Minka was searching for something under her desk. Possibly the body of her latest victim, Archie had whispered almost too softly to be heard. Gordon was ignoring him and revelling in the fact that he was in exactly the right spot to enjoy watching what could be seen of her (primarily a skirt nicely emphasising her derriere, as Josh would no doubt refer to it) and yet he wasn't obviously ogling. At least not if he managed to look away before she emerged back into the light.
"Morning, all!" Josh carolled, hopping through the door to greet the day with the enthusiasm of the deeply stupid. "Morning, Minka!"
"Mrgh," they responded.
"Hey," Minka said lazily.
"Oh, God, how disappointing. None of you died during the night," Charles muttered, coming in. He hung up his coat and sat down, glaring at the walls, the ceiling and the piled up scraps of paper. "Mrs Best decided she'd offer me a continental breakfast this morning," he said to no one in particular.
"Not very filling," Josh said. He rubbed his hands together, "I have to say, there's nothing that beats the full English breakfast."
"Yes," Charles said, as everyone felt their stomachs gurgle at the mere thought of a plate piled high with sausages and bacon. "But there was plenty of French kissing at least. I need a cup of tea to get the taste out of my mouth – where's the wicked witch of Warsaw?"
All eyes turned to Minka's desk, from whence sounds of what seemed to be digging were now emanating. Gordon noticed the pleasant swaying motion of Minka's skirt ceased, like a tiger stalking its prey who wonders if it should get a little closer, or instead leap the last fifteen feet, claws out, just because it can. Minka sat back on her heels. One hand came up on the desk and then the other, and she rose to her feet like the kraken rising from the deep.
"Do I, like, look like the tea lady?" she inquired.
"Well, I was just thinking, if you should by any chance be thinking of possibly at some point making a cup of tea for yourself that I might, if it was all right with you drink whatever was left in the pot?" Charles said in a meek gabble.
Minka gave him a death glare. "Huh," she said, and sat primly down.
"Um," Gordon said as Charles heaved a sigh of relief at his continued existence and Josh crept out of hiding from behind Winstanley's collection of empty Spam tins. "Who are you?"
"I'm Minka," the figure sitting in Minka's chair said. "I'm, like, the secretary for you collection of losers?"
No one else, Gordon noticed, was even paying attention. "You're not Minka," he said. "Your hair is different, your face is different. Your voice is different and you don't have a Polish accent. You're shorter than she is, your eyes are a different colour, your hands are smaller, and –"
"Whoa," Not-Minka said, standing up to straighten her skirt. "You must, like, do nothing but stare at me all day long."
" – and you're a man," Gordon finished, his voice rising embarrassingly to an outraged squeak.
Not-Minka rolled her - his eyes. "Please. This is, like, Minka's desk, right? And this is Minka's chair. And this is Minka's list of people she has assassinated with little more than her bare hands and a few poisoned pine needles? And this –" he gestured down at himself " – is Minka's uniform? Looks to me like I'm totally Minka."
"You're not," Gordon insisted, and turned to garner support. "Archie! This, this fellow says he's Minka, but he isn't because he's not a girl and he's not even – here," he finished weakly, turning back to see the empty chair.
Archie shook his head sadly. "Stop playing silly buggers, Gordon and come and do some work."
"But – " Gordon mumbled.
"Gordon. Did this person who isn't Minka just vanish as into thin air?"
"Sounds like Minka to me."
"Do you know what Minka sounds like to me?" Charles said. "An intoxicating mix of preserved Proto-Slavic nasal vowels and laminal retroflex fricatives. If only we could crossbreed her accent with your infinitely more ridiculous one, Archie, we could create a weapon of such sharp-edged obnoxiousness it would sweep the Allies to victory within a week."
"Shut it," Archie suggested.
"Hey, I'm like, right here," Not-Minka said from six inches behind Charles.
"Gah!" everyone shrieked.
Maybe this person really was Minka, Gordon thought, as his heart-rate slowed again. The sneaking and appearing like magic certainly was familiar. He kept an eye on Not-Minka for the rest of the day. No one else seemed to notice anything wrong at all, or commented how odd that Minka – who never usually did more with her nails than file them to a razor-sharpness the better for slitting a fascist pig-dog's throat on a moonless night – should spend most of her day buffing and then painting her nails a brilliant scarlet, her legs crossed alluringly so that it was almost possible to see her garters. Nor, Gordon reminded himself, tearing his gaze away from Not-Minka's thighs, the most important detail. Which was that Not-Minka was Not-A-Girl. Not-Minka looked straight at him as he thought that, and flashed him a cheeky grin. Gordon looked down at his desk and found he had decoded the latest intercept as thighs thighs thighs, which was, on the balance of things, probably not what the officers of the Wehrmacht were sending each other. He should get to the derriere of this, he decided.
Getting to the bottom of anything was difficult when you were the youngest person in the Hut and everyone else left you to tidy up after the day's work. Gordon locked the door (it should have been Josh's job to do that, but after he'd lost the last six sets of keys it was generally considered kinder not to burden him with such an intellectual task) and wandered off into the chilly night air. Ahead of him lay the sad prospect of Mrs B's cooking, Mrs B's refusal to sell him alcohol and the terrifying prospect that one of these nights Mrs B would come looking for fresh meat. Gordon heaved a sigh. He was keeping himself fresh for Minka and no other. He frowned, hearing singing ahead of him. Surely the others couldn't be drunk already? Not on Mrs B's watered down beer? And why would they be singing in – he paused. Someone was singing in German. This was his chance – if he could capture a German spy, he was sure to capture Minka's heart. He ran forward as quietly as he could, and was very disappointed when the song resolved itself into something that sounded very much like Proto-Slavic nasal vowels and laminal retroflex fricatives. Just one of the Polish chaps, he thought, as the song broke off and the singer exclaimed,
"Hey! Hands off, dude!"
"You're a boy! In a dress!"
Gordon's heart sank. He really didn't like dealing with the men from the town. He didn't see why Charles referred to them as intellectual giants, they'd always seemed to Gordon rather to denigrate the life of the mind. On the other hand –
"I wouldn't, like, call myself a boy, and this totally isn't a dress! It's a skirt and jacket. I save the dresses for dances. Not that you two need think you'll get a turn on the floor with me; consider my dance card, like, totally filled, boys."
On the other hand, Gordon told himself, this was none of his business. Not-Minka wasn't a trusted colleague and shouldn't be pretending to be someone he wasn't. He crept to the corner and peeped round, just as one of the men took a swing at Not-Minka.
"You little nancy-bo . . .ow! Ow! Ah! Stop! Please!"
Not-Minka obligingly stopped breaking his arm in multiple places, instead dropping him to the ground and melting away into the darkness before reappearing behind the other man to disable him with a sharp jab to the kidneys. He straightened his jacket, stepped over the writhing bodies and brushed his hair back behind his ears.
"You can come out now, Gordon," he said. "Thanks for, like, leaping chivalrously to my aid."
Gordon sheepishly came round the corner to face Not-Minka who was standing hands-on-hips, tapping one foot in irritation. "That was amazing, the way you just sort of destroyed them. It was just like Minka," he said in awe.
Not-Minka rolled his eyes with such vigour Gordon feared for his eyesight. "Maybe that's because I am -"
"No," Gordon said. "You're not. I don't know why anyone else hasn't noticed, but maybe I'm just naturally observant."
"Maybe you spend too much time memorising Minka's every move," Not-Minka said ruminatively, looking him up and down. "Do you hang round trying to see in her window at night?"
"No!" Gordon said, outraged.
"Why? Afraid you'll get caught?"
Not-Minka grinned at him, just as cheekily as in the Hut, his irritation apparently vanishing into the dark like a Polish resistance fighter. "Minka's had to go away for a little while," he said. "She'll be back, and I'm taking her place while she's gone."
"Ah-ah. I could tell you, but I'd totally have to kill you. Is that something Minka'd say without meaning it?"
"No," Gordon said.
"Right now, I'm Minka."
"Ah," Gordon said. He thought about it. "I see your point." There was an awkward silence. Then, "But how can you take her place? You're not a girl! And you're not Polish!"
Not-Minka sighed. "You think I should talk like this?" he said in a heavy, heavy Polish accent. "You believe stereotype that is impossible for Poles to speak English that is not odd?"
"Your English is actually a bit odd," Gordon interjected.
"Is irrelevant! Is contiguous to point! Point is, is impossible to be more Polish than me – ah, screw this, look, I totally watch a lot of America's movies and my English accent is, like, perfect. And I have legs any woman would kill for. I'm totally convincing, dude."
"Your accent's like something, anyway," Gordon muttered. "What's your name, at least?"
"You really wouldn't believe me if I told you," Not-Minka said. He held out a scarlet-nailed hand. "You can call me Feliks."
"Felix," Gordon said, shaking his hand gingerly.
"Hey, not with English vowels and not with an x. With a k-s. I can totally hear the difference."
"You can?" Gordon said, wondering if Feliks was going to give back his hand at any time in the near future.
"You can't? Let's go have our crappy dinner, and then you can buy me a drink." Feliks pointed Gordon in the right direction and gave him a gentle push, settling into stride beside him.
"I can't buy you a drink," Gordon said glumly as they walked along. "Mrs B won't sell me alcohol, I'm too young."
"Ehh, give me the money, I'll buy for both of us."
"Why am I buying you a drink, again?" Gordon demanded. This was, he decided, rather too much like one of Archie or Charles' ploys to drink at someone else's expense, which Gordon didn't really mind when that someone else was Josh, because Josh had money and didn't actually ever notice that he was being fleeced. It was a bit different when you were seventeen and depending on the odd shilling sent by your mum to supplement the wages on which the government seemed to think code-breakers could support an extravagant lifestyle. A fairly comfortable lifestyle. Bare survival.
"Because, you'll totally be the envy of Hut 33 when they see you drinking with Minka."
"Here, let me put it in the romantic Polish way that turns you on: you buy me drink, I not kill you."
"I do still have some pocket money left," Gordon said, feeling strangely warm.
"That's the spirit," Feliks said, taking his arm.
"Well, someone was enjoying himself last night," Archie said meaningfully. "Sitting out under the stars, giving Mrs B a spot of plausible deniability she wasn't selling tank fuel flavoured with hops to schoolboys."
"It got rather chilly actually," Gordon said, burying himself in a pile of number sequences that Winstanley's notes suggested held the dread secret to the coming Apocalypse. "It is still only the end of February."
"Aye. I saw how Minka had to drape her jacket round your girlishly shivering shoulders. Is it any wonder you can't get anywhere with her? Be a man! Give her your jacket!"
"His jacket's not as flattering in the bust," Feliks said, appearing as if from thin air.
"Gah!" Archie and Gordon shrieked.
"I'll make tea," Feliks said, which was an odd thing for someone pretending to be Minka to say. He bustled off. Gordon couldn't help but notice he seemed to have taken the skirt up a couple of inches.
"I wish she wouldn't creep up on us," Archie moaned. He looked round cautiously, but the hut seemed to be currently Pole-free. "Ah well, let's get down to work."
"An excellent idea," Charles said from the door. "You work, I'll supervise. Well, commence labour, peons."
"I cannot wait for the revolution to come," Archie said. "You're going to get such a slapping."
"Do you attribute your communism to the cold, Archie?" Charles said, exuding false interest.
"The cold? What are you talking about, man?"
"Well, I mean, Newcastle. It's practically Siberia. You think you're in Russia."
"There's nowt wrong with being in Russia," Archie snapped.
"That's totally not what a friend of mine thinks," Feliks said, materialising with a teapot.
"Gah!" everyone shrieked.
"Ah, Minka," Charles gasped, pressing a hand over his heart. "So a charming schoolgirl chum of yours found it's not quite a paradise in the Soviet Socialist Republic? Swept off her feet by a soviet cad to end up slaving in the salt mines?" He backed behind his desk as it looked dangerously close to the point the teapot might be inserted handle-first in an uncomfortable spot.
"Swept away by imperial Czarist forces, actually," Feliks said. "Tea?"
"Czarist forces? But that must have been long before you were born!" Charles said. "Perhaps this is linguistic evidence that Polish people –" he retreated a little further. "Gordon, she likes you. Suggest this may be evidence that Polish people can only count in Polish."
"Yes, Gordon. Suggest it," Feliks said, holding the teapot like a weapon.
"Could I have a cup of tea please, Minka?" Gordon said meekly.
"You will live," Feliks said in an exaggerated Polish accent, pouring him a mug.
The door opened dramatically as Josh rushed in, his cheeks pink from the exertion of finding his way through a maze of huts confusingly laid out in ascending numerical order. "Hut 33! Your attention, please," he started. "Oh, tea!" he said in delight, accepting a steaming mug.
They all sipped the delicious tea. It tasted sort of mountainy, Gordon thought, and sweet as if honey had been added to the pot to disguise any bitter aftertaste and it really didn't taste much like tea and it was probably too late to notice Feliks wasn't drinking any.
"It's an old Slavic recipe," Feliks said. "Made with a natural sedative. Totally relaxing."
Ah, Gordon thought as he found himself lying across the table bonelessly and heading for dreamless sleep. Serving poisoned tea. That was something Minka would do.
"There's something not quite right about Minka," Josh said a few mornings later, his cheerful face furrowed with the effort of forcing thoughts to form like stars coalescing from far flung particles of gas. "I can't quite put my finger on it."
"I'm not sure it's safe to put a finger on her," Charles said.
"It's totally not."
"Gah!" Charles shrieked. "Minka, please don't creep up like that."
"Hey, when your country's been invaded by –"
"Yes, yes, fascist pig-dogs, learn to sneak quietly, kill, kill, maim," Charles said. There was a moment of silence. "Oh my God," he whimpered, going white, "I interrupted her in a patriotic rant. Don't kill me, please, Minka. I'll do whatever you want! I'll go out right now and dig up invertebrates and eat them."
Feliks looked at him incredulously. "Go and eat a spider too," he said. Charles fled. A slow grin spread across Feliks' face. He looked round at the rest of them, the grin spreading wider as one by one they looked away till it was safe. "You totally think Minka's terrifying," he said.
"Yes, she is, I mean, you are," Gordon said. "And lovely. I mean Minka is. So, er, as you're Minka, um –"
"We're all comrades here," Archie said bravely. "Minka is just one woman. Admittedly a woman who has wrestled a bear, killed numerous Nazis with a variety of weapons including the centre of a toilet roll and shows her affection by threatening us with death on a daily basis, but one woman none the less. None of us is scared of the others." He recoiled as Feliks took a step towards him. "How many spiders do you want me to eat?" he gabbled.
"Good God, that's it!" Josh gasped. "I can't see your knees! What's happened to your knees, Minka?"
Everyone looked at Feliks' knees.
"Excuse me," he said. "My face is, like, up here? I'm wearing trousers."
"But you're a girl," Josh said in confusion. "Girls can't wear trousers."
"Actually, at the moment Minka's not exactly what you might call a gi-" Gordon started.
"Spider sandwiches," Feliks snapped.
"Yes. Yes!" Gordon said. "I meant, I support the right of women to wear whatever they want! Because, because to do otherwise is to be a bourgeois capitalist fascist pig-dog! Right, Archie?" he said beseechingly.
"Right!" Archie said, clearly seeing a potential future in which spider eating might not feature so prominently. "I am opposed to the oppressive expectation that women should be subject to any social censure for wearing trousers to work in secretarial positions. Even if it does make them look like men."
"Just one spider," Feliks said magnanimously, and Archie fled after Charles.
Gordon could take it no longer. "Argh!" he cried. "This is ridiculous! Why hasn't anyone else noticed? Minka is a man! And she's not Minka!"
"Oh dear," Josh said. "Gordon, I know you're going though a difficult time of time – heavens, when I was your age I was subject to all sorts of fanciful notions, many of them concerning Calthorpe Minor in the Lower Fourth. I can see I'll have to give you the man-to-man talk Pater had with me to set things straight." He unconsciously came to attention, as if facing his fearsome father.
"You see," Josh said, warming to his subject, "It goes something like this: women are soft and smell nice, men are soldiers and postmen. There. I hope that has helped." He smiled with the benevolent joy that comes with helping a fellow human being and wandered out of the hut.
"Gordon," Feliks said.
Gordon moaned again. "Winstanley!" he cried. "You believe me, don't you? You can see this isn't Minka?"
Winstanley looked at him in sad silence and bent again to his self appointed task of attaching tiny chariots to flies. Gordon turned to meet his doom, and found he had blessedly been abandoned.
"You totally just tried to blow my cover," Feliks said behind him.
"I'm like, totally pissed off with you, Gordon."
Gordon tried the effect of a charming smile, or at least an apologetic grin. "Don't make me eat spiders, please, I'm scared of spiders." Feliks pursed his lips and looked like he was about to issue a spider-eating ultimatum the likes of which the world had never seen. "Wait!" Gordon gasped. "We can't discuss this here! Not in front of someone else! I mean, aren't you afraid Winstanley will say something?"
"He's never said a word to anyone since I got here, and he's totally mad, so, no," Feliks said. He frowned at Winstanley's hunched-over form. "Is that, like, a model of the Colosseum, with tiny fly charioteers and gladiators?"
"Yes?" Gordon squeaked. "Can't I bribe you to not be nasty to me?"
"Does that usually work with Minka?"
" . . . not as such, no."
From outside came the sounds of disgusted screaming and Charles moaning about how he'd never realised spiders could get that big. Gordon grabbed Feliks' arm in supplication.
"Please! No spiders, no painful death!"
"Fine. Dinner. And drinks. And you don't pull this again."
Sheer relief carried Gordon through the rest of the day.
"So this is the finest dinner money can buy in Bletchley?" Feliks said, poking at the stew in deep suspicion. He sniffed at it cautiously.
"There is a war on," Gordon said, and quailed a little at the look he got. "You look very – very, um –" he said.
"Thank you," Feliks said, smoothing down the skirt of the demure floral frock. "I think this must be Minka's Sunday best. The accessories are, like, a bit too frou-frou for everyday wear." He was suddenly holding a pistol with a mother-of-pearl inlay handle. "See?"
"Where did you pull that from?" Gordon said, wide-eyed.
Feliks smiled, and the pistol vanished again. He poured Gordon another glass of wine. It was admittedly, Gordon thought, homemade wine and tasted strongly of blackberries and vinegar, but it was a stroke of luck Mrs Best had been willing to sell it to him at all. Mind you, he wasn't too sure about her smiling remarks about a fine vintage being a sure lubricator of love. It wasn't a fine vintage or any vintage at all, come to that, and he was fairly sure, from the few times he'd dared to come close to working machinery, that lubricating liquids were rather more oily and viscous. The dregs of the bottle did seem to be rather solid, but he wasn't sure if that counted as lubrication either. Feliks emptied a hip flask into the bottle, put his hand over the mouth and gave it a good shake.
"Now we have blackberry liqueur for dessert," he said.
"Is that some of Minka's vodka?" Gordon asked.
"She'll be totally cool with us drinking it, stop worrying."
"No, but she makes it out of vegetable peelings and kerosene. Sometimes diesel, if she wants a bit more body. We'll be lucky if we only go blind."
"Eat your dinner."
Gordon obeyed. At least they weren't being stared at, or at least not much. Mrs Best called this "romantic moonlit terrace dining", though all it meant was that she'd put a little table and two rickety chairs out in the pub's back yard, and hadn't given them any lights. It was freezing. Now and then Archie would come and peer out through the kitchen window, giving Gordon a thumbs-up, before he was pulled away and the blackout curtains put back in place. It was a bit distracting, really, though perhaps that was a good thing, as Gordon was fairly sure he wanted to be distracted from his current situation.
"So," he said. "Um. Minka, I mean you, I mean, um, Minka has lots of stories about the Polish resistance. Are you, er, were you in the resistance too?"
"For sure," Feliks said. "Do you want stories about heroic exploits against fascist pig-dogs now, or would you rather keep your appetite?"
"Maybe we could eat a bit more first?" Gordon said. "Er, how do you like England?"
"He's all right. Anyway, my government-in-exile's here, so I didn't really get a choice, though I totally drop in on the resistance as much as poss, raise their spirits, fan the flames of patriotism in the hearts of those in heavily occupied areas, do, like, my best to be in as many places at once as I can, more wine?"
"It's technically blackberry-flavored kerosene vodka by now," Gordon said, deciding not to bother trying to decode Feliks' statement any further as it was outside work hours. "Thank you," he said in despair as some was poured into his glass.
Mrs Best came out by-and-by with bread-and-butter pudding which did at least contain bread. Gordon nibbled at it, and wondered if the margarine really was made of as much axle-grease as the taste suggested. At least after a few mouthfuls of the blackberry vodka his mouth went numb, and he couldn't actually taste the pudding any more.
"English bread," Feliks remarked sadly, "is like eating cardboard, or a sponge. No flavour or texture." He poked at the pudding, shrugged, and ate it. "Food's food," he said. "Mrs B," he said through a full mouth, as she came out, followed by Archie struggling with what was either a largish armchair or a smallish sofa, "Could I have another bottle of wine? For, like, my own personal use and of course not supplied to any minors on the premises?"
"Yes, Minka," Mrs Best said. "Still needs a bit of warming up, does he? I'll bring it out now, you two can make yourselves comfortable on the loveseat."
"The what-seat?" Gordon said plaintively as Feliks flitted over to the velvet-upholstered instrument of torture and arrayed himself neatly, patting the seat beside him.
"This is your chance, Gordon," Mrs Best whispered. "Pay her a few compliments, then stick your tongue in her ear."
"What?" Gordon said again, standing up too suddenly and finding that the kerosene had gone straight to his head. He staggered away from the table and collapsed onto the loveseat, finding himself in very close proximity to his dining companion. "We're dying of alcohol poisoning, aren't we?" he said, after the new bottle of wine had been produced.
"That and the kerosene. Cigarette?"
"Mum thinks it's a filthy habit for boys to smoke," Gordon said. "I have to give my ration of cigarettes to the other fellows in the hut."
"Uh-huh. Do you have to give them your ration of long trousers as well?"
It was just as well it was so dark, Gordon thought, and that he was probably so flushed from the drink, because it was really pathetic the way he blushed when someone brought that topic up. No wonder he never got anywhere with girls. Women liked older men, like Feliks, who must have been almost twenty. "Mum thinks eighteen's time enough for long trousers," he mumbled.
"Uh-huh." Feliks took a long drag on his cigarette and aimed a plume of smoke at the sky. It looked unutterably grown-up, Gordon thought.
"Could I maybe just have a drag of yours?"
The cigarette was passed over, wordlessly. It was rather more difficult than it looked to smoke without coughing, Gordon decided. Possibly if he hadn't forgotten to breathe. Feliks thumped him on the back and laughed heartlessly as he made him have some more wine to stop the cough.
"Wh- why does everyone think you're Minka?" Gordon wheezed. "You really don't look anything like her."
"People see what they want to see," Feliks said. "So they see Minka's clothes, Minka's fabulous legs –" he grinned as Gordon's gaze settled at knee level – "and they totally see Minka."
"I love her," Gordon said fervently. "She's lovely."
"Yep," Feliks said. "She is."
"You like Minka too?"
"I love all my people," Feliks said. He peered tipsily at Gordon. "You're, like, shaking and making growling noises."
"You can't like her! I liked her first!" Gordon said. It was typical, he thought, and so unfair. How could he compete with someone who'd been in the resistance and had probably slit Nazis' throats and who spoke Polish and who showed off his knees because he was wearing a pretty dress rather than short trousers? Gordon knew he'd never be able to wear a dress like that.
"Gordon. Gordon, chill. I'm not after her."
"How can you not be, you - you Polish-speaker, you! She's lovely!"
"Gordon. Before you, like, tip us both out onto the ground just answer this question: is Minka a totally patriotic Pole?"
"Yes!" Gordon said.
"And she loves her country above everything else?"
"Yes!" he shrieked.
Feliks shrugged. "There you are. No challenge at all. It'd be embarrassingly easy and people would snigger about it behind my back."
Gordon squinted at him, wondering if he should cast down a gauntlet over the allegation that Minka was easy, or focus on the important part. "You're not my rival in love?"
"No," Feliks said, sounding like he was doing his best not to laugh. "I totally swear."
"That's all right, then," Gordon mumbled. He shivered. "It's cold."
"You can have my jacket."
"Thanks," Gordon said, huddling closer for warmth. His fingers were feeling a bit dead, though he wasn't sure if that was the drink or the cold.
" . . . dude, you just put your hand between my knees."
"For frostbite," Gordon said, resting his head on Feliks' shoulder. "You have to warm extremities up with body heat."
Gordon came back to consciousness in a gentle wave of pure bliss, delivered softly from the arms of Morpheus back to waking life. He hugged the remnants of the dream to himself, the happiness of looking into amused green eyes, feeling hair like pale silk between his fingers and kissing Minka as if he were as experienced and suave as, well, Charles. The slightest niggle crossed his mind as he remembered Minka's eyes weren't green, and she didn't wear her hair that way and Minka was in fact off on some top secret mission somewhere and had been replaced by –
"Oh God!" Gordon screamed, sitting bolt upright. The hangover came crashing down with full force. "Oh God," he moaned, holding his head. He got dressed as best he could while trying to remain completely stationary, and crept downstairs.
"Morning, Gordon," Mrs Best sang out. "Did she make a man of you?"
"Morning, Mrs B," Gordon whispered. "I don't think I'll have any breakfast this morning."
"Of course you will, love. You can't go to work doing whatever it is you're doing – "
"Government statistics," Gordon said by reflex.
" – on an empty stomach. Here, have some coffee."
Gordon sipped the weak brown liquid, gagged, and stumbled outside to the toilet. A horrifying and humiliating few minutes later he stumbled back in.
"And that's why I don't sell you alcohol," Mrs Best said cheerfully. "Feeling better?"
"No," Gordon said. "That's not really coffee, is it?"
"It's mostly water with gravy browning," Mrs Best said. "Would you prefer tea? There's less gravy browning in that."
"Morning, Mrs B," Feliks said, popping out of nowhere.
"Gah!" Gordon shrieked.
"Minka!" Mrs Best said, looking rather like she wanted to shriek as well. "I didn't see you there. Breakfast?"
"How can you possibly want to eat?" Gordon whimpered. "It'll be powdered eggs!" The thought of powdered eggs was too much, and he fled outside again. When he returned, Feliks was eating scrambled powdered eggs with gusto.
"In Poland, hangovers are for girls," Feliks grinned. "Foreign girls." He held out a hip flask. "Hair of the dog?"
"No, thank you," Gordon said, swallowing hard and staring at the floor till his stomach started obeying him again. "I should just get over to Bletchley Park."
"Wait a minute and I'll go with you."
An impressively short space of time later, the eggs had vanished, along with a couple of cups of hot water with gravy browning, and Gordon had to face the horrifying prospect of walking to work with someone he really hoped he hadn't kissed the previous evening. They trudged down the road in silence, Gordon still unable to feel his feet very well. It was a difficult topic to bring up subtly, he thought. Still, he was very clever, his mum had always said so, and the government thought so too, or he wouldn't be here. He just had to be sneaky. Like resistance fighter crossing field of snow dressed only in toilet paper, his inner-Minka suggested.
"Yes! Like a resistance fighter!"
"What about resistance fighters?"
Oh, blast. He was pretty sure his inner-Minka was still drunk.
"Nothing. Um, Feliks? I'm sorry I had to go to sleep so early, I can't have been very good company last night."
"I had to drag you up the stairs and put you to bed, you were totally out of it. But relax, you were very pleasant company before you passed out in my lap."
"In your lap? Ehehehe. That must be the most embarrassing thing I've ever done." There. That was subtle.
"I'm, like, absolutely sure it isn't," Feliks smirked.
"Oh, but it is. I normally don't pass out! And I don't remember anything, you can't prove I do! Stop laughing! It's not funny! You took advantage of me while I was very mildly intoxicated!"
"Hey," Feliks giggled, "I'm not the one who started rambling on about eyes and stars and galaxies and then went straight to investigating if I'd had my tonsils out." He giggled louder as Gordon just stopped moving and stared down at his shoes in pain and horror. "It's OK," Feliks said. "It was quite a nice kiss, all things considered."
"Just a kiss, then?" Gordon said. "In the heat of the blackberry wine?"
Feliks looked at him, shaking with repressed laughter. "Depends. How much do you know about baseball terminology?"
"Definitely just a kiss," Feliks sniggered. "Come on, we'll be late." He started off again faster than Gordon thought he could manage. "And don't forget!" Feliks called back over his shoulder. "You promised to take me dancing tomorrow!"
Gordon closed his eyes. It was possible this was still a dream, he told himself. Then he opened his eyes and resignedly crept to work, one shambling step at a time.
"Going to the dance tonight with Minka?" Archie whistled, the next morning. "Aren't you the ladies' man?"
Gordon wondered why the universe was out to get him at such a young age. "I don't really know how to dance," he said forlornly. "We did some Morris dancing in Cubs."
"That's not the way to win a lady's heart," Charles said expansively. "One wants the waltz for that, or possibly Knees Up, Mother Brown, if one was from Newcastle."
"Shut it," Archie said. "That's the problem with you southern nancy-boys. You don't appreciate the glories of international culture. I happen to have taken several dance classes with the Young Communists' League."
"Really?" Charles said. "Quaint interpretive dances that tell of the glories of bringing in the turnip harvest, no doubt."
"No," Archie said. "Dances like this." He leapt up on the table and performed a wild sort of kicking movement that looked like it would be murder on the inner thighs.
"Good God," Charles said. "That's a Cossack dance. It's really quite difficult. Archie, for once I am – well, not impressed, but less apathetic towards your existence."
"You've kicked all our notes onto the floor," Gordon sighed. "And you've attracted Winstanley's attention."
They all looked at the little smile on Winstanley's face, the light of a new hobby burning suddenly in his dark, dead eyes, and shuddered. Gordon started picking up the notes, shuffling them randomly. It wasn't as if it made any difference anyway, he thought, his doom was rushing upon him far faster than the clicks and whirrs of any distant Enigma Machine.
"I don't think they'll want that sort of dancing in the parish hall," he said.
"It's OK, I'm better at the Charleston anyway," Feliks said, materialising, sheaves of papers with new codes for cracking in his hands.
"Gah!" everyone shrieked.
"Minka, please!" Archie said. "Charles has a weak heart – sneak up behind him."
"There's nothing wrong with my heart! Minka, has the Charleston only reached Poland recently? It's quite out of fashion here."
"No," Feliks said. "I just like it. My friend worked in America in the Twenties, you should see him dance it. He really loved –" He stopped, staring grimly down at the papers in his hands. "Excuse me," he said and was gone.
"How does she do that?" Archie said, when they were sure there was no sign of anyone Polish about. "I mean, has anyone ever actually seen her enter or leave a room over the last two years?"
"Minka had a gentleman friend who worked in America in the 1920s?" Charles said. He brushed down his lapels. "Clearly as a young woman of good taste she prefers older men, with experience that has aged as finely as a good bottle of claret. Gordon, perhaps I shall take Minka to the dance."
"You're, like, nowhere near old enough for me," Feliks said in a terrible voice as he stepped out from right behind Charles, teapot in hand.
"Gah!" everyone shrieked as Charles sat down suddenly from the shock, his hand pressed to his chest.
"Huh," Feliks said. "I guess you do have a weak heart." He smiled cheerily at the room. "Tea?"
Gordon held up his hand. "Is it poisoned?"
"Not very much."
There was a moment's silence, and then by general agreement they decided that was about as good as it got in Hut 33, and a cup of tea was a cup of tea.
When he awoke from drinking the drugged tea, Gordon felt quite energetic and as if he'd had almost eighteen hours of sleep since the previous night. Which he had, he saw as he looked at the clock. There wasn't much to do, as everyone else had drunk more of the tea and was still asleep, so he went off early. He could at least have a quick bite to eat and then figure out a way to avoid dancing the Charleston, which his mum said was a terrible American dance.
"Evening, Mrs B," he said, entering the pub. "I know I'm a bit early."
"That's all right," Mrs Best said. "You need your dinner before the dance. Minka! Minka, Gordon's back!"
"So I see," Feliks said from where he leant against the bar.
"Gah!" Gordon shrieked.
"Oh, Minka! I didn't see you there," Mrs Best said.
"When you've had centuries of invasions and your homeland being, like, carved up under your feet you learn to move quietly," Feliks said. "Let's have dinner, then you can come up to my room and help me pick an outfit, Gordon."
"It's your lucky day," Mrs Best said, not very quietly.
"Heh," Gordon laughed weakly.
Dinner was over far too quickly, and then he found himself spirited away upstairs to the longed-for mysteries of Minka's room. It certainly wasn't very girly, he thought, looking round at the collection of weapons and the bubbling still in the corner. Feliks emptied his pockets onto the dressing table, and whistled cheerfully as he rummaged in the wardrobe, occasionally tossing items of clothing onto the bed. Gordon wandered over to the dressing table, to surreptitiously look at the things Feliks had put there, picking up small items that looked old and well-cared for. A rosary with well-worn beads of rose quartz. A small painting on wood, dimmed with age, that seemed to be of a dark-haired young man – a hand came over his shoulder and gently took it from his grasp.
"I didn't know you collected antiques," Gordon said. "Is that a mediaeval icon of a saint? It looks mediaeval."
"If you want something to look at," Feliks said, "this is Minka's underwear drawer." He opened a drawer and time slowed down considerably for Gordon. When he looked up again at last, Feliks was perusing a variety of dresses, each more scandalously tiny than the last.
"Oh, God," Gordon said as Feliks held up something that seemed mainly comprised of lace straps.
"Your face! Jeez, relax, I'll wear uniform." Feliks waited till Gordon had taken a breath. "You're the one who'll be in the dress."
"Why?" Gordon wheezed, when he worked out that the hysterical laughter meant he was being teased, "Why are you making fun of me?"
"Because it's totally funny, dude. Come on, cheer up, those sad little eyes have successfully appealed to my better nature. You don't have to wear a dress. Just promise we still get to kiss beneath the stars."
"You're not funny!"
"Hey, I'm hilarious, ask anyone in eastern Europe."
Gordon turned away, face scarlet. "I was drunk. And you were drunk. And it only happened because I thought you were Minka."
"OK," Feliks said. "Though I thought you kept saying you're the one who knows I'm not Minka."
"Sometimes you're more convincing than others," Gordon sniffed, and was horrified to realise he was watching Feliks change in the mirror over the dressing table. He turned to face the wall instead and flinched as Feliks' hand came to rest on his shoulder. He turned to see him dressed quite sensibly in a uniform with Polish insignia.
"Have a sense of humour," Feliks said quietly. "This is a bad time; learn to laugh and take pleasure while you can. You'll be a long time dead."
"Thanks for the advice, Grandpa," Gordon muttered.
"Hey, it's good advice from your elder."
"Not much of an elder. How old are you? Eighteen? Nineteen? Twenty?"
Feliks grimaced. "Hmm. Let's split the difference. I'm nineteen." He pulled out his identification papers and had a look. "Oh, hey. I am nineteen."
"You had to check your own age?"
"When you get to this age, sonny, your memory'll start going as well."
The dance was surprisingly good fun. No one seemed to think Gordon was with anyone other than Minka, and it quickly seemed quite natural to dance with Feliks. The gramophone scratched its way through several waltzes and quick steps in succession, and no one made any comment.
"If I'm the man," Gordon said at last, "shouldn't I be the one leading?"
"Would Minka let you lead?"
It even felt more or less natural to be ushered over to the refreshments, Feliks' hand in the small of his back. Minka would do that, Gordon thought. If she didn't just appear silently behind the refreshments counter, kill everyone and return with the spoils of war, of course.
"Let me buy you a drink," Feliks said, and ordered two shandies before Gordon could so much as say he'd decided on lifelong teetotalism. It didn't taste half as dangerous as the wine and homemade vodka, and Gordon felt really quite grown up standing there sipping it. They had almost finished their drinks when the music changed and an alarming grin spread across Feliks' face.
"The Charleston! Drink up!"
"I don't think I can dance this – " Gordon said, and found himself dragged back onto the floor. He was, he discovered, quite right, but it seemed Feliks could, given the way other people looked. The music came to an end and Gordon wheezed for air as Feliks smiled in sheerest pleasure.
"That was totally cool –" The air raid sirens began to wail and the lights went out. "Oh, Christ," Feliks finished viciously. "Germany, you freaking killjoy." He looked round at the other people hurrying to get down to the cellars. "Do you often get raids out this far? I mean, there was one the second day I was here, then there were rumours one was on the way, now this –"
"Come on, come on," Gordon said tugging at him. "Please – no, I suppose not. They've been a bit more frequent recently. Now, come on –"
Feliks shook his hand off. "He knows," he muttered. "He knows I'm here. He's got to be wondering why I'm out in the middle of nowhere -"
"Who knows? - Feliks!"
Gordon clenched his fists, wasting moments as Feliks ran in the opposite direction, towards the exit. Taking a deep breath, Gordon ran after him and out into the street. He looked up and down and saw the barest flicker of shadow to chase after. He sprinted as fast as he could and heard, high overhead and coming closer, the sound of engines. He very desperately wanted to go home. Out of nowhere an arm came round his neck and he was dragged into a side street.
"Please be Feliks," he croaked.
"Of course it's me! Why didn't you go with the others?"
"Why did you run off by yourself?"
Feliks' answer was cut off by the sound of a whine, loud and increasing in volume. They both looked up, then ran for dear life. The bomb hit somewhere outside the town, Gordon knew later, but at the time it felt like he had a target painted on his back. Feliks grabbed his hand and dragged him along to one of Mrs Best's competitors, pointing at the grating in the street over the cellar.
"Get me a crowbar!" he said.
"How? Where?" Gordon cried, and ran off towards the grocers like Feliks was pointing. He ran back seconds later to find one half to the grating pried up.
"I, like, found one myself. Get in!"
Gordon jumped, and a second later heard Feliks land beside him. They scurried as far in as they could. The next bomb felt like it landed a lot closer.
"Why did you run? Who knows you're here, and why does it matter?" Gordon asked. "Who are you?"
Feliks ignored him, muttering something in Polish. "Wait!" he said suddenly. "Which way is north?"
"Because I think they came in from the west. I think maybe they're lost and jettisoning their bombs."
"Oh, great. They might kill us by accident," Gordon said. "They might by wildest coincidence destroy our efforts to break their codes. That's really unlikely. I don't think the world could be that unfair."
"Give it a century or two, you'll change your mind," Feliks said. There was a rustling noise and then he lit a match, shielding it with his hand. "We can sit over there," he said, indicating a work table. "Come on."
Gordon felt his hand being taken and he was led over to the table. They sat on it, swinging their legs. "You never said why you ran," he said.
"I, like, totally panicked," Feliks said, with not a shred of shame. "I thought it'd be safer for everyone else if I was elsewhere, less like having a spotlight trained on everyone."
"So you ran into the street in the middle of an air-raid? That's stupid!"
"It'll take more than a crappy German bomb to do for me. You, on the other hand – "
There was a massive bang close by and the walls all shook while dust rained down on them.
"Oh, God, I don't want to die!" Gordon wailed. He was pulled into an embrace.
"I'll do my best to keep you alive," Feliks said, which wasn't much comfort, but right then Gordon found he couldn't have been prised away from holding another person even if he'd wanted to be. He burrowed against Feliks, pressing his face into the front of his uniform as Feliks rubbed his back comfortingly. "Seeing as we're here, let me take your mind off things," Feliks said – and there was even a bit of laughter in his voice, Gordon thought in astonishment - "any chance of a kiss to go along with the cuddle?"
"What?" Gordon said, lifting his face unwarily from Feliks' shoulder. A hand tilted his head a little and then he was being kissed. It really wasn't the sort of kiss he'd ever get from his mum or an auntie, he thought vaguely. Thank God, because then he'd have to run away and never be able to face another human being again. He clutched tight to Feliks' jacket, feeling himself turn bonelessly warm as he kissed back. As his all-too-clever mind began to creep back towards working order through the haze, he recalled that this seemed like the sort of thing Josh's father was famous for dealing out violence to his own soldiers for engaging in, and that Archie made fun of and – "This is really wrong and bad," he said, pulling away though he wanted nothing more than to somehow get closer still.
"Ah," Feliks said after a long moment of silence. "Yeah, because it's totally the worst thing in the middle of death and destruction to want a little bit of life-affirming warmth and contact with another person." He shifted away.
The next bang sounded like it was several streets over, but Gordon couldn't tell which direction. It was followed in quick succession by another, much closer, and he dived back into Feliks' arms. He thought of Archie and Charles, bickering in some air raid shelter, and how Josh was so, so - bloody - dim he'd probably open the door and wander off to do some plane spotting and the bomb could have landed on them and he was only not with them because he'd gone to a stupid dance with a fellow pretending to be a girl, and it was ridiculous and he really didn't want the world to be that unfair and his horrible, nasty, stupid, smug, irritating friends to all be dead.
"Can we please do something life-affirming?" he said in a rush.
" . . . if you want."
"I knew it was you the other night," Gordon said before he could talk himself out of it. "I knew it wasn't Minka."
"Yeah. I know." Feliks tightened his arms round him, one hand stroking Gordon's hair. "I know." He kissed him again, warm and sure, and Gordon found himself lowered back onto the table, and then warm breath touched his face. "Trust me?"
"Yes?" he squeaked.
The last coherent thought that went through Gordon's head was that if he were lucky, Minka might still be his first girl.
The sky was beginning to lighten when they walked back to Mrs Best's, Feliks' arm around Gordon's shoulder. They had barely touched the door when it was snatched open.
"You're alive!" Mrs Best cried, and flung her arms around Gordon. "My poor lamb!"
"Mrs Best!" Gordon said, squirming.
"My God!" Archie yelled, pulling them all inside, "Where the hell were you, lad? The vicar came round when the all-clear went, said he couldn't find either of you!"
"It was so touching," Charles drawled, adjusting his silk dressing gown. "Our little bolshie friend here even partook of the opiate of the people and said something that sounded remarkably like a prayer. I, of course, prayed to St Anthony, the patron of lost creatures and things and to St Jude, the patron of, well, lost causes. And here you are! Score one for Heaven's team, eh, Archie?"
"Shut up," Archie muttered, still clinging on to Gordon's arm. "You really scared us," he said. "Just because Minka was out picking off bombers with her personal anti-aircraft gun doesn't mean you have to wander the streets in an air raid."
"It really was terribly silly," Josh said earnestly.
Even Winstanley, Gordon saw, was watching them with mad, worried eyes from beneath a table. None of them looked like they'd had any sleep at all. "We didn't mean to worry you, did we, Minka?" he said.
"No," Feliks said, watching them all with odd fondness. "We're, like, real sorry."
"Both of you, get up the stairs and get some sleep," Mrs Best said. "Separate rooms!" Everyone looked at her in surprise. "There's a time and a place," she said. "Go to sleep, you two!"
They obediently went up the stairs and Gordon paused awkwardly in front of his door. He wasn't really sure how to say good night, or in this case, good morning, to someone he'd been, well, close to. Feliks smiled at him, and put a hand on his cheek.
"So young," he said kindly.
"You're only two years older," Gordon said. He blushed as Feliks leant in.
"All wars end," Feliks whispered. "Remember that. And you won't be seventeen forever." He patted Gordon's cheek, and went down to Minka's room, closing the door gently behind him.
Gordon managed to get to work only an hour late that morning. He sat at his desk, yawning hugely as the numbers danced in front of his exhausted eyes. He had no idea how he was going to face Feliks, but he thought he might as well get it over with.
"Did Minka come in yet?" he said.
"Minka already here," Minka said right by his ear.
"Gah!" he shrieked. "Minka! It's you!"
"Yes. Is Minka."
"Minka," Minka said in tones of deepest threat, "was always here."
"Yes! Yes of course! But while you were, um, here, did you manage to successfully carry out your secret mission?"
Minka gave him a look like she had already decided long since exactly where she'd bury his body. "Minka always carry out secretarial duties with precision," she said. "And extreme prejudice."
"Now, now, you two," Josh said with cheery good humour. "Save the lovey-dovey stuff for your off hours! Don't creep off and worry us like you did last night!"
Minka glared at him. "I make tea," she said, producing a teapot from God knew where. "Special Slavic recipe."
"Oh, tea!" Josh said. "Splendid."
Gordon watched everyone in the hut keel over after a few sips. Minka turned her fearsome, lovely attention on him.
"Is party tonight. You come."
"I don't know, Minka," Gordon said. "I had a very late night last night."
"You not know, but Minka know. You come. Is feast of St Casimir, patron saint of Poland and Lithuania. Also patron of young idiots. You come, Captain Łukasiewicz very insistent."
"Oh," Gordon said. "Who's Captain Wucash . . . i . . . vitch?"
"Łukasiewicz," Minka corrected. "Captain Feliks Łukasiewicz. You come. He say Minka knock you out and drag you by heels if you argue too much."
"Ah!" Gordon said. "I'd love to come."
"Good. Now drink tea. Minka have important work to do today."
Gordon drank, and sank into blessed oblivion. It wasn't like he was going to get any work done anyway.
Gordon obediently trotted beside Minka, trying to keep up with her determined strides. Whatever she was carrying in the large bag slung over her shoulder was, he decided, really not worth risking his life over. She stopped in front of a small house, two-up, two-down and knocked five times, a quick staccato rhythm. An unfriendly-looking man opened it a crack and said something in Polish. Minka responded, and they both spat on the pavement.
"Do the sign and counter-sign have anything to do with fascist pig-dogs?" Gordon asked.
"Ah, you learn Polish!" Minka said approvingly. "Good. I no longer speak English to you."
"Oh dear," Gordon said, and followed her inside. "Please speak English, I only know Please don't kill me, I'm not a fascist in Polish." In the sitting room he found a couple of the Polish code-breakers from Bletchley Park and some Polish airmen. There was a series of more knocks on the door and several more Polish men and a few women came in. They all chatted to each other in fast, incomprehensible Polish, leaving Gordon feeling very much abandoned and confused. "Minka," he whispered. "Are you sure I should be here? Are you sure Feliks said I should come?"
"For sure you should be here," Feliks said behind him.
"Gah!" Gordon shrieked, and everyone pointed and laughed. "Please don't do that!"
"Vodka?" Feliks said holding out a glass. "Real vodka, not kerosene."
"Thanks," Gordon said, sipping it cautiously. He wasn't sure he could tell the difference. What he was sure about was that his blush deepened every time he looked at Feliks. "Was Minka's mission a success?"
"Yes," Minka said. "Minka get flour."
"Your mission was to get some flowers?" Gordon said in confusion. Maybe they were special poisonous ones that Whitehall would send off to be developed into a new superweapon, he thought.
"Not flowers, flour. For bread," Minka said in satisfaction. "Minka bake all day today while Hut 33 go sleepy-sleepy." She began to pull loaves of bread out of her bag.
"Wait," Gordon said. "You left your post in a top secret facility for days on end, and were poorly impersonated –"
" – really well impersonated –" Feliks said.
" – by someone who wasn't even the same sex, to go and get some flour?"
"Yes," Minka said. "Is good flour. Everybody here for bread, see?"
Everyone was looking at the bread rather hungrily, Gordon noticed. Still, it was just not on. "I can't believe you'd be so irresponsible, and for such a silly thing," he said.
Minka looked – hurt, he thought. Which was dangerous, because her next reaction would be to hurt him. He stepped back as she said something in Polish and Feliks answered. "Who want some real bread?" Minka said, glaring at Gordon to leave him in no doubt she wanted him to understand he was an idiot, and everyone else mobbed her.
Gordon found himself being pulled to safety.
"Gordon," Feliks said, draping an arm round his shoulders. "What's your, like, favouritest ordinary food in all the world?"
"I don't know," Gordon said. "I like chocolate and cake and real eggs and milk and having enough butter and enough tea and meat and all the other stuff no one can get these days." A feeling of nostalgia swept over him. "I'd really like a nice soft-boiled egg and soldiers of toast with lots and lots of butter," he said. "My mum always used to give me that for breakfast, back when you could still get eggs. And butter."
"Is good," Minka said over her shoulder. "Polish children also dip fallen bodies of enemy in egg."
"Egg and toast," Feliks said. "What makes that so special?"
"It's sort of stupid," Gordon said. "It's really just that Mum made it for me."
"Yeah," Feliks said. "And all these people, they're not much older than you. Don't you think maybe their mothers, like, made them breakfast? Only they're used to different sorts of bread, with a flavour, not your loofah-bread. It's important to remember what home is like, so I wanted them to have a taste of home, remind them what they're hoping and trying to get back to." He smiled at Minka. "So I told Minka to go get authentic ingredients."
"When you say 'authentic'," Gordon said.
"I mean, 'Polish', yes."
"Minka went to Poland to get flour?" Gordon said in astonishment.
"Where else Minka get it?" she snapped. "Corner shop not stock rye flour." She passed him a slice. "Eat it. You will praise highly. Or else."
Gordon took a bite. It was strongly flavoured and very chewy. It probably wasn't very patriotic, he thought, but he could see how bread in England might not have much flavour if you'd been dipping this in your egg. "Delicious!" he said, he hoped sincerely enough to convince Minka not to cause him too much bodily damage.
"Minka also bring kiełbasa," Minka said, to general cheers as she produced some things that looked like sausages out of her bag.
"It means 'sausage'," Feliks supplied helpfully. Minka produced a knife from a secret hiding place and cut a few large chunks, passing them to him.
"You will also praise sausage, Gordon," she said. "Minka know you very fond of sausage."
Gordon wished Feliks didn't laugh quite so loudly at that.
"Also, meat," Minka said, heaving a huge chunk of meat out of the bag. "I smoke it on way back."
"How did you get all this stuff back here?" Gordon said.
"This? Is not all. Is more," Minka said. "Enough for everyone to make more bread for themselves. Very easy to transport, very easy. I steal Panzer, fill with flour and kiełbasa and vodka. I drive all the way to Normandy before Nazi pig-dog stop me, ask where I am going with Panzer meant for Eastern Front. I kill him, I make raft, I swim English Channel, towing raft of produce and clothing behind me. With teeth."
"You swam the English Channel? In the beginning of March?" Gordon squeaked.
"Pah! Was not cold. Lying underwater in Vistula for two days, breathing through reed to avoid fascist pig-dog search party, that is cold. English Channel like hot bath."
"Wow," Gordon said, feeling admiration wash over him like a huge wave. "You're incredible, Minka."
"Yes. Is true."
Feliks cut off a slice of the smoked meat and laid it carefully on another piece of bread. "Eat up," he said, handing it to Gordon.
"It's very tasty," Gordon said rudely through a full mouth. "What is it?"
"Is bear," Minka said. "It get in way."
Gordon blinked. Minka smiled a sweet, innocent smile.
"Is definitely, certainly, one hundred per cent not carved from flank of fascist Nazi pig-dog."
Gordon stopped chewing. Everyone pointed and laughed.
"Hah!" Minka said. "I make funny joke! No. Is bear." Gordon swallowed his mouthful. "Probably."
Gordon decided that it would be easier to endure the pointing and laughing if he had some more vodka. He sat in the corner, eating the chewy, odd-tasting bread and watching people try not to cry as they ate food from home for the first time in over two years. Feliks went round the room, chatting to people, cheering them up and making them sing what Gordon supposed must be patriotic songs. When they all stood up to sing he jumped up too, hoping it was the Polish national anthem and not some filthy song they'd point at him and laugh about. He supposed he was right, as the pointing and laughing wasn't as frequent after that, and people actually talked to him, even the code-breakers, which was rather nice given the general view in Bletchley Park of the staff of Hut 33.
"Now, we dance," Minka said as the furniture was shoved back. "Gordon, you will dance mazurka."
"I don't know how!"
"You not have choice."
"Dance with me, you'll totally pick it up," Feliks said, grinning. "There aren't enough girls to go round, anyway."
"I have to be the girl again?" Gordon said.
"If you're lucky," Feliks said slyly. "And Minka, do me a favour and be nice to him, OK?"
"Huh," Minka said dryly. "Love of country only go so far."
Feliks laughed and spun them both out into the middle of the floor. Gordon was never sure how things went after that, but sometimes in much later dreams he was dancing with happy people and had spontaneously acquired the ability to speak Polish. And while the language always deserted him by daybreak, he never quite forgot the words for love, and friendship, and hope.