Chapter Fifty-Eight

43 10 6

Monday, 31 January 1916

David waited outside the message centre in the Embassy until Sergeant Timkins arrived at 0750 to unlock it. "I have three Top Secret Priorities for London, Sergeant. Oh, and good morning."

"Good morning, Sir. Any particular order?"

David arranged the pages, then handed them to Timkins when he had keyed open the final lock. "The CIGS first, then the PM, then R."

"Very good, Sir. I'll begin encrypting, and my staff will soon arrive to assist."

"I'll be in my office. Call me when you're ready for the access codes."

David stopped at the library on his way back. "Morning, Charles. How was your luck in finding more German papers?"

"Good morning, Sir." He pointed to two cartons on the floor. "I must have five or six dozen now, and I've not picked up today's yet."

"Do you read German?"

"I opted for French in school, Sir."

David crossed the room and picked up a handful of papers from one of the cartons, laid them on the table and leafed through the top one. "There. The word Regiment. It's the same in English, German, and French, and so is Battalion. I'll send Wilfred in to assist you." He looked up at Charles. "Can you still work with him?"

Charles chuckled. "He's like a child constantly needing direction, but I've learned how to guide him."

"Good. I want you two to comb through each paper, searching for every mention of Regiment, Battalion or anything else that appears to be in any way related to military. Ranks. I'll get you a list of German ranks and other terms for which to search."

"And when we find them, Sir?"

"Make a list of the paper, its date, edition and page number."

"Would it help if we sidelined the occurrences with a chinagraph?"

"Excellent idea. Yes, do that."

David continued along the hallway past his office, knocked on a door and stepped in. "Good morning, Miss Hutchins. Please inform Captain Wyndcom I wish to see him as soon as he arrives."

"Welcome back, Sir. I'll send him in."

Finally in his office, David opened the file drawer Henry had told him about, and he sorted through the folders, selected one and began scanning its contents, scribbling notes as he found items of interest. Five minutes later, he looked up at the knock. "Come in, Sergeant."

"We have the first one encrypted, Sir."

David looked at the first four characters of the address, checked his watch and the calendar and pencilled a calculation. He wrote four digits on the top left corner of the message, initialled it and handed it back to the sergeant. "Let me know if this isn't immediately receipted."

"Yes, Sir." In the sergeant's haste to get back to the message centre, he bumped into Captain Wyndcom in the doorway.

Wyndcom sputtered and shook his head as he continued into David's office. "Impossible to get competent staff these days."

"Yes, I was this moment thinking that about you. Have you heard about knocking on a door before entering?"

"But Miss Hutchins said you wished to see me immediately."

"Immediately, What?"

"Immediately I arrived."

"Arrived, what?"

"Sir."

"You still need to practice with that, Captain. I hope you've learned to honour the Ambassador's position." David looked up at the knock. "Come in Sergeant.

"The second one, Sir. The first was immediately receipted."

"Thank you." David again calculated the code, pencilled it onto the message and initialled it.

"The third is nearly done, Sir," Sergeant Timkins said over his shoulder as he scurried out of the office.

David pointed to the receding sergeant. "That is competent staff. You need to observe and learn by example."

"And you. You've been away since Tuesday. What example does that give?"

David chuckled. "Would you believe me if I told you I was relaxing on a beach on Spain's sunny Costa Blanca, sipping wine and being entertained by gorgeous señoritas?"

Wilfred tilted his head and pursed his lips as he nodded. "That's somewhat like I was hoping with this posting."

"Well, I wasn't in Spain. What if I were to tell you I was tasting wine with the Kaiser's son and the head of the German Armies?"

"Why on earth would you concoct an excuse like that? Nobody would believe it. And besides, fraternising with the enemy is a serious breach of the Army Act."

"And, what If I told you I decided to take a break and spend a few days with my wife?"

"Now we're getting to the truth. If I had a wife, I'd do the same."

"Well, that's not —" David looked up at the knock. "Please come in, Sergeant."

"The second was receipted, Sir. Here's the third."

"Thank you." David repeated the calculation, pencilled the code and initialled it; then Sergeant Timkins rushed out again.

"His buzzing back and forth is disturbing us. How do you allow this manner of activity in the office?"

"He's fighting the war. As are we all — except you, it seems."

"Feeble excuse. How can anyone fight it from here?"

"For most of us, Wilfred, this isn't the haven for cowards you appear to believe it to be." David glared at Wyndcom, searching for a reaction. Seeing none, he continued, "This post is an important aspect of our war effort, and we need everyone to work toward..." David paused at the knock. "Come in, Sergeant."

"The third was receipted, Sir."

"Thank you. Bring me returns as soon as they arrive."

After Sergeant Wilkins had left, David asked Wilfred. "Have you any idea why Sergeant Wilkins has been rushing in and out?"

"You were placing bets. I find it odd you do this while on duty, and even more odd that you spout about the war effort as you do it."

"And if I were to tell you we have just sent Priority Top Secret messages to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, to the Prime Minister and to the head of the Secret Service Bureau?"

"You could find a more plausible excuse than that as a cover-up for your gambling. I can help you concoct stories if you wish."

"You don't get it, do you?"

"Get what?"

"Get what, what? You continue to ignore the honorific, Captain."

"Get what, Sir? But be aware I'll inform the Ambassador about your gambling on duty unless —"

"Unless what?"

"Unless you let me in on it."

"I can't do that."

"Then, I'll tell him."

"If you think you must. Though be aware that the outcome might be more than you expect." David glared as he pointed to the door. "In the meantime, Charles has a task for you in the library. Go! Now!" 

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