Even in the blackout you could sense the size of the place. The mansion was still the same, and so were the huts, but these were now just a fraction of the overall site. Stretching away beyond them was a great factory of intelligence: low, brick-built offices and bombproof bunkers of concrete and steel, A-Blocks and B-Blocks and C-Blocks, tunnels and shelters and guard posts and garages… There was a big military camp just beyond the wire. The barrels of anti-aircraft batteries poked through camouflaged netting in the nearby woods. And more buildings were under construction. There had never been a day when Jericho hadn’t heard the racket of mechanical diggers and cement mixers, the ringing of pickaxes and the splintering of falling trees. Once, just before he left, he had paced out the distance from the new assembly hall to the far perimeter fence and had reckoned it at half a mile. What was it all for? He had no idea. Sometimes he thought they must be monitoring every radio transmission on the planet.
Leveret drove the Rover slowly past the darkened mansion, past the tennis court and the generators, and drew up a short distance from the huts.
Jericho clambered stiffly from the back seat. His legs had gone to sleep and the sensation of the blood returning made his knees buckle. He leaned against the side of the car. His right shoulder was rigid with cold. A duck splashed somewhere on the lake and its cry made him think of Cambridge – of his warm bed and his crosswords – and he had to shake his head to clear the memory.
Logie was explaining to him that he had a choice: Leveret could take him over to his new digs and he could have a decent night’s kip, or he could come in straight away and take a look at things immediately.
‘Why don’t we start now?’ said Jericho. His re-entry into the hut would be an ordeal. He’d prefer to get it over with.
‘That’s the spirit, old love. Leveret will look after your cases, won’t you, Leveret? And take them to Mr Jericho’s room?’
‘Yes, sir.’ Leveret looked at Jericho for a moment, then stuck out his hand. ‘Good luck, sir.’
Jericho took it. The solemnity surprised him. Anyone would think he was about to make a parachute jump into hostile territory. He tried to think of something to say. ‘Thank you very much for driving us.’
Logie was fiddling with Leveret’s blackout torch. ‘What the hell’s wrong with this thing?’ He knocked it against his palm. ‘Bloody thing. Oh, sod it. Come on.’
He strode away on his long legs and after a moment’s hesitation Jericho wrapped his scarf tight around his neck and followed. In the darkness they had to feel their way along the blastproof wall surrounding Hut 8. Logie banged into what sounded like a bicycle and Jericho heard him swear. He dropped the torch. The impact made it come on. A trickle of light revealed the entrance to the hut. There was a smell of lime and damp here – lime and damp and creosote: the odours of Jericho’s war. Logie rattled the handle, the door opened and they stepped into the dim glow.
Because he had changed so much in the month he had been away, somehow – illogically – he had expected that the hut would have changed as well. Instead, the instant he crossed the threshold, the familiarity of it almost overwhelmed him. It was like a recurrent dream in which the horror lay in knowing precisely what would happen next – the certainty that it always had been, and always would be, exactly like this.
A narrow, ill-lit corridor, perhaps twenty yards long, stretched in front of him, with a dozen doors leading off it. The wooden partitions were flimsy and the noise of a hundred people working at full stretch leaked from room to room – the clump and thud of boots and shoes on the bare boards, the hum of conversation, the occasional shout, the scrape of chair legs, the ringing of telephones, the clack clack clack of the Type-X machines in the Decoding Room.
The only tiny difference was that the walk-in cupboard on the right, immediately next to the entrance, now had a nameplate on it: ‘Lt. Kramer US Navy Liaison Officer’.
Familiar faces loomed towards him. Kingcome and Proudfoot were whispering together outside the Catalogue Room and drew back to let him pass. He nodded to them. They nodded in return but didn’t speak. Atwood hurried out of the Crib Room, saw Jericho, gawped, then put his head down. He muttered, ‘Hello, Tom,’ then almost ran towards Research.
Clearly, nobody had ever expected to see him again. He was an embarrassment. A dead man. A ghost.
Logie was oblivious, both to the general astonishment and to Jericho’s discomfort. ‘Hello, everybody.’ He waved to Atwood. ‘Hello, Frank. Look who’s back! The prodigal returns! Give them a smile, Tom, old thing, it’s not a ruddy funeral. Not yet, anyway.’ He stopped outside his office and fiddled with his key for half a minute, then discovered the door was unlocked. ‘Come in, come in.’
The room was scarcely bigger than a broom store. It had been Turing’s cubbyhole until just before the break into Shark, when Turing had been sent to America. Now Logie had it – his tiny perquisite of rank – and he looked absurdly huge as he bent over his desk, like an adult poking around in a child’s den. There was a fireproof safe in one corner, leaking intercepts, and a rubbish bin labelled CONFIDENTIAL WASTE. There was a telephone with a red handset. Paper was everywhere – on the floor, on the table, on the top of the radiator where it had baked crisp and yellow, in wire baskets and in box files, in tall stacks and in piles that had subsided into fans.
‘Bugger, bugger, bugger.’ Logie had a message slip in his hands and was frowning at it. He took his pipe out of his pocket and chewed on the stem. He seemed to have forgotten Jericho’s presence until Jericho coughed to remind him.
‘What? Oh. Sorry, old love.’ He traced the words of the message with his pipe. ‘The Admiralty’s a bit exercised, apparently. Conference in A-Block at eight o’clock with Navy brass up from Whitehall. Want to know the score. Skynner’s in a spin and demands to see me forthwith. Bugger, bugger.’
‘Does Skynner know I’m back?’ Skynner was the head of Bletchley’s Naval Section. He’d never cared for Jericho, probably because Jericho had never concealed his opinion of him: that he was a bombast and a bully whose chief war aim was to greet the peace as Sir Leonard Skynner, OBE, with a seat on the Security Executive and a lease on an Oxford mastership. Jericho had a vague memory of actually telling Skynner some of this, or all of it, or possibly more, shortly before he was sent back to Cambridge to recover his senses.
‘Of course he knows you’re back, old thing. I had to clear it with him first.’
‘And he doesn’t mind?’
‘Mind? No. ‘The man’s desperate. He’d do anything to get back into Shark.’ Logie added quickly: ‘Sorry, I don’t mean… that’s not to say that bringing you back is an act of desperation. Only, well, you know…’ He sat down heavily and looked again at the message. He rattled his pipe against his worn yellow teeth. ‘Bugger, bugger, bugger’
Looking at him then it occurred to Jericho that he knew almost nothing about Logie. They had worked together for two years, would regard themselves as friends, yet they’d never had a proper conversation. He didn’t know if Logie was married, or if he had a girl.
‘I’d better go and see him, I suppose. Excuse me, old love.’
Logie squeezed past his desk and shouted down the corridor: ‘Puck!’ Jericho could hear the cry being taken up somewhere in the recesses of the hut by another voice. ‘Puck!’ And then another: ‘Puck! Puck!’
Logie ducked his head back into the office. ‘One analyst per shift co-ordinates the Shark attack. Puck this shift, Baxter next, then Pettifer.’ His head disappeared again. ‘Ah-ha, here he comes. Come on, old thing. Look alive. I’ve a surprise for you. See who’s in here.’
‘So there you are, my dear Guy,’ came a familiar voice from the corridor. ‘Nobody knew where to find you.’
Adam Pukowski slid his lithe frame past Logie, saw Jericho and stopped dead. He was genuinely shocked. Jericho could almost see his mind struggling to regain control of his features, forcing his famous smile back on to his face. At last he managed it. He even threw his arms round Jericho and hugged him. ‘Tom, it’s… I had begun to think you were never returning. It’s marvellous.’
‘It’s good to see you again, Puck.’ Jericho patted him politely on the back.
Puck was their mascot, their touch of glamour, their link with the adventure of war. He had arrived in the first week to brief them on the Polish bombe, then flown back to Poland. When Poland fell he had fled to France, and when France collapsed he had escaped across the Pyrenees. Romantic stories clustered around him: that he had hidden from the Germans in a goatherd’s cottage, that he had smuggled himself aboard a Portuguese steamer and ordered the captain to sail to England at pistol-point. When he had popped up again in Bletchley in the winter of 1940 it was Pinker, the Shakespearian, who had shortened his name to Puck (‘that merry wanderer of the night’). His mother was British, which explained his almost perfect English, distinctive only because he pronounced it so carefully.
‘You have come to give us assistance?’
‘So it seems.’ He shyly disengaged himself from Puck’s embrace. ‘For what it’s worth.’
‘Splendid, splendid.’ Logie regarded them fondly for a moment, then began rummaging among the litter on his desk. ‘Now where is that thing? It was here this morning’
Puck nodded at Logie’s back and whispered: ‘Do you see, Tom? As organised as ever.’
‘Now, now, Puck, I heard that. Let me see. Is this it? No. Yes. Yes!’
He turned and handed Jericho a typewritten document, officially stamped and headed ‘By Order of the War Office’. It was a billeting notice, served on a Mrs Ethel Armstrong, entitling Jericho to lodgings in the Commercial Guesthouse, Albion Street, Bletchley.
I’m afraid I don’t know what it’s like, old thing. Best I could do.’
‘I’m sure it’s fine.’ Jericho folded the chit and stuffed it into his pocket. Actually, he was quite sure it warn’t fine – the last decent rooms in Bletchley had disappeared three years ago, and people now had to travel in from as far away as Bedford, twenty miles distant – but what was the point in complaining? On past experience he wouldn’t be using the room much anyway, except to sleep in.
‘Now don’t you go exhausting yourself, my boy,’ said Logie. ‘We don’t expect you to work a full shift. Nothing like that. You just come and go as you please. What we want from you is what you gave us last time. Insight. Inspiration. Spotting that something we’ve all missed. Isn’t that so, Puck?’
‘Absolutely.’ His handsome face was more haggard than Jericho had ever seen it, more tired even than Logie’s. ‘God knows, Tom, we are certainly up against it.’
‘I take it then we’re no further forward?’ said Logie. ‘No good news I can give our lord and master?’
Puck shook his head.
‘Not even a glimmer?’
‘Not even that.’
‘No. Well, why should there be? Damn bloody admirals! Logie screwed up the message slip, aimed it at his rubbish bin and missed. ‘I’d show you round myself, Tom, but the Skynner waits for no man, as you’ll recall. All right with you, Puck? Give him the grand tour?’
‘Of course, Guy. As you wish.’
Logie ushered them out into the passage and tried to lock the door, then gave up on it. As he turned he opened his mouth and Jericho nerved himself for one of Logie’s excruciating housemaster’s pep talks -something about innocent lives depending on them, and the need for them to do their best, and the race being not to the swift nor the battle to the strong (he had actually said this once) – but instead his mouth just widened into a yawn.
‘Oh, dear. Sorry, old thing. Sorry.’
He shuffled off down the corridor, patting his pockets to make sure he had his pipe and tobacco pouch. They heard him mutter again, something about ‘bloody admirals’, and he was gone.
Hut 8 was thirty-five yards long by ten wide and Jericho could have toured it in his sleep, probably had toured it in his sleep, for all he knew. The outside walls were thin and the damp from the lake seemed to rise through the floorboards so that at night the rooms were chilly, cast in a sepia glow by bare, low-wattage bulbs. The furniture was mostly trestle tables and folding wooden chairs. It reminded Jericho of a church hall on a winter’s night. All that was missing was a badly tuned piano and somebody thumping out ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.
It was laid out like an assembly line, the main stage in a process that originated somewhere far out in the darkness, maybe two thousand miles away, when the grey hull of a U-boat rose close to the surface and squirted off a radio message to its controllers. The signals were intercepted at various listening-posts and teleprintered to Bletchley and within ten minutes of transmission, even as the U-boats were preparing to dive, they were emerging via a tunnel into Hut 8’s Registration Room. Jericho helped himself to the contents of a wire basket labelled ‘Shark’ and carried them to the nearest light. The hours immediately after midnight were usually the busiest time. Sure enough, six messages had been intercepted in the last eighteen minutes. Three consisted of just eight letters: he guessed they were weather reports. Even the longest of the other cryptograms was no more than a couple of dozen four-letter groups:
JRLO GOPL DNRZ LOBT –
Puck made a weary face at him, as if to say: What can you do?
Jericho said: ‘What’s the volume?’
‘It varies. One hundred and fifty, perhaps two hundred messages a day. And rising.’
The Registration Room didn’t just handle Shark. There was Porpoise and Dolphin and all the other different Enigma keys to log and then pass across the corridor to the Crib Room. Here, the cribsters sifted them for clues – radio station call signs they recognised (Kiel was JDU, for example, Wilhelmshaven KYU), messages whose contents they could guess at, or cryptograms that had already been enciphered in one key and then retransmitted in another (they marked these ‘XX’ and called them ‘kisses’). Atwood was the champion cribster and the Wrens said cattily behind his back that these were the only kisses he had ever had.
It was in the big room next door – which they called, with their solemn humour, the Big Room -that the cryptanalysts used the cribs to construct possible solutions that could be tested on the bombes. Jericho took in the rickety tables, the hard chairs, the weak lighting, the fug of tobacco, the college-library atmosphere, the night chill (most of the cryptanalysts were wearing coats and mittens) and he wondered why – why? – he had been so ready to come back. Kingcome and Proudfoot were there, and Upjohn and Pinker and de Brooke, and maybe half a dozen newcomers whose faces he didn’t recognise, including one young man sitting bold as you please in the seat which had once been reserved for Jericho. The tables were stacked with cryptograms, like ballot papers at an election count.
Puck was muttering something about back-breaks but Jericho, fascinated by the sight of someone else in his place, lost track and had to interrupt him. ‘I’m sorry, Puck. What was that?’
‘I was saying that from twenty minutes ago we are up to date. Shark is now fully read to the point of the code change. So that there is nothing left to us. Except history.’ He gave a weak smile and patted Jericho’s shoulder. ‘Come. I’ll show you.’
When a cryptanalyst believed he’d glimpsed a possible break into a message, his guess was sent out of the hut to be tested on a bombe. And if he’d been skilful enough, or lucky enough, then in an hour, or a day, the bombe would churn through a million permutations and reveal how the Enigma machine had been set up. That information was relayed back from the bombe bays to the Decoding Room.
Because of its noise, the Decoding Room was tucked away at the far end of the hut. Personally, Jericho liked the clatter. It was the sound of success. His worst memories were of the nights when the building was silent. A dozen British Type-X enciphering machines had been modified to mimic the actions of the German Enigma. They were big, cumbersome devices -typewriters with rotors, a plugboard and a cylinder – at which sat young and well-groomed debutantes.
Baxter, who was the hut’s resident Marxist, had a theory that Bletchley’s workforce (which was mainly female) was arranged in what he called ‘a paradigm of the English class system’. The wireless interceptors, shivering in their coastal radio stations, were generally working-class and laboured in ignorance of the Enigma secret. The bombe operators, who worked in the grounds of some nearby country houses and in a big new installation just outside London, were petit-bourgeois and had a vague idea. And the Decoding Room girls, in the heart of the Park, were mostly upper-middle-class, even aristocratic, and they saw it all – the secrets literally passed through their fingers. They typed out the letters of the original cryptogram, and from the cylinder on the right of the Type-X a strip of sticky-backed paper, the sort you saw gummed down on telegram forms, slowly emerged, bearing the decrypted plaintext.
‘Those three are doing Dolphin,’ said Puck, pointing across the room, ‘and the two by the door are just starting on Porpoise. And this charming young lady here, I believe’ – he bowed to her – ‘has Shark. May we?’
She was young, about eighteen, with curly red hair and wide hazel eyes. She looked up and smiled at him, a dazzling Tatler smile, and he leaned across her and began uncoiling the strip of tape from the cylinder. Jericho noticed as he did so that he left one hand resting casually on her shoulder, just as simply as that, and he thought how much he envied Puck the ease of that gesture. It would have taken him a week to pluck up the nerve. Puck beckoned him down to read the decrypt.
VONSCHULZEQU8 8521DAMPFER1TANKERWAHRSCHEINLICHAM6 3TANKERFACKEL…
Jericho ran his finger along it, separating the words and translating it in his mind: U-boat commander von Schulze was in grid square 8852 and had sunk one steamship (for certain) and one tanker (probably) and had set one other tanker on fire…
‘What date is this?’
‘You can see it there,’ said Puck. ‘Sechs drei. The sixth of March. We’ve broken everything from this week up to the code change on Wednesday night, so now we go back and pick up the intercepts we missed earlier in the month. This is – what? – six days old. Herr Kapitan von Schulze may be five hundred miles away by now. It is of academic interest only, I fear.’
‘Poor devils,’ said Jericho, passing his finger along the tape for a second time. IDAMPFERITANKER… What freezing and drowning and burning were concentrated in that one line! What were the ships called, he wondered, and had the families of the crews been told?
‘We have approximately a further eighty messages from the sixth still to run through the Type-Xs. I shall put two more operators on to it. A couple of hours and we should be finished.’
‘And then what?’
‘Then, my dear Tom? Then I suppose we shall make a start on back-breaks from February. But that barely qualifies even as history. February? February in the Atlantic? Archaeology!’
‘Any progress on the four-wheel bombe?’
Puck shook his head. ‘First, it is impossible. It is out of the question. Then there is a design, but the design is theoretical nonsense. Then there is a design that should work, but doesn’t. Then there is a shortage of materials. Then there is a shortage of engineers…’ He made a weary gesture with his hand, as if he were pushing it all out of the way.
‘Has anything else changed?’
‘Nothing that affects us. According to the direction finders, U-boat HQ has moved from Paris to Berlin. They have some wonderful new transmitter at Magdeburg they say will reach a U-boat forty-five feet under water at a range of two thousand miles.,’
Jericho murmured: ‘How very ingenious of them.’
The red-headed girl had finished deciphering the message. She tore off the tape, stuck it on the back of the cryptogram and handed it to another girl, who rushed out of the room. Now it would be turned into recognisable English and teleprintered to the Admiralty.
Puck touched Jericho’s arm. ‘You must be tired. Why don’t you go now and rest?’
But Jericho didn’t feel like sleeping. ‘I’d like to see all the Shark traffic we haven’t been able to break. Everything since midnight on Wednesday.’
Puck gave a puzzled smile. ‘Why? There’s nothing you can do with it.’
‘Maybe so. But I’d like to see it.’
‘I don’t know.’ Jericho shrugged. ‘Just to handle it. To get a feel of it. I’ve been out of the game for a month.’
‘You think we may have missed something, perhaps?’
‘Not at all. But Logie has asked me.’
‘Ah yes. The celebrated Jericho “inspiration” and “intuition”.’ Puck couldn’t conceal his irritation. ‘And so from science and logic we descend to superstition and “feelings”.’
‘For heaven’s sake, Puck!’ Jericho was starting to become annoyed himself. ‘Just humour me, if that’s how you prefer to look at it.’
Puck glared at him for a moment, and then, as quickly as they had arisen, the clouds seemed to pass. ‘Of course.’ He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. ‘You must see it all. Forgive me. I’m tired. We’re all tired.’
Five minutes later, when Jericho walked into the Big Room carrying the folder of Shark cryptograms, he found his old seat had been vacated. Someone had also laid out in his place a new pile of jotting paper and three freshly sharpened pencils. He looked around, but nobody seemed to be paying him any attention.
He laid the intercepts out on the table. He loosened his scarf. He felt the radiator – as ever, it was lukewarm. He blew some warmth on to his hands and sat down.
He was back.