Daniel Sousa put the phone down, and looked at Peggy with an expression that mingled equal parts surprise, irritation, and just a tinge of happiness. “They’re sending me back to New York.”
Peggy frowned slightly, trying to read him. “Convenient for me, difficult for you?”
“While Jack’s recovering, they need someone to cover for him. I know the office, and they want me to take his place for three or four months, until he’s able to return back to work.”
“And what is LA supposed to do without you?”
“We’re still a relatively new office; our operations are fairly low key. Harris can handle most of it, and I’ll be at the other end of the phone.”
Peggy reached across the desk, and took his hand. “At least it gives us some time before we have to make any difficult decisions.”
“About whether you transfer out here?”
“I’ve been giving that some thought,” she admitted. “I’m not at all opposed to the idea, but considering our . . . relationship is hardly a secret, there’s something that feels a little bit . . . off . . . about you requesting my transfer to the office you run.”
“It’s either that, or a bicoastal romance. Or else . . .“ Daniel looked uncertain.
“Breaking things off is not an option,” Peggy said briskly.
“Three-four months back in New York, and we’re in a stronger position to . . . “
“Precisely.” Precisely what, neither of them was quite willing to say.
But we’re agreed on the other thing?” Peggy nodded and Daniel buzzed reception. “Rose, could you come in here a moment?”
“Look, I appreciate the thought and we do work very well together,” Rose said, “but I’m done with New York. I’m really enjoying the surfing out here. And instead of sharing a dumpy apartment in Queens with two other girls, I’m renting the loveliest little house out by . . . “
“It would only be temporary. You know how the boys in New York are; Peggy and I could use you on our team. And, if it wasn’t clear, you wouldn’t be going back to the switchboard.”
Rose adjusted her glasses. “You mean?”
Daniel nodded. “Field agent. You acquitted yourself so well on the Zero Matter case, I think it’s time.”
“In that case, sign me up.” Rose turned and gave Peggy a quick hug, which the latter tried to return, remembering what Jarvis had said of her to Ana. She does not hug. Perhaps I do, now.
Peggy had told Angie not to take the day off to meet them at the airport, but Angie was not, as her roommate well knew, much inclined to follow instructions. And so she was waiting for them near the bottom of the steps. Peggy hadn’t shared too many details about what had transpired over the past few weeks, and she could see her friend’s eyes widen as she took note of Daniel’s presence; he waited until last, since he took a little extra time coming down the metal stairway from the plane. Angie and Rose had never met, so introductions were made, and when Rose mentioned needing to catch a bus out to New Jersey to stay with her brother and sister-in-law, it was Angie who suggested she bunk with them, instead.
“There’s plenty of room,” Angie said, definitively.
Peggy smiled to herself; she hadn’t wanted to make the suggestion without asking Angie . . . and she supposed, Howard, but she seemed to remember that Howard and Rose had gotten on like a house afire, back in LA.
Daniel excused himself; he had a cousin in Brooklyn he was going to stay with, though Peggy suspected that after the obligatory settling in, he’d divide his time between the office and her flat, primarily.
“That’s him, right, Peg?” Angie asked. “The guy who wouldn’t return your calls. I remember when he and the others came to the Griffith. Guess he’s singing a different tune, now.”
“Yes, Daniel and I managed to work out our differences.”
Rose laughed. “Not only have they worked out their differences, but . . . let’s just say, I think her dance card is full.”
“English! I knew she had it in her.” Angie grinned.
At that moment, it occurred to Peggy that it wasn’t since she’d worked at Bletchley that she’d had a group of female friends. Individuals, yes, and groups of men, like the Howling Commandos and whatever dysfunctional group had grown up around the Zero Matter investigation. But as she watched her two friends, practically giggling together over *her* personal life, it occurred to her that this had both its good side and its . . . slightly less appealing one. Clearly Rose and Angie were going to dissect her relationship with Daniel, and her privacy was over. But she thought about how lucky she was to have two such good friends, who cared enough about her personal life to make such intrusive comments. (Still, it made her miss Mr. Jarvis, who would never do such a thing.)
The New York Bell building hadn’t changed at all in the time they’d been away, nor had the women at the switchboard, or the all-male group inside. But, Peggy thought, the three who were returning had changed a great deal. It was going to be an interesting several months.
“Welcome back, Agent Sousa,” one of the guys said.
“Chief Sousa,” another corrected him.
“Carter,” yet someone else nodded.
But the first agent squinted at Rose. “Don’t you belong out at the switchboard?”
“Been promoted,” she said.
Daniel set his briefcase down on the desk in Jack’s, now his, office. “Agent Roberts is in the field, now. She stepped up in LA when we needed her.”
“They’re taking over,” muttered an agent.
“Thought women were supposed to be clearing out to leave the jobs to us, since the war.”
Daniel gave them a stern look. “My office, my staff. Roberts here is likely to surprise you.”
“Let’s see,” said the man who’d just spoken. He lunged at Rose, who in a simple gesture, used his shifting center of gravity to deposit him in a neat pile on the floor.
“Welcome aboard, Roberts,” he said, looking up.
It had taken surprisingly little time to settle into new routines. The office had accepted Daniel in his new role more easily than he’d expected. Jack phoned every few days, to update Daniel on his progress and remind him not to get too comfortable. Just for the moment, it was a relief to not have to think too far ahead, though Angie was already making comments about whether she’d be apartment hunting again before long. (“First of all, there’s been nothing decided about whether I will ask for a transfer to the Los Angeles office. Second, Howard may forget he even owns this place,” Peggy had pointed out, in an attempt to be comforting, “and he’s rather busy on the West Coast at present.”)
One morning, about three weeks in, Peggy walked into the Chief’s office, to find Daniel puzzling over a file. He handed it over to let Peggy take a look.
After a moment, she asked, “Is there any particular reason Mrs. Roosevelt refuses Secret Service protection?”
Daniel shrugged. “She feels like a couple of armed men slow her down. And they get between her and a genuine connection with the people. Even when she was First Lady, she wouldn’t have them.”
“Isn’t that rather the point? To keep someone in her position safe, doesn’t she need something between her and, well, the people?”
“Mrs. Roosevelt doesn’t see things that way.” He hit the buzzer on his phone. “I thought Rose could take this one.”
Peggy nodded, and a moment later, SSR-New York’s newest field agent was at the door.
‘She’s amazing,” said Rose, when the assignment had been explained to her. “The work she’s doing as ambassador to the United Nations. And all I have to do is take the train up to Hyde Park with her?”
“And stay for the weekend, and accompany her back to town on Monday.“
“Sounds like a dream assignment. What’s the catch?”
“No catch,” Daniel assured her. “Her work at the U.N. is at a key stage, and there’s just a sense that it would be a good thing for her to have some company for the trip.” He handed Rose an envelope. “You’ll be taking the 6:05pm train, the Hudson line. Mrs. Roosevelt always sits in the car right behind the engine.”
Rose bustled out, heading back to the flat to pack a small bag and to make a phone call or two cancelling weekend plans. Meanwhile, Peggy looked quizzically at Daniel. “And why, suddenly, does a woman who’s never accepted security allow herself to be accompanied by an agent?”
Daniel looked uncomfortable. “It’s entirely routine. But . . . there’s a concern that some governments aren’t precisely pleased with Mrs. Roosevelt’s work, and it doesn’t hurt if she’s got someone looking out for her.”
The windows at Grand Central Station had been blacked out during the war, and were still not uncovered. Nonetheless, the bustling station was impressive, with its high ceilings, marble floors, and many active ticket windows. There were a few things about the city that she liked, Rose admitted to herself.
“Excuse me.” She turned to find a tall man in a nondescript coat standing beside her. “Miss Roberts? This way.”
He accompanied her down the marble stairs to the lower departure level, and up the length of the train.
Eleanor Roosevelt was seated towards the front of the first car, arguing vigorously with the conductor. “It’s entirely unnecessary to reserve this whole car for me. I’m sure there are many tired commuters, especially at the end of a long week, who need seats.”
The conductor shrugged. “But Mrs. Roosevelt . . . “
The former First Lady looked over her spectacles with a resolute expression. “The matter is settled.” She turned to the newcomers. “You must be Miss Roberts. Thank you for joining me. It’s entirely unnecessary, of course, but I shall enjoy the chat.” She nodded to the nondescript man, who returned the nod and took his departure.
Having stowed her small bag overhead, Rose took the indicated seat.
Mrs. Roosevelt looked in the direction of the platform, as a few stray passengers who’d come the full length of the train to find a less crowded car wandered in and settled themselves. “My late husband had his own private railcar, with a special entrance under the Waldorf Astoria. Of course, he had his reasons.” She looked sad for a moment. “I, on the other hand, do not.”
Rose had heard rumors about the former President being largely confined to a wheelchair, and the extents to which he and those around him had gone to cover up the fact.
“What I am fascinated about, Miss Roberts,” Mrs. Roosevelt went on, “is how you got into your particular line of work. I know there’s a great deal you can’t tell me” (to which Rose reflected that it must go both ways) “but whatever you can, please? I believe it’s utterly important that women be represented in all lines of work.”
Rose settled back, happily anticipating a chat with one of her personal heroes.
One of the more agreeable things Jack Thompson had instituted in his tenure as head of the New York branch of the SSR was that he’d given Peggy credit where credit was due, at least as a codebreaker. He’d admitted that her Bletchley Park credentials put her ahead of anyone else on staff, and so whenever a coded transmission was intercepted, it ended up on Peggy’s desk.
This afternoon was no exception. But as Peggy stared at the page, she frowned. In a moment, she’d jumped up and was back in Daniel’s office.
He was on the phone, but she waved at the paper in his hand, and he quickly made his excuses.
“Daniel, what’s the highest bridge in New York?”
“The Brooklyn Bridge, wouldn’t it be?”
“But that’s not anywhere near the train, is it?”
“No, I don’t . . . do you mean the train Eleanor Roosevelt’s scheduled to be on this evening?” Daniel took the proffered paper with Peggy’s notes. “A high bridge and the 6:05 train.” He looked at his watch. “It’s due to pull out of the station in about five minutes.”
“This message was intercepted in a routine sweep. It seems that someone is planning on targeting the train, at the high bridge.”
“We need some real New Yorkers on this,” Sousa called out his office door. “Shapiro? Yang?”
Two agents appeared.
“You’re both born-and-bred New Yorkers. What’s a high bridge over the train line?”
Dave Shapiro, an agent with a heavy New York accent, said, “The High Bridge – it’s uptown. It’s a walkway that connects Upper Manhattan with the Bronx.”
“Dates back to the nineteenth century,” agreed Bud Yang. “Runs right over the Harlem River, and over a whole bunch of train tracks.”
“How long does it take to get there?” Peggy asked.
“Depends on traffic,” said Shapiro, “but at least half an hour.”
Peggy and Daniel looked at each other. “I’ll get Betty to ring the station and see if they can stop the train from pulling out, but . . . “
“We need to get to this High Bridge now.”
“We’ll never get there on time.” protested Yang.
“Unless . . . “ Daniel looked at Peggy, and she nodded, in return.
“We haven’t got much choice, have we?” Howard, this one had better work.
In a few moments, the four agents had made their way downstairs, Peggy slipping out ahead of the rest. In another, she’d pulled up to the curb. “Hang on, gentlemen.”
"But the traffic,” protested Agent Shapiro.
“Did we forget to mention that this car was donated to the SSR by Howard Stark?” asked Peggy, and with a jolt, the car took off into the air.
There was still a fair bit of maneuvering to do, around some of the taller buildings, but the hovercar set down right in the middle of a small park in upper Manhattan about twenty minutes later – five minutes before the train was due to pass under the bridge. Daniel winced when he saw the stone stairs leading down to the bridge but began to make his way down, feeling before him with his aluminum crutch.
“Can’t see anything on the bridge,” said Agent Yang.
“What about the tower?” asked Shapiro, looking straight up. The old water tower was made of red brick, and built in a rather fanciful style.
“I’ll have a look,” said Peggy. The lower door was locked, but she shot off the lock.
“Yang, you’re with me on the bridge,” called Daniel. “Shapiro, go with Carter.”
The circular staircase was seemingly interminable, only a few windows along the way to give any sense of progress. Peggy refused to let herself slack off, but she heard the other agent’s footsteps falling behind.
At the very top, leaning on the windowsill, shattered glass all around her, was Dottie Underwood, holding a launcher for mortars, aimed right at the train tracks.
She looked up, and smiled. “Thought you’d get here a little sooner, Peg.”
“You know me, Dottie. I can never resist the dramatic entrance.”
“You didn’t stay long in L.A. Thought for sure one or the other of those men who were dangling around you – the handsome scientist or the dreamboat with the limp – would keep you out there.”
“My personal life is none of your business.”
“Could be,” Dottie winked, suggestively.
“You’re going to have to put down that weapon.”
“Very well.” Peggy launched herself at Dottie, kicking the weapon out of the way. Miraculously, nothing exploded.
In the ensuing melee, several things happened: Agent Shapiro arrived at the top of the stairs, to see the two women dealing each other blows and roundhouse kicks, and a train passed beneath the window. As Dottie heard it, she dived for her weapon.
Peggy threw herself between Dottie and her goal, and managed to block her.
“Why, Dottie?” Peggy asked. “Eleanor Roosevelt is working for peace.”
“For a world in which there’s no place for people like me – for people like us.” Dottie leapt to her feet, and tossing Shapiro to one side, was down the stairs.
“Are you all right?” Peggy asked the fallen agent.
“Never mind me – go after her!” he replied.
But Dottie was already gone.
"It was awfully kind of you to invite us, Mrs. Roosevelt,” Peggy said.
“Once I’d heard about what had happened, I wanted to thank you properly. Chief Sousa, Agent Carter. Agent Roberts, here, tells me such exciting things about you both.”
They were sitting in the dining room of the estate at Hyde Park, after dining. “And I look forward to hearing more, tomorrow. But if you’ll excuse me now, I’ve had rather a tiring day. I’m off to my little cottage, and I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning.”
Peggy, Daniel, and Rose watched her go.
“Apparently she rarely sleeps in the main house,” Rose said. “She’s got a smaller place on the property and she’s more comfortable there. So, we’re on our own tonight.”
They chatted for a little while, Rose filling Peggy and Daniel in on what Mrs. Roosevelt was like, and the others supplying in a few details that were not entirely necessary to share with their hostess, such as how close things had run, timewise, and the challenges involved in driving Howard’s hovercar.
Peggy looked out the window. “It looks a very clear night. I should like to wander out on the grounds, just for a little bit.”
She and Daniel began to push their chairs back, when Rose interrupted.
“I’ll leave you two lovebirds to it, but before I do . . . Mrs. Roosevelt has offered me a job on her staff. And I’ve decided to accept.”
“Rose, that’s wonderful!”
“I can’t seem to keep my best agents,” Daniel winked. “But what about LA? What about your surfing?”
“LA’s not going anywhere,” Rose said. “And meanwhile, I get to work for Eleanor Roosevelt. Sorry, Chief Sousa, you’re only my number two dream boss, and number one just tapped me.”
“This calls for another drink.” And when they’d clinked glasses, and talked a little more, Rose excused herself, and the two lovers strolled out on the lawn.
The stars were bright, and when they’d gone a little way from the house, they stopped, and just stared for awhile.
Then both began to speak, at once.
They looked at each other for a moment, then Sousa began. “Peggy, I . . . the tower, and the stairs . . . I felt so helpless.”
Peggy put her hand on his shoulder. “Daniel, you’ve proven your bravery so often. And how many times are we likely to have to rush up a circular staircase of that height?”
“No!” she said, firmly. But then she looked at him, with a troubled expression. “But something Dottie said has been bothering me. She said that in a world of peace, like Mrs. Roosevelt is working for, there would be no place for either of us. And I wonder if that could be true.”
“That’s assuming a lot about the human race. Much as I’d like to think we could be out of a job because people become too good . . . I don’t see it happening.”
They looked at each other and smiled, and leaned together into a kiss . . . when they heard a voice.
“Excuse me, sir, miss.” It was the estate’s housekeeper. “But the phone has been ringing off the hook. Mister Sousa, you need to call your office. Miss Carter, there’s a Mister Jarvis on the phone, something about Howard Stark and a stolen invention? I told them you’d both ring back . . . “
And with one last look at the stars, hand in hand, Peggy and Daniel turned back towards the house.
Daniel whispered, “See what I mean?”