London, 1941, and Roger Mathews, a special attache with the U.S. is teamed up with British captain Clive Westmore to execute a secret plan to secure the final key to solving the Nazi's secret codes from within occupied France. Complicating matters, the two are instantly attracted to each other, beginning a romantic involvement whose tender alliance can only make more intricate their already convoluted mission.
Chapter I: Enigma
Roger dropped the cigarette and stomped it out with his loafer. Seconds later, another bomb exploded. About a quarter of a mile away, but still in the Whitehall area, he suspected. It rumbled like a giant, so different from thunder-an ominous, man-made sound he knew he would never forget.
The Nazis are really dishing it out to London tonight, he thought, standing on the rooftop of his blacked-out apartment building. The structure, like the others in the neighborhood, had been built in the latter part of the last century, and had at one time been dwellings for more affluent inhabitants. Designed, in fact, to be so posh that when the neighborhood was constructed, the streets were torn up, and re-cobbled in broadly curved promenades. All of the buildings in the neighborhood looked alike; four stories high, with columned facades, white gingerbread latticework, and second story faux balconies with French doors. But age had taken its toll on the neighborhood, reducing it from its former elegance to that of middle class. The cobblestones had been paved over, yet the water-stained buildings were still architecturally superb, and retained their distinct beauty, like older women who have kept their attractiveness despite unflattering sags and bulges.
The U.S. Embassy had given strict orders that all personnel were to either report to the embassy itself or follow the Londoners down into the Underground. Roger, however, was known by most of his friends to take unnecessary chances with his life, all twenty-eight years of it, as if death might bring some kind of release, and tonight would be no exception. Roger was a political attachÃ© at the U.S. Embassy. His father had worked for the State Department, too, during the Great War, but the elder Mathews had been stationed in Paris. It was through his father's contacts in Washington that he had landed his job-he and his father preferring an ocean between them. Now, the embassy was doing its best to secretly help the English in its war with Nazi Germany. Despite the fact that the United States would prefer not to enter the war anytime soon, any one of a number of clandestine activities the Americans were doing to assist the British could easily and quickly drag the U.S. into the melee.
Roger had graduated from Georgetown University's School of Government-summa cum laude, no less. This was unsurprising, but not because Roger was brilliant. No, it was more because Roger applied himself, for he knew that applying oneself can be more beneficial than possessing an attribute like genius. For three years after college he ran one of his maternal grandfather's factories back in Massachusetts, close enough to his hometown of Boston to visit regularly, which he liked, having spent most of his childhood there. His grandfather had passed away a few years earlier and left his business to Roger's mother and father. Although Roger didn't want to help with the business, he'd acquiesced for the sake of his mother, whom he adored. It had been hell for the first year and a half, until he fell in love. But that situation soured after little more than a year. So, after roughly three years and the end of a relationship, he decided it was time to move on, and begged his father to get him something in Washington. Though on doing so, Roger's father insisted that, if he were to land Roger a job, there would be none of his college shenanigans or "disgusting behaviors."
A flash lit his handsome face, followed a millisecond later by the anticipated explosion. That one was only a few hundred yards away, but Roger stood firm, thinking. He thought of his mother, recalling that last year before she finally succumbed to tuberculosis; it was also the year before he graduated from college. Thoughts emerged of his friends, Stephen from college and John from his family's factory, both of whom he had continued to see regularly, regardless of his father's insistence that he not. To the world, Roger appeared an eligible bachelor, and well educated. Handsome, with his mother's brown hair, and his father's crystal blue eyes, he had small, perfectly shaped ears, a jaw that was slightly dimpled, and lips thin and aristocratic. He was certainly what the English girls called a 'looker,' but he was not complete, nor was he looking for what the English girls offered.
"Why don't you come up and visit me at my family's summer home in Boothbay Harbor?" Stephen asked, his head lying in Roger's lap. They were at their favorite hiding spot on Roosevelt Island, which had only recently been renamed in honor of Teddy. Their favorite tree, a large black oak, shaded them from the sun as they watched the muddy waters of the Potomac roll along. Graduation ceremonies had taken place only the day before, and Washington was seeing its usual summer exodus of congressmen, lobbyists, and students."You wouldn't have to put up with your father. And now that your mother's goneâ€¦" Stephen stopped, realizing he was treading in painful territory for Roger.
"I need to stay in Boston," countered Roger, "so that I can continue getting ready to take over part of my grandfather's business." He was lying. The reason that he wouldn't visit Stephen was because his father had found out about their "friendship," and threatened to disown Roger if he were to continue seeing him. He hated lying to Stephen, but he hated his father more. As if somehow knowing that Roger was lying to him, Stephen replied, "You really need to learn to trust and let go, Roger. In leaps of faith, the hand that catches you will not be seen until after your feet have left the precipice." It was no wonder Stephen graduated in the top three percent of the class, Roger thought, and lowered his head to kiss Stephen. He was always surprised at how exhilarating it was when he kissed a boy. In the distance, a boat somewhere in the Potomac's haze blew its whistle in celebrationâ€¦
The whistle slowly turned into an air raid siren, which lured Roger out of his slumber. He must have fallen asleep, his head resting against an ancient chimney. The siren marked the end of that night's bombing. He looked at his watch, 4:20 a.m. The sliver of moon had shifted position, surrounded now by a halo of long clouds that glowed a pearly gray.
He stood, stretched, and groggily headed down to his flat. He lived rather well, mostly because on top of his income from the good old U.S. government, he received, much to his father's chagrin, an expense entitlement. It was something that his mother had arranged before she died. He came from money on both sides, and his mother had made sure she personally managed much of what she had brought to the family coffers when she married his father. Roger had lived a very entitled life, but his mother had taught him the value of all people, to be socially responsible to those less fortunate, and to be fair and honest - all of which were hard to do with a father who was filled with anger and cruelty.
His father had grown up in Philadelphia, girdled in a wealthy family with nine other children. He was the fifth child, born to a house and a father who ruled with an iron hand. His mother was an apathetic woman whose main concern was a social life that kept her busy with grand teas, courtly balls, and elegant dinner parties. Neither the oldest nor the youngest, Roger's father was a forgotten child-even the two nannies ignored him. Except by the father's explosive temper-which was usually directed at the children as a group-he was pretty much disregarded.
But there had been a sister, Judith, two years older than Roger's father, who had taken the neglected child into her care. It happened when the two were six and eight years old, and he reveled in the attention. He grew to adore this older sister who loved him, watched out for him, and sheltered him from their father's tirades. She gave him the attention he had always craved, so he was devastated and lost when she died at the tender age of twelve after falling from a tree she'd been climbing.
When Roger was old enough to understand, his mother recounted his father's history, explaining that this was why his father acted the way he did, and although it gave Roger a degree of pity for his father, it didn't really detract from his feeling of resentfulness. At times, in fact, it made Roger, an only child, angrier that his father had grown up with such distant and angry parents, and yet was not empathetic enough to be a compassionate, loving parent himself.
As he entered the apartment he flicked on the lights, which he had remembered to turn off at the beginning of the air raid. Only once had he forgotten to turn the lights out during a raid, and had gotten into a lot of trouble with the street's air-raid warden. A lone, lighted window could be seen by the Luftwaffe's pilots at great heights and used as a target, but worse, if many windows were lighted, the pilots could get a better sense of where they were over London, and hit more strategic targets. So it was imperative that everyone block their windows or turn off their lights during a raid.
He flicked on the walnut-encased radio. The station it was set to was in the middle of playing a popular tune by Vera Lynn called "The White Cliffs of Dover." He sang along with her, and thought about the song's positive outlook on the war. How it looked towards a better tomorrow, when the world was free.
How optimistic the English are, Roger thought to himself. It was all over the papers how dire their situation was, and yet, in the face of the nightly blitzes and the ongoing war against Hitler, the common person on the street still walked around whistling, the women did their gossiping and laughing, and handsome young men in uniforms walked around joking with their mates.
Roger walked through his spacious living room, maneuvering his way through the large sofa, table, and love seat ensemble that sat in the middle of the room. He picked up and glanced at the previous day's London Times, which rested on one of the two overstuffed chairs in front of the fireplace, then neatly folded it and placed it on his round Chippendale table.
He walked to a small table with a vase-like lamp and flicked it on, further illuminating the walls, tastefully papered with a muted beige pattern. The light from this lamp gave the room a warm, yellowish glow regardless of the time of day or night, and Roger had always appreciated its beauty. On the wall full of shelves, his eye fell on an oval framed photograph of his mother, who had been taken from him far too early. He loved this photo, and believed it to be the only one to fully reflect his mother's beauty. It was nestled among the many books and other photos of his family and friends that populated the bookcase. He picked up an empty water glass he had left on the bookcase the night before and headed into the small kitchenette with its long counter and glass-paned cabinets, which always reminded him of the ones at his family's summerhouse on Cape Cod. He had considered using tape on the cabinets at one point-no sense in having that much glass flying around if a bomb exploded nearby-but he decided they looked too nice to tape up.
He placed the glass in the empty sink, and passed through the small door at the back of the kitchen that led to his den. The den had once been a servant's quarter, but now housed more of Roger's books and photographs. Roger pushed the chair further under the desk that sat against the wall, walked over to the den's large, overstuffed leather chair, and fluffed the pillow that sat upon it. The den opened into his bedroom. Roger always appreciated the fact that the apartment was a full circle. If one went the other way, starting once again from the sitting room, they would enter a short hallway that started from the living room, and ran the length of the apartment. The first door led to the water closet, one of Roger's favorite rooms because he loved its oversized bathtub, which took an impressive twenty minutes to fill. Then down to the end, where again one entered the second door into his bedroom.
Roger opened the door from the den into the bedroom, its walls painted dark burgundy with moss-green accents; the effect one of refined and gentlemanly taste. He picked up the unused pajama bottoms from the night before, which were draped over the chair by the door, and tossed them into the closet, from which he pulled a gray flannel suit, a shirt, and a matching tie. He gently placed these on the huge, thick sleigh bed that had been left by the previous tenant-probably because it was impossible to get through the doors, and God only knew how they had gotten it through in the first place. He had bought the bed's thick, tartan blankets on a trip to Scotland shortly after coming to England. It was a handsome apartment, which those few who had ever seen it called charming. A cleaning woman came twice a week, but Roger usually kept the place neat and organized.
He gave himself a quick wash, got dressed, and was out by the time the sun was peaking over the skyline. Because of the smoke and dust that was hurled into the air, the sunrises over London were beautiful after air raids, and this morning's sunrise was spectacular, with orange and violet drifts of clouds. The only mar was when he turned to the opposite direction of the sunrise, where a number of small ominous columns of smoke rose into the sky. Nevertheless, Roger thought, it looked as if, once the dust and ash settled a bit, it was going to be a crisp and sunny February day.
His morning routine was uninterrupted. He bought his London Times from the boy at the corner and didn't have to wait long for a passing cab to pick him up. He began reading the newspaper, spreading it out over the roomy back seat of the cab. The headline announced that England's supply line was drastically in peril due to the Nazis' constant sinking of Britain's merchant ships, which took down with them their precious cargo.
Because of the fires raging in White Hall from the previous night's bombing, his cab ride to the embassy at Grosvenor Square took longer than usual. Roger didn't mind, though, because it afforded him the chance to read more of the morning's paper. The eastern sky was bright, almost sunny, as he paid the driver and jumped out of the cab. As it drove away, he turned to look up at the heavy, yet delicately ornate exterior of the Annex, which the English had given the Americans shortly after the start of the war. It was called the Annex because it sat away from the rest of the Embassy's compound at the Court of St. James and having been built originally as a bank, contained fortified walls, strongholds, and vaults that made for safe places during air raids. It reminded Roger of Washington's National Archives Building, upon whose steps he'd sometimes sat and read, and where he gained an appreciation of that structure's resonating sense of protection and security. The Annex now gave him the same feeling, and he liked it. Nodding to the marines at the gate and flashing his identification tag, Roger walked up the twenty-three stone steps (he had counted them many times) that ran the length of the building, and entered the marbleized sanctum of the large foyer. He was halfway up the grand marble stairway when he heard his name being called.
"Mr. Mathews!" the voice of the young woman softly echoed from the walls of the foyer. It was Judith Feniway, secretary to the Embassy's Chief of Staff. He had known Judy since long before the war, their parents having been acquaintances back in Boston, and so Roger had met her at a number of social events of Boston's elite. He waited on the landing for her to climb the polished stairs and catch up with him.
"Judy, good morning," he said, smiling genuinely as she walked up the last three stairs. "Glad to see you've survived another one of Hitler's attacks."
"Barely," pushing a lock of blond hair behind her ear. "The building right across the street from mine took a direct hit, and killed a family of six. I had become friends with the eldest daughter and had spoken to her on a number of occasions. It's just so tragic, Roger. I don't know why they hadn't gone to the Underground."
"Judy, I'm sorry." Roger was clearly concerned.
"I wish they'd hurry up and end this thing," she whispered as they started climbing the stairs. "Or at least maybe we could enter the war and help the English end it sooner." Their conversation was being underscored by an ambulance's wailing siren in the distance.
"Well, at least we're helping as best we can without getting into the war," Roger said as they stopped at the banister at the top of the stairs. Roger followed Judy's gaze to a shaft of dust-filled sunlight that fell on a fern at the top of the landing. Roger, too, became mesmerized by the sunlight but pulled out of it after a few seconds of silence.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine, thanks, Roger. Chief of Staff Peligro wants you to be in on a meeting this afternoon. It's about the recent work you've been doing, so you might want to bring your files and do your homework," she smiled. "It's at the British Admiralty Building at three thirty, and you'll be riding in the Chief of Staff's car for a pre-meeting briefing at three o'clock." She started back down the stairs.
"Thanks, Judy. I'll be ready," turning and heading toward his office.
Peligro was the embassy's Chief of Staff, and Roger was titillated by being asked to join such a high-ranking meeting. The Admiralty was the nerve center of the English Navy, and anything taking place there was of the utmost importance.
As he walked the maze of corridors and hallways to his office, Roger reviewed the year that had passed since he had arrived at the embassy, and how quickly things had moved along for him. Upon assuming his duties, he'd been immediately put to work with members of His Majesty's Government, along with a few select members of the State Department and U.S. military, to finish an assessment of Germany's use of encryption devices and the various tools the Nazis were using to send and receive coded messages. Working at the very secretive British Cryptanalytic Department at Bletchley Park, he was introduced to Alan Turing, the English mathematical genius working on solving the Enigma machine, which was being used to put the Nazis' secret messages into codes. The Enigma machine had become Alan's life by then, and it soon became Roger's, too.
Their relationship became very close, with Alan adoring Roger, the handsome young American, as Roger was attracted to Alan's genius and impishly youthful looks. It was known amongst certain sets in London that Alan was a homosexual, but Alan didn't care much what others thought of him. Roger, on the other hand, felt the need to be very secretive about how things looked from the outside. Alan obliged Roger's request for secrecy, and their relationship from the outside took the facade of a good working alliance; yet for the three weeks they had been together, they were very much a couple. Roger looked back on that time as one of those relationships hard to place on the continuum between friendship and love. At least on the friendship level, they had, indeed, loved each other very much, and there had also been a lot of physicality, which made it fun and sexually gratifying. As quickly as they had fallen into this loving friendship they fell out of it, but on the best of terms.
It was a healthy changeover, Roger thought as he instinctively stooped to help a secretary pick up some papers she had dropped in the hallway. He smiled as she thanked him, and he continued on towards his office. He marveled that he and Alan continued to have the strongest of friendships-either man would do anything for the other.
As Roger entered his office, he stopped to look around at the books and files that occupied the space he had moved into a year earlier, papers that related the history of the infamous Enigma machine. It was used not only to put messages into secret code, but could also be used to decode messages as well. The Germans had been using the Enigma machine in one form or another for over ten years. It was, in principle, a rather simple device, but one wrought with intense internal complexity, and one whose output was bewildering, to say the least. It contained "rotors" that moved a notch with each character entered and assigned that character its own code letter. Put simply, each of the Enigma's circular rotors had twenty-six characters, and each time a character was assigned a code letter, one of its rotors would turn 1/26th of a notch before assigning the next code letter. The result of this was that, even if the letter "a" appeared twice in the same word, neither "a" would have the same corresponding code letter.
The English didn't have the time or resources it would take to try each possible permutation of the code. But neither had Poland in the years leading up to the war, and yet they had discovered a way to break the Nazis' earlier codes. What the Poles found useful was a mathematical system called permutation theory which reduced this time to a more realistic schedule. Poland's move to break the code had come in response to a little-known man named Adolph Hitler, who had just been elected to office, but who in 1933 quickly seized control of the German government and began pushing his military leaders to develop treaty-breaking militaristic might. As the thirties wore on, the Reichstag began making menacing threats to the Polish government.
In 1939 the Poles, using decoded messages, knew they were about to be invaded by the Nazis, and arranged a secret meeting with British Intelligence. They surprised the British by handing over all of the Enigma equipment and information they possessed. In turning over its knowledge of the Enigma machine, Poland gave the English a greatly needed head start. No one knew it at the time, but the Nazis, with the addition of three new rotors, had just vastly improved the Enigma machine. This would bring the number of rotors to five, rendering the Enigma's codes almost unbreakable.
Since then, the English had been urgently trying to break the codes. On top of almost daily blitzes from the Luftwaffe, the German Navy was torpedoing Britain's merchant ships at a perilous rate. England's plight was desperate, and it would be only a matter of months before it would run out of supplies. That's what was driving the deciphering efforts at Bletchley Park, and what was motivating this group of Englishmen and Americans through every waking hour.
Roger thought about his admiration for Alan, who was more than a mathematician, he was a philosopher-a combination that made him a fascinating person to be around. Roger loved to listen to Alan's lengthy dissertations about the world, his thoughts on life and death and the internal mechanisms of the universe. Alan would go into lengthy discourses about the future and the wondrous things it would bring. Like machines that would eventually think and perform computations and tasks at speeds not unlike those of the human brain.
But these other interests were now secondary, and Alan, who had already done major work on cracking the Enigma's previous codes, was currently working on a more formidable problem. Bletchley Park had recently turned its attention to the German Navy's development of a stricter Enigma code that was proving almost impossible to break. It was this new coding method that was causing the British to steer their merchant ships straight into the paths of waiting German U-boats. If this new code wasn't broken soon, England could well lose the war. Without England to worry about, the Nazis would easily conquer the rest of Europe, including the Soviet Union, and become the largest and most powerful nation on the planet. Alan was heading a team that was close to breaking the German Navy's stricter encoding methods, but the final key was proving elusive and obtuse.
As Roger sat at his desk, his mind quickly turned to what he might need at today's meeting. Being called to join a meeting at the British Admiralty was no small thing. He had labored greatly to get to this point in his life, and always worked harder than most. Maybe it was his own homosexuality, and the internalized struggles caused by a society set against the love of two people of the same sex that drove him-and not by coincidence a drive possessed by other gays Roger knew-to stay one step ahead of his peers.
Getting up, he passed through the very narrow suite he shared with his secretary, Elizabeth. He went past her neat desk, opened a file cabinet and pulled out their master file, then headed back to his own desk, which sat under a very large window. Roger liked a lot of light, and usually kept the shades drawn open, even when the sun splashed blindingly across his desk. This always reminded him of when he was first assigned Elizabeth.
He had already been at the embassy a few days, and was in his office with his back to the door when he heard a raspy voice say, "Your papers are all going to turn yellow with all that sunlight on 'em." It was Elizabeth, with a deep London accent to boot. He swiveled around to see the short, white-haired lady standing at his doorway. He told her he liked things with an historical look, to which she replied that he'd then like having her around, which made them both laugh, and since then they had been good friends. Elizabeth was smart, but more importantly intelligent, and although she had never gone to Oxford, she exhibited a sophisticated view of the world and was able to analyze problems using an amazing knowledge of facts and figures. She was also very faithful to Roger in a maternal way and on occasion had gone out of her way for him. She mothered him, and he treated her as he would have treated his own mother.
He sat down and began a list of what documents he'd need to bring to the afternoon's meeting. It was still early, but already the sound of typewriters and voices could be heard filtering into the hallways. Although working at the embassy was a job, both American and English staffers knew that somewhere at that very moment, there were brave men who were doing the actual fighting and dying in this war. So coming in early and staying late, working at home, and donating their time to war drives was their way of supporting the war effort.
Elizabeth came in wearing her customary brown "uniform," which always reminded Roger of an outfit that would have been worn by a headmistress of a reformatory school. But like most English women working jointly for the U.S. and British governments, she wore her uniform proudly. She went to work without so much as a word, and was in his office in ten minutes, carrying several folders under her left arm.
"Good morning, Mr. Mathews. I trust you slept well?" This was a private joke between the two, as few Londoners slept at all during bombing raids.
"Slept like a baby," he grinned, not removing his eyes from the paper he was writing on. He dotted a period and handed the sheet to Elizabeth.
"Elizabeth, I've been asked to attend a meeting at the Admiralty, and have been told to prepare for it." He raised his face now to look at her and hand her the sheet he'd been writing on. "I'll need the following papers and files before three o'clock."
She took the list with her right hand, examined it, and placed the files she was holding on his desk.
"Here are all of 'em, except the Coding file, which we don't have because it's still with the Department of Navy. I'll have it here by two o'clock." She started to walk out of his office when Roger started to say something, and she cut him off as she continued walking, "I know, I know, I bumped into Ms. Feniway. She told me."
He smiled at the now empty doorway, and went back to his preparations. He was both elated and nervous at having been asked to join this meeting. He couldn't wait to wire his father about it, and only wished he could see the old bastard's face when he read it. Ever since he was a boy, he had succeeded at almost everything he touched and yet nothing was good enough for his father. It wasn't really that his father thought he could do better, only that he thought Roger never really did well enough. But this, this taking part in a meeting at the Admiralty on such a highly significant matter, certainly should impress the old man.
Roger was at the office of the Chief of Staff shortly before three that afternoon. He had met Mr. Peligro several times, and given him a number of briefings on the Enigma machine. He was shown into the large office where Mr. Peligro was seated at his desk. Another man was seated in one of two low, sunken armchairs that were situated across from the desk, both men were silhouetted by large windows that took up half the room and framed by heavy moss-colored curtains.
"Roger, how are you?" Peligro greeted him, rising and shaking Roger's hand from behind his desk. "I'd like you to meet Milton Pomboi of the FBI," he motioned to the middle-aged man who was now moving to a standing position. Roger shook Pomboi's limp hand and looked into the stony face of age-worn arrogance, but also an undeniable intelligence. Pomboi looked older than his age, and his face had many wrinkles caused, Roger assumed, by a lifetime of pure career-mindedness and daily doses of cigarettes and cheap gin.
"Good to meet you," Pomboi said, with so little sincerity that nothing on his face moved but his mouth.
"Let's get going, we'll explain a bit of what's going on in the car," Peligro said putting on his coat.
The ride to the Admiralty Building was not a long one, and the Embassy's Chief of Staff didn't need that much time anyway.
"Roger, we're meeting with the British on something that you will be involved in-Milton, can you explain?"
"Well, Mr. Mathews," Pomboi began, "we can't go into great detail now, but let me just say that the British are in a position where they will do almost anything to break the Enigma codes. I'm sure you saw this morning's London Times?"
"Why, yes," Roger answered, "that if the tonnage of lost supplies because of merchant ships being torpedoed continues at this rate, England has only about seven months beforeâ€¦ beforeâ€¦"
"Before it must throw in the towel and negotiate a separate peace," Pomboi finished, his yellowish fingers lighting a cigarette. "I'm glad you understand the gravity of their situation, Mr. Mathews. Keep that in mind when we meet with them in a few minutes." It was then that Roger noticed that Pomboi had a slight accent, but because it was so slight, he couldn't tell what kind of accent, though certainly European.
"Can I ask, sir," Roger said, turning now towards Mr. Peligro, "what my involvement might be in this matter other than supplying information on Enigma?" He was now somewhat bewildered and just barely covering his intimidation by the FBI agent. Pomboi put him on edge, and Roger was trying everything he had not to stammer, or say something stupid.
"You can ask," Peligro responded, "but your answer won't really come until we're in the meeting." Roger nodded and turned to the window, watching the city pass as the car neared the Admiralty Building, looming in the distance, its facade oddly lit in the rare February sunlight.