"What on earth is this?" Charles said in disgust, looking at the sole of his shoe. "Has someone let a dog in here? Or has Archie forgotten that flush toilets exist again?"
"You watch it," Archie said, looking as if Charles' death by pencil-insertion was imminent. "There's no dog, you're just shit."
"Maybe it's the ghost dog of Hut 13," Gordon said, wide-eyed. "Come to visit us and leave ghostly evidence. And now we know about it, it'll haunt us and track us down and crunch right through our bones -"
"This isn't ectoplasm," Charles said, sitting at the table and gingerly removing his shoe.
"There is no ghost dog, Gordon," Archie said, rubbing his hands together in the chill air. "You're just superstitious and Charles has just stepped in a big pile of linguistic theory, that's all."
"Philistine," Charles snapped, wiping his shoe off with a sheaf of Archie's notes.
"Is not linguistics, is dog food," Minka said, appearing in their midst.
"Gah!" everyone shrieked.
"Minka, please!" Charles said. "Don't creep round spreading dog food on the floor – look, are you absolutely sure this is dog food?"
"Yes," Minka shrugged. "After it has gone through dog." She ignored Charles' grimace of renewed disgust and dumped a pile of paper on the table. "Fascist pig-dog codes. You will break them by lunchtime, or Minka will break you."
"You look beautiful today, Minka," Gordon said, picking up a handful of the papers in the hopes of impressing her with his eagerness. If only all girls were like Minka, he thought. Or if only he had long trousers and could face her like a man.
"Yes. I know. Work!"
"Where'd you find dog food, Minka?" Archie said, peering at the codes in resignation. "I'd have thought animal food factories wouldn't be high on the war effort."
"You know beef stew the canteen has served all week?" Minka said and deigned to smile as they all went green. "You pamby-namby English! So picky. In Poland, people not so picky, eat all parts of animal. Also, animal's dinner."
"Charles is Scottish," Gordon said, "and he doesn't like the thought of eating dog food either!"
"Do you have to tell everybody?" Charles hissed.
"Pah, the Scots! Minka hate the Scots. Oh, look at me, with my checked skirt and furry handbag. Is not even fashionable!"
"It's called a kilt, and a sporran is not a handbag," Charles said.
"If man in Polish resistance wore your silly-billy sporran, it would be made from testicles of Nazi," Minka said off-handedly. "Now, work! Break fascist codes or maybe Minka decide to make sporran."
"But no one here's a Nazi," Gordon said.
"Be fair," Archie said. "Charles is right there."
Minka gave them all a flat, threatening stare of encouragement, and everyone got down to the serious business of decoding messages from Norway.
"More beef stew, eh, Minka?" Archie said, circumnavigating the evidence as they came into Hut 33 the next morning. It was, if anything more abundant and more odiferous than the previous day. "Does the canteen know you're taking it?"
"You call Minka a thief?" Minka said in the conversational tones that generally preceded bouts of extreme violence.
"He certainly does," Charles said helpfully.
"I certainly do not! I assume that Minka is, um, just trying to, um – oh, God, put the knife down!" Archie cowered under the table until Minka got bored stabbing through the wood and made her knife vanish again. "Where were you hiding that?" he asked in wonder, reemerging rather dustier than before.
"You insult Minka's honour again, you will find out. In Polish resistance we have special rehabilitation programme for thieves."
"I'm guessing it doesn't involve ensuring that they pay their debt to society and then no hard feelings?" Archie said, keeping an eye on the door as if he honestly thought he could outrun her.
"Oh, we make them pay debt to society. Afterwards, they never steal again. Or breathe."
"Please don't kill Archie, Minka," Gordon pleaded. "I'd have to do all this homework myself." Visions of being left alone to decode all the messages sent to the hut rose before him, and he realised with some horror that without Archie as a target Charles would probably relieve his own frustrations by making him face an endless sarcasm and mockery.
"It's not homework," Archie said. "It's actual work. But, aye, Minka, please don't kill me."
"Do I get a vote?" Charles said hopefully.
"No! Shut up, Charles!"
"No one dies," Minka said with a wave of her hand. "Yet. More important projects take up Minka's attention."
"Like what?" Gordon said. "Will it help us break codes faster than Hut 12? They've taken to spreading horrible rumours about us. They claim we're a bunch of idiots."
The resulting moment of self-reflection was thankfully relieved by the door bursting open and Joshua cheerfully coming in.
"Morning, Hut 33 - eek!" he said, as Minka's knife thudded into the door frame beside his head. Josh looked at it with wide, unblinking eyes as if it held the meaning of life, and as if he would be able to understand it if it did.
"Good job your aim was off," Archie said, letting out a breath. "You could have killed him!"
"Pah, I hit my target. I aim for door frame," Minka said. "Josh, you learn secret knock for next time."
"Rightio," Josh said, edging in carefully. "Oh, I say, what's this I've stepped in?"
"Dog food," Archie and Charles chorused.
"Beef stew," Gordon said, more optimistically.
"You can't waste food like that," Josh said, shocked. He shook his foot vainly, looking alarmed as it remained bemirched. "Perfectly edible food thrown on the floor?"
"Rather like a Newcastle restaurant, isn't that right, Archie?" Charles said. He squawked as Archie's riposte came in the form of a carefully thrown and specially sharpened slide rule.
"Look, chaps, there's no time for any of this goodnatured horseplay," Josh said as Charles withdrew to the other side of Hut 33 under Archie's continued onslaught of mathematical weaponry. "The fellows up in the main house have intercepted a startling piece of - oh, what's that thing called, the thing you eggheads have?"
"Chilblains?" Gordon said sadly, blowing on his fingers. It was incredible, he thought, how Hut 33 could be so cold. Even in summer it was chilly, but in winter he was sure it was actually warmer outside than in.
"No, that's not it. That quality that really annoys my father -"
"Homosexuality?" Minka said, appearing behind Josh.
"Gah! Minka, please! No, no, the other thing, that thing clever chaps have -"
"Intelligence?" Archie said with a roll of the eyes.
"That's it! They've intercepted a startling piece of intelligence, Hut 12 decoded it - really, Hut 33, couldn't you do something like that for once?"
"We decode messages all the time!" Gordon cried, stung by such cruelty. "Hut 12 probably stole a message we were supposed to decode, Josh, they're always trying to make us look bad."
"It doesn't take much," Charles said with a nasty smile.
"That's not fair! Whose side are you on?"
"The Germans," Archie said quickly. "Nicht wahr, Karl?"
"German spoken with a Geordie accent! It's like a Bavarian with a mouthful of custard! Hilarious!" Charles said. "Say something else, Archie - hang on, I'll get my copy of Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers for you to read from. That's The Sorrows of Young Werther, for those of us who actually have heard of Goethe, of course."
"Another skiing friend of yours, is he?" Archie said. "Him and the Goerings?"
"He happens to be one of the most famous 18th century German writers," Charles sniffed. "Barbarian."
"Let's not tease, chaps," Josh said, his face suffused with confusion. "Charles isn't really a Nazi, are you, Charles?"
"No!" Charles said, "I just -"
" - wish you lived somewhere where the trains ran on time?" Archie said.
"Minka is getting bored," Minka said ominously. She stepped forward, slow and deliberate, like a wolf that had just spotted a really plump child abandoned in the snow. "Reveal intelligence, Josh! Or Minka will relieve boredom."
"Oh! Oh, dear," Josh said, backing towards the door. "It turns out that a unit of German paratroopers will be dropped in the vicinity. It seems that someone - and I don't mean to cast aspersions on anyone - but someone decided that just listening to and translating the German transmissions wasn't enough and felt moved to creep into the main house and actually broadcast their opinions of the contents of the last few messages back."
"It weren't me!" Archie said as everyone looked at him. "Typical! You need a scapegoat, so you look to the working man! Just because as an Englishman and a Communist I despise fascism -"
"Oh, they weren't political opinions," Josh said. "Apparently the culprit was mostly correcting the Germans' grammar - I didn't even know German had grammar."
"Be fair!" Charles said as everyone's eyes swung towards him. "They were using the subjunctive incorrectly! Why anyone would let some common little jumped up product of state schooling anywhere near an Enigma machine, I don't know. Or why they'd let one attempt to decode its messages, for that matter," he added as Archie stalked towards him threateningly.
"You toffs," he said. "You're all idiots. We're going to have stormtroopers all over the place just because you had to correct their grammar? I'm actually too angry to hit you, lucky for you. If I was calmer, I'd lamp you -"
"If you were calmer," Charles said. "Can no one use the subjunctive any more?"
"I'm going to leave you to Minka," Archie said in disgust, and stepped aside. There was a pause. "Minka? How come you're not killing Charles?"
Minka sat on her desk and favoured them all with a smile that chilled the marrows of their bones and, in the case of Gordon, warmed him in entirely different places. "Because Minka has paid attention to important part of conversation," she said. "The Nazis are coming." The smile turned into something suddenly a lot more worrying. "Minka is no longer bored."
"What are you going to do?" Gordon said. She glowed from within, he thought, like a movie starlet. Or perhaps a fire set by Polish resistance fighters in a German stronghold that would explode Panzers and deprive the occupiers of supplies and ammunition and strike a glorious blow for Polish freedom. He shook himself and tried to concentrate on the matter at hand.
"Kill them all. Of course. But first - you all sign Official Secrets Act, yes?"
"Yes," Charles said. "Although frankly, a gentleman's word should have been enough, eh, Joshua?"
"Yes," Josh nodded fervently.
"You now will sign Polish Resistance Secrets Act," Minka said. "Is very simple. You swear to do what Minka says, or I kill you."
"I'd rather not -" Charles said.
"I kill you," Minka reminded him.
"Right then, where do I sign?" Charles said enthusiastically.
"On wall. In blood," Minka said, and produced a delicate, ladylike knife, eminently suitable for slitting veins for ink. Gordon felt very glad afterwards that he hadn't been the only one to faint and that Josh's collapse had been much more dramatic than his. When they had all signed, been haphazardly bandaged up and forced to toast the cause of Polish freedom with something she rather optimistically called vodka, Minka's smile was a lot more genuine.
"Good! Very good! Now, I call first planning session of Bletchley Auxiliary Division of Polish Resistance to order!"
"Do I use the subjunctive when I want to say We're all going to die?" Archie said quietly to Charles.
"No, no, the indicative is fine," Charles said, burying his face in his hands. "We are all going to die."
Being a Polish resistance fighter, it turned out, was exactly the sort of thing that years of being in Cubs hadn't prepared Gordon for at all. There wasn't much call for singing campfire songs, or earning badges, and his knot tying was in no way advanced enough to tether Minka's affections. Even his sterling record of good deeds wasn't enough, for while he felt in his heart that helping old ladies across roads and carrying their shopping was at least a start, Minka rated nothing under smuggling grenades to the resistance in one's schoolbag as a "deed," let alone as "good." He sighed under the heap of wet leaves where he was concealed, wishing he were at home, or at least back in Hut 33. His mum hadn't let him go on many actual camping trips, and Gordon felt he was belatedly coming to appreciate the wisdom of a position that would keep him from feeling slimy leaf mold insinuating itself down the back of his neck or, even worse, the sensation of little legs creeping over his skin -
"Ahhhh! Centipedes! Spiders! Ahhhhh!" Gordon shrieked and burst from hiding, flapping his hands in horror and scraping himself against a tree.
"Bang, you are dead," Minka said, and fired a helpful mnemonic round into the tree trunk over Gordon's head. "You think fascist pig-dogs will wait for you to rid yourself of crawlie-creepies?" she said, putting her pistol away and punctuating her words with jabs of her suddenly produced machine gun barrel into his stomach.
"I'd be better at hiding if I had long trousers," Gordon whinged, backing off. "I don't think my mum would want me hiding in wet leaves with centipedes, Minka."
"Pah! Centipedes! Minka hate centipedes! Oh, look at me, with my fifty pairs of shoes! They are big fat liar, they do not actually have one hundred feet!" She fired a burst into the leaves. "Now they are dead. Back in leaves, Gordon." She turned her attention to where Charles was loitering at the foot of a neighbouring tree. "Why are you on ground? Minka said climb!"
"I'm not as young and limber as Gordon," Charles said. "Make him climb."
"Minka have pair of wolves once," Minka said. "They climb very well."
"Wolves can't climb trees," Gordon said from under the leaves.
"Indeed, Gordon!" Charles said. "You see, Minka -"
"One wolf would not climb," Minka said ruminatively. "But then other wolf look at Minka's new wolf-fur coat. It climb very well. Pick wolf to emulate, Charles." As Charles discovered within him a sudden capacity for shinning up trees she smiled in approval. "Minka use the subjunctive correctly?" she called up sweetly.
Charles muttered and climbed higher.
"Stay under leaves, Gordon," Minka said. "Burst forth when Nazis come by. Minka will see if Archie and Josh have found Fallschirmjäger yet."
"Is German for 'paratrooper'. You English, you think just because half of world is pink on map you need not speak other language. Pah! How else will you properly understand pleas for mercy from enemies?"
The leaves rustled as Minka stalked off in search of prey; there was silence then for several minutes and Gordon felt safe in slithering out from the leafmold once more. A cold gun barrel touched the back of his neck.
"Bang! You are dead again!" Minka yelled. As Gordon lay there hyperventilating she chuckled. "Hah, I see from your face you appreciate funny joke! Now I go to Archie and Josh."
Gordon rolled over and stared up at the sky, wishing he was at home. Wishing he were at home, he told himself sternly, in case Charles could somehow see from the tree top that he was thinking the subjunctive incorrectly. In the distance he could hear the sounds of Archie and Josh yelling and crashing through the woods in pursuit of Nazis. Of course, Gordon thought wearily, it wasn't as if they were really hunting Nazis, these were just practice hunts, with squirrels standing in for the enemy. He was fairly sure that real German paratroopers didn't spend as much time rushing up and down tree trunks and burying acorns. As he lay there a couple of enemy squirrels scampered over him, the rest of the Bletchley Polish Resistance in pursuit, and ran straight up the tree in which Charles was hiding.
"Damn it, they bit me!" Charles yelled, and then shrieked as he plummeted to the ground. Gordon looked over as he hit with a squelching noise, and frowned. Charles appeared to have landed in a pile of dog food.
"Minka?" Gordon said, carefully looking round the back of Hut 33. He was sure Minka had come out just a moment before. "Minka?"
"You spy on me?" Minka said in his ear.
"Gah! I mean, no! I mean, you're looking very, er, very -" He wished his brain was better at coming up with compliments, but it was hard to think what to say when faced with someone wearing a hand-to-shoulder chainmail gauntlet. "You're looking very warlike today," he said weakly.
"Yes," Minka said. "What do you want?"
"I was just wondering what's going on with the piles of dog food?" Gordon squeaked."I thought, maybe that now we're comrades in the resistance you might tell me?"
"Huh," Minka said, looking him up and down as if measuring him for a secret, shallow grave. "Minka will tell you secret."
"A secret, gosh!" Gordon said, proud to have gained her confidence. Surely her heart was not far behind. "You're not going to kill me after you tell me, are you?"
"That depends on who you tell."
"I won't tell anyone! No one at all!"
"Then I probably let you live. Is very simple plan. All though history, Polish people have had dangerous neighbours – wolves, bears, Lithuanians. But natural innate kindness and gentleness of Polish spirit leads them to work in harmony with us. Together, we slaughter all enemies of Poland!"
"Wolves and bears work with you?" Gordon said.
"Yes. Minka have bear once, Minka tell you before."
"You strangled it for collaboration with the Germans! Don't you mean these poor creatures are your slaves because they're terrified of you?"
"No! Is gentleness of Polish spirit!" Minka snarled, brandishing a mailed fist in his face. "But stupid England has no wolves or bears! Minka must use local substitute!"
"Is it the squirrels?" Gordon asked. "Did you train them to bite Charles? I did wonder how you got them to salute like that -"
"Pah, squirrels! Minka hate squirrels. They are all German sympathizers. No, Minka use English animal, Poland has it also, but I do not know English name – black and white, a bit like dog. It live underground, like you in leaves. Minka train to hunt fascist pig-dogs, to bring flasks of vodka to resistance fighters trapped in avalanche, to carry messages across battlefield. Not as good as Polish borsuk, but will have to do."
"You're feeding underground border collies on dog food from the canteen?" Gordon said.
"Now Minka know English name for animal. It is very stupid name."
"The canteen hasn't really been serving dog food as beef stew, has it?" Gordon said sadly.
"What do you care? It have good gamey flavour. Now come, you will practice concealment in leaves while others have eleven o'clock break."
Gordon glumly went and buried himself under the leaves again, knowing that his arrowroot biscuits and carefully rationed cup of tea would have already died a swift death.
"This has to stop," Charles said glumly into a pint of Victory ale. "Those squirrels were vicious, and the paratroopers can't be any better." He scratched at his arm miserably. "What has my life come to that I have cause to discover I'm allergic to squirrels?"
"Cheer up, man!" Archie said. "Maybe they had rabies."
"How is that supposed to cheer me up?"
"It's bringing a warm glow to my heart," Archie grinned.
"Don't be silly, there's no rabies in the British Isles," Mrs Best said, leaning across the bar in a manner that advertised her assets. As a businesswoman she was always very clear on the value of advertising. "What paratroopers, Charles?"
"Who knows?" Charles said, with a slight flush of embarrassment.
"Some vicious grammarians from the University of Berlin have been called in to settle a linguistic spat by a linguistic prat," Archie said. "You don't mind if we die before paying our tab, do you, Mrs Best?"
"Here, none of you is getting off that easy," she said. "You can settle up tonight if you're going to die. Cash, please. Or in kind, Charles. Special offer?"
"I'll pay in full," Charles shuddered. "I wouldn't want the name of St Seb's to be tarnished by my posthumous debts."
"As opposed to being tarnished as a haunt of bourgeois fascist sympathizers?" Archie said, and laughed in triumph as Charles stalked off in fury.
"Archie, that wasn't very nice," Gordon said, stealing what was left of Charles' ale.
"Here, I was going to have that," Archie said. "Mrs Best! A schoolboy is drinking in your establishment!"
"Law says he just can't buy it," she sniffed, and handed Gordon a rather elderly cheese sandwich. "Seeing as how he's the only one of you who pays for his drinks when he gets them, I have no problem with him now that he's drinking it as part of a meal."
"This is the bar, not a restaurant," Archie said.
"That sandwich is on a doily, isn't it? That's restaurant quality. Drink your ale, Gordon."
"And I'm not a schoolboy anyway," Gordon said. "I'm a second year student at Cambridge." Maddened suddenly by both Archie's scoffing laughter and almost an entire pint of free ale, he added, "Which, which is centuries older than Manchester University and is a real university." He quailed as Archie stopped laughing.
"Nice, Gordon," Archie said. "Why don't you go and hide with Charles, and he can tell you all about how Cambridge is for people who couldn't even get to the Oxford interviews?"
"That's not fair! I didn't even apply to Oxford!"
"Oh, aye?" Archie said with a mean grin. "Afraid you'd meet someone who got there because of his brains?"
"I have an IQ of one hundred and ninety-six!" Gordon squeaked in outrage.
"And I," Archie said with triumphal finality, "have had sex. With girls."
"I have ten minutes free if you want a woman," Mrs Best said.
"No thanks, Mrs B," Archie said. "The feeling of manly superiority from looking at Gordon's downcast face is enough pleasure at the moment."
"Hello, chaps!" Josh said, coming in, his cheeks pink from the cold. "A pint of Victory ale, please, Mrs Best. Why are you looking so down, Gordon?"
"We're fighting," Gordon mumbled.
"What?" Josh said aghast as he lifted his ale. "Why are we fighting?"
"Germany invaded Poland two years ago," Archie said helpfully.
"Oh," Josh said, a look of incomprehension on his face. "But why are you fighting now? Two years ago is an awfully long time to be arguing, chaps."
"Because if it wasn't for this stupid war we wouldn't be here, and I wouldn't have to work in Hut 33 and I'd be doing mathematical research in Cambridge after getting a first in my degree and I'd have a girlfriend and she'd go to bed with me," Gordon spat. "Probably." He put down his glass and turned away. "I'm going to bed. You'll all be sorry when I'm dead, you know." He stormed off, regretting it only when it occurred to him that it probably hadn't been a dignified, grown-up exit.
"Charles?" he said upstairs, knocking on Charles' door. "Are you asleep?"
"No, come in, Gordon," Charles said.
Charles was clearly ready for bed, Gordon saw, dressed in his satin pyjamas and silk dressing gown. A pile of books rested on his bedside table, pushed aside to make room for a half-written document.
"Archie is very rude," Gordon said. "So I came to apologise on his behalf."
"I suppose that's all I can hope for," Charles said. "We'll all have forgotten it in the morning, don't worry, Gordon."
"Can I borrow a book?" Gordon said, drifting over to the table. "Do you have any advanced mathematical theory or maybe a Superman comic?"
"Sorry," Charles said. "Just works of great literature."
"Are you practicing your German?" Gordon said, peering down at the neatly-written page. "German letters are very spiky, aren't they?" He looked at the way it was laid out. "Hang on, are you writing a letter to someone in German? No, that'd be silly, because it would be too ridiculous if you really were a Nazi spy! Everyone would think we really were all fools in Hut 33 not to notice you were a spy – oh, God, you're not really a spy, are you, Charles?"
"For God's sake, I'm not a spy! I'm – just transcribing some of the coded messages neatly before I translate them. It's not as if a desperate letter begging for the attack to be called off would even get to Berlin in time - I mean, who on earth would I write to in German?"
"Your Uncle Heinrich?"
"What good is he, he's still on the Eastern front," Charles muttered. "Go down and make friends with Archie, Gordon. I don't want to put up with your mathematically precise pining tomorrow."
"All right," Gordon sighed, and went downstairs again. "Archie," he said. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said any of that."
"OK," Archie said. "Forgive and forget, eh?"
"And Charles is sorry for always trying to annoy you, too," Gordon extemporised. "He's working on translating those messages we deciphered now, instead of going to bed!"
"Oh," Archie said, sounding surprised. "Well – good. He should work long hours, like the working classes. So he can see what it's like. I'll see you in the morning, Gordon, all right? Night, Mrs Best. Josh."
"Charles really is working hard," Gordon said to Mrs Best and Josh as Archie wandered away. "And he's not a German sympathiser, because his notes are about a German cyptographer being a liar. "Lie-ber Hermann", it says."
"Oh, the fellow's name is Hermann, is it?" Josh said.
"It's just a pretend name, we don't really know any of their names," Gordon said.
"Why is Charles playing pretend in the middle of a war?" Josh said. "It's just not on!"
"It means Dear Hermann," Mrs Best said. "Who's Hermann?"
"The German cryptographer," Josh said happily.
"No, that's not his name, it's just a pretend letter," Gordon said with an ernest expression, "I mean, it's hardly likely that just because Charles has high-ranking relatives in the Wehrmacht and he's spent summer after summer in Berlin and he keeps talking about his student days drinking beer in Munich that he's writing to his old family friend Hermann Goer- oh, my God, he's writing to Hermann G-mpph!" He flailed and writhed in horror as Mrs Best pulled him across the bar and kissed him into silence.
"There was a boy at Bradlowe who was one of the Gmpphs," Josh said. "An old Welsh family. Goodnight, all!"
"Help me - mpph!" Gordon squeaked.
"You are not getting the professor arrested for treason," Mrs Best said, letting him up for air. "I've got my eye on him. Now what's going on?"
"Charles let slip to the Germans that something is happening at Bletchley, and a crack unit of paratroopers is going to come and kill us all and Minka made us join the Polish resistance and she'll kill me for telling you and the canteen is serving dog food and now Charles is writing to Goering!" Gordon whispered. "It's been a very trying couple of days!"
"Go to bed," Mrs Best said. "I'll sort this out."
"But how?" Gordon said.
"Never you mind. Last orders! Go on, Gordon, you leave Charles and the Germans to me."
"At least there's no dog food all over the place," Archie said the next morning when they entered Hut 33. He wrinkled his nose. "Though there's an awful pong of wet dog."
"Phew, yes," Gordon said.
"Minka no longer requires dog food," Minka said, stepping into the centre of the hut.
"Gah! Minka! Why are you dressed as a filing cabinet?"
"In case fascist pig-dogs try to steal files at night," Minka said in tones that left no doubt she was astonished at such a stupid question. "They try to open Minka's drawers, they get little surprise."
"I'm . . . just going to let that one lie," Archie said.
"Why don't you need dog food, Minka?" Gordon asked, wondering how he could convincingly compliment her outfit without coming off as completely desperate.
"Because in fight against fascist pig-dogs, hunters must be lean and hungry! If underground border collies are starving, Nazi flesh will taste all the sweeter."
"Charles, you're the linguist, translate what Minka just said," Archie said.
"I'm not talking to any of you," Charles sniffed, sat down and buried his nose in the newspaper.
"You will also hunger for the hunt. Minka has already confiscated your ration books and seized arrowroot biscuits Gordon thought he hid. You think you can hide from Polish resistance?"
"Our biscuits!" Gordon wailed.
"Sod the biscuits, our rations," Archie said. "Minka, be a good comrade and give the ration books back, eh?"
"No! Not until Nazi invasion has been repelled! Anyway, canteen will still serve you potatoes."
"Plain boiled potatoes," Charles said in a falsely cheerful voice. "A step up for your culinary experience at least, Archie."
"Shut it, Charles. I hope the RAF has drunk every last bottle in the St Sebs' cellars."
"They probably have, the aerial ignorami," Charles muttered.
"I'm a growing boy, can't I have my ration book?" Gordon pleaded. "I have to give my coupons to Mrs Best - there was a rumour going round that the butcher would have pork!"
"Is lie. Is cat food shaped into chops," Minka said. "You will get books back tomorrow, if you survive."
"If we survive?" Gordon said hopelessly.
"Weather is clear. Minka's experience says will remain clear - if pig-dog paratrooper Fallschirmjäger come at all, they will come tonight. Tonight, you fight for freedom of Poland!"
"Not for the survival of everyone stationed in Bletchley?" Archie said.
"Ehh, that too."
"I'm cold," Gordon whimpered, as all feeling left his toes and fingers. He sniffed and wiped his nose on the back of his hand in precisely the way his mother had always told him not to for he had discovered too late that he'd left his handkerchief in the pocket of his other shorts, and had forgotten to transfer it to his resistance outfit. He rather wished his resistance outfit wasn't his good shorts and jacket liberally daubed with mud for camouflage. He surreptitiously tried to stretch without making the bush shake too much, and stared glumly across the little clearing. People hiding in ambushes never seemed to get cold or have horrible drippy wet noses and only their hands or nasty cold leaves to wipe them with in his adventure comics, and he felt it was rotten that real life couldn't live up to that. It was pretty rotten too that Joshua looked a lot warmer in his army greatcoat and was humming We'll Meet Again quite loudly. "My nose is numb."
"Josh!" Charles whispered in a volume a little under a yell. "Shhh! The Nazis will hear you!"
"Nazis?" Josh said in confusion. "Do you mean Germans?"
"Yes, Josh, Germans," Archie hissed from the other side of the bush. "That's who people generally mean when they talk about Nazis. Unless they're talking about Charles."
"Now is not the time for your petty point-scoring," Charles whispered.
"Now is the perfect time for petty point-scoring! I need to get as much of it in as I can before the Nazis kill us!"
"If you do not all shut up, Minka will kill you," a voice said from nowhere.
"Gah!" everyone shrieked.
"Why does Minka even bother?" the voice said, and then there was silence.
"Seriously, I can't feel my nose any longer," Gordon said, after a long stretch in which the only thing that had been heard was the sudden cut-off hoot of an owl as Minka unleashed some anticipatory violence.
"Rub some dock leaves on it," Josh said.
"That's for nettle stings! This is frostbite!"
"That does it!" Archie said. "I'm hiding somewhere else, somewhere where a pack of idiots isn't making noise in the middle of a German attack!" He slithered away, a lot less quietly than Minka.
"They're not here yet," Gordon whinged. "I'll stop talking about my nose when they get here."
"No one cares about your nose, Gordon," Charles said. "Anyway, it won't bother you when you're dead. Thank God I'm going to heaven and the rest of you aren't. Finally, some peace."
"That's not very nice," Gordon said. "You should be a better Christian!"
"Oh, Lord, please let Gordon die painlessly in the first assault. Amen. There, happy?"
"No! I can't believe you just prayed for my death!"
"Your quick and painless death. If I were vindictive, I'd have prayed for Joshua to be the one to have planned this ridiculous affair. He'd have had us in the desert and captured by Rommel by now, only we'd actually be drowned because he'd have driven us through the sea!"
"Oh, now that's not fair," Josh said. "I only did that once, and it was because the map had been printed upside down! It quite clearly indicated there was more of France than there actually was! And tanks are - what's that thing frogs are?"
"Amphibious," Gordon sniffed. He was getting a cold, he could feel it.
"Precisely - tanks are amphibious, so no harm done, eh, chaps?"
"Tanks are not amphibious," Charles said. "You are just an idiot."
"That's a bit harsh," Josh said and stood up. "I'm feeling rather miffed. I think I'll go back to the officers' mess."
"You can't! The Germans will see you! Or Minka will!" Gordon hissed.
"Either way, it'll be a painful death," Charles said.
"Oh, see here, what nonsense! What Germans?"
"The ones we've been training to hunt!" Gordon said. The urge rising within him to slap Josh around was a welcome suggestion that he might have the gumption to get off at least a few sharp words to the paratroopers before they shot him, he thought.
"The ones I - that someone inadvertently told to focus their attention on Bletchley Park!" Charles said.
"Oh, those Germans," Josh said. "No need to worry, the raid's been called off, HQ said."
"What?" Gordon and Charles chorused.
"Yeah, what?" Archie yelled from twenty yards away.
"Don't eavesdrop, you bolshie little spy!" Charles called back.
"Who is spy?" Minka said, dropping silently from the branches above.
"Gah!" everyone shrieked.
"I'm not a spy, they were just shouting!" Archie yelled.
"Pah, does not matter. You are Russian sympathizer, Soviet Union fights Nazis, Minka does not care you spy. Minka care more about German raid being called off - explain, Josh!"
"It seems that someone crept in to the main house and broadcast a message to the Luftwaffe colonel in charge of paratroopers, asking him to make sure the raid wouldn't take place. The funny thing is, this morning there was a uncoded reply, begging for discretion and promising to comply."
"What?" Archie said, coming over. "What did the message to Germany say?"
"Apparently it was just a lot of personal reminisinces about Berlin in the Twenties - very personal, so it seems - and threats to send the photographs to his wife. Odd thing is, none of the chaps monitoring the transmitter saw anyone send the message. Probably some sort of twenty-four hour 'flu - they all claim intense exhaustion and muscle aches in their groins."
There was a pause, and then Archie and Charles spontaneously cheered the author of their salvation, while Gordon furrowed his brow in puzzlement.
"Is there anyone in the Wehrmacht of whom Mrs Best does not have carnal knowledge?" Charles said admiringly. "We're saved! It's a miracle!"
"Some miracle," Archie said. "It's more of a miracle how she had the stamina to send the message after incapacitating all those lads."
"I'm not sure I understand -" Gordon said plaintively.
"That's right," Archie said. "So. I'm off, then. I fancy an arrowroot biscuit - can we have the packet back now, Minka?"
"Minka is experiencing feelings of deep disappointment," Minka said. "I wear special Nazi-killing outfit for nothing!"
"It's mainly mud and leaves, Minka," Gordon said. He looked closer. "Oh. It's all mud and rotting leaves." He attempted to look even closer and not to blink lest he miss even a micro-second of the sight.
Minka produced a machine gun from thin air and glared at them all. "Minka train useless English creatures to hunt pig-dogs! I also train English underground border collies! For nothing!"
"Er - what is an underground border collie?" Archie said.
Minka narrowed her eyes and advanced on Gordon. "You tell me wrong English word? You try to make Minka look stupid?"
"No!" Gordon shrieked, seeing his life flash in front of his mind's eye. It contained a satisfying knowledge of Superman comics, but he really felt he had a lot left undone. "I'd never do that! It's probably because I'm English and therefore not as intelligent as someone in the Polish resistance!"
Minka raised a muddy eyebrow. "You have IQ of one hundred ninety six and you cannot grovel better than that? Borsuk has not been fed, is very hungry. Minka forced to choose German sympathizer as food. Charles, you start this whole thing -"
"Oh, God," Charles said, his eyes wide in horror.
" - run, pig-dog!" Minka snarled, and fired a burst an inch over his head.
Charles ran. The others huddled together as a nearby bush shook and a badger wearing a collar emblazoned in the red and white of the Polish flag shot out, nipping at Charles' heels.
"Outrun borsuk if you can!" Minka yelled as other Nazi-hating badgers joined the chase. She pursed her lips in appreciation as the screaming faded into the distance. "Charles run very fast for man with sedentary lifestyle," she said. "If he give borsuk unit good chase, maybe I let him live." She jogged across the clearing in a way that Gordon knew would give him happy dreams for months and was gone from their sight even before she reached the other side.
"She's so - naked," Gordon said reverentially.
"Aye, well just be glad you didn't turn to stone when you looked at her," Archie muttered. He shook Gordon till sense came back into his face. "Listen, Gordon - you too, Josh - we can never let on that Charles started this, or that Mrs B got us out of it. We're enough of a laughing stock already. So repeat after me: this never happened."
"This never happened," Gordon said obediently. He paused. "Not even the bit where Minka looked like, like -"
"A violent killer who slaughtered her way from Warsaw to Allied-held territory? None of it, Gordon."
"Sorry, what are we talking about?" Josh said.
"That's the spirit," Archie said, clapping him on the shoulder.
"Oh. Well, jolly good, then! Where are we going now?"
"It's only two hours before we should start work," Gordon said. "And we're bound to get caught by Mrs Best if we try to go home. I'm still not sure how she saved us, but if she did she might want," he shuddered, "payment."
"Good point," Archie said. "We could pretend we've been working all night and make sure everyone notices that Hut 12's a bunch of lazy bourgeois shirkers compared to us."
"And we left our normal non-resistance clothes on the table," Gordon said. "And my handkerchief is there."
"So it's decided," Archie said.
"Where are we going?" Josh asked again, hopefully.
"Back to Hut 33," Archie and Gordon chorused as behind them Charles was briefly silhouetted on the skyline, followed by a pack of ravenous badgers with Minka providing encouragement via machine gun fire. "Back to Hut 33."