4

Daylight diminished the huts.

The blackout had touched them with a certain mystery but the morning showed them up for what they were: squat and ugly, with brown walls and tarred roofs and a premature air of dereliction. Above the mansion, the sky was glossy white with streaks of grey, a dome of polished marble. A duck in drab winter plumage waddled across the path from the lake looking for food, and Logie almost kicked it as he strode past, sending it protesting back to the water.

He had not been in the least perturbed to find Jericho in his office and Jericho’s carefully prepared excuse – that he was returning the Shark intercepts had been waved away.

‘Just dump ’em in the Crib Room and come with me.’

Drawn across the northern edge of the lake, next to the huts, was A-Block, a long, two-storey affair with brick walls and a flat top. Logie led the way up a flight of concrete steps and turned right. At the far end of the corridor a door opened and Jericho heard a familiar voice booming: ‘… all our resources, human and material, into this problem…’ and then the door closed again and Baxter peered down the passage towards them.

‘So there you are. I was just coming to find you. Hello, Guy. Hello, Tom. How are you? Hardly recognised you. Upright.’ Baxter had a cigarette in his mouth and didn’t bother to remove it, so it bobbed as he spoke and sprayed ash down the front of his pullover. Before the war he had been a lecturer at the London School of Economics.

‘What have we got?’ said Logie, nodding towards the closed door.

‘Our American “lee-ay-son officer”, plus another American – some big shot from the Navy. A man in a suit – a lounge lizard from Intelligence by the look of him. Three from our Navy, of course, one of them an admiral. All up from London specially.’

‘An admiral?’ Logie’s hand went automatically to his tie and Jericho noticed he had changed into a pre-war double-breasted suit. He licked his fingers and tried to plaster down his hair. ‘I don’t like the sound of an admiral. And how’s Skynner?’

‘At the moment? I’d say heavily out-gunned.’ Baxter was staring at Jericho. The corners of his mouth twitched down briefly, the nearest Jericho had seen him come to a smile. ‘Well, well, I suppose you don’t look too bad, Tom.’

‘Now, Alec, don’t you go upsetting him.’

I’m fine, Alec, thank you. How’s the revolution?’

‘Coming along, comrade. Coming along.’

Logie patted Jericho on the arm. ‘Don’t say anything when we get inside, Tom. You’re only here for show, old love.’

Only here for show, thought Jericho, what the hell does that mean? But before he could ask, Logie had opened the door and all he could hear was Skynner -‘we must expect these setbacks from time to time’ -and they were on.

There were eight men in the room. Leonard Skynner, the head of the Naval Section, sat at one end of the table, with Atwood to his right and an empty chair to his left, which Baxter promptly reclaimed. Gathered around the other end were five officers in dark blue naval uniform, two of them American and three British. One of the British officers, a lieutenant, had an eye-patch. They looked grim.

The eighth man had his back to Jericho. He turned as they came in and Jericho briefly registered a lean face with fair hair.

Skynner stopped speaking. He stood and held out a meaty hand. ‘Come in Guy, come in Tom.’ He was a big square-faced man with thick black hair and wide bushy eyebrows that almost met above the bridge of his nose and reminded Jericho of the Morse code symbol for M. He beckoned to the newcomers eagerly, obviously thankful to see Allied reinforcements. ‘This is Guy Logie,’ he said to the admiral, ‘our chief cryptanalyst, and Tom Jericho, of whom you may have heard. Tom was instrumental in getting us into Shark just before Christmas.’

The admiral’s leathery old face was immobile. He was smoking a cigarette – they were all smoking cigarettes except for Skynner- and he regarded Jericho, as did the Americans, blankly, through a fog of tobacco, without the slightest interest. Skynner rattled off the introductions, his arm sweeping round the table like the hand of a clock. ‘This is Admiral Trowbridge. Lieutenant Cave. Lieutenant Villiers. Commander Hammerbeck -‘ the older of the two Americans nodded ‘- Lieutenant Kramer, US Navy Liaison. Mr Wigram is observing for the cabinet Office.’ Skynner gave a little bow to everybody and sat down again. He was sweating.

Jericho and Logie each collected a folding chair from a stack beside the table and took up positions next to Baxter.

Almost the whole of the wall behind the admiral was taken up by a map of the North Atlantic. Clusters of coloured discs showed the positions of Allied convoys and their escorts: yellow for the merchantmen, green for the warships. Black triangles marked the suspected whereabouts of German U-boats. Beneath the chart was a red telephone, a direct link to the Submarine Tracking Room in the basement of the Admiralty. The only other decoration on the whitewashed walls was a pair of framed photographs. One was of the King, signed, looking nervous, presented after a recent visit. The other was of Grand Admiral Karl Donitz, commander in chief of the German Navy: Skynner liked to think of himself as locked in a personal battle with the wily Hun.

Now, though, he seemed to have lost the thread of what he was saying. He sorted through his notes and in the time it took Logie and Jericho to take their places, one of the Royal Navy men – Cave, the one with the eye-patch – received a nod from the admiral and started speaking.

‘Perhaps, if you’ve finished outlining your problems, it might be helpful for us now to set out the operational situation.’ His chair scraped on the bare floor as he rose to his feet. His tone was insultingly polite. ‘The position at twenty-one hundred’

Jericho passed his hand over his unshaven chin. He couldn’t make up his mind whether to keep his overcoat on or take it off. On, he decided – the room was cold, despite the number of people in it. He undid the buttons and loosened his scarf. As he did so, he noticed the admiral watching him. They couldn’t believe it, these senior officers, whenever they came up to visit – the lack of discipline, the scarves and cardigans, the first-name terms. There was a story about Churchill, who’d visited the Park in 1941 and given a speech to the cryptanalysts on the lawn. Afterwards, as he was being driven away, he’d said to the director: ‘When I told you to leave no stone unturned recruiting for this place, I didn’t expect you to take me literally.’ Jericho smiled at the memory. The admiral glowered and flicked cigarette ash on the floor.

The one-eyed naval officer had picked up a pointer and was standing in front of the Atlantic chart, holding a sheaf of notes.

‘It must be said, unfortunately, that the news you’ve given us couldn’t have come at a worse moment. No fewer than three convoys have left the United States in the past week and are presently at sea. Convoy SC-122.’ He rapped it once with the pointer, hard, as if he had a grudge against it, and read out his notes. ‘Departed New York last Friday. Carrying fuel oil, iron ore, steel, wheat, bauxite, sugar, refrigerated meat, zinc, tobacco and tanks. Fifty merchant ships.’

Cave spoke in a clipped, metallic voice, without looking at his audience. His one good eye was fixed on the map.

‘Convoy HX-229.’ He tapped it. ‘Departed New York Monday. Forty merchant vessels. Carrying meat, explosives, lubricating oil, refrigerated dairy produce, manganese, lead, timber, phosphate, diesel oil, aviation spirit, sugar and powdered milk.’ He turned to them for the first time. The whole of the left side of his face was a mass of purple scar tissue. ‘That, I might say, is two weeks’ supply of powdered milk for the entire British Isles.’

There was some nervous laughter. ‘Better not lose that,’ joked Skynner. The laughter stopped at once. He looked so forlorn in the silence Jericho almost felt sorry for him.

Again, the pointer crashed down.

‘And Convoy HX-229A. Left New York Tuesday. Twenty-seven ships. Similar cargoes to the others. Fuel oil, aviation spirit, timber, steel, naval diesel, meat, sugar, wheat, explosives. Three convoys. A total of one hundred and seventeen merchant ships, with a gross registered tonnage of just under one million tons, plus cargo of another million.’

One of the Americans – it was the senior one, Hammerbeck – raised his hand. ‘How many men involved?’

‘Nine thousand merchant seamen. One thousand passengers.’

‘Who are the passengers?’

‘Mainly servicemen. Some ladies from the American Red Cross. Quite a lot of children. A party of Catholic missionaries, curiously enough.’

‘Jesus Christ.’

Cave permitted himself a crimped smile. ‘Quite.’

‘And whereabouts are the U-boats?’

‘Perhaps I might let my colleague answer that.’

Cave sat down and the other British officer, Villiers, took the floor. He flourished the pointer.

‘Submarine Tracking Room had three U-boat packs operational as of zero-zero-hundred Thursday – heah, heah, and heah.’ His accent barely qualified as recognisable English, it was the sort that pronounced ‘cloth’ as ‘clawth’ and ‘really’ as ‘rarely’, and when he spoke his lips hardly moved, as if it were somehow ungentlemanly – a betrayal of the amateur ethos – to put too much effort into talking. ‘Gruppe Raubgraf heah, two hundred miles off the coast of Greenland. Gruppe Neuland, heah, almost precisely mid-ocean. And Gruppe Westmark heah, due south of Iceland.’

‘Zero-zero Thursday! You mean more than thirty hours ago?’ Hammerbeck’s hair was the colour and thickness of steel wool, close-cropped to his scalp. It glinted in the fluorescent light as he leaned forwards. ‘Where the hell are they now?’

I’m afraid I’ve no idea. I thought that was why we were heah. They’ve blipped awf the screen.’

Admiral Trowbridge lit another cigarette from the tip of his old one. He had transferred his attention from Jericho and now he was staring at Hammerbeck through small, rheumy eyes.

Again, the American raised his hand. ‘How many subs are we talking about in these three wolf packs?’

I’m sorry to say, ah, they’re quite large, ah, we estimate forty-six.’

Skynner squirmed in his chair. Atwood made a great show of rummaging through his papers.

‘Let me get this straight,’ said Hammerbeck. (He was certainly persistent – Jericho was beginning to admire him.) ‘You’re telling us one million tons of shipping -‘

‘Merchant shipping,’ interrupted Cave. ‘

‘- merchant shipping, pardon me, one million tons of merchant shipping, with ten thousand people on board, including various ladies of the American Red Cross and assorted Catholic Bible-bashers, is steaming towards forty-six U-boats, and you have no idea where those U-boats are?’

‘I’m rather afraid I am, yes.’

‘Well, I’ll be fucked,’ said Hammerbeck, sitting back in his chair. ‘And how long before they get there?’ ‘That’s hard to say.’ It was Cave again. He had an odd habit of turning his face away when he talked, and Jericho realised he was trying not to show his shattered cheekbone. ‘The SC is the slower convoy. She’s making about seven knots. The HXs are both faster, one ten knots, one eleven. I’d say we’ve got three days, at the maximum. After that, they’ll be within operational range of the enemy.’

Hammerbeck had begun whispering to the other American. He was shaking his head and making short chopping motions with his hand. The admiral leaned over and muttered something to Cave, who said quietly: ‘I’m afraid so, sir.’

Jericho looked up at the Atlantic, at the yellow discs of the convoys and the black triangles of the U-boats, sewn like shark’s teeth across the sea lanes. The distance between the ships and the wolf packs was roughly eight hundred miles. The merchantmen were making maybe two hundred and forty miles every twenty-four hours. Three days was about right. My God, he thought, no wonder Logie was so desperate to get me back.

‘Gentlemen, please, if I may?’ said Skynner loudly, bringing the meeting back to order. Jericho saw he’d plastered on his ‘come let us smile in the face of disaster’ expression – invariably a sign of incipient panic. ‘I think we should guard against too much pessimism. The Atlantic does cover thirty-two million square miles, you know.’ He risked another laugh. ‘That’s an awful lot of ocean.’

‘Yes,’ said Hammerbeck, ‘and forty-six is one hell of a lot of U-boats.’

‘I agree. It’s probably the largest concentration of hearses we’ve faced,’ said Cave. ‘I’m afraid we must assume the enemy will make contact. Unless, of course, we can find out where they are.’

He gave Skynner a significant look, but Skynner ignored it and pressed on. ‘And let’s not forget – these convoys are not unprotected?’ He glanced around the table for support. ‘They do have an escort?’

‘Indeed.’ Cave again, ‘They have an escort of- ‘ he consulted his notes ‘- seven destroyers, nine corvettes and three frigates. Plus various other vessels.’

‘Under an experienced commander…’

The British officers glanced at one another, and then at the admiral.

‘Actually, it’s his first command.’

‘Jesus Christ!’ Hammerbeck rocked forwards in his chair and brought his fists down on the table.

‘If I might step in heah. Obviously, we didn’t know last Friday when the escorts were forming up that our intelligence was going to be shut awf.’

‘How long will this blackout last?’ This was the first time the admiral had spoken and everyone turned to look at him. He gave a sharp, explosive cough, which sounded as if small pieces of machinery were flying around loose in his chest, then sucked in another lungful of smoke and gestured with his cigarette. ‘Will It be over in four days, d’you think?’

The question was addressed directly to Skynner and they all turned to look at him. He was an administrator, not a cryptanalyst – he’d been vice-chancellor of some northern university before the war – and Jericho knew he hadn’t a clue. He didn’t know whether the blackout would last four days, four months or four years.

Skynner said carefully: ‘It’s possible.’

‘Yes, well, all things are possible.’ Trowbridge gave an unpleasanr rasping laugh that turned into another cough. ‘Is it likely? Is it likely you can break this, whatever you call it – this Shark – before our convoys come within range of the U-boats?’

‘We’ll give it every priority.’

‘I know damn well you’ll give it every priority, Leonard. You keep saying you’ll give it every priority. That’s not the question.’

‘Well, sir, as you press me, sir, yes.’ Skynner stuck his big jaw out heroically. In his mind’s eye he was sreering his ship manfully into the face of the typhoon. ‘Yes, I think we may be able to do it.’

You’re mad, thought Jericho.

‘And you all believe that?’ The admiral stared hard in their direction. He had eyes like a bloodhound’s, red-lidded and watery.

Logie was the first to break the silence. He looked at Skynner and winced and scratched the back of his head with the stem of his pipe. ‘I suppose we do have the advantage of knowing more about Shark than we did before.’

Atwood jumped in: ‘If Guy thinks we can do it, I certainly respect his opinion. I’d go along with whatever he estimates.’ Baxter nodded judiciously. Jericho inspected his watch.

‘And you?’ said the admiral. ‘What do you think?’

In Cambridge, they would just about be finishing breakfast. Kite would be steaming open the mail. Mrs Sax would be rattling round with her brushes and pails. In Hall on Saturday they served vegetable pie with potatoes for lunch…

He was aware that the room had gone quiet and he looked up to find all eyes were on him. The fair-haired man in the suit was slating at him with particular curiosity. He felt his face begin to colour.

And then he felt a spasm of irritation.

Afterwards Jericho was to think about this moment many times. What made him act as he did? Was it tiredness? Was he simply disoriented, plucked out of Cambridge and set down in the middle of this nightmare? Was he still ill? Illness would certainly help explain what happened later. Or was he so distracted by the thought of Claire that he wasn’t thinking straight? All he remembered for certain was an overwhelming feeling of annoyance. ‘You ‘re only here for show, old love.’ You’re only here to make up the numbers, so Skynner can put on a good act for the Yanks. You’re only here to do as you’re told, so keep your views to yourself, and don’t ask questions. He was suddenly sick of it all, sick of everything – sick ot the blackout, sick of the cold, sick of the chummy first-name terms and the lime smell and the damp and the whale meat -whale meat- at four o’clock in the morning…

‘Actually, I’m not sure I am as optimistic as my colleagues.’

Skynner interrupted him at once. You could almost hear the klaxons going off in his mind, see the airmen sprinting across the deck and the big guns swivelling skywards as HMS Skynner came under threat. ‘Tom’s been ill, sir, I’m afraid. He’s been away from us for the best part of a month

‘Why not?’ The admiral’s tone was dangerously friendly. ‘Why aren’t you optimistic?’

‘… so I’m not sure he’s altogether fully aut fait with the situation. Wouldn’t you admit that, Tom?’

‘Well, I’m certainly au fait with Enigma, ah, Leonard.’ Jericho could hardly believe his own words. He plunged on. ‘Enigma is a very sophisticated cipher system. And Shark is its ultimate refinement. I’ve spent the past eight hours reviewing the Shark material and, ah, forgive me if I’m speaking out of turn, but it seems to me we are in a very serious situation.’

‘But you were breaking it successfully?’

‘Yes, but we’d been given a key. The weather code was the key that unlocked the door. The Germans have now changed the weather code. That means we’ve lost our key. Unless there’s been some development I’m not aware of, I don’t understand how we’re going to…’ Jericho searched for a metaphor. ‘… pick the lock.’

The other American naval officer, the one who hadn’t spoken so far – Jericho had momentarily forgotten his name – said: ‘And you still haven’t gotten those four-wheel bombes you promised us, Frank.’

‘That’s a separate issue,’ muttered Skynner. He gave Jericho a murderous look.

‘Is it?’ Kramer – that was it. He was called Kramer. ‘Surely if we had a few four-wheel bombes right now we wouldn’t need the weather cribs?’

‘Just stop there for a moment,’ said the admiral, who had been following this conversation with increasing impatience. ‘I’m a sailor, and an old sailor at that. I don’t understand all this – talk- about keys and cribs and bombs with wheels. We’re trying to keep the sea-lanes open from America and if we can’t do that we’re going to lose this war.’

‘Hear, hear,’ said Hammerbeck. ‘Well said, Jack.’

‘Now will somebody please give me a straight answer to a straight question? Will this blackout definitely be over in four days’ time or won’t it? Yes or no?

Skynner’s shoulders sagged. ‘No,’ he said wearily. ‘If you put it like that, sir, I can’t say definitely it will be over, no.’

‘Thank you. So, if it isn’t over in four days, when will it be over? You. You’re the pessimist. What do you think?’

Once again Jericho was conscious of everyone watching him.

He spoke carefully. Poor Logie was peering inside his tobacco pouch as if he wished he could climb in and never come out ‘It’s very hard to say. All we have to measure it by is the last blackout.’

‘And how long did that go on?’

‘Ten months.’

It was as if he had detonated a bomb. Everybody made a noise. The Navy men shouted. The admiral started coughing. Baxter and Atwood said ‘No!’ simultaneously. Logie groaned. Skynner, shaking his head, said: ‘That really is defeatist of you, Tom.’ Even Wigram, the fair-headed man, gave a snort and stared at the rafters, smiling at some private joke.

‘I’m not saying it will definitely take us ten months,’ Jericho resumed when he could make himself heard. ‘But that’s the measure of what we’re up against and I think that four days is unrealistic. I’m sorry. I do.’

There was a pause, and then Wigram said, softly: ‘ Why, I wonder…’

‘Mr Wigram?’

‘Sorry, Leonard.’ Wigram bestowed his smile around the table, and Jericho’s immediate thought was how expensive he looked – blue suit, silk tie, Jermyn Street shirt, pomaded hair swept back and scented with some masculine cologne – he might have stepped out of the lobby of the Ritz. A lounge lizard, Baxter had called him, which was Bletchley code for spy.

‘Sorry,’ Wigram said again. ‘Thinking aloud. I was just wondering why Donitz should have decided to change this particular bit of code and why he should have chosen to do so now! He stared at Jericho. ‘From what you were saying, it sounds as though he couldn’t have chosen any one thing more damaging to us.’

Jericho didn’t have to reply; Logie did it for him. ‘Routine. Almost certainly. They change their code books from time to time. Just our bad luck they did it now.’

‘Routine,’ repeated Wigram. ‘Right.’ He smiled once more. ‘Tell me, Leonard, how many people know about this weather code and how important it is to us?’

‘Really, Douglas,’ laughed Skynner, ‘whatever are you suggesting?’

‘How many?’

‘Guy?’

‘A dozen, perhaps.’

‘Couldn’t make me a little list, could you?’

Logie looked to Skynner for approval. ‘I, ah, well, I, ah…’

‘Thanks.’

Wigram resumed his examination of the ceiling.

The silence that followed was broken by a long sigh from the admiral. ‘I think I gather the sense of the meeting.’ He stubbed out his cigarette and reached down beside his chair for his briefcase. He began stuffing his papers into it and his lieutenants followed suit. ‘I can’t pretend it’s the happiest of messages to take back to the First Sea Lord.’

Hammerbeck said: ‘I guess I’d better signal Washington.’

The admiral stood and immediately they all pushed back their chairs and got to their feet.

‘Lieutenant Cave will act as Admiralty liaison.’ He turned to Cave: ‘I’d like a daily report. On second thoughts, perhaps better make that twice a day.’

Yes, sir.

‘Lieutenant Kramer: you’ll carry on here and keep Commander Hammerbeck informed?’

‘I sure will, sir. Yes, sir.’

‘So.’ He pulled on his gloves. ‘I suggest we reconvene this meeting as and when there are developments to report. Which hopefully will be within four days.’

At the door, the old man turned. ‘It’s not just one million tons of shipping and ten thousand men, you know. It’s one million tons of shipping and ten thousand men every two weeks. And it’s not just the convoys. It’s our obligation to send supplies to Russia. It’s our chances of invading Europe and driving the Nazis out. It’s everything. It’s the whole war.’ He gave another of his wheezing laughs. ‘Not that I want to put any pressure on you, Leonard.’ He nodded. ‘Good morning, gentlemen.’

As they mumbled their ‘good morning sirs’, Jericho heard Wigram say quietly to Skynner: I’ll talk to you later, Leonard.’

They listened to the visitors clatter down the concrete stairs, and then to the crunch of their feet on the path outside, and suddenly the room was quiet. A mist of blue tobacco hung over the table like smoke rising after a battle.

Skynner’s lips were compressed. He was humming to himself. He gathered his papers into a pile and squared off the edges with exaggerated care. For what seemed a long time, nobody spoke.

‘Well,’ said Skynner eventually, ‘that was a triumph. Thank you, Tom. Thank you very much indeed. I’d forgotten what a tower of strength you could be. We’ve missed you.’

‘It’s my fault, Leonard,’ said Logie. ‘Bad briefing. Should have put him in the picture better. Sorry. Bit of a rush first thing.’

‘Why don’t you just get back to the Hut, Guy? In fact, why don’t you all go back, and then Tom and I can have a little chat.’

‘Bloody fool,’ said Baxter to Jericho.

Atwood took his arm. ‘Come on, Alec.’

‘Well, he is. Bloody fool.’

They left.

The moment the door closed Skynner said: ‘I never wanted you back.’

‘Logie didn’t mention that.’ Jericho folded his arms to stop his hands shaking. ‘He said I was needed here.’

‘I never wanted you back, not because I think you’re a fool – Alec’s wrong about that. You’re not a fool. But you’re a wreck. You’re ruined. You’ve cracked once before under pressure and you’ll do it again, as your little performance just now showed. You’ve outlived your usefulness to us.’

Skynner was leaning his large bottom casually against the edge of the table. He was speaking in a friendly tone and if you had seen him from a distance you would have thought he was exchanging pleasantries with an old acquaintance.

‘Then why am I here? I never asked to come back.’

‘Logie thinks highly of you. He’s the acting head of the Hut and I listen to him. And, I’ll be honest, after Turing, you probably have – or, rather, had- the best reputation of any cryptanalyst on the Park. You’re a little bit of history, Tom. A little bit of a legend. Bringing you back, letting you attend this morning, was a way of showing our masters how seriously we take this, ah, temporary crisis. It was a risk. But obviously I was wrong. You’ve lost it.’

Jericho was not a violent man. He had never hit another person, not even as a boy, and he knew it was a mercy he had avoided military service: given a rifle he would have been a menace to no one except his own side. But there was a heavy brass ashtray on the table -the sawn-off end of a six-inch shell-case, brimful of cigarette stubs – and Jericho was seriously tempted to ram it into Skynner’s smug face. Skynner seemed to sense this. At any rate, he pulled his bottom off the table and began to pace the floor. This must be one of the benefits of being a madman, thought Jericho, people can never take you entirely for granted.

‘It was so much simpler in the old days, wasn’t it?’ said Skynner. ‘A country house. A handful of eccentrics. Nobody expecting very much. You potter along. And then suddenly you’re sitting on the greatest secret of the war.’

‘And then people like you arrive.’

‘That’s right, people like myself are needed, to make sure this remarkable weapon is used properly.’

‘Oh is that what you do, Leonard? You make sure the weapon is used properly. I’ve often wondered.’

Skynner stopped smiling. He was a big man, nearly a foot taller than Jericho. He came up very close, and Jericho could smell the stale cigarette smoke and the sweat on his clothes.

‘You’ve no conception of this place any more. No idea of the problems. The Americans, for instance. In front of whom you’ve just humiliated me. Us. We’re negotiating a deal with the Americans that – ‘ He stopped himself. ‘Never mind. Let’s just say that when you – when you indulge yourself as you just did, you can’t even conceive of the seriousness of what’s at stake.’ Skynner had a briefcase with a royal crest stamped on it and ‘G VI R’ in faded gold lettering. He slipped his papers into it and locked it with a key attached to his belt by a long chain.

‘I’m going to arrange for you to be taken off cryptanalytical work and put somewhere you can’t do any damage. In fact, I’m going to have you transferred out of Bletchley altogether.’ He pocketed the key and patted it. ‘You can’t return to civilian life, of course, not until the war’s over, not knowing what you know.

Still, I hear the Admiralty’s on the lookout for an extra brain to work in statistics. Dull stuff, but cushy enough for a man of your… delicacy. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll meet a nice girl. Someone more – how shall we say? – more suitable for you than the person I gather you were seeing.’

Jericho did try to hit him then, but not with the ashtray, only with his fist, which in retrospect was a mistake. Skynner stepped to one side with surprising grace and the blow missed and then his right hand shot out and grabbed Jericho’s forearm. Skynner dug his fingers very hard into the soft muscle.

‘You are an ill man, Tom. And I am stronger than you, in every way.’ He increased the pressure for a second or two, then abruptly let go of the arm. ‘Now get out of my sight.’

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