if they did, they’d surely take care of it when they realized it didn’t belong to anyone.
    And if they didn’t, and the baby toddled out to the edge of the platform and fell onto the tracks?
    I’m going to have to take it to Embankment after all, Eileen thought, and went out to the platform.
    It was even more jammed than the others. She stepped gingerly around picnic hampers and over a game of Parchesi. “You! Watch where you’re going!” someone called, but they weren’t speaking to her. They were shouting at two of the urchins who’d accosted her before.
    They dashed up to her, just missing the Parchesi game. Eileen instinctively tightened her grip on her handbag. “You said you was named Eileen,” the boy said.
    “Eileen wot?”
    “Why?” Eileen said eagerly. “Is someone looking for me? A tall man with a limp?”
    The boy shook his head.
    “Is it the baby’s mother?” she asked, though it couldn’t be. The fireman had indicated that she was dead.
    “I told you she pinched it,” the girl said to the boy.
    “Eileen wot?” he repeated doggedly.
    “O’Reilly,” she said. “Who asked what my name was?” but they were already tearing back down the platform at breakneck speed, vaulting over shelterers and darting between passengers who were getting off the train that had just pulled in.
    “Mind the gap,” the guard called, standing inside the door of the train.
    The train guard. She wouldn’t have to take the baby to Embankment after all. She could give it to the guard, and he could take it to the WVS post. If she could get to him.
    But the platform was jammed, and the doors were already closing. “Wait!” she cried, but it was too late. I’ll have to wait for the next one, she thought, working her way out to the edge so she could hand the infant to the guard as soon as the doors opened.
    It had been snuffling, but as soon as Eileen stood still, it set up a howl again. “Shh,” Eileen said. “You’re going to take a nice train ride. Would you like that?”
    The baby howled louder.
    “You’re going to go on a nice train, and then have some nice milk and biscuits.”
    “If the train comes,” the old man next to her said. “They’re saying there’s been a disruption in service.”
    “A disruption?” Eileen peered down the track into the tunnel, looking for an engine light in the blackness. Nothing.
    This is the story of my life, she thought, standing on platforms waiting for trains which never come, with children who don’t want to go on them.
    “That infant should be in bed,” the old man said disapprovingly.
    “You’re quite right.” She looked at him consideringly, but he looked frail. And ill-tempered. “I’ll speak to Hitler about it,” she said, and noticed that people waiting had perked up and were looking down the track. She still couldn’t see a light, but there was a faint rumble, and a gust of air caught the skirt of her coat and blew it against her.
    “Can you see it?” she turned to ask the old man. The baby gave a sudden ear-splitting shriek and launched herself out of Eileen’s arms.
    “Don’t—” Eileen gasped, lunging for it.
    “Maaah!” the baby shrieked, its little arms outstretched, and Eileen looked up the platform.
    A woman was running toward them, her arms outstretched, too, stumbling over the shelterers sitting against the wall. Her face and arms were smeared with soot, and there was a nasty-looking gash on her cheek, but her face was alight with joy.
    “Oh, my darling!” she sobbed, pushing past the old man, nearly knocking him down.
    She snatched the baby out of Eileen’s arms and hugged it to her. “I thought I’d never see you again, and here you are! Are you all right?” she said, holding the baby out to look at it. “You’re not hurt, are you?”
    “It’s fine,” Eileen said. “Only a bit frightened.”
    “The bomb knocked you out of my arms, and I couldn’t find you, and the fire … I thought …”
    “I need to get to the train,” the old man said, and Eileen was surprised to see that it had pulled in.
    He pushed past her to the opening doors.
    “Mind the gap,” the guard Eileen had intended to give the baby to said, and passengers began to get off, buffeting mother and baby, but neither of them noticed.
    The baby gurgled happily and the mother cooed, “Mummy’s been looking for you everywhere.”
    One of the passengers crashed into Eileen, hurrying to get past. “Sorry,” he muttered, and darted past her, so quickly he was halfway to the end of the platform before she realized who it was. John Bartholomew.
    He wasn’t wearing the fire-watch uniform—he had on an overcoat and a dangling wool scarf—but it was him. Eileen was certain of it, in spite of his looking younger, in spite of the fact that he was supposed to be at St. Paul’s, not here at Blackfriars. He must have been somewhere else and had returned as soon as the raid began. That was why he was pushing his way desperately through the crowd, to get to St. Paul’s.
    “Mr. Bartholomew!” Eileen shouted, and ran after him down the platform.
    He didn’t turn his head, he just kept plunging through the crowd, over to the exit and into the tunnel.
    Oh, no, he’s here under another name, Eileen thought. And what were the fire watch called? “Officer!” she called as she ran along the tunnel to the stairs.
    “Firewatcher! Wait!”
    He was halfway up the stairs. “Officer Bartholomew!” she shouted, and stepped squarely onto the Parchesi board. It flipped up, and dice and wooden pieces flew everywhere.
    “What the—?” the boys who’d been playing the game said.
    “Sorry!” she called without stopping, and ran on up the stairs, sidestepping teapots and shoes.
    “Watch where you’re going!” someone shouted as she raced along the tunnel and over to the escalators. “This isn’t a racecourse, you know.”
    John Bartholomew was already at the top of the nearly empty escalator and stepping off. “Mr. Bartholomew!” she shouted desperately, vaulting up the moving John Bartholomew was already at the top of the nearly empty escalator and stepping off. “Mr. Bartholomew!” she shouted desperately, vaulting up the moving escalator two steps at a time.
    At the top, the station was full of people swarming in carrying children and bedrolls and, improbably, a tall stack of books. For a moment she couldn’t see him, and then she spotted his dark head. He was going toward the turnstiles.
    She started after him, swimming upstream through the crowd, calling, “Mr. Bartholomew! Wait!” But there was no way he could hear her in this din.
    She pushed past a cluster of women, all in robes and nightgowns, and ran toward him. “Mr. Barthol—” she shouted, and two urchins jumped out in front of her.
    “I told you it was ’er,” Binnie said.
    “Alf, Binnie!” Eileen said, looking desperately past them at John Bartholomew, who was through the turnstile and heading toward the exit. “I haven’t time—” She tried to elbow past.
    But they planted themselves firmly in front of her, blocking her way, and Binnie grabbed her arm. “We been lookin’ for you everywhere,” she said.
    “Yeah.” Alf folded his arms belligerently. “Where’s my map?”

    It’s going to be a warm night.
    29 December 1940
    Ludgate Hil —29 December 1940
    MIKE ROUNDED THE CORNER AND FLATTENED HIMSELF into the first doorway he came to and waited, hoping the ARP warden wasn’t right on his heels. When the fireman had begun shouting at the warden, Mike had started backing away from the group, keeping close to the buildings, and as soon as he was even with the corner, had darted up the lane they’d just come down and into the next side street. It was narrow and pitch-black after the light of the fires, which was why he’d ducked into the doorway
    —so his eyes could adjust and he could see if he was being followed.
    He wasn’t. There was no one in the street or at the end of it, though he’d half hoped Eileen would manage to get away from the warden, too. He’d hated abandoning her, but he’d been afraid he might not have another chance. Once inside the shelter, they’d have had a hell of a time getting out. And he had to get to St.
    Paul’s. Polly didn’t know what John Bartholomew looked like, and besides, there was no way they’d let a woman up on the roofs, which was where Bartholomew was bound to be. Another wave of incendiary-bearing planes was already coming this way, the rumbling drone growing louder by the second.
    The fastest way back to St. Paul’s was the way they’d come with the warden, but he didn’t dare risk it. That warden had been doggedly determined. When he discovered Mike was missing, he was liable to come after him. I’d better take the next street over, Mike thought. He emerged from the doorway, looked quickly in both directions, and took off running, thinking, At least I don’t have to worry about being heard. The roar of the planes drowned out everything else.
    Before he’d gone a hundred yards, he regretted his decision to come this way. The street curved sharply, and the lane branching off it was not the next street over. It was no wider than an alley, with several other, darker alleys opening off it.
    Mike picked the one that looked like it led out of the maze, hampered by the fact that he couldn’t see anything.
    The alley didn’t lead anywhere. It ended in a brick wall. Mike retraced his steps, cursing. Why couldn’t they have figured out John Bartholomew was at St. Paul’s two weeks ago, two months ago, so all they’d have had to do was walk into the cathedral and ask for him? He’d known where he was. He should have asked Polly when St. Paul’s had nearly burned down instead of assuming it was in May, and he should have asked Eileen what John Bartholomew’s assignment was. But they’d all been so focused on airfields and then Bletchley Park. And now, instead of walking into St. Paul’s and politely asking Polly’s Mr. Humphreys for Bartholomew, he had to fight his way through a raid at the last minute in the dark.
    He realized he must have missed a turning. The street he found himself on led back downhill, and when he turned and went in the opposite direction, twisted back on itself, and ran downhill, too. The drone grew louder, so loud he could barely hear the clatter of incendiaries falling on all sides. They were several streets over, but they lit the whole area in a garish white light.
    Good, Mike thought. At least I’ll be able to see where I am. But nothing looked familiar at all. He glanced up, searching for the dome of St. Paul’s to orient himself by, but the buildings on either side of the narrow street were too tall.
    He ran down to the corner, but he couldn’t see it from there either. The only thing visible was thick, roiling smoke, reflecting the light from the fires in a pinkish orange, and above it thick clouds. And flames. There were fires everywhere. The lack of water to fight them with was supposed to have been the problem, but no amount of water could have made a dent in this many blazes.
    Another batch of incendiaries rattled down, making him dive into a doorway for cover. “Heddson and Poldrey, Booksellers, has moved to 22 Paternoster Row,” a notice posted on the door said, and there was an arrow pointing up to the next street. Paternoster Row ran right alongside the cathedral.
    But the entrance to it was blocked by a blaze which filled the whole street. He backtracked and went up the next lane over, but it didn’t go through. He tried the next.
    And there was the blaze which had blocked his way to what had to be Paternoster Row. He had to be really close to St. Paul’s, though he still couldn’t see it. The dome was supposed to have floated like a beacon above the smoke and flames that night, so where the hell was it? All he could see was smoke. And more flames. The entire far side of the street was on fire, red flames leaping from the windows of the warehouses and book depositories that lined it, but he couldn’t afford to backtrack again. He had to get to St. Paul’s.
    He ducked his head against the intense heat and started along the street.
    A man with an axe grabbed him by the sleeve. “Where do you think you’re going?” he shouted over the roar of the fire.
    “St. Paul’s!”
    “You can’t get through that way!” the man shouted. “Help me break this door down!”
    Mike shook his head. “I’m not a fireman!” he shouted back.
    “Neither am I!” the man bellowed, hacking at the door. “I’m a reporter. I’m supposed to be covering this fire, not fighting it, but there’s no one else here!”
    I don’t have time for this, Mike thought.
    “I’ll go get the fire brigade!” he said, to get away from the reporter.
    “No use! That’s the fire station,” the reporter shouted, pointing with the axe at a flaming building down the street and chopping ineffectually at the door again. “I just saw an incendiary land on the roof!”
    And if it burned through to the floor below, the building and this whole end of the street would go up, and he’d never get through. Mike grabbed the axe from the reporter and began hacking at the door, splintering the heavy wood while the reporter ran to get one of the sandbags piled up against the corner lamppost.
    “Why in God’s name they’ve locked every one of these buildings when they knew there were bound to be raids, I don’t know,” the reporter said, coming back with the sandbag. “And what good did they think putting a bucket of water and a stirrup pump outside the door would do?”
    Mike had the door open. The reporter dumped the sandbag across his arms, grabbed the stirrup pump and bucket, and raced up a rickety staircase. Mike ran up after him, but by the time he got there with the sandbag, the reporter already had the incendiary out.
    Mike smothered it with sand, just in case, and the reporter said, “That’s one less fire I’ll have to cover tonight,” but by the time they got downstairs again, flames from the warehouse next door were licking at the side of the building, and yet another wave of planes was buzzing overhead.
    “Do you hear that?” the reporter said unnecessarily, and then Mike realized he was talking about a jangle of bells. A fire brigade.
    A fire engine pulled into the street, and men swarmed off it and began hooking up a hose to the hydrant. Water belched from the hose and then slowed to a trickle.

    A fire engine pulled into the street, and men swarmed off it and began hooking up a hose to the hydrant. Water belched from the hose and then slowed to a trickle.
    “There’s no water in the main!” one of the firemen shouted.
    “We’ll have to hook them up to the pumps!” the one in charge said, and the men connected the hoses to portable pumps and began playing water on the flames.
    Good, Mike thought. The professionals can take over. The reporter seemed to be thinking the same thing. He picked up his camera from where he’d left it on the doorstep and began snapping pictures of the firemen training a hose on the fire station.
    Mike edged away from him, gauging whether he could get down Paternoster Row to the cathedral or was going to have to go around. The blaze didn’t seem to be any bigger, but the wind was starting to pick up, fanning the flames.
    “Here,” a fireman said, shoving a hose into Mike’s hands. “Take this branchpipe down to Officers Mullen and Dix.”
    “I’m not one of your firemen,” Mike said, determined not to get caught again. He thrust the hose back at him and said what he should have said to the reporter. “I have to get to the cathedral. I’m a member of the St. Paul’s fire watch.”
    The fireman slapped the heavy nozzle and hose back into Mike’s hands. “Then this is where you belong.”
    “If we don’t stop it here, nothing you can do at the cathedral will save her. Run it along there, where Mullen and Dix are,” he ordered, pointing at two firemen, barely visible through the smoke, playing water on a warehouse fifty yards or so up the street.
    And fifty yards closer to St. Paul’s, Mike thought.
    “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition,” he muttered, and slung the hose over his shoulder and limped off with it down the wet street, stepping over two other hoses and going around a pile of burning debris. He’d hand the branchpipe to Mullen and Dix and take off, and hopefully the smoke would keep the first fireman from seeing what he’d done. Or at least give him a head start.
    If he could get past the fire they were trying to put out. It was a bookstore—he could see the wrought-iron signboard above the door: T. R. Hubbard, Fine Books—
    and the inside of the store was an inferno, flames leaping from every single window all the way up to the roof and lunging out into the middle of the narrow street.
    Mullen and Dix, playing a pathetic stream of water—which turned instantly to steam—on it, were backed almost up against the warehouse across the street, even though it was on fire, too—as if they were afraid the flames in front of them would make a sudden lunge—and their helmeted heads were ducked against the blaze.
    And the heat. The air was hideously hot and full of burning cinders. One landed on Mike’s ear, sizzling, and he swiped wildly at it as if it was a wasp.
    The hose snagged on something, jerking him back so hard he nearly stumbled. He hobbled back to see what it had caught on. A piece of stone coping. It must have fallen from the top of one of the buildings. He kicked it aside and began hauling the hose again toward Mullen and Dix, who had backed up even farther against the warehouse so that it seemed to loom over them.
    It was looming over them. “That wall’s going!” Mike shouted, but even he couldn’t hear his voice over the roar of the flames and the wind. “Get out of there!”
    He dropped the hose and waved his arms wildly, but they didn’t see him either. Their heads were down, and the top of the wall arched out above them like a breaking wave.
    “Look out!” he shouted, and dived forward, half tackling, half shoving them into the middle of the street and out of the way.
    The wall crashed down, spraying bricks and sparks. Mullen and Dix scrambled to their feet, slapping at their uniforms. The hose they’d been holding flailed and writhed like a huge snake, spraying icy water all over the three of them.
    Mike made a lunge for it, but it was too strong for one person to hold. “You have to help me!” he shouted to Mullen and Dix, but they were just standing there next to the heap of bricks that had been the warehouse wall.
    They shouted something at him. It sounded like “You saved our lives!”
    Oh, no, Mike thought, wrestling with the writhing hose. Just like Hardy.
    But it doesn’t matter he told himself. We won the war. Polly was there.
    But that wasn’t what they were shouting after all—it was something about the bookstore.
    “What?” he said, and turned around to see it, signboard and all, come crashing down on him.

    “Yes, you may go to the ball, Cinderella,” her fairy godmother said, “but take care that you do not stay past midnight, or your coach will turn back into a pumpkin, and your gown once again into rags.”
    Blackfriars Tube Station—29 December 1940
    EILEEN TRIED TO PUSH PAST ALF AND BINNIE, BUT THEY’D planted themselves immovably between her and the turnstile, and John Bartholomew was already going through it.
    “We been lookin’ all over the station for you,” Binnie said.
    They were both filthy, and Binnie was wearing the same too-small dress she’d worn the day Eileen went to borrow the map. “Ain’t you glad to see us?”
    No, Eileen thought, looking desperately over to where John Bartholomew was elbowing his way toward the exit.
    “What’re you doin’ ’ere?” Binnie asked.
    “ ’Ow come you never sent my map back like you said?” Alf said.
    I haven’t got time for this, Eileen thought frantically. He was nearly to the exit. “I can’t talk to you now,” she said, shoving the children aside and running after him.
    An arm shot out to bar her way. “Where do you think you’re going, miss?” the station guard demanded.
    “The man who just left—I must catch him.”
    “Sorry, no one allowed out till the all clear.”
    “But you let him out,” she said, straining against his arm.
    “He’s one of St. Paul’s fire watch.”
    “I know. I must catch him,” Eileen said, and made a dive to get past him.
    The guard grabbed her around the waist. “No, you don’t, miss,” he said, and then more kindly, “It’s too dangerous out there.”
    “Dangerous?” she said, nearly crying with rage. “Dangerous? You don’t understand. If I don’t get a message through to—”
    “The fire watch is too busy for messages just now. So you be a good girl and go back down below, where it’s safe. Whatever you need to tell him can wait till morning.”
    He turned her around and gave her a push back toward the turnstiles. And Alf and Binnie.
    “We thought you’d be glad to see us,” Binnie said reproachfully. “Tim told us ’e seen a lady named Eileen, and I says, ‘Eileen what?’ and Tim says ’e don’t know, and I says, ‘Well, go ask ’er then—’ ”
    Eileen grabbed Binnie by the shoulders. “Listen. I must get past the guard. Can you help me?”
    “Course,” Alf said scornfully.
    “Wait ’ere,” Binnie ordered her, and the two of them shot over to where the guard was standing.
    Eileen couldn’t see what they were doing, but moments later the guard shouted, “Hey, you two! Come back here!” and took off after them.
    Eileen didn’t wait to see where they went. She shot through the gate and up the steps.
    And into a nightmare. There was smoke everywhere, and just up the hill a building spurted red-orange flames from its roof. Half a dozen firemen had their hoses trained on it, and more moved purposefully around the fire pumper and the ambulance standing in the middle of the street, hooking up hydrants, loading a stretcher into the back of the ambulance.
    But there was no sign of Mr. Bartholomew. Those few minutes she’d been delayed had given him too much of a head start. At least she knew where he was going.
    But there was no sign of the cathedral either, only smoke and more smoke, great billowing gray and pink and rose-colored clouds of it.
    You don’t need to see it, she thought. It’s at the top of the hill. She started up it, past the pumper, trying to hurry, but speed was impossible. The pavement was a snake pit of hoses and water and mud. She squelched through it past the fire, past the ambulance, where they were loading in a second stretcher.
    “This one’s bad,” one of the firemen loading it shouted to no one in particular. “He’s lost a good deal of blood.”
    A hand grabbed Eileen’s arm.
    Oh, no, it’s the station guard, she thought, but it was the ARP warden who’d forced her to come to Blackfriars.
    “Can you drive?” he asked.
    “Drive?” she repeated blankly. “What—”
    “I need someone to drive that ambulance to hospital. The driver’s unconscious. Hit on the head. And I’ve got an Army lieutenant who’s bleeding bad. Do you know how to drive?”
    “Yeah,” Binnie said, appearing out of nowhere with Alf.
    “The vicar taught her,” Alf put in.
    “ ’E taught me, too,” Binnie said. “I’ll drive the ambulance.”
    “You will not,” Eileen said, and to the warden, “These children have no business—”
    “Do you know first aid?” the warden asked Binnie.
    She scrambled into the back of the ambulance.
    “Show her what to do!” the warden shouted to the stretcher-bearers. He turned back to Eileen. “I’ve no one else to send.”
    “You don’t understand,” she said. “I must get to St. Paul’s. It’s a matter of life and death.”
    “So’s this. I’ve got a driver!” he called to the men, opened the ambulance door, and pushed Eileen in. “It’s already running. Take them to St. Bart’s. It’s nearest.”
    “I don’t know the way.”
    “I do,” Alf said, getting in. “I know this ’ole side o’ London. Even if you didn’t bring my map back.”

    “I do,” Alf said, getting in. “I know this ’ole side o’ London. Even if you didn’t bring my map back.”
    “You better ’urry,” Binnie said from the back. “ ’E’s really bleedin’.”
    And Binnie no more knew first aid than the man in the moon. Eileen scrambled over the seat into the back, where Binnie squatted between two stretchers, holding a folded gauze pad on the lieutenant’s blood-soaked leg. “Press down as hard as you can. Push,” Eileen said, thinking, Thank goodness Lady Caroline insisted I attend those first-aid classes.
    “How bad is it?” the lieutenant asked weakly.
    Eileen hadn’t realized he was conscious.
    “Not bad,” she said. “Not bad?” Binnie exclaimed. “Lookit all that blood.”
    “You mustn’t worry,” Eileen said, glaring at Binnie. “We’re taking you to hospital.”
    She took a quick look around the back for sticking plaster to fix the pad more tightly to the wound, but there was no sign of a first-aid kit, and the driver on the other stretcher was in no shape to tell her what had happened to it. She was unconscious, her face gray even in the orange light from the fire.
    They both needed to get to hospital immediately. If Eileen could find it. And if she could get out of here. Another fire pumper had arrived, bells clanging, and it blocked her way. She had to back and turn the ambulance, which was at least three times the size of the vicar’s Austin, twice to get it past it. “Which way?” she asked Alf.
    “That way.” He pointed, and they took off through the burning streets.
    It seemed as if every road had at least one fire, and in the few that didn’t, incendiaries glittered and spat white sparks. “Take the next turning,” Alf said.
    “Which direction?”
    “Right,” he said. “No, left.”
    “Are you certain you know the way to St. Bart’s?”
    “Course. We was there when—” He stopped short.
    “When what?” Eileen said, glancing over at him.
    He didn’t answer her. “If I ’ad my map, I’d know the way for sure,” he grumbled. “ ’Ow come you never sent it?”
    “I brought it back, but you weren’t home, so I put it under your door.”
    “Oh,” he said. “That’s why. After—”
    “You never said what you was doin’ in Blackfriars,” Binnie interrupted from the back.
    “I was trying to get to St. Paul’s. What were you two doing there?” Eileen asked, though she had a good idea.
    “We was goin’ to a shelter durin’ the raids like you told us to,” Binnie said virtuously.
    Alf nodded. “Bank Station’s the best, but sometimes we go to Liverpool Street. Or Blackfriars, like tonight. It’s got a canteen.”
    “Can’t you drive faster?” Binnie called from the back.
    No, Eileen thought, gripping the wheel. There was too much smoke, and too many obstacles. Half the streets Alf told her to take were filled with fire equipment.
    Or with flames. Glowing embers clattered onto the bonnet of the ambulance, and halfway along Old Bailey, the darkened buildings on either side suddenly flared into burning torches, and Eileen had to back up and take a side lane so narrow she wasn’t certain the ambulance could get through. And if the tall wooden buildings crowding in on either side caught fire the way the others had, there’d be no way out.
    “This is fun, ain’t it?” Alf said. “Are we gonna be killed?”
    “No,” Eileen said grimly. You were born to be hanged.
    “Now where?” she asked.
    “That way.” He pointed off to the east.
    “I thought the hospital was north.”
    “It is, but we can’t go that way. There’s fires.”
    “Binnie!” Eileen called into the backseat. “Is the driver coming round yet?”
    “No,” Binnie said, “and the lieutenant’s asleep.”
    Oh, no.
    “Is he still breathing?” she asked.
    “Yeah,” Binnie said, but uncertainly. “ ’Ow long do I got to push on this bandage?”
    “Till we get there,” Eileen said. “You can’t let up for even a moment, Binnie.”
    “I know.”
    “Go down there,” Alf directed, pointing along a street that led downhill toward the river.
    “You’re certain this is the shortest way, Alf?” Eileen asked, veering to avoid an incendiary in the middle of the street.
    “Yeah. We got to go round the fires.”
    Which was easier said than done. New waves of planes flew overhead every few minutes, followed by scattered spurts of white and then yellow flame at a dozen places among the roofs. We’ll have to drive to Dover to get around all these fires, Eileen thought.
    “Now down there,” Alf said.
    “The bandage is bleedin’ through,” Binnie said.
    “Keep pressing. Don’t let up.”
    “The blood’s comin’ through to my ’ands. It’s all over ’em!” Binnie said.
    “Can I see?” Alf said eagerly.
    “No,” Eileen said, dragging him back down into the front seat with one hand. “I need you to navigate. Binnie, press hard!”
    “I am.”

    “I am.”
    “Good girl. We’ll be there in a bit,” she said, even though she didn’t believe it, even though it seemed she would spend the rest of eternity turning down street after street at Alf’s direction while all around them London burned to the ground.
    “There’s blood all over,” Binnie said, and there was a tone of desperation in her voice that was totally unlike her.
    Eileen pulled the car over to the curb, stopped it, and climbed over the seat to look.
    Binnie was right. There was blood everywhere. Binnie was pushing down manfully, but she wasn’t strong enough to stanch the bleeding. “Here, let me,” Eileen said, and Binnie immediately let go and scooted aside. Blood spurted.
    “Wow!” Alf exclaimed. “Lookit that!”
    Eileen pressed down on the towel as hard as she could. The bleeding slowed but didn’t stop. She got on her knees, bent forward so her full weight was over the officer, and pushed down.
    “It’s stoppin’,” Binnie said.
    But how did that help? The moment she let up on the towel, the wound would begin spurting again, and they couldn’t stay here indefinitely. The lieutenant’s only hope lay in their getting him to hospital, and soon. “Binnie? Do you think you could drive?” Eileen asked.
    “A’ course,” Binnie said, and scrambled over the seats and into the driver’s seat.
    “Do you remember where first gear is?”
    In answer, Binnie stepped on the clutch, put the car in gear, and shot down the street at breakneck speed.
    She’s going to get us all killed, Eileen thought, but she didn’t tell her to slow down. Speed was their only hope, both for the officer and the driver, who looked as though she was already dead. Even bending over her, Eileen couldn’t hear her breathing.
    “Go right,” Alf said. “Now down there. Now bear left.” Binnie was apparently going the way he told her because he didn’t call her a noddlehead.
    She hoped to goodness he knew where he was going and wasn’t only making it up as he went along. But he only hesitated once, to say, “It’s the next one, I think, or the one after. No, go back, it was the first one.” Binnie threw the car into reverse, backed up, and turned into the street he’d indicated.
    Eileen didn’t have time to ask if they were getting close. She had her hands full with the lieutenant, who was coming back to consciousness and attempting to pull away from her, and it was all she could do to keep the pad in place.
    “Now bear right down that lane,” Alf said, “all the way to the end.”
    There was a brief silence, and then Binnie said accusingly, “You told me wrong. There ain’t no way out, just buildin’s.”
    “I know,” Alf said. “We’re ’ere.”
    Eileen bent forward to look out the front window. They were. The stone buildings of St. Bart’s towered beautifully ahead of them.
    “Which door do we go in?” Binnie asked Alf.
    “I dunno,” Alf said. “Eileen, where do we go?”
    “Binnie, come back here and take over,” Eileen said. Binnie scrambled over the seat and took Eileen’s place, and Eileen squeezed past her into the driver’s seat, but in the darkness she couldn’t tell which door she should pull the ambulance up to either. There were a dozen doors, none of them marked and none of them lit.
    “I’ll go see,” Alf said, and was out of the ambulance and out of sight before she could stop him.
    Hurry, Eileen thought, her hands gripping the steering wheel, ready to move the car the instant he returned.
    “Why don’t he come?” Binnie asked, sounding panicked. “The blood’s comin’ through again.”
    There was no sign of Alf. Eileen honked the horn, but no one came.
    “I think the driver lady’s stopped breathin’,” Binnie said.
    They’re both going to die right here outside St. Bart’s, Eileen thought desperately.
    She put on the emergency brake, said, “I’m going to go find it,” and flung herself out of the ambulance and across the drive to the nearest door.
    It was locked. She banged on it for what seemed like an eternity and then ran to the next one, and the next. The last one opened onto a narrow, dimly lit corridor, and at one side a counter and sign: Dispensary.
    Eileen ran up to the counter, praying there was someone behind it.
    There was—a plump, sweet-faced woman in a gray dress with white cuffs and collar and a cameo at her throat. She looked out of place, as if she should be presiding over a tea party.
    She won’t be of any help at all, Eileen thought, but there was no one else.
    “I have two patients outside, and I can’t find where to go, the doors are all locked, and the ambulance driver’s unconscious and the other one’s bleeding badly,” she said, thinking, I’m babbling, she’ll never be able to understand, but amazingly, the woman did.
    “Where’s the ambulance?” she said, snatching up a telephone. “Outside this door?”
    “Yes, I mean, no. It’s—I kept trying doors and they were all locked. I—”
    “Bring the ambulance round to this door,” the woman ordered, and said into the telephone, “I have an emergency here in the dispensary. I need a stretcher crew immediately, and tell them we’ll need a transfusion.”
    “Thank you,” Eileen breathed, and ran back out to the ambulance, scrambled in, said to Binnie, “I’ve found help,” and started the ambulance. By the time she’d backed it up to the dispensary door, a group of attendants was already there, opening the back doors, loading the driver and the officer efficiently onto wheeled carts, and draping them with white sheets.
    “He’s bleedin’,” Binnie said, scrambling out of the ambulance after them. “You got to apply direct pressure.”
    The attendant nodded. “Go with her and make your report,” he said to Eileen, pointing to the nurse standing next to the stretchers.
    “I’m not—” Eileen began.
    The nurse herded her and Binnie through the door. “Where are you injured?” she asked as soon as they were inside.
    “She ain’t,” Binnie said. “It’s them what’s ’urt.” She pointed at the stretchers they were bringing in.

    “Come with me,” the nurse said, and led them down the corridor after the carts, which the attendants were pushing at breakneck speed.
    The nurse was walking almost as quickly. “I’m not the ambulance driver,” Eileen said, trying to keep up with her. “The injured woman is. They recruited me because I could drive—”
    The nurse wasn’t listening. She’d raised her head and was listening to a drone of planes which was growing louder and louder.
    Oh, no, Eileen thought, was St. Bart’s hit on the twenty-ninth?
    They turned down another corridor, and then another, at the end of which the carts disappeared through a pair of double doors. “Wait here,” the nurse said, and went through them, too.
    “You ain’t gonna have to file a report, are you?” Binnie asked.
    “A report?”
    “Yeah, about us takin’ the ambulance. We won’t ’ave to tell ’em our names, will we?”
    “Where’d you two go?” Alf asked, appearing out of nowhere.
    “Where’d we go?” Binnie said indignantly. “You were the one what disappeared.”
    “I never. I went to find where to go, like you told me—”
    “Shh,” Eileen said. “This is a hospital.”
    Alf looked around. “What are you standin’ ’ere for? I thought you said you ’ad to go to St. Paul’s.”
    “I do, but the nurse—”
    “Then we better go before she comes back. The ambulance is this way,” Alf said.
    “We can’t drive the ambulance to St. Paul’s,” Eileen said. “The hospital needs it.”
    “But if they ain’t got nobody to drive it, it ain’t no good to ’em. We might as well take it,” Alf said, ever practical.
    “And if we don’t, ’ow’ll you get there?” Binnie asked. “It’s miles, and the trains’ve stopped running.”
    “They have? What time is it?” Eileen asked, glancing at her watch.
    It was nearly eleven. Mike would have long since come back to Blackfriars looking for her. He’d have no idea where she’d gone. She had to get back there.
    But how? The planes were growing steadily louder, and fires were already blocking nearly every street that led back to Blackfriars. And they’d have spread during the time they’d been here. Soon no one would be able to get anywhere near it or St. Paul’s. The entire City would be ablaze, and there’d be no way to get to Mike or Polly. Or to Mr. Bartholomew, whom they’d surely found by now. They’d each promised they wouldn’t go without the others, but what if the drop was only open for a short time? What if they hadn’t any choice but to go without her?
    “Where did you say the ambulance was?” she asked.
    “This way.” Alf plunged down a corridor.
    “Wait,” Eileen said. “How do you know it’s still there? Someone else may have taken it out.”
    Alf reached in his pocket and held the key up. “I took it out when I was lookin’ for you. So nobody could pinch it.”
    “There’s lots of thieves about during raids,” he said innocently.
    “We better go before that nurse comes back and asks us our names,” Binnie said.
    “This way,” Alf said, “quick,” and led them back through a maze of corridors to the one that led to the dispensary.
    Binnie balked. “I don’t think we should go this way. What if that lady’s there?”
    “What if she is?” Alf said. “We ain’t doin’ nothin’, only walkin’ past. This way’s the nearest.”
    “All right,” Binnie agreed reluctantly, dropping her voice to a whisper, “but tiptoe.”
    “Tiptoeing will look suspicious,” Eileen whispered back. “Just walk past normally. She won’t even notice us.”
    Binnie didn’t look convinced. “She looked like she was the sort who don’t miss a trick.”
    Alf nodded. “Like the ticket guard at Bank Station.”
    “That’s your guilty conscience speaking,” Eileen said. “She was no such thing.” She started confidently down the corridor.
    The door to the dispensary stood half open. Inside, the woman who’d helped her was counting out white tablets with a metal stick, her head bent over the tray.
    Don’t look up, Eileen willed as they passed.
    She didn’t. Eileen opened the door, and they scooted through it. She’d counted on the darkness hiding them once they were outside, but the drive was nearly as bright as the corridor had been. The cloudy sky above them was orange-pink, and the hospital buildings cast odd, wrong-angled, blood-red shadows across the ambulance parked there.
    Eileen made Alf and Binnie climb in back. “Get down so they can’t see you till we’re away from the hospital,” she said, putting the key in the ignition and hoping she could start it. It had been running when the rescue worker had handed it over to her.
    She pulled on the choke and let the clutch out, praying for the engine to catch.
    It did, and then promptly died. “Come on,” Alf said from the backseat. “’Urry.”
    Eileen tried again, pulling the choke out slowly and easing up steadily on the clutch as the vicar had taught her. This time it didn’t quite die, and she glanced in the rear-vision mirror and began to back away from the door.
    A fist pounded on the passenger-side window.
    Eileen nearly jumped out of her skin and killed the engine.
    A man in a white coat was standing there knocking. “We’re for it now,” Alf said.
    “Step on it!” Binnie ordered, leaning over the seat. “Go!”
    “I can’t!” Eileen said, trying desperately to start the engine.

    It wouldn’t catch. The man, in his sixties, opened the door and leaned in. “Are you the young woman who brought in the ambulance driver?”
    She nodded.
    “Good,” he said, getting in. He was carrying a black leather bag. “Mrs. Mallowan told me you were out here. Thank goodness you hadn’t left. I’m Dr. Cross. I need you to take me to Moorgate.”
    Both children had ducked down out of sight. “Moorgate?” Eileen said.
    He nodded. “There’s a young woman at the tube station there. She’s too badly injured to be moved.” He shut the ambulance door. “We’ll have to treat her at the scene.”
    “But I can’t—I’m not a real ambulance driver—”
    “Mrs. Mallowan told me you’d been recruited to bring the injured driver and the lieutenant in.”
    “She can’t take you,” Alf said, popping up from the back.
    “Good Lord, a stowaway,” Dr. Cross said, and as Binnie appeared beside him, “Two stowaways.”
    “We’re ’er assistants,” Binnie said. “She can’t take you to Moorgate. She’s got to go to St. Paul’s.”
    “To pick up a patient?”
    “Yeah,” Alf said.
    “One of the fire watch was injured,” Eileen said.
    “They’ll have to send another ambulance.”
    He reached across and honked the horn. An attendant appeared in the doorway. “As soon as Dawkins gets back,” the doctor called to him, “send her to St. Paul’s!”
    He turned to Eileen. “All right, let’s go.”
    “We ain’t sure it’ll start,” Alf said.
    “It wouldn’t before,” Binnie added.
    And if I can’t start it, Dr. Cross will have to find some other transport, Eileen thought, and yanked roughly on the choke the way she had on her first driving lesson.
    The ambulance started up immediately. She put it in gear and let out the clutch with a motor-killing jerk that didn’t do anything either. The motor was practically purring.
    “Turn left onto the street,” the doctor directed, “and then left on Smithfield.”
    Eileen began to back out of the courtyard. An ambulance was pulling in. Why couldn’t it have been here five minutes sooner?
    She slowed, trying to think of something she could say to persuade him to take the other ambulance.
    Two men in helmets and overalls were clambering out of the back. They pulled out a man on a stretcher. Attendants converged on them.
    “Hurry,” the doctor said to Eileen. “We haven’t much time.”

    Paradoxically one might say that the most important incident of that night was one that failed to happen.
    29 DECEMBER 1940
    St. Paul’s Cathedral—29 December 1940
    “MR. DUNWORTHY,” POLLY BREATHED. SHE GRABBED FOR THE lamppost at the end of the steps of St. Paul’s, legs suddenly wobbly. Eileen had said he would come, and he had. And this was why she hadn’t been able to get a message to John Bartholomew, because she didn’t need to. Mr. Dunworthy had found them before they found him. It was only a spike in slippage, after all, and not some horrible catastrophe that had killed everyone in Oxford, and not their having changed the outcome of the war.
    And not Mr. Dunworthy—and Colin—having lied to them.
    Colin. If Mr. Dunworthy’s here. Colin may be, too, she thought, her heart lifting, and glanced at the people on either side of Mr. Dunworthy, but she couldn’t see him. Mr. Dunworthy was flanked by two elderly women who were staring raptly up at the dome.
    “Mr. Dunworthy!” Polly called to him, shouting over the roar of the planes and anti-aircraft guns.
    He turned, looking vaguely about to see where the voice was coming from.
    “Over here, Mr. Dunworthy!” she shouted, and he looked directly at her.
    It wasn’t him after all, even though the man looked exactly like him—his spectacles, his graying hair, his worried expression. But the face he turned to her showed no recognition, no relief at finding her. He looked stunned and then horrified, and she turned and glanced automatically behind her to see if the fire in Paternoster Row had reached St. Paul’s.
    It hadn’t, though half the Row’s buildings were now ablaze. She looked back at the man, but he’d already turned and was working his way to the rear of the crowd, away from her, away from St. Paul’s.
    “Mr. Dunworthy!” she called, not quite able to believe it wasn’t him, and ran across the forecourt after him. “Mr. Dunworthy!”
    But as she followed, she became even more convinced she’d been mistaken. Mr. Dunworthy had never had that defeated stoop to his shoulders, that old man’s walk. The likeness of his features must have been a trick of the red, flickering light. And of her wishful thinking, like the times she’d thought she’d seen Colin.
    But she had to be absolutely certain. “Mr. Dunworthy!” she called again, plowing through the crowd.
    “Look!” a man shouted, and several hands shot up, pointing at the dome. “It’s falling!”
    Polly glanced up. The fiery yellow star that was the incendiary wavered and began to slide down the dome and then tumbled off and disappeared into the maze of roofs below. The crowd erupted in cheers.
    She turned back to Mr. Dunworthy, but in the moment it had taken her to glance at the incendiary, he’d vanished. She pushed her way through to the back of the crowd, which was already beginning to disperse, the people hurrying away from the cathedral as if they’d suddenly realized how close the fires were and how much danger they were in.
    “Mr. Dunworthy! Stop! It’s me, Polly Sebastian!” she shouted. The guns and planes and even the wind had stopped for the moment, and her voice rang out clearly in the silence, but no one turned, no one slowed.
    It wasn’t him, she thought, and I’ve been wasting valuable minutes I should have spent looking for John Bartholomew. He’ll be going back into the cathedral any moment.
    She turned to look at St. Paul’s, but no one was going up the steps yet, and a knot of people were still gazing up at the dome.
    “Have they put it out?” a boy shouted, and Polly looked up to see the silhouettes of two helmeted men at the dome’s base, bending over the incendiary, shoveling sand on it. More men were hurrying toward them with shovels and blankets.
    The fire watch hadn’t been evacuated. Of course they hadn’t. They had to be there to put out the incendiary when it fell off. John Bartholomew had been up there on the roofs the entire time.
    She had to get up there. She looked around to see where the chorister was. He stood at the foot of the steps—the women and the boy gathered around him as he gave directions to the shelter—blocking the way into the nave.
    Polly kept the dispersing crowd between her and the chorister and crossed the courtyard, then walked quickly over to the churchyard and in through the door to the Crypt. She hurried down the steps, through the gate, and down the length of the Crypt, running at full tilt past the sandbags and Wellington’s tomb and the fire-watch’s cots, her footsteps echoing hollowly on the stone floor.
    At the foot of the stairway she paused, panting, to risk a look back, but there was no sign of the chorister. She ran up the steps he’d brought her down and out onto the cathedral floor.
    The nave was as bright as day, the gold of the dome and the arches shining richly in the orange light from the windows, the transepts and the pillars and the chairs in the center of the nave lit more brightly than they were in the daytime.
    Good. It will make the door to the roofs easier to find, she thought.
    She heard someone running up the north aisle. The chorister, she thought, ducking into the south aisle and behind a pillar. He’d seen her come in and intended to intercept her before she could get to the roofs. He’d head straight for the door that led up to them, and all she had to do was see where he went.
    And keep from being caught, which would be difficult with so much light in here. She waited, pressed against the pillar, listening intently. His footsteps echoed, paused, echoed again.
    Oh, no, he was checking in every bay and behind each pillar. She couldn’t stay here. There was nowhere to hide. She leaned against the pillar, took off her shoes, stuck them in her coat pockets, and waited for the pause that meant he was checking in one of the bays.
    When it came, she ran silently down the south aisle to the chapel where she’d hidden before. She lifted the latch up slowly, trying not to make any noise, opened the gate, and slipped silently through. She debated leaving the gate open, decided that would be a dead giveaway, and pulled it shut. It clanked, but not loudly, and the chorister’s footsteps didn’t slow at the sound.
    He was at the far end of the nave. Go to the door, she willed him, but he was crossing the nave to this side and coming quickly this way, pausing, coming again.

    He was at the far end of the nave. Go to the door, she willed him, but he was crossing the nave to this side and coming quickly this way, pausing, coming again.
    Polly retreated farther into the chapel, looking for a hiding place. Not the prayer stalls—there was too much light to hide in their shadow.
    Under the altar cloth? she thought, and ran stocking-footed up the chapel’s aisle to the back row of stalls, and into the narrow, shadowed space between them and the wall behind them.
    She crouched down out of sight, thinking, This is ridiculous. I’ve been here over two hours, and I’m no nearer the roofs than I was when I started. And this was a dreadful hiding place. She couldn’t hear his footsteps from here. All she could hear was the planes, which were coming over again.
    She was about to abandon her hiding place when she heard the chorister at the gate. He rattled the latch, satisfied himself it was fastened, and went on.
    He’s going into the vestibule, she thought, and then he’ll go check the door, but instead she heard the rattle of another gate, and then a clank, and footsteps ascending a staircase. The Wren Geometrical Staircase.
    But it’s boarded up, she thought, and then remembered Mr. Humphreys saying they were debating whether to open it again, in spite of its fragility. Because the staircase led to the roofs.
    I must have gone straight past it in the darkness when I ran into the church, she thought, cursing herself. If she’d remembered it, she could have found John Bartholomew by now.
    The chorister climbed up a few more steps and then walked back down. She heard him latch the gate, and head up the aisle toward the dome.
    It took every ounce of self-control she had not to plunge out of the chapel and over to the staircase. She waited till the chorister’s footsteps had died away, counted to ten, squeezed out of her hiding place, and tiptoed over to the gate. The south aisle and the nave beyond were full of smoke. It stung her eyes and made her want to cough. She forced the cough back, holding her breath, and looked up the nave toward the dome—and saw flames.
    Oh, God, the roofs caught fire after all, she thought, and then saw that the flames were from scraps of burning paper and pieces of wood swirling in the air below the dome.
    They must be blowing in through the shattered stained-glass windows from the fires in Paternoster Row. The air was full of them. A burning order of worship danced down the nave and sank to the stone floor, still alight and dangerously close to the Christmas tree which stood next to the desk where she’d bought her guidebook. And even here, in the south aisle, the air was full of ash and glowing sparks. One landed on Polly’s coat, and she batted at it as she ran toward the spiral staircase. She opened the gate and started up the curving steps.
    And heard flames crackling. The tree, she thought, and darted back down the steps and out into the nave, but it wasn’t the Christmas tree. It was the visitors’ desk.
    Flame and smoke curled up from the counter.
    Perhaps it’s only the guidebooks, she thought. But as she watched, the wooden rack caught fire, the postcards Mr. Humphreys had shown her of the Wellington Monument and the Whispering Gallery going up like struck matches.
    Where’s the fire watch? she thought. This is their job. I have to find John Bartholomew.
    But by the time they found it, the fire might have spread. Scraps from the burning postcards were floating, still aflame, up the nave toward the wooden chairs, the wooden pulpit.
    And what if this was a discrepancy, the result of Mike’s having saved Hardy or of her having influenced Marjorie to go meet her airman? What if, thanks to us, St.
    Paul’s did burn down? she thought.
    The sixpenny print of The Light of the World caught fire, the edges curling up, the shut door in the picture burning away to black, to ash. Polly darted down the aisle to the nearest pillar, snatched up one of the pails of water, heaved the contents over the desk and the burning print, and then ran back to fill it again from the tin tub.
    But the first pailful had put the fire out. She poured the second pail over the counter and the card rack for good measure, then pulled the postcards out of the rack and threw them and The Light of the World onto the floor several feet from the desk in case the fire wasn’t completely out.
    She set the bucket down and ran back to the staircase and up the twisting steps, round and round, to the gallery above.
    It was even more full of smoke and ash and cinders. And it will get worse as you go up, Polly thought, ducking her head to protect it from the embers as she ran along the gallery, trying doors, searching for a stairway which would take her farther up. A library. A closet, filled with choir robes.
    The stairway must be in the transept, she thought, and hurried toward the dome.
    It was in the transept, just past the corner of the gallery. It led up to a dark and stiflingly hot corridor roofed with low wooden beams that she had to duck under and huge bumps in the floor she had to edge around or crawl over. The tops of the arches’ vaults?
    But she must be going the right way, because coils of hose and tubs of sand and water stood every few yards against the walls and, in one case, in the middle of the corridor. She splashed into it as she tried to step over a hump, and it was only then that she realized she was still in her stocking feet and her shoes were still in her pockets. She sat down next to the tub, put her shoes on and went on, looking for a stairway leading farther up.
    She finally found one. It led up to a maze of even lower-roofed, narrower, and smokier passages that had to be just beneath the roofs. She could hear planes and anti-aircraft guns through the ceiling.
    And voices, coming from farther along the passage and above her. “Easy, easy,” she heard one voice say, and then a second voice from a bit below the first, saying,
    “Watch the turning.”
    They’re coming down a flight of stairs, Polly thought. And they were no more than a few feet away, which meant this passage had to connect to the stairs. She scuttled along the passage, trying not to crack her head against ceiling beams she could only half see in the dimness, straining to spot the doorway to the stairs.
    “No, no, you’ll—” the first voice said.
    “Come back this way.”
    And the other said, “Wait, I haven’t got a good grip.”
    They must be carrying something between them. They were nearly even with her. She needed to hurry or she’d miss them. She rushed toward their voices.
    And straight into a wall. The stairway lay on the other side of it—she could hear the two men only inches from her—but there was no door, no connecting link. The passage she was in dead-ended. And in the meantime, the men had already passed below her with their burden, their voices still repeating, “Easy” and “Careful,” as they got farther away. And now she had the entire maze to crawl back along, hoping she could remember the way she’d come and find a way out.
    She was so focused on retracing her steps that she nearly missed the door. It stood behind an angled beam and was so narrow that she had to squeeze through it and up the shallow stone steps, not certain she wouldn’t get stuck as she did. The stairs ended in a trapdoor, which she had to push up mightily on with both hands to budge. It fell back, opening on the suddenly deafening roar of planes and a rush of heat and wind that blew her hat off. She grabbed for it, but the hat was already gone, caught in an updraft.

    gone, caught in an updraft.
    But it didn’t matter. She was through it and finally, finally, out on the roof.
    On one of the roofs, she amended, pushing her blowing hair out of her eyes and looking at the long, flat roof and the stone wall and steep slant above her.
    In spite of the distance she’d climbed, this was only one of the lower aisle roofs which ran the length of the nave. The pitched central roof and the dome were still a full story above her, and she had no way to get to them.
    I’ll need to go all the way back down and find another way up, she thought despairingly.
    But if an incendiary fell down here, they had to have a way to get to it quickly. There must be something here to make that possible—ropes or a ladder or something.
    A ladder. It stood against the wall, hidden by the shadows of the transept roofs above it. She began to climb it.
    Blustery as it had been on the aisle roof, the surrounding walls had protected her from the brunt of the wind. And from the cold. As she climbed higher, freezing gusts whipped around her, flapping the tail of her coat and blowing her hair across her face. She leaned forward to grab at the leaded gutter and then the parapet. Her foot accidentally kicked the side of the ladder as she pulled herself over the edge, and it fell away and down with a muffled clang.
    Polly clutched at the parapet with both hands, squinting against the driving wind, and pulled herself up over it and onto the roof. The wind was even icier up here, though it shouldn’t have been. It was filled with darting sparks and flecks of fire and ash. She slitted her eyes against them and pulled herself to standing, holding on to a stone projection, and looked out over the edge of the roof.
    And gasped. There were flames below her as far as she could see, building after building, roof after roof on fire.
    Oh, God, Mike and Eileen are down there somewhere in that, she thought.
    Off to the right, a church spire was blazing like a torch. One of the Wren churches? Beyond it a scattering of just-fallen incendiaries sparkled like stars. It had no business being beautiful, but it was, the white searchlights piercing the billows of crimson and orange and gold smoke, the shining pink curve of the Thames, the burning windows glowing like row after row of Chinese lanterns. And nearer in, a solid ring of fire, closing inexorably on St. Paul’s.
    “It can’t possibly survive,” Polly murmured, looking down at the flames. Pails of water and sandbags and stirrup pumps and a score of firewatchers can’t stop that.
    “Where is it?” a man shouted behind her, and she whirled around.
    One of the firewatchers was standing there. It was too dark to make out his features. “Where’d the incendiary fall?” he shouted at her over the wind. “Down there?”
    He peered over the edge at the roof she’d just climbed up from.
    “Are you John Bartholomew?” she shouted at him.
    “What?” He straightened and looked at her, astonished. “You’re a girl. What the bloody hell are you doing up here?”
    “I’m looking for—”
    “How did you get up here? Civilians aren’t allowed on the roofs!”
    “Peters!” he shouted, grabbed her arm, and pushed her ahead of him, the two of them half walking, half crawling over the steep roof to the base of the dome, where half a dozen men were flailing at the roof with wet burlap bags. Sparks sizzled as the sopping bags smothered them. The firewatcher pushed her toward the nearest man. “Peters! Look what I found over on the pocket roof.”
    “How’d you get up here?” Peters demanded, looking about for someone to blame. “Who the bloody hell let her up here?”
    “No one,” Polly said. “Is any of you John Bartholomew?” she called over to the other men, but the wind carried her words away, and a new batch of planes was approaching, droning off to the east.
    The men all looked up alertly. “You can’t stay up here!” Peters bellowed at her. “You’re in danger.”
    “I’m not leaving till I speak with John Bartholomew!”
    He ignored her. “Nickleby, take her down and see that she stays there.”
    Nickleby pulled on her arm.
    She wrenched away from him. “Please,” she said to Peters. “It’s an emergency.”
    “Emergency,” he repeated, looking out at the burning City, the encroaching fires. “Bartholomew’s not here. He’s gone.”
    “Gone?” she echoed. “He can’t have gone yet. He—when did he leave?”
    “A quarter of an hour ago. He took one of the watch who was injured to hospital.”
    And I heard him carrying the man down, Polly thought sickly. He was just on the other side of the wall.
    “Then let me speak to Mr. Humphreys,” she said.
    She could at least give him a message to give John Bartholomew when he returned. If he returned. Eileen had said he’d left immediately after he’d been injured.
    She’d had it wrong—he wasn’t the one injured—but she might have got the part about his leaving then right. He might have gone to hospital and then not been able to get back to St. Paul’s because of the fires.
    “Humphreys went with them.”
    “To which hospital?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “St. Bart’s, I think,” Nickleby said.
    “Where is that?” Polly asked.
    “Over there,” the first firewatcher said, and pointed over the northern edge of the roof at a sea of smoke and flame. “But you’ve no business going out there. You need to be in a shelter.”
    An anti-aircraft battery just below them started up. “Nickleby, take her down to the Crypt,” he shouted over it, “and then get back up here!” He looked up at the smoky sky, listening to the planes, now nearly overhead. “We’re due for another round.”
    Polly let Nickleby lead her over to a doorway at the base of the dome, then wrenched free of him and ran down the spiraling stone steps to the Whispering Gallery
    —oh, God, those stairs do go all the way up! If I’d only come that way!—and the telephone post of the watch just below it.
    She shot past the startled fire-watch volunteer on the phone and on down the steps and out into the nave. And down it, through the whirlwind of burning cinders She shot past the startled fire-watch volunteer on the phone and on down the steps and out into the nave. And down it, through the whirlwind of burning cinders and orders of worship, past the visitors’ desk, past the charred sixpenny print of Light of the World, and fled out the door and down the steps into the fire.

    Not a hope. Nothing can get through.
    29 December 1940
    The City—29 December 1940
    EILEEN AND THE CHILDREN MADE FIVE RUNS TO AND FROM St. Bart’s with Dr. Cross over the next few hours with no opportunity to get away from him. When they returned to St.
    Bart’s, he never even got out of the ambulance. Instead, he had Eileen back up to the entrance, where attendants unloaded the patients while he gave instructions to the house officer through the window and was told their next assignment.
    “St. Giles, Cripplegate,” he’d say to Alf. “Do you know where that is?” and they were off again.
    On the third run, Eileen had said, “We’re nearly out of petrol,” hoping she’d be sent to fill the tank when they arrived back at St. Bart’s and they could escape, but Dr. Cross had simply asked the incident officer for a tin, which he’d poured into the tank as flames licked less than five feet away.
    We’ll have to make a run for it when we arrive back at St. Bart’s this time, Eileen thought.
    But they didn’t go back. At the last moment the incident officer leaned in to say, “Injured ARP warden in Wood Street. St. Bart’s wants to know if you can pick him up on the way back.”
    “Tell them yes,” Dr. Cross said.
    “But what about the patient in the back?”
    “He’s stable for the moment,” the doctor said, and they took off for Wood Street through streets filled with reddened smoke and lined with orange flames, maneuvering around spills of bricks and sparkling, sputtering incendiaries.
    “HE,” Dr. Cross said as Eileen edged past a huge crater.
    Alf nodded. “Five-hundred-pounder.”
    I thought Mike said they didn’t drop any HEs, Eileen thought. And he said the raids were over by midnight.
    But even though the all clear had gone while they were on the way back from Moorgate, she could still hear the low growl of the planes, and so could Binnie.
    “ ’Ow come they done the all clear when them bombers is still comin’?” Binnie asked.
    “It ain’t bombers makin’ that sound, you noddlehead,” Alf said. “It’s the fires. Ain’t it?” he asked Dr. Cross.
    “Yes,” Dr. Cross said absently, wiping the windscreen with his hand to clear it, but it wasn’t the windscreen. It was the smoke, which seemed to be growing thicker by the moment as the number of fires increased.
    When it began to rain a few minutes later, Eileen thought, Good, that should help put out the fires, but all it did was send up smothering clouds which came down over the streets like a blackout curtain.
    Even Alf couldn’t find his way in it. He got them lost twice, and even when he was able to tell which way to go, more often than not the route was blocked with debris or with fire pumpers and miles of snaking hose.
    They detoured around fallen masonry and a broken gas main shooting a jet of flame across the road. It was impossible to avoid all the broken glass—it was everywhere, testament to the HEs Polly had said the Luftwaffe hadn’t dropped.
    Eileen drove cautiously over it, praying she wouldn’t get a puncture and strand them in the midst of the flames. She backed, turned, bore left in response to Alf’s directions and then right, trying to get to the incident and the injured warden and then trying to find a way back to St. Bart’s in an endless nightmarish round of darkness and flame and smoke.
    Occasionally, a gust of wind would blow the smoke aside, and she’d catch a glimpse of St. Paul’s dome, floating above the smoke. It was never any closer, always just out of reach. Even if she could somehow have got free of Dr. Cross and the patients in the back, she couldn’t have got to it. When they tried to go to Creed Lane, a soot-blackened warden had stopped them and said, “You can’t get through this way. You’ll have to go round by Bishopsgate to Clerkenwell.”
    “Bishopsgate?” Alf said. “That’s miles. Can’t we take Newgate?”
    The warden shook his head. “The whole of Ludgate Hill’s on fire.”
    “Even St. Paul’s?” Dr. Cross asked anxiously.
    “Not yet, but it won’t be long now, I’m afraid.”
    “What about the fire brigades? Can’t they do anything?”
    He shook his head. “Can’t get to her, and even if they could, there’s no water. She hasn’t a chance.” And he gave them directions to make their way back to Bishopsgate.
    “There’s got to be some way to go to Creed Lane without goin’ all that way,” Alf said after the warden walked away. “Try Gresham. Second left.”
    But Gresham Street was a solid wall of flame, and so was the Barbican. They ended up having to go all the way to Bishopsgate after all, and by the time they reached Creed Lane, the burn victim had died.
    “Young woman in her twenties,” the incident officer said, shaking his head. “Flames jumped the lane.”
    He indicated the body that lay in the street, covered with a gray blanket. “That coulda been you if I wasn’t navigatin’,” Alf said to Eileen.
    “She should have been in a shelter,” the incident officer said. “She’d no business being out in this.”
    “Can Alf and me go look at the body?” Binnie asked.
    “No,” Eileen said. They had no business being out on the streets in this either. “Is there a shelter near here?” she asked the officer. “These children—”
    “You can’t leave us here,” Alf said. “We’re your assistants.”
    “But your mother will be worried about you—”
    Alf said, “We ain’t—”
    Binnie cut him off. “Mum ain’t ’ome. She’s at work.”

    Binnie cut him off. “Mum ain’t ’ome. She’s at work.”
    “And if you make us go to a shelter, who’ll tell you ’ow to get back to St. Bart’s?” Alf asked.
    He was right. She wouldn’t have a prayer of getting the ambulance back to the hospital without him. She was completely disoriented in the smoky fog, and Dr.
    Cross was even worse. “No sense of direction, even in the daytime, I’m afraid,” he’d said on the first trip. “That’s why I never learned to drive.”
    “You can leave us behind in some shelter,” Binnie said, “but you can’t make us stay there.”
    She was right, and God knew what the two of them would do or where they’d go if they weren’t with her. “Get in the ambulance,” Eileen said, and went over to Dr. Cross and the incident officer.
    The doctor was speaking on a field telephone. As she came up, the incident officer said, “Are you injured, miss?”
    “Doctor,” he said, turning to Dr. Cross, “this young lady is—”
    “I’m not injured. I’m Dr. Cross’s driver.”
    Dr. Cross took the receiver from his mouth and said, “I’ve just been in contact with Moor Lane Fire Station. They’ve a fireman in Alwell Lane with burns and a broken leg. Guy’s Hospital was supposed to send an ambulance, but they can’t. The hospital’s on fire, and they’re busy evacuating their own patients.” He handed the telephone back to him and turned to Eileen. “We need to go pick up the fireman.”
    He started for the ambulance.
    “Wait,” Eileen said. If she could phone the fire watch and get a message to John Bartholomew, she could tell him they were trying to get to him and to wait till they arrived.
    “Can you get through to St. Paul’s on that telephone?” she asked the incident officer. “My husband’s a member of the fire watch. I was on my way there to take him his supper when I was recruited into driving. He’ll be frantic with worry over where I—where the children and I are. If I could only telephone him to let him know I’m all right—”
    The incident officer looked doubtful. “These phones are supposed to be for official business only.”
    “This is official business,” Dr. Cross said. “We don’t want any of those lads worrying. We want their full attention on saving that cathedral.”
    The incident officer nodded, cranked up the telephone, then put it to his ear and said, “Put me through to the fire watch at St. Paul’s,” and handed it to her. “It’ll take some time to patch it through.”
    Eileen nodded, listening to a series of hums and trying to think what to say. She couldn’t mention their drops or time travel with the incident officer listening. And Mr. Bartholomew hadn’t met her yet. Who should she say was calling?
    Mrs. Mr. Dunworthy, she thought, and I’ll tell him I’m trying to get to St. Paul’s so we can go home together, and to—
    There was a sharp crackle, and a man’s voice said, “St. Paul’s Fire Watch here.”
    “Yes, hello, I’m trying to reach—”
    There was a volley of static, and then silence.
    “Hello? Hello?”
    The incident officer took the telephone from her. “Hullo?” He flicked the switching mechanism back and forth. “Are you there? Hullo?” He listened for a moment.
    Eileen could hear a woman’s voice on the line.
    “They just lost the telephone exchange at Guildhall,” the incident officer said. “They’re trying to get it back.”
    But they won’t, Eileen thought. The Guildhall’s on fire. They’re evacuating the telephone operators.
    “I’ll see if I can patch you through,” he said.
    But that didn’t work either. “The operator says lines are down all over the city. If I do get through, what should I tell him?”
    She thought quickly. “Tell him Eileen said that we can’t get through, but the three of us are coming to him as soon as we can, and to stay at St. Paul’s till we arrive.
    Tell him on no account is he to leave for Mr. Dunworthy’s in Oxford without us,” Eileen instructed, and at his curious look, she added, “We were to have gone to our friends in Oxford for the New Year.”
    He nodded, then ran up to the ambulance as she was pulling away. “You didn’t tell me your husband’s name.”
    “Husband?” Alf said incredulously. “She ain’t—”
    “Bartholomew, John Bartholomew,” she said quickly, and drove off before Alf could do any more damage.
    “Bartholomew,” Dr. Cross said musingly. “How fitting that you and your children, the angels who’ve come to St. Bartholomew’s aid, should be named Bartholomew.”
    Binnie began, “We ain’t—”
    “Angels,” Eileen finished neatly.
    “Oh, but you are,” Dr. Cross said. “I don’t know what we should have done without you. Half of our drivers were caught on the other side of the fire and couldn’t make it in. If it hadn’t been for you and your children—”
    “We ain’t—”
    “Which way do I turn up here?” Eileen cut in to ask.
    “Left,” Alf said, “but—”
    “It was extraordinarily good luck that Mrs. Mallowan told me she’d seen you leaving,” Dr. Cross said, and Eileen realized she’d heard him say that name before, when they were leaving St. Bart’s on that first run. But it had to be some other Mrs. Mallowan.
    “Mrs. Mallowan?” she asked, to be certain.
    He nodded. “Our dispenser, though actually she’s not ours. Our regular dispenser couldn’t make it in, and Mrs. Mallowan kindly offered to—”
    “Her given name isn’t Agatha, is it?”
    “Yes, I believe so.”
    “Agatha Christie Mallowan?”
    “I believe so. She lives in Holland Park.”

    “I believe so. She lives in Holland Park.”
    Binnie had said, “The dispenser looks like she don’t miss a trick,” and she was certainly right about that.
    I finally get to meet Agatha Christie, Eileen thought ruefully, and when I do, she stops me from making my getaway and going to St. Paul’s.
    “Are you acquainted with Mrs. Mallowan?” Dr. Cross was asking.
    “Yes. No. I’ve heard of her.”
    “Oh, yes, I believe she writes some sort of novels. Are they good?”
    “People will still be reading them a hundred years from now,” Eileen said, and turned into Alwell Lane.
    And into a scene of chaos. Nearly every building on both sides of the narrow street was on fire, bright yellow flames shooting from the windows and boiling up violently from the roofs and over the narrow street, threatening to engulf it at any moment. Three firemen had their hoses aimed at the burning buildings, even though there was no way they could save any of it. The stream from their hoses was only a thin trickle.
    But they kept on spraying the buildings, oblivious to the flames arching dangerously over their heads. And to Dr. Cross. He had to shout at them twice before they told him where to find the injured fireman, and there turned out to be three other casualties as well—two firemen unconscious from smoke inhalation and a young boy with badly burned hands. They had to cram the four of them into the rear of the ambulance, and Binnie had to sit on the doctor’s lap on the way back to St. Bart’s.
    The journey took even longer than the others had. Every road they turned up was blocked with fallen masonry or roaring flames or both. They could no longer catch even glimpses of St. Paul’s. It had been swallowed up in a boiling mass of smoke that filled the entire sky. When they pulled in to St. Bart’s, the smoke stood like a great red wall stretching from horizon to horizon.
    There was no one at the entrance to take the patients inside. Binnie had fallen asleep on Dr. Cross’s lap. Eileen had to shake her gently awake to get her off him so he could go in to get help.
    “I’m awake,” Binnie murmured crankily and curled up again next to the drowsing Alf.
    “Shove off!” he said, then sat up and rubbed his eyes sleepily. “ ’E’s gone. Why ain’t you takin’ off for St. Paul’s?”
    “Because we have four patients in the back.” And Dr. Cross was coming out the door with a trolley.
    “I couldn’t find anyone,” he said. “We’ll have to take them in ourselves.”
    Somehow they managed—with Alf and Binnie helping—to get all four patients onto trolleys, into the hospital, and through an endless maze of corridors to a place where they could be turned over to the staff.
    And it was no wonder there hadn’t been anyone at the entrance. Every ward, every examining room, was filled with patients, scurrying nurses, soot-covered rescue workers, doctors shouting orders, harried-looking attendants—one of whom detached himself at Dr. Cross’s order from the ARP warden he was bandaging to come take Eileen’s end of the trolley from her. “What are you doing?” he asked. “You’re injured. Sit down. I’ll fetch a doctor.”
    Why did everyone keep saying that? “I’m Dr. Cross’s driver.”
    “What are you doing?” Dr. Cross said impatiently to the attendant. “Grab hold of the trolley.” To Eileen he said, “Wait here.”
    Eileen nodded, and he and the attendant disappeared with the trolley through a pair of double doors. And she was suddenly free to leave and go to St. Paul’s, as long as she wasn’t waylaid by some other doctor on the way out.
    And if I can get to the cathedral, she thought, remembering that wall of red and what the warden had said about all of Ludgate Hill being on fire. She looked at Alf and Binnie, drooping beside her. I can’t take them back into the middle of those fires, she thought, though she wasn’t at all certain she could find her way to St. Paul’s without them.
    I must. I’ve already exposed them to too much danger tonight as it is. Which meant she had to get away from them, a feat that she knew from experience was nearly impossible. Perhaps if she persuaded them to sit down, they’d fall asleep again.
    But when she suggested it, Binnie said, “Sit down? He’ll likely be back any minute.”
    “Come along,” Alf said, grabbing her hand.
    “In a moment,” she said. “I need to tell the matron we’ve gone out to the waiting room so the doctor won’t know where we’ve gone,” which was larcenous enough for them to fall in eagerly with the scheme.
    “Stay there,” she ordered, and walked quickly down the corridor.
    She wasn’t certain she could find her way back to the ambulance, let alone to St. Paul’s. She hadn’t paid any attention to which way they’d come when they brought the trolley in. And she had to be quick, or Alf and Binnie would tumble to what she was doing, and she’d find them waiting for her outside.
    She looked in vain for someone to ask. There—walking away down that side corridor—was someone. Not a nurse. She was hatless and wearing a navy blue coat.
    An ARP warden, Eileen thought. She’d very likely just brought a patient in.
    “Miss!” Eileen called. “Can you tell me where the emergency ward is?”
    The young woman turned. She looked disheveled, her fair hair badly windblown, and smears of soot on her cheeks and forehead. Not an ARP warden, Eileen thought. A patient.
    “Eileen! Oh, thank God!” the young woman cried, and began to run toward her.
    Polly flung her arms around her. “I was so afraid I’d be too late. It took me hours to get here,” she said, nearly sobbing. “There were fires everywhere, and I couldn’t get through … and I thought I’d never find the hospital … but here you are, thank God!”
    They were both talking at once. “How did you find me?” Eileen asked. “I thought you were at St. Paul’s. I was just leaving to look for you. Where’s Mike?”
    Polly pulled back from her. “Isn’t he here with you?”
    “No, I … we got separated. I thought he went to St. Paul’s. He’s not with you?”
    “No. Where did you see him last?” She stopped, staring at Eileen in horror. “What’s happened? Are you hurt?”
    “No. You mean because I’m here at St. Bart’s? I was dragooned into driving an ambulance and—”
    “But you’re bleeding.”
    “No, I’m not,” Eileen said, and looked down at herself. The entire front of her coat was covered in dried blood. Her hands were bloody, too. A crooked line of blood had trickled down the back of her hand and wrist and into her sleeve. No wonder people had kept asking her if she was injured.

    blood had trickled down the back of her hand and wrist and into her sleeve. No wonder people had kept asking her if she was injured.
    “It’s not mine,” she said. “There was a lieutenant who was bleeding. I had to apply direct pressure.”
    “And I ’ad to drive,” Binnie said, popping up beside her.
    “I told you where to go, you pudding’ead,” Alf said. “You’d ’ave ended up bein’ burnt to ashes if I ’adn’t.”
    “I would not,” Binnie said.
    “You would so.” Alf turned to tug at Eileen’s bloody sleeve. “What’re you doin’ ’ere? The ambulance is that way.” He pointed back down the corridor. “And who’s she?”
    “My friend Polly. Are you certain Mike didn’t come to St. Paul’s?” Eileen asked Polly. “That’s where he said he was going.”
    “Who’s Mike?” Binnie asked.
    “Hush,” Eileen said. “Might you have missed each other somehow?”
    “Yes … I don’t know. He might have come while I was on the roofs—”
    “Or he might have gone back to Blackfriars tube station to find me,” Eileen said. “He told me to wait there for him. Come along, we’ve got transport. We’ll go to St. Paul’s first. Mike may have told Mr. Bartholomew where—”
    “Who’s Mr. Bartholomew?” Alf asked.
    “Shh,” Eileen said. “Mike may have told him where he was going, and if he didn’t, we’ll tell Mr. Bartholomew to search between St. Paul’s and Pilgrim Street—
    that’s where we got separated—and we’ll go to Blackfriars and look—”
    “No,” Polly said. “Mr. Bartholomew’s here!”
    “Yes, in this hospital.”
    “Oh, well, then, that makes it simple. He can go back to St. Paul’s and look for Mike there, and we can go to Black—”
    “You don’t understand,” Polly said. “I came here to find John Bartholomew, but I don’t know where he is. I’ve been asking the staff, but no one will tell me anything. I know he’s somewhere here in the hospital—”
    Eileen stared blankly at her. “You haven’t found him yet?”
    “No, I only just missed him. The fire watch said he’d left for hospital—he brought the man who was injured here—and I came to find him, but it’s taken me hours, and—”
    “He brought him here? When?”
    “I’m not certain,” Polly said. “A bit before eleven.”
    John Bartholomew had been here at St. Bart’s the entire time she was transporting patients. If she’d only known. “What’s the name of the firewatcher who was injured?” Eileen asked.
    Polly looked stricken. “I don’t know. I should have asked, but I thought I might still be able to catch them—”
    “It’s all right. I know what Mr. Bartholomew looks like and what he had on. I saw him earlier tonight. He was wearing street clothes and an overcoat and scarf.
    We’ll go through the wards—”
    “You saw him?” Polly said. “Where?”
    “At Blackfriars. He—”
    “Why didn’t you say so before?” Polly said eagerly. “If you told him about us—Did he tell you where the drop was?”
    “Drop?” Binnie said alertly.
    Alf cut in, “You mean like when they ’ang somebody?”
    “I didn’t have a chance to tell him anything,” Eileen said. “I was on the train platform when he ran past, and I tried to go after him to catch him, but—”
    “Alf got in the way,” Binnie said.
    “I never,” Alf responded indignantly. “It was that guard what stopped ’er.”
    “Shh, both of you,” Eileen said. “I tried to go after him, but I was shanghaied into driving two bombing victims to St.—”
    “We been rescuin’ people all night,” Alf said.
    “Except for this one what died,” Binnie put in. “We got there too late.”
    “Too late,” Polly murmured.
    “You mustn’t worry,” Eileen told her. “We’ll find him. What sort of injury did the firewatcher he brought in have? Burns? Broken bones? Internal injuries?”
    If it was internal injuries, he’d be in surgery, but Polly didn’t know. “All I know is they had to carry him down from the roofs on a stretcher.”
    “They? There was more than one firewatcher with him?”
    “Yes. The other one was Mr. Humphreys. Elderly, balding.”
    “Good,” Eileen said. “You know what he looks like, and I know what Mr. Bartholomew looks like.”
    “I’ll find ’em,” Alf said, and started to dash off. Eileen grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and Binnie by her sash.
    “What’re you doin’ that for?” Alf demanded indignantly. “I’ll wager I can find ’em sooner’n you. I’m good at spottin’.”
    “I know you are,” Eileen said, “but neither of you is going anywhere till we’ve worked out a plan. Mr. Bartholomew is tall and has dark hair. How tall is Mr.
    Humphreys, Polly?”
    “Shorter than me,” she said. “They should both be wearing blue coveralls and tin helmets unless Mr. Bartholomew didn’t have time to change, in which case—”
    “He’ll be wearing street clothes and an overcoat,” Eileen said. “You and Binnie check the waiting rooms, and I’ll go ask Dr. Cross—”
    “What if ’e makes you drive him someplace again?” Binnie asked.
    She was right. “I’ll ask the matron, then, and Polly, you go describe the patient to the admitting nurse. We’ll all meet back here. Alf, Binnie, if you find Mr.

    She was right. “I’ll ask the matron, then, and Polly, you go describe the patient to the admitting nurse. We’ll all meet back here. Alf, Binnie, if you find Mr.
    Humphreys, ask him where Mr. Bartholomew is, and tell him—”
    “You’re lookin’ for ’im,” Alf finished for her.
    Polly gave Eileen a rapid look.
    “No,” Eileen said. “He won’t know who we are. Tell him someone from Oxford needs to speak to him.”
    “You ain’t from Oxford,” Alf said. “You’re from Backbury.”
    “ ’Ow come ’e won’t know who you are?” Binnie asked.
    “I’ll explain later. If he won’t come with you, tell him to stay where he is, and then come fetch us.”
    “What if we get thrown out?” Alf asked.
    Always a possibility where the Hodbins were concerned. “Go round to the door of the ambulance entrance and wait for us there,” Eileen said.
    “What if ’e’s unconscious so we can’t tell ’im?” Alf asked.
    “We ain’t lookin’ for the one what’s hurt, you dunderhead,” Binnie said. “We’re lookin’ for the ones what’re with ’im. Ain’t we, Eileen?”
    “Yes,” she said, and Alf nodded and took off like a shot down the deserted corridor.
    Binnie started after him and then stopped. “You ain’t tryin’ to ditch us like you done when you said you was goin’ to tell Matron we was in the waitin’ room, are you?”
    She should have known better than to think she could fool them. “I’m sure.”
    “You swear?”
    “I swear,” Eileen said.
    Binnie pelted down the corridor. “I take it those are the fabled Hodbins,” Polly said, looking after them.
    “Yes, and if anyone can find Mr. Bartholomew, they can.”
    She led Polly back to the spot where Dr. Cross had told her to wait, said, “Someone inside will be able to tell you where the admitting desk is, Polly. And the ambulance room entrance,” and hurried upstairs.
    She’d hoped the busyness and disorganization would enable her to sneak unnoticed into the wards, but a matron stopped her. “No one’s allowed up here—you’re injured. Orderly!” the matron called. She took Eileen’s arm and attempted to steer her to a chair. “Where are you bleeding?”
    “It’s not my blood,” Eileen said, cursing herself for not taking off her coat. “I’m Dr. Cross’s driver. He sent me to ask about a patient who was admitted here tonight, a member of the St. Paul’s fire watch.”
    “The men’s wards are on the second and third floors.”
    “Thank you,” Eileen said, and ran upstairs, pausing on the landing to shed her coat, drape it over the railing, and use her handkerchief and spit to rub the worst of the caked blood off her wrists and hands before going on up.
    There was no matron on second, but a nurse came out of the first ward as she was going in. She went through her story again. “What’s the patient’s injury?” the nurse asked.
    “Dr. Cross didn’t tell me,” Eileen said. “Two other firewatchers brought him in, Mr. Bartholomew and Mr. Humphreys.” She described them.
    The nurse shook her head. “They wouldn’t be on the ward. No one but patients is allowed on this floor.” But Eileen went through the litany with nurses outside each of the wards, hoping one of them might know where Mr. Bartholomew was, and then went up to third. It took forever, and she felt as if she was still in the ambulance, dealing with endless detours and blocked-off lanes.
    There was no sign of Mr. Bartholomew or Mr. Humphreys. Or of Alf and Binnie. They’ve probably already managed to get themselves thrown out, she thought, but as she ran down to Admitting, she thought she glimpsed them darting around a corner.
    Polly hadn’t had any luck either. “The admitting nurse went to ask if anyone in the emergency ward knows anything,” she said, “but she’s been gone forever. I’m afraid she may have been waylaid to help out with patients.”
    The way I was with the ambulance, Eileen thought. “The firewatcher wasn’t in the patient roster?”
    “Are you certain he was brought here?”
    “Yes,” Polly said, then looked uncertain. “That is, the firewatcher I talked to said he thought they’d come here, but if the roads were blocked, they might have taken him to Guy’s.”
    “No, it caught fire. They had to evacuate.”
    “Where were they taking the patients?”
    “I don’t know,” Eileen said. And if they set off to some other hospital, they might miss him, the way she and Polly had missed each other that day she’d gone to Townsend Brothers. “They might not even be here yet,” she said. “You may have been able to come here faster on foot, there are so many roads blocked. I’ll go check the ambulance entrance.”
    If I can find it, she added silently, and set off to look for it, but before she was halfway down the corridor Polly called her back.
    The nurse had returned. “I found the patient you were looking for,” she said. “Mr. Langby.”
    “Where is he?” Polly asked.
    “He’s just been taken upstairs from surgery.”
    Eileen and Polly started toward the stairs, and the nurse moved swiftly to block their way. “I’m afraid no one’s allowed in the recovery room. If you’d like, you can wait in the waiting room.”
    “Two men brought him in,” Polly said. “Members of the fire watch. Can you tell us where they are?”
    And when the nurse seemed to hesitate, Eileen put in, “Dr. Cross sent me to find out. I’m his driver.”
    “Oh,” the nurse said. “Of course. I’ll go and see.”
    “One’s elderly and the other’s tall with dark hair,” Eileen called after the nurse, and described what she thought they were wearing.

    “One’s elderly and the other’s tall with dark hair,” Eileen called after the nurse, and described what she thought they were wearing.
    “And let’s hope she doesn’t run into Dr. Cross while she’s finding out,” she said to Polly.
    Binnie came tearing up. “I been to all the wards, and ’e ain’t there. You want me to go look someplace else?”
    “No, stay here till the nurse comes back,” Eileen said. If the nurse didn’t bring any information, they could send her to surgery. “Where’s Alf?”
    “I dunno,” Binnie said. “Me and ’im split up. Do you want I should go look for ’im?”
    “No.” Eileen grabbed her to ensure she didn’t.
    The nurse returned. “I spoke with the ambulance driver who brought Mr. Langby in. She said only one member of the fire watch came with Mr. Langby—a Mr.
    Bartholomew—and that he left as soon as Mr. Langby was safely inside the hospital.”
    “Left?” Polly said, looking as though she’d been kicked in the stomach.
    “Left to go where?” Binnie asked, and the nurse seemed to suddenly become aware of her presence.
    “Children aren’t allowed in—” she began.
    “Left to go where?” Eileen cut in. “It’s essential Dr. Cross speak with him immediately. When did he leave?”
    “Over an hour ago,” the nurse said. “You’ll have to take that child to the waiting room.”
    “She’s Dr. Cross’s niece,” Eileen said. “I’ll go and tell him.”
    She let go of Binnie’s arm, grabbed Polly’s, and propelled her down the corridor. “Don’t worry. We can still catch him. We’ll drive to St. Paul’s,” she said. “Binnie
    —” But Binnie had disappeared.
    An orderly was coming toward them, looking angry—no doubt the reason she’d vanished, and she’d reappear as soon as he passed. But she didn’t.
    Good, Eileen thought, steering Polly through the maze of corridors, looking for something familiar to show her they were headed in the right direction. They obviously couldn’t take Alf and Binnie with them, and this way they wouldn’t have to waste time arguing with them over their staying here.
    But Alf popped up moments later and said, “If you’re lookin’ for the ambulance, you’re goin’ the wrong way.”
    “Where’s your sister?” Eileen asked.
    He shrugged. “I dunno. We split up. Where’s your coat?”
    “I took it off. Show us the way.”
    “Come along,” he said, and led her and Polly quickly and expertly to the dispensary.
    Agatha Christie wasn’t there, which Eileen supposed was good, considering what had happened last time, but she’d have liked to see her again now that she knew who she was. And what? Tell her how much you love her novels? London’s burning to the ground, and you’ve got to get to St. Paul’s. She pushed out through the emergency doors.
    The ambulance wasn’t there.
    Of course not. There were hundreds of casualties, and Guy’s Hospital’s ambulances couldn’t get through. I should have taken the keys like Alf, she thought, feeling sick, staring at the empty spot where the ambulance had been.
    Polly was staring at the sky. The wall of smoke was still there, but the red had faded to a pinkish charcoal gray, and above the pall the overcast sky was beginning to show a hint of paler gray. “It’s nearly morning,” she said. “We’ll never make it in time.”
    “No, it isn’t,” Eileen said staunchly. “That’s the light from the fires reflecting off the cloud cover.”
    Polly shook her head. “ ‘It is the lark.’ ”
    “It isn’t. It’s only—” Eileen held her watch up, trying to see the time, but it was too dark to make out the hands. “There’s still time to get there before he leaves,” she said, though she didn’t see how. The Underground wouldn’t start running till half past six, and even if they could get to Blackfriars, they’d have to climb Ludgate Hill.
    Polly was still staring blindly at the sky. “We won’t be able to find him,” she murmured as if to herself. “We’ll be too late.”
    “Alf,” Eileen said, “do you think you could find us a taxi?”
    “A taxi?” Alf said. “Whattya want a taxi for?”
    Wretched child. “We must get to St. Paul’s immediately. It’s an emergency.”
    “Why don’t you take the ambulance?” he said, and Binnie came driving around the corner of the hospital.
    She leaned out the window. “I thought I better ’ide it so nobody else took it.”
    Alf opened the passenger door, scrambled in, and rolled down his window. “Well?” he said. “Are we goin’ or what?”

    That won’t be there in the morning.
    29 December 1940
    St. Bartholomew’s Hospital—30 December 1940
    MIKE WOKE UP WITH A SPLITTING HEADACHE, AND WHEN he tried to put his hand to his forehead, a searing pain shot along his arm.
    He opened his eyes. His arm was swathed in gauze, and he was lying in a white-painted iron bed in a dimly lit ward. He turned his head to look at the sleeping patient in the bed next to him. It was Fordham, with his arm still in traction. “Oh God,” he murmured, trying to sit up. “How did I get here?”
    “Shh,” a pretty, wimpled nurse—not Sister Carmody—said, pushing him back down and pulling the blankets up over him. “Lie still. You’ve been injured. You’re in hospital. Try to rest.”
    “How did I get to Orpington?” he asked.
    “Orpington?” she said. “You did get a knock on the head. You’re in St. Bartholomew’s.”
    St. Bartholomew’s. Good. He was still in London. He must have … but then what was Fordham doing here? He looked over at him, and it wasn’t Fordham, after all. It was a teenaged boy.
    “What time is it?” Mike asked, looking over at the windows, but they were completely covered by sandbags piled against them.
    “Never you mind about that. Would you like some breakfast?”
    Breakfast? Oh, Christ, he’d been out cold the whole night.
    “You must try to rest,” the nurse was saying. “You’ve a concussion.”
    “A concussion?” He felt his head. There was a painful bump on the left side.
    “Yes, a burning wall fell on you,” she said, pulling out a thermometer. “You were extremely lucky. You’ve a burn on your arm, but it could have been far worse.”
    How? he thought. I was supposed to be finding John Bartholomew, and I’ve been out of commission all night.
    “Eight other firemen were killed in Fleet Street when a wall collapsed,” she said.
    Mike tried to sit up. “I’ve got to go—”
    She pushed him back down. “You’re not going anywhere,” she said, sounding exactly like Sister Carmody.
    A horrible thought struck him. What if he’d been here for weeks, like in Orpington? “What day is it?”
    “What day?” she said, looking worried. “I’ll fetch the doctor.” She stuck the thermometer into her pocket and hurried off.
    Oh, God, it had been weeks. He’d missed the drop.
    No, Eileen and Polly wouldn’t have gone without you, he told himself. They’d have made John Bartholomew wait. Or sent a retrieval team back for him.
    But they wouldn’t have had any idea where he was. Even if they’d thought to search the hospitals, the nurse obviously thought he was a fireman …
    “I heard you ask what day it was,” the kid in the next bed said. “It’s Monday.”
    “No, the date,” Mike asked.
    The kid gave him the same look the nurse had given him. “December thirtieth.”
    Relief washed over Mike. “What time is it?”
    “I don’t know,” the boy said. “But it’s early. They haven’t brought breakfast round yet.”
    If St. Bart’s was like Orpington, they brought everybody’s breakfast at the crack of dawn, which meant there was still time. But not much. The nurse would be back with the doctor any minute.
    Mike sat up carefully, testing for dizziness. His head was splitting, but not so bad he couldn’t stand up, and he didn’t have time to wait till the pain lessened. He swung his legs over the side of the bed.
    “What are you doing?” the kid asked, alarmed. “Where are you going?”
    “St. Paul’s.”
    “St. Paul’s?” he said. “You’ll never get anywhere near it. Our fire brigade tried. We couldn’t get any nearer than Creed Lane.”
    “You’re a fireman?” Mike asked. The kid couldn’t be fifteen.
    “Yes. Redcross Street Fire Brigade,” he said proudly. “You won’t be able to get through. They had to take me all the way round to Bishopsgate when they brought me here.”
    “I have to get through.” Mike stood up, his head swimming. “Did you see what the nurse did with my clothes?”
    “But you can’t just get dressed and walk out of here,” the kid protested. “You haven’t been discharged.”
    “I’m discharging myself,” Mike said, yanking open the drawers of the nightstand.
    His clothes weren’t there. “I said, did you see what the nurse did with my clothes?”
    The kid shook his head. “You were already here when I was brought in,” he said, “and you heard what the nurse said. You’ve a concussion. Why don’t you wait for her to come back and—”
    And have her what? Tell him not to worry? Promise to ask the matron and then disappear for hours? It could be days before they’d let him out of here.
    “Or at least wait till the doctor’s had a chance to examine you,” the kid said, his eyes straying toward the bell on the nightstand between their beds.
    Mike snatched the bell up and jammed it under his own pillow. “Did you see what the nurse did with your clothes?”
    “In the cupboard there,” he said, pointing at a white metal cabinet. “But I don’t think you should—”
    “I’m fine,” Mike said, limping over to the cupboard. His own clothes were on the top shelf, neatly folded on top of his shoes. He began pulling on his trousers,

    “I’m fine,” Mike said, limping over to the cupboard. His own clothes were on the top shelf, neatly folded on top of his shoes. He began pulling on his trousers, keeping one eye on the ward doors. The nurse would be back with the doctor any second. He tried not to wince as he eased his shirtsleeve over his bandaged arm.
    “Where’s the nearest tube stop?”
    “Cannon Street,” the kid said, “but I doubt the trains are running. Waterloo and London Bridge were both hit last night.”
    “What about Blackfriars?” Mike asked, buttoning his shirt and jamming the tail into his trousers. “Was it hit?”
    “I don’t know. That whole part of the City was pretty much destroyed.”
    Destroyed. Mike shoved his bare feet into his shoes and jammed his socks and his tie into his trouser pockets. “Did you see what they did with my coat?”
    “No. Look, you’re not thinking clearly …”
    There was no time to look for the coat. The nurse had already been gone longer than he’d had any right to expect. Mike pulled his jacket on, grunting with the pain, limped quickly to the doors, and opened one a crack. There were two nurses at the far end of the hallway, talking, but no one at the matron’s desk, and a third of the way down the hall, another hallway branched off it.
    And I don’t look like a patient, he thought, glancing at his sleeve to make sure the bandage wasn’t showing and then smoothing down his hair.
    Don’t limp, he told himself, and pushed the left-hand door open.
    The nurses glanced up briefly and went back to talking. He walked quickly—but not too quickly—down the hallway, trying not to wince as he forced the weight onto his bad foot.
    “Absolutely swamped all last night,” he could hear one of the nurses saying, “what with the patients from Guy’s Hospital and the firemen and all. And then, just as we’d got everyone settled, two horrid children came running through the wards …”
    He reached the side hallway and turned down it, praying it was empty and that it led out of the hospital. It did, but it was raining outside—a drizzle so icy he debated going back inside to find his raincoat, especially since this seemed to be some sort of courtyard at the rear of the hospital. He wasn’t even sure he could get to the street from here.
    “No, Doctor,” he heard someone say behind him.
    He hobbled across the yard and through some bushes to the front of the hospital. He’d hoped he might be able to see St. Paul’s from here so he’d know which way to go, but a low pall of smoke and pinkish gray clouds hung over the buildings in every direction, hiding every possible landmark, including the Thames, and the fires were no help. Every way he looked there were flames.
    And not a single pedestrian to ask directions of. The only person in sight was the red-coated attendant standing at the door of the hospital, his white-gloved hands clasped behind him. Mike supposed that was a good thing—at least there wasn’t a huddle of doctors and nurses around him, asking if he’d seen an escaped patient.
    But he would come to that conclusion on his own if Mike asked, “Which direction is St. Paul’s?” and there wasn’t time to wander around till he saw it on his own—
    “Need a ride, guv’nor?” a voice called from behind him, and to his amazement, a taxi pulled up to the curb, and a cabbie stuck his head out the window. “Where to, guv?”
    Mike hesitated, debating whether to have the cabbie take him to Blackfriars first to pick up Eileen. If she was still there. He’d told her to wait there for him, but if the all clear had sounded, she might have tried to get to St. Paul’s on her own. “Has the all clear gone?” he asked.
    “Hours ago,” the cabbie said. “And a good thing. If the jerries had kept it up all night, I doubt this hospital’d still be standing. Now then, where to?”
    St. Paul’s, he decided. If Eileen wasn’t there, he’d go get her in Blackfriars after he’d found out from Bartholomew where the drop was.
    But he’d better not tell the cabbie where he wanted to go till he was inside the taxi. He didn’t want him saying, “Sorry, guv’nor, I’m not driving into that mess,” and driving off. And he’d better not phrase it as a question.
    Mike scrambled into the back, shut the door, and waited till the cabbie’d pulled away from the curb before leaning forward and saying, “I need to get to St. Paul’s.”
    “You’re an American,” the cabbie said.
    Now he was going to ask if the United States was coming into the war or not, and Mike was too tired to think what the correct answer for December of 1940 was, but instead the cabbie said, “In that case, guv, I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
    If only you could, Mike thought.
    “St. Paul’s, you say? That may take a bit of doing. Most of the streets are blocked off this morning, but I’ve got my own ways. I’ll see you get there. Take you right to her front door, I will.”
    “Thank you,” Mike said. He took a deep breath. It’s only half past six at the latest, he thought. The fire watch doesn’t come off duty till seven, and Polly’s had all night to find Bartholomew, even if she doesn’t know what he looks like. And all she had to do was tell him, and he’d wait for Eileen and me.
    He leaned back, cradling his arm, which was throbbing badly. So was his head. It doesn’t matter. They can fix them both in Oxford.
    “Want to see the old girl for yourself, eh, guv’nor?” the cabbie called back to him. “Make certain she’s still there? I don’t blame you. I thought she was a goner myself last night. It looked like London was a goner, too.”
    He turned down a succession of smoky streets. “I was taking a passenger to Guy’s Hospital—a doctor it was, trying to get there to take care of casualties. And when we got to Embankment, it looked like the sky itself was on fire, so bright you could read a newspaper by it, and this queer red color, it was.
    “ ‘Guy’s won’t be there,’ I told him, and blamed if the hospital wasn’t on fire when we got there. I had to take him back across London Bridge to St. Bart’s, and a good thing I got him there. I’ve never seen so many casualties.”
    He stopped at a crossing to look down a street. “Newgate’s blocked off, but there’s a chance Aldergate’s open.”
    It wasn’t. A wooden barricade stood across it.
    “What about Cheapside?” the cabbie asked the officer standing next to it.
    “No, this sector’s blocked off all the way to the Tower. Where were you trying to go?”
    The cabbie didn’t answer him. “What about Farringdon?”
    The officer shook his head. “They still haven’t got the fires out. The whole City’s impassable.”
    The cabbie nodded and backed around. “Don’t worry,” he said to Mike. “Just because one way don’t work don’t mean another won’t, does it? I’ll get you there.”
    Mike hoped he was right. Every street they tried was either roped off or blocked by fallen masonry. A huge crater had been blown out of the middle of one lane, Mike hoped he was right. Every street they tried was either roped off or blocked by fallen masonry. A huge crater had been blown out of the middle of one lane, and in the next one over, two portable fire pumps and an ambulance had been abandoned. He was obviously going to have to walk, which meant he’d better put his socks on. He pulled them out of his pockets, took off his shoes, and began putting them on.
    “You wanted a look at her,” the cabbie called back to him. “Well, there she is.”
    Mike looked up, and there was St. Paul’s, the dome framed by the opening of the lane they were passing, and the ball and gold cross standing out clearly against the dark gray sky.
    “Not a scratch on her,” the cabbie said admiringly. “Not that Hitler didn’t try his best. Beautiful, ain’t she, sir?”
    Beautiful, yes, but at least two miles away. They’d been closer at St. Bart’s. I need to get out of this cab before we get any farther away, Mike thought, but the cathedral had disappeared as the cabbie dived back into the maze of twisting streets, turning and backing and retracing so much Mike had no idea which direction it lay in.
    And neither does he, Mike thought, tying his shoes and buttoning his jacket. He’s just driving. And meanwhile I’m running out of time.
    “Stop,” he said aloud, reaching for the door handle. “I’ll walk from here.”
    The cabbie shook his head. “It’s rainin’, guv, and you with no coat. No, I said I’d take you straight to St. Paul’s front door, and I will.”
    “No, really, I—”
    But the cabbie had already turned down a narrow alley. He nodded at the blackened buildings on either side. “Getting near it now, we are.”
    Near to where the fires had been, anyway. Whole streets were gutted, with patches still burning in spite of the rain. It looked like vids Mike had seen of London after the pinpoint. Through the charred timbers, he could see the wreckage the next street over, and the next, but no sign of St. Paul’s.
    We must be in the Barbican, he thought, or Moorgate.
    “And here we are,” the cabbie said, pulling over to the curb alongside a still-smoldering warehouse.
    There, just past it, was St. Paul’s courtyard, and beyond, the pillared west front of the cathedral. Mike fumbled in his jacket for his wallet.
    “Told you I’d get you here,” the cabbie crowed.
    The nurse must have taken his wallet. He fumbled in his trouser pockets and brought up a shilling and twopence. Oh, no, not after he’d made it to within a few hundred yards.
    “I must have lost my wallet last night, in the raid,” he stammered, searching through his pockets again. His papers weren’t there either. Or his ration book. The nurses must have locked them up for safekeeping. “I only have—”
    “You don’t owe me nothin’, guv’nor,” the cabbie said, waving the coins away, “after what your lot’s done.”
    “My lot—?”
    “You Yanks.” He held up the newspaper. The banner headline read, “Roosevelt Pledges Support to Britain.”
    “Nothing can stop us winning the war now,” the cabbie said.
    Thank you, President Roosevelt, Mike thought. You came through in the nick of time.
    “And any rate, it was worth the fare just to see for myself she’s still all in one piece,” the cabbie said. “A sight for sore eyes, ain’t she, guv?” He pointed toward the cathedral. “Looks like we’re not the only ones what wanted to take a look at the old girl.”
    He was pointing at knots of people standing in the courtyard, looking up at St. Paul’s. Mike was too far away to see if Bartholomew and Polly were among them.
    He got out of the taxi. “Thanks—for everything.”
    “The same to you, mate,” the cabbie said, and drove off.
    Mike limped up the street toward St. Paul’s, looking for Polly and Bartholomew, but he didn’t see them among the people in the courtyard. He hoped they hadn’t gone off looking for him.
    No, they wouldn’t have any idea where to look, he thought. And they know I’d try to come here. This is where they’d wait. He looked over at the porch and the broad steps where more people stood and sat. Unless Polly and Bartholomew have gone to Blackfriars to find Eileen.
    No, Polly didn’t know he’d told Eileen to wait there …
    A hand grabbed his sleeve. Mike turned, expecting it to be Polly, but it was a thin, dazed-looking man. “This is where I work,” the man said urgently, pointing at the still-standing door in the wreckage behind Mike. It hung in its frame, held up by two blackened supports. The rest of the warehouse was completely gutted. “What do I do now?” he asked.
    “I don’t know. Sorry,” Mike said, trying to pull away.
    “It’s past time for them to open.” The man held up his wristwatch for Mike to look at. It read nine o’clock.
    Nine o’clock. It had taken him two and a half hours to get out of the hospital and over here. The fire watch would have gone off duty long since and gone back down to the Crypt.
    That’s where Polly and Bartholomew will be, he thought, breaking away from the man’s grasp and starting across the courtyard, picking his way over fire hoses and around ash-edged puddles.
    The man trailed after him, murmuring, “It’s gone. What do I do now?”
    Mike reached the foot of the steps. A score of people sat slumped against the steps, like the soldiers on the Lady Jane at Dunkirk, sooty, worn out, unseeing. And he’d been right. Polly was here waiting for him, sitting halfway up the steps next to two ragged children. And so was Eileen. Beside her on the step was a charred mark, like a deformed star. The incendiary.
    Eileen caught sight of him. She stood up and started down the steps to tell him what had happened, why John Bartholomew wasn’t there, but he already knew. One look at Polly’s face had told him everything.
    “I didn’t make it in time,” he said.
    Eileen shook her head. “The dean said he left an hour ago. He—”
    “The door’s locked,” the man said, clutching at Mike’s sleeve. “What do I do now?”
    “I don’t know,” Mike said, and sat down on the wet steps next to the girls. “I don’t know.”

    God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.
    St. Paul’s Cathedral—30 December 1940
    POLLY SAT THERE ON THE BROAD STEPS OF ST. PAUL’S, looking at Mike standing below her and Eileen. He looked as exhausted as she felt. He was in his shirtsleeves, and there was a bandage on his arm. She wondered what had happened to his coat.
    “Bartholomew’s gone?” he repeated blankly, looking from her to Eileen. “Maybe we can still catch him. He can’t have got far in this mess. If we can find out which way he went—”
    Polly shook her head. “He took the tube.”
    “From Blackfriars? Maybe he’s not to the station yet. If we hurry—”
    “From St. Paul’s.”
    “St. Paul’s? You mean the drop’s here at the cathedral?”
    “No, he left from St. Paul’s Station.”
    “But last night it wasn’t—”
    “It’s up and running this morning,” Eileen said.
    “I bet we could catch ’im,” Alf said, and Binnie nodded.
    “We’re quick.” They stood up as if ready to dart off after him.
    Mike looked over at them and then back at Polly. “Do you think—?”
    She shook her head. “He’d been gone nearly an hour when we got here.”
    “Did you ask the fire watch if Bartholomew said where he was going?” Mike asked. “I mean, not where he was really going. But he might have told them where his—”
    “Yes,” she said, cutting him off before he could say “his drop” and looking pointedly over at Alf and Binnie, who were all ears. “He told them his uncle in Wales had sent for him.”
    “Did you ask them what else he said? He might have dropped some hint about where he was really going—”
    Where he was going was Oxford. “Mike—”
    “Did you ask them which train he was taking? That’ll at least tell us which direction he was heading.”
    No, it wouldn’t. St. Paul’s was only two stops away from access to every other line on the Underground. “Mike, it’s no use. He’s gone,” Polly said, but he was already striding up the steps and into St. Paul’s.
    Polly scrambled to her feet and went inside after him. He was already halfway to the transept, his footsteps echoing in the deserted nave. She called, “Half the fire watch has already gone home, and the other half’s gone to bed. Mike!” She ran after him.
    It was last night all over again—her running endlessly after a man she couldn’t catch—and she was suddenly too weary to try. She stopped and walked back down the dank, smoky nave through the charred scraps of paper that lay everywhere, the flaming orders of worship that had danced through the air last night. Now they littered the floor like black leaves.
    There was still a puddle of water from where she had doused the burning postcards, and next to it lay the half-burnt print of The Light of the World. Polly bent to pick it up. The left-hand side of the picture where the door was supposed to be was blackened and curled, and when Polly touched it, that half crumbled into flakes and fell away, so that Christ’s hand was raised to knock on nothingness.
    Polly looked at the print a long moment, then laid it gently on the desk and went outside and sat down on the broad step next to Eileen and the children, and in a moment Mike came back outside and sat down between them. “Bartholomew didn’t say anything to anybody,” he said. “He just left. I am so sorry, Polly.”
    “It’s not your fault,” she said. “You tried your—”
    “I beg your pardon,” the man whom she’d seen speak to Mike before as he got out of the taxi said. He was standing at the foot of the steps, looking beseechingly up at Mike. “Should I go home, do you think? Or should I wait here?”
    “The place he worked was destroyed last night,” Mike explained to them.
    “What do I do now?” the man said.
    I have no idea, Polly thought.
    “Stay here,” Mike said decisively. “The owners of the business are bound to show up sooner or later.”
    But what if they don’t come till it’s too late? Polly thought.
    “Thank you,” the man said. “You’ve been very helpful.”
    They watched him go back down the steps and across the puddle-filled courtyard. “Helpful,” Mike said bitterly. “It’s my fault we didn’t find Bartholomew, you know. If I’d asked you about him and about St. Paul’s nearly burning down instead of assuming he’d been here at the end of the Blitz. Or seen that damned wall coming down—”
    “What wall?” Eileen asked.
    He told them how he’d been knocked unconscious and woken up in St. Bart’s.
    “You were there?” Eileen said incredulously. “At St. Bart’s?”
    We were all at St. Bart’s last night, Polly thought.
    The injured firewatcher might have been in the bed next to the unconscious Mike. Mike might have been only inches away from Mr. Bartholomew, as she had been The injured firewatcher might have been in the bed next to the unconscious Mike. Mike might have been only inches away from Mr. Bartholomew, as she had been up in the rafters of St. Paul’s, separated from him by only a wall. They had been so close.
    But everything had conspired against them, from Theodore’s refusal to leave the pantomime to the blocked streets which had kept them from getting here before he left this morning. It was as if the entire space-time continuum had been engaged in an elaborate plot to keep them from reaching John Bartholomew. Just as it had kept her and Eileen from finding each other last autumn. “How all occasions do inform against us,” she thought.
    “It isn’t your fault, it’s mine,” Eileen was saying. “If I’d listened to Mr. Bartholomew’s lecture, I’d have known he was still here, and we could have found him weeks ago. And now it’s too late—”
    “ ’Ow come you can’t go to Wales an’ get ’im?” Alf asked.
    “ ’Cause they don’t know where ’e is in Wales,” Binnie said. “And you ’eard ’im.” She pointed at Mike. “ ‘E ain’t really goin’ there. ’E only said ’e was,” and Polly was glad she’d stopped Mike from saying any more than he already had. They’d obviously been listening to every word the three of them had said. And she was almost certain they were the two delinquents she’d seen stealing the picnic basket that night in Holborn, though she hadn’t said anything to Eileen.
    “Well, if ’e ain’t in Wales, then where’s ’e gone?” Alf was asking Eileen.
    “We don’t know,” Polly said. “He didn’t tell us.”
    “I bet I could find ’im.”
    “How?” Binnie said. “You don’t even know what ’e looks like, you dunderpate.”
    “I ain’t a dunderpate. Take it back,” Alf said, and dove at Binnie. She darted away down the steps and across the forecourt, Alf in hot pursuit.
    Eileen was still blaming herself. “I should simply have told the incident officer I couldn’t take the ambulance to St. Bart’s.”
    And I shouldn’t have rushed off to St. Bart’s without finding out the injured firewatcher’s name and who’d gone with him to hospital, Polly thought. If she hadn’t, she’d have found out what Mr. Humphreys had told her a few minutes ago, that he’d helped Bartholomew put the injured man in the ambulance and then gone back up to the roofs. She could’ve told Mr. Humphreys to tell Mr. Bartholomew not to leave till they got there.
    “It’s no one’s fault,” she said.
    They couldn’t have found him no matter what they did because it had all happened already, and when he got back to Oxford, he hadn’t been bearing a message from them. It had been a hopeless enterprise from the beginning. It had all been hopeless—the attempts to contact Mike’s retrieval team and the search for Gerald.
    The door behind them opened, and Mr. Humphreys came out bearing a tray with a teapot and cups on it. “Your friend Mr. Davis said you were still out here,” he said to Polly, handing her and the others cups and saucers. “And I thought you might like some tea. It’s such a cold morning.”
    He poured out their tea, then went down the steps and over to the man who’d asked Mike what he should do and then over to Alf and Binnie, who were playing in the still-smoldering wreckage.
    He gave them biscuits and then came back. “I’m so sorry you missed your friend, Miss Sebastian,” he said. “I’ll ask Dean Matthews if he had an address where Mr.
    Bartholomew might be reached. Do you need assistance in getting home?”
    Yes, she thought, but you can’t help us.
    She shook her head.
    “If you need bus fare or—”
    “No,” Polly said. “We have transport.”
    “Good. Drink your tea,” he ordered. “It will make you feel better.”
    Nothing will make me feel better, she thought, but she drank it down. It was hot and sweet. Mr. Humphreys must have put his entire month’s sugar ration into it.
    She drained the cup, feeling suddenly ashamed of herself. She wasn’t the only one who’d had a bad night. Or the only one facing a frightening future. And the outlook wasn’t totally bleak. The fact that they hadn’t found Mr. Bartholomew meant that Mr. Dunworthy hadn’t betrayed them, that Colin hadn’t lied to her.
    And her actions, and Mike’s and Eileen’s, didn’t seem to have affected events. Last night had gone just as it was supposed to. St. Paul’s was still standing, and the rest of the City wasn’t. History was still on track.
    For the past two months Polly’d been terrified of finding proof they’d altered the course of the war, but now she almost wished historians were able to alter events, to alter this—the Guildhall and the Chapter House and all those beautiful Christopher Wren churches destroyed. And all the horrors that were still to come—Dresden and Auschwitz and Hiroshima. And Jerusalem and the Pandemic and the pinpoint bomb which would obliterate St. Paul’s. To repair the whole bloody mess.
    But what could do that? The three of them had attempted all last night to find a single man and deliver a single message, to no avail. What made her think they could repair history, even if they knew how to go about it? And there was no way to know. The continuum was far too complex, too chaotic, to ensure that an attempt to avert a disaster wouldn’t lead to a worse one. And, as horrific as World War II had been, at least the Allies had won. They’d stopped Hitler, which had been an unarguably good thing.
    But at such a terrible, terrible price—millions dead, cities in ruins, lives destroyed. Including mine, she thought. And Eileen’s and Mike’s.
    She glanced over at them, sitting hunched on the steps, Eileen looking half frozen and about to cry, Mike with his arm bandaged and his foot half shot off. They looked done in, and Polly felt a wave of love for both of them. They had done all this, quite literally risked life and limb, for her because of her deadline. And they would both have sacrificed their lives if it had meant getting her safely home. Which meant the least she could do was to pull herself together.
    Mr. Humphreys had managed to, and so had London. The day after they’d watched half their city burn down around their ears, Londoners hadn’t sat there feeling sorry for themselves. Instead, they’d set about putting out the fires that were still burning and digging people out of the rubble. They’d repaired water mains and railway tracks and telephone lines, shown up at their jobs, even if where they worked was no longer there, swept up glass. Gone on.
    If they could do it, she could, too. “Once more into the breach,” she thought, and stood up and brushed the soot off her coat.
    “We need to be going,” she said. She gathered up their cups and saucers, took them inside, set them on the desk next to the half-burned print of The Light of the World, and started out, then went back to look at it again—at the lantern raised to light the nothingness which lay before it, the darkness on all sides, at Christ’s robe smeared with soot from the charred, flaking edge.
    She’d expected his face to look as done in, as defeated, as Eileen’s and Mike’s, but it didn’t. It was filled with kindness and concern, like Mr. Humphreys’s.
    She fished sixpence out of her bag, laid it on the desk, folded the picture into quarters, put it in her pocket, and went outside.
    “We need to go,” she said to Mike and Eileen. “We’ll be late for work. And we must take the ambulance back to St. Bart’s.”
    “And get my coat,” Mike said. “And Eileen’s.”

    “And get my coat,” Mike said. “And Eileen’s.”
    “I need to take the children home first,” Eileen said. “Alf! Binnie!” she called to them.
    They were still messing about in the ruins, poking at a smoldering timber with sticks and then jumping back as it crumbled into glowing embers.
    “Come along. I’ll take you home.”
    “ ’Ome?” Binnie said. The children looked at each other and then up at her. “We don’t need nobody to take us,” Alf said. “We can get there on our own.”
    “No, the trains to Whitechapel may not be running, and your mother will be worried to death,” Eileen said. “I want to tell her where you’ve been all night and how much help you were.” She started down the steps toward them.
    Alf and Binnie exchanged glances again, then dropped their sticks and tore off down the street, running as fast as they could.
    “Alf! Binnie! Wait!” Eileen called, and took off after them, Polly and Mike in pursuit, but they’d already vanished into the tangle of smoking ruins beyond Paternoster Row.
    “We’ll never catch them in that maze,” Mike said, and Eileen nodded reluctantly.
    “Will they be all right, do you think?” Polly asked.
    “Yes, they’re expert at taking care of themselves,” Eileen said, looking after them and frowning. “But I wonder why—”
    “They were probably afraid if you took them home they’d have to go to school,” Mike said, and when they reached the ambulance, he peered at the petrol gauge and said, “We couldn’t have taken them home anyway. We don’t have enough gas to get to Whitechapel and back. We’ll be lucky if we’ve got enough to get us to St.
    “If we can find St. Bart’s,” Eileen said. She started the car. “Alf was my navigator, remember?”
    Polly nodded, thinking of all the blocked streets and barricades.
    “I think I can get us there,” Mike said.
    And he did.
    Eileen’s coat was still hanging over the railing where she’d left it, but Mike’s was nowhere to be found, and he refused to ask the staff. “I left without being discharged,” he told them, “and they’re liable to try to put me back in the hospital.”
    “I thought you said you’d scarcely burned your arm at all,” Polly said.
    “I did. It’s nothing. But that doesn’t mean they’ll let me out, and I can’t afford to be stuck in here doing nothing, like I was all those weeks in Orpington. I don’t need a coat.”
    “But it’s winter,” Eileen said. “You’ll catch your death—”
    “I’ll go find it,” Polly said, taking charge. “Eileen, go turn the ambulance in. Mike, wait for us out front.”
    He nodded and limped off toward the door.
    “You don’t suppose they’ll arrest me for stealing the ambulance, do you?” Eileen asked.
    “Considering the blood-covered state of your coat, no. But if they do, I’ll help you escape,” Polly said, and went up to the ward to ask about Mike’s coat.
    The nurse thought it likely they’d had to cut it off him when he was brought in. “You might check in Emergency.”
    It wasn’t there either, or with the matron. Polly went out front to tell Mike. He and Eileen were both there. “You weren’t arrested?” Polly asked Eileen.
    “No, they were extremely nice about it. You didn’t find Mike’s coat?”
    “No, sorry. I’ll have to ask Mrs. Wyvern to get you another. Here.” Polly took off the pumpkin-colored scarf Miss Hibbard had given her. “Take this till we get you a coat.” She wrapped it around his neck as if he were a child, and they set out for the tube station.
    It was open, but the Hammersmith and Jubilee Lines were both out of commission, and the District Line wasn’t running between Cannon Street and Temple.
    “This means there may still be a chance of catching Bartholomew,” Mike said. “If the train he needed to take was destroyed or wasn’t running, he may not have gone back yet. He may still be here in London.”
    “Mike,” Polly protested, “he left two hours—”
    “You two go on to work. If I catch him, I’ll come get you at Townsend Brothers,” Mike said, and took off before they could stop him.
    “Do you think there’s a chance—?” Eileen asked Polly.
    “No,” Polly said, though it took them an hour and a half just to reach Townsend Brothers.
    “Thank goodness you’re here,” Miss Snelgrove said. “Neither Doreen nor Sarah can make it in, and the New Year’s sales begin day after tomorrow—good heavens, you’re hurt!” she said to Eileen, and ordered Polly to telephone for an ambulance.
    “It’s not my blood,” Eileen said, looking down at her coat. “I don’t suppose you know of anything which will take out bloodstains?”
    “Benzene,” Miss Snelgrove said promptly, “though it looks as if it’s soaked through.”
    She sent Eileen up to Housewares for a bottle of the cleaning fluid and set Polly to lettering placards for the New Year’s sales while she went to fill in for Sarah.
    Polly spent the rest of the day printing “Special New Year’s Mark-down” and worrying about why Mike didn’t come and about his burned arm and what they were going to do after tomorrow.
    As of January first, they wouldn’t know where and when any of the raids were or what was safe, except for Townsend Brothers and Notting Hill Gate. She assumed Mrs. Rickett’s and Mike’s boardinghouse were, too, though Badri hadn’t said whether the list of allowed addresses was safe for the duration of the Blitz or only till the end of her assignment. But Mr. Dunworthy had been so insistent that she stay in a tube station which hadn’t been hit at all that he was unlikely to have let her stay in a boardinghouse that had been.
    But unlikely wasn’t certain, which meant they’d best spend their nights in Notting Hill Gate—and hope they got there before the raids began.
    Which was impossible with the short winter days. The sirens routinely went before five. And Mike’s job took him all over London, and there were daytime raids to worry about. And UXBs and dangling parachute mines. And the fact that by closing time Mike still hadn’t shown up.
    Where was he? And what if he got blood poisoning in his burned arm? Or caught pneumonia? Though that at least she could do something about, and after work she and Eileen went straight to Notting Hill Gate to speak to Mrs. Wyvern about a coat.
    She wasn’t there. “She and the rector are helping with a fund-raiser for families who’ve been bombed out,” Miss Hibbard told her.

    She wasn’t there. “She and the rector are helping with a fund-raiser for families who’ve been bombed out,” Miss Hibbard told her.
    “Do you know where?” Polly asked. There weren’t any raids tonight, so she could go find her, but she hadn’t told Miss Hibbard the location of the fund-raiser.
    I’ll have to ask Miss Laburnum, Polly thought. “Did she say when she was coming over?”
    “She has a bad cold,” Miss Hibbard said. “I told her she should stay at home. The station’s so drafty and cold.”
    It was, and the emergency staircase was even icier. When Mike finally arrived, Polly and Eileen took off their coats, and the three of them huddled together under them as Mike told them where he’d been, which had apparently been in every tube station in London, with no luck. “I should have gone to St. Paul’s Station as soon as I got to the cathedral,” he said. “If I had—”
    “You still couldn’t have caught him,” Polly said.
    “I’ll figure out a way to get you out of here before your deadline, Polly,” he said fiercely.
    “What about the retrieval team?” Eileen asked. “You still might be able to find them,” and Polly realized that in all the excitement the night before, they hadn’t told her what had happened.
    “I did find them,” Mike said, “but it wasn’t the retrieval team. It was a guy I knew in hospital.”
    Eileen’s face fell. “But they still might come. I could write to Mr. Goode again. And the manor. Or we could check Polly’s drop again. It might be working by now.”
    “You’re right,” he said. “We’ll do all those things. And I’ll figure out a way to get you both out of here. But right now we need to concentrate on staying alive till I do. Where are tomorrow’s raids?”
    “There aren’t any tomorrow either,” she said. “But I’m afraid I have more bad news.” She told them about not knowing about the raids after the first of the year.
    “But Notting Hill Gate’s safe, right?” Mike said. “And Townsend Brothers, so you two are safe during the day.”
    “No,” Eileen said. “My supervisor told me today they plan to let all the Christmas help go as soon as the New Year’s sales are over.”
    “And we have another problem,” Polly said. “Sometime—I don’t know when—Eileen and I are going to be conscripted.”
    “Conscripted?” Mike said. “Into the Army?”
    “Not necessarily, but into some sort of national service. The ATS or the land girls or working in a war-industry factory. It’s the National Service Act. All British civilians between the ages of twenty and thirty must sign up.”
    “Can’t you get a deferment from Townsend Brothers or something?” Mike asked.
    “No,” Polly said. “And if we don’t volunteer before it goes into effect, we run the risk of being assigned somewhere outside of London.”
    “Which means we’d better find a way out of here fast,” Mike said, frowning.
    “Don’t you know when any of the raids are, Polly?” Eileen asked nervously.
    “Some of them,” Polly said. “And some nights the Luftwaffe attacked other cities.”
    “And they can’t attack when the weather’s bad,” Mike said, “which should help for the next couple of months. And the Blitz ends in May, right?”
    “Yes, May eleventh,” Polly said. But between now and then nearly twenty thousand civilians will be killed.
    “So all we have to do is get through the next four and a half months,” Mike said, “and then we’re safe till Denys Atherton gets here.”
    Safe, Polly thought.
    “And that’s a worst-case scenario. We’re bound to figure out a way to get home before—” He stopped. “What is it, Polly? Why are you looking like that?”
    “Nothing. What is that dreadful odor?”
    “My coat,” Eileen confessed. “I’m afraid I used a bit too much benzene on it to get the blood out.”
    “A bit?” Mike said, laughing, but the fumes grew so overpowering they had to abandon the staircase and go sleep in the station, which was no warmer.
    “We must get Mike a coat,” Eileen said on the way to work the next morning. “Perhaps there’ll be one marked down that we can buy.”
    But they had no time to look amid the preparations for the New Year’s sales and then the sales themselves, which people flocked to in spite of the wretched weather. The next few days there was bone-chilling fog and almost constant sleet.
    “But that’s good, isn’t it?” Eileen asked as they hurried to Oxford Circus after work. “It means there won’t be any raids.”
    It also meant that getting Mike a coat was more urgent than ever and that the benzene was increasingly overpowering when Eileen’s coat got wet. “Miss Snelgrove said the odor would fade,” Eileen said, “but it doesn’t seem to, does it?”
    “No,” Polly said. It was a good thing there was a ban on smoking in the shelters. A stray flicked match and they’d both go up in flames.
    “I’ve been thinking about what you said about our having to volunteer,” Eileen said as they got on the train. “Perhaps I could volunteer to be an ambulance driver at St. Bart’s. When I took the ambulance back, Dr. Cross said if I hadn’t got those passengers to hospital when I did, they’d have died.”
    “What passengers?”
    Eileen told her about the unconscious ambulance driver and the Army lieutenant. Thank goodness Mike isn’t here to hear this, Polly thought. The last thing he needed was to begin worrying all over again about the possibility of their having altered the course of the war.
    We couldn’t have, she told herself. We won the war. And the twenty-ninth went just like it was supposed to. But after Mike and Eileen were asleep, she stole away to look at a discarded newspaper and make certain.
    The Guildhall had burned just as it had in the historical records, and so had St. Bride’s and St. Mary-le-Bow. But All Hallows by the Tower had burned, too. She’d thought it had been only partially destroyed. And the Evening Standard said the Germans had dropped fifteen thousand incendiaries instead of eleven thousand.
    But those could easily be errors in reporting, she thought, crawling back under Eileen’s reeking coat. We won the war. Eileen and I were both there on VE-Day.
    But the discrepancies haunted her all the next day, and on her lunch break she bought the Herald and the Daily Mail to check and then went up to the book department to tell Eileen not to say anything to Mike about her possibly driving an ambulance for St. Bart’s. “Or about what Dr. Cross said. He’d think driving an ambulance was too dangerous.”
    “That’s true,” Eileen said absently, much more concerned with getting Mike a coat.
    “It’s supposed to snow tonight,” she said, and an hour later she came down to report that she’d persuaded her supervisor to let her leave an hour early to go to the Assistance Board. She asked what size coat Mike wore and said, “I’ll try to get you a hat as well, Polly. Tell Mrs. Rickett I won’t be in to supper. And you needn’t Assistance Board. She asked what size coat Mike wore and said, “I’ll try to get you a hat as well, Polly. Tell Mrs. Rickett I won’t be in to supper. And you needn’t wait for me. I’ll meet you at Notting Hill Gate. Have you a rehearsal tonight?”
    “I’m not certain,” Polly said. “The troupe’s still arguing over what play to do next.”
    And when she arrived, she found them discussing whether to do another play at all, given the fact that the intermittency of the raids and the winter weather were causing people to stay at home instead of using the shelter.
    Including some of the troupe. Miss Laburnum was still recovering from her cold, and neither Sir Godfrey nor Mr. Simms was there. “We can’t put on a play without a cast,” Mr. Dorming grumbled. “Or an audience.”
    “But if we did, that would encourage people to come to Notting Hill Gate,” the rector said. “We’d be doing our bit to help keep the populace safe.”
    “Perhaps instead of a play, we could give a series of dramatic readings,” Miss Hibbard suggested. “That way we wouldn’t need everyone to be here.”
    While they discussed possible ones to do, Polly was able to sneak away to the emergency staircase to see if Eileen was there yet. Halfway there she ran into Mike, who’d apparently just arrived. His hair and the pumpkin-orange scarf were wet, and he looked half frozen. Polly was glad Eileen had gone to get him a coat.
    She told him where Eileen had gone. “She said she’d meet us here, but I don’t know if she’s arrived yet. I was just going to check the staircase.”
    “I’ll do that,” he said. “You check the canteen, and I’ll meet you back at the escalator.”
    Eileen wasn’t in the queue for the canteen. Polly went back down to the District Line to wait, standing in the southbound archway so she could spot Eileen and Mike but still duck back into the tunnel if any of the troupe descended the escalator. She didn’t want to get dragged off to the platform to discuss the merits of reading scenes from The Little Minister versus The Importance of Being Earnest.
    But Mr. Simms was the only one she saw come down. He was carrying his dog, Nelson—who was afraid of the slatted escalator treads—in his arms.
    There weren’t nearly as many people in the station as usual, and most of the ones who were there were carrying umbrellas, not bedrolls and picnic baskets. The rest of the shelterers must have decided, as Mr. Dorming had said, to take their chances that with the inclement weather there wouldn’t be a raid. She hoped they were right.
    And that Eileen would be here soon. I hate not knowing when and where the bombs are going to fall, she thought.
    Mike came back. “Eileen’s still not here?”
    “No. Did you hear planes on your way to the station?”
    “No.” He looked up the escalator. “Where did she say she was going for the …? Here she is.”
    He pointed up at the top of the escalator and two men who’d just stepped on, and behind them, only her red hair visible, Eileen. Mike waved at her. “It looks like she was successful.”
    Polly caught a glimpse of a gray tweed overcoat over Eileen’s arm and a woman’s dark blue hat in her other hand. Mike waved again.
    Eileen saw them. She waved back with the blue hat.
    Polly put her hand to her mouth.
    “Looks like she was able to get a new coat, too,” Mike said.
    Yes, Polly thought sickly, watching Eileen push past the two men and hurry down the moving steps toward them. She was wearing a bright green coat, and there was no mistaking it.
    It was the coat she had been wearing in Trafalgar Square on VE-Day.

    Time present and time past
    Are both perhaps present in time future,
    And time future contained in time past.
    Croydon—October 1944
    MARY ROLLED DOWN THE WINDOW OF THE AMBULANCE and leaned out, straining to hear. She was certain she’d heard the rattling putt-putt of a V-1.
    “A flying bomb?” Fairchild said. “I don’t hear anything.”
    “Shh,” Mary ordered, but she couldn’t hear anything either. Could it have been another motorcycle or—?
    An enormous boom shook the parked ambulance.
    “Oh, my God,” Fairchild said. “That was nearly on top of us.” She leaned forward to turn the ignition and start the ambulance’s bells. “You don’t think it hit the ambulance post, do you?”
    “No, it was nearer than that.”
    It was. The rocket had fallen just off the high street they’d driven through only minutes before, smashing shops and stores. At the near end, an estate agent’s was still recognizable, and at the other the marquee of a cinema stood at an awkward angle. Fires burned here and there among the wreckage.
    Good, Mary thought. At least we’ll have light to see by. She wished she’d worn her coveralls and boots instead of her skirted uniform, since it looked like they were the first ones here and were going to have to clamber over the wreckage looking for victims.
    Fairchild drove the ambulance as close to the wreckage as she could and parked, and they scrambled out. “At least we’ve plenty of bandages,” she said. “I’ll go find a telephone and ring the post.”
    “Good, though I should imagine the post heard the explosion.” Mary put on her helmet and fastened the strap. “I’ll go see if there are casualties in the cinema.”
    “It doesn’t show films on Wednesday,” Fairchild said. “I know because Reed and I came down to see Random Harvest Wednesday last, and it was shut. And none of these shops would have been open at this time of night, so perhaps there won’t have been any casualties.” She ran off to find a phone box, and Mary pulled on her gumboots and started through the wreckage, hoping Fairchild was right.
    Halfway down the street she thought she heard a voice. She stopped, listening, but she couldn’t hear anything for Fairchild’s hurrying back toward her, dislodging bricks and chunks of mortar as she came. “I notified Croydon,” she reported. “Have you found any—?”
    “Shh. I thought I heard something.”
    They listened.
    “Jeppers!” Mary heard a man’s voice call from somewhere at the other end of the destroyed area.
    “It came from over there,” Fairchild said, pointing, and began picking her way through the rubble.
    Mary followed, stopping every few feet to look about her. She’d been wrong about the fires. They gave off only enough light to maneuver by, not enough to see the hazards in her way or to make out more than silhouettes, and the flickering flames made her think she saw movement where there wasn’t any.
    Midway across, Mary thought she heard the man again. She stopped, listening, and then called, “Where are you?”
    “Over here.” The voice was so faint she could scarcely hear it.
    “Keep talking.”
    “Over …” He went off into a spasm of coughing.
    Which she could hear. “Fairchild, he’s this way!” she called, and set off toward the sound, picking her way over the tangle of bricks and broken wood.
    The coughing stopped. “Where are you?” she called again.
    “Here he is!” Fairchild called from several yards off, and then, as Mary clambered over to her, “I found him.”
    She was bending over a dark form, but she straightened as Mary reached her. “He’s dead.”
    “Are you certain?” Mary said. It was so dark, Fairchild might have made a mistake. She squatted down next to the body.
    Not body. Half a body. The man had been sliced in two. Which meant he couldn’t have been the one coughing. “There’s another one here somewhere,” she told Fairchild. “You take that area over there, and I’ll look over here.” She walked back the way she’d come, calling, “Where are you? If you can hear us, make a sound,”
    and then waiting, listening for the slightest sound before moving on again.
    She stepped carefully over a broken window. A large black object lay on its side next to it. What is that? Mary wondered. A piano? No, it was far too large, and there was paper tangled in it and lying in drifts all round it. It’s a printing press, she thought. This must have been a newspaper office, and saw an arm.
    Let’s hope it isn’t only an arm, she thought, scrambling over to it. Or that the rest of him isn’t under that printing press.
    It wasn’t. The man lay next to it, and the reason she hadn’t been able to see him was that he was covered in newspapers, and his face was so white and so spattered with blood—which looked black in the orange light from the fires—that it was barely recognizable as a face.
    He’s dead as well, she thought, squatting down next to him, but his chest was rising and falling. And as she bent closer, she saw that the white was from plaster dust, which he was caked with. “Are you all right?” she asked, but he didn’t respond. “You mustn’t worry. We’ll get you out of here straightaway. Fairchild!” she called into the darkness. “Over here!”
    She tried to see what the blood was from, wishing she had her pocket torch. She could scarcely see him in the reddish firelight. But she could see the blood. It was all over his coat and the newspapers covering him. “I need a light!” she shouted, and began brushing the newspapers aside, looking for the wound that had to be there.
    She opened his coat. There was no blood on his shirt.
    It’s someone else’s blood, she thought, and then remembered the printing press. She touched the black on his coat and then brought her fingers up to her nose. Ink.
    It must have splattered on him when the V-1 hit.
    But even if it wasn’t blood, he was clearly injured. Perhaps the blast only knocked him unconscious, she thought hopefully, but when she moved the remaining newspapers off, he was buried from his waist down in bricks and chunks of plaster. She dug through them with both hands. His left leg was covered in blood, and this newspapers off, he was buried from his waist down in bricks and chunks of plaster. She dug through them with both hands. His left leg was covered in blood, and this time it wasn’t printer’s ink. All the blood and the darkness made it difficult to see just how bad the injury was, but the lower half of the leg looked like it was badly mangled, and his foot had been severed.
    Mary fumbled in her pocket for a handkerchief and tied it round his leg just below his knee. She broke off a short length of wood, tied it into the knot, and twisted the tourniquet till it was tight.
    “Is he alive?” Fairchild asked, appearing out of the darkness to kneel down next to him and peer into his face.
    “Yes,” Mary said, trying to see if the bleeding from his leg had stopped. “Did you bring the torch?”
    “No, I’ll go fetch one. How bad is he?”
    “He’s unconscious and his leg’s crushed. His foot’s been cut off,” she said, and the man murmured something.
    “What is it?” Mary asked, bending over him, putting her ear close to his lips.
    “Wasn’t…,” he said, and his voice was hoarse and rasping.
    From the plaster dust, she thought.
    “Done …” His eyes closed again.
    Done for. “You’re going to be all right,” she said, patting his chest. “I’ll get you out of here, I promise. I’ve tied a tourniquet,” she told Fairchild. “Is Croydon here yet?”
    “No,” Fairchild said, looking off toward where their ambulance was parked. “I thought I heard a motor a moment ago, but I must have been mistaken.”
    “We’ll have to get him to the ambulance ourselves then,” Mary said. “Go and fetch the stretcher.” Fairchild nodded and ran off.
    “Don’t forget the torch!” Mary called after her, and went back to uncovering his other leg, shifting bricks and a metal case of type, which was impossibly heavy.
    “You mustn’t worry. We’ll have you out of here in no time.”
    He seemed to flinch at the sound of her voice. “No,” he murmured. “Oh, no … no …”
    “You mustn’t be frightened. You’re going to be all right.”
    “No.” He shook his head feebly. “I’m so sorry.”
    “It’s all right.” Poor man. “It’s not your fault. You’ve been injured by a flying bomb,” but her words had no effect on him.
    “Still been here …,” he said, his hoarse voice anguished, “… dead …”
    “Shh. Don’t try to talk.”
    “I thought I could … not supposed to be here …”
    “Just lie still. I need to look at your leg.”
    She went back to uncovering his other leg and his foot, which, thank God, wasn’t cut off, but it was bleeding badly, and she didn’t have another handkerchief for a tourniquet. She pressed on it with both hands. “Fairchild!” she called. “Paige! I need the medical kit.”
    “Dulwich …” the man murmured. He must be asking where they were going to take him.
    “We’ll take you to Norbury,” she said. “It’s quicker. You mustn’t worry about that. That’s our job.”
    “I can’t get the stretcher out!” Fairchild called from the ambulance. “It’s stuck!”
    “Leave it! Just bring the medical kit!”
    “What?” Fairchild called back. “I can’t hear you, Mary!”
    The man made a sound, part moan, part gasp. “Mary?” he murmured.
    “Yes,” she said, “I’m here.” She pressed down as hard as she could.