Daisy dropped the incoming message on her desk, in utter disbelief of what she had just read. Over the past few weeks she had been handling the communications for the mission that that strange Dumbledore fellow had been up to in Egypt, but she had been kept in the dark as to most of the details. Now she held in her hands the official after action report, and its contents were shocking. As a student of classical civilizations, she had read a great deal about the crypts and tombs of ancient Egypt, always taking a skeptical eye to the more sensational stories. But now, right before her eyes, the most farfetched Egyptian adventure possible was being completely confirmed.
Hoping she would not be overheard, Daisy leaned over to the adjacent cubicle, “Lydia, did you read these dispatches yet?”
“It’s better than any novel I’ve ever read,” confirmed Lydia, her eyes wide in amazement.
It was a very exciting time to be at Bletchley Park. The staff’s code breakers had recently scored a major coup by acquiring a German Enigma machine, which would allow the Royal Navy to break the coded messages sent by their German counterparts. With this victory combined with the exciting and successful conclusion to Dumbledore’s recent mission, the mood in the estate was nearly celebratory.
“So Daisy, what are you doing to celebrate our successes?” asked Lydia, with a slightly mischievous grin beginning to form on her face.
Daisy rolled her eyes, wanting no part of whatever Lydia might be planning, “We’re still in the middle of a war, I hardly think a celebration is appropriate.”
Lydia insisted, “We just finished a huge mission, there’s likely going to be plenty more missions to come, and tomorrow is our first day off in ages, we need to take advantage of it.”
“Well, I actually had plans to see a man tonight,” said Daisy sheepishly.
“Oh, really? What’s his name?” asked Lydia, not believing it for a second.
“His name is Charles,” answered Daisy, trying her best to maintain a serious expression.
“Charles who?” Lydia prodded, still not willing to believe her.
“Charles Dickens. I was going to finish reading Bleak House tonight,” Daisy finally admitted.
“Oh Daisy, I know you’re an educated woman and all that but you can’t just spend your life alone with your books,” said Lydia, deeply concerned for her friend. “Please don’t take this the wrong way but I feel like since we’ve been working hear you’ve kind of let yourself go, I mean you’re a very pretty girl and I just don’t want to see you end up as one of those old cat ladies.”
Daisy was somewhat offended by Lydia’s statement, but catching a glimpse of her reflection in the window, she acknowledged to herself that there was a degree of validity to it. She was wearing a drab grey sweater, her red hair was pulled back tightly and fastened with a rubber band, and her brilliant green eyes were obscured behind her thick reading glasses. Meanwhile, Lydia’s long brown hair was fashionably done in the latest American style, although Daisy wasn’t sure who she was trying to impress considering that most of the men they worked with were professors twice their age.
“Fine, we’ll go to the Horse and Plow tonight,” conceded Daisy, referring to the local pub just down the road from the estate.
“Daisy, nobody goes there but our co-workers, I’m saying we should go out somewhere proper, somewhere in London,” replied Lydia.
“London? Are you mad? Haven’t you heard about the air raids?” protested Daisy.
“Come on Daisy, live a little,” Lydia responded playfully.
“Having bombs dropped on you doesn’t sound very conducive to living,” Daisy huffed.
“There will be boys in uniform there, our own age, maybe even RAF pilots,” Lydia pleaded. During a slow moment at work a few days ago, they had ranked different military units on their desirability. Royal Air Force pilots were the runaway favorite, followed in second by naval officers.
Somewhat reluctantly, Daisy finally gave her consent, realizing the complete futility of arguing when Lydia was this set on something.
They were interrupted by the approach of Alistair Thorndale, who was walking quickly and carrying a large file folder. “Excuse me ladies, my apologies, I know you were supposed to have tomorrow off, but a very important meeting has been scheduled at the last minute, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to come in.”
“See, I told you going out tonight was a bad idea,” whispered Daisy.
“It’s too late Daisy, you agreed to it,” said Lydia triumphantly.
Daisy put her head down on the desk, wondering what she had just gotten herself into.
Evans looked up in awe at the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus, slowly taking in the sights and sounds of the busy city. Even under threat of attack, London remained the most dynamic city in the world, and Evans could not put into words just how great it us to be back in his home country.
After the successful completion of their mission in Egypt, the squad had returned to the British Embassy in Cairo where Dumbledore departed the same way he had come, through the fireplace. After Evans sent off his lengthy dispatches summarizing the mission to some unknown office on the home front, they had received official orders to return to England for “debriefing.” They weren’t exactly sure what that entailed, but nonetheless they were thrilled to be heading home.
After a long but uneventful journey by sea, they had been met at the Plymouth dock yards by two quiet men in dark suits, who they could safely assume were government agents of some sort. The government men had driven them on a very roundabout route to a nondescript safe house in central London, with orders to be ready to be picked up at 0700 the following morning to be taken to their mysterious meeting. In the absence of higher authorities, the men were now interpreting that order to mean that they had a free night in London.
“I still don’t think this is a great idea,” said Evans, deeply worried about what kind of trouble MacDonald and Reynolds would get themselves into.
“Don’t worry Mr. Evans, if these two get into any kind of trouble at all I’ll have them standing night watches until the war ends,” Bromhead assured him.
MacDonald and Reynolds voiced their objections as once again Evans was thankful to have Bromhead around so he never had to be the bad guy. As they walked down the surprisingly busy streets, they realized that all the rumors they had heard in their letters from home were true; that despite the constant danger, London’s night life was defiantly thriving.
After walking quite a ways they arrived at what seemed to be a fairly popular night club and walked inside.
“Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re going to run into Captain Whittington here?” Evans mused.
Bromhead laughed, “That’s about as likely as West Ham winning the league next year.”
They pressed their way through the crowd and found an open table. They were wearing their newly cleaned dress uniforms, a drastic change from the worn and ragged desert khakis they had grown accustomed to. All around them were other young men from every branch of the service, enjoying one of their few precious nights off. If it weren’t for all the uniforms, one would have never guessed that there was a war going on. There was a festive atmosphere as a large jazz band played the latest hits from America. Large numbers of young women mingled with the servicemen, and all of them seemed determined not to let any silly German bombers ruin their fun.
At MacDonald’s insistence, the group ordered a round of scotch and waited patiently for their waiter to return. It had been so long since any of them had enjoyed a good drink that they had almost forgotten what it was like.
Finally, with drinks in hand, Evans proposed a toast, “To our successful mission.”
“Here, Here!” exclaimed the others, as they clanged glasses and took the most highly anticipated sip of a beverage they had ever taken. They had splurged for rare high end scotch, and it had certainly been worth the wait.
As they began to share their respective recollections of their recent adventures, they were interrupted by an approaching voice. “Johnny Evans, is that really you?”
Evans turned around and was shocked to see Roger Cranford, his closest friend from his student days, in the dark blue dress uniform of a Royal Air Force pilot.
“Roger, I can’t believe this, it’s so great to see you again!” exclaimed Evans, as they embraced in the manliest and least awkward way possible.
“Look at you John, what daft idiot made you an infantry officer?” Roger teased.
“Probably the same daft idiot that made you a pilot,” Evans shot back.
Evans indicated his colleagues sitting at the table, “Roger, this is Nigel Bromhead, Will Reynolds, and Duncan MacDonald.”
“It’s a pleasure gentlemen, I’m Roger Cranford,” said Roger, acknowledging each one. “So how do you like working with Mr. Evans here? Is he a strict one?”
“Oh no, Mr. Evans lets us do what we want, we seem to get away with a lot,” said MacDonald.
“He’s one of the good officers, and we’ve seen plenty of bad ones,” added Reynolds, the memory of Captain Whittington still fresh in his mind.
“Well then you may or may not be surprised to learn that John Evans is the most notorious prankster Cambridge University has ever seen,” Roger informed them.
“I don’t believe it,” objected MacDonald, “I just picture him sitting around and reading books all the time.”
“He usually lets our pranks slide but he would never actually do one himself,” Reynolds added.
Roger laughed, “Well you obviously weren’t there for our last year at Cambridge, when he set some sheep loose in the chapel.”
MacDonald, Reynolds, and even the serious Bromhead burst out laughing, as they were discovering a side of Evans they had never seen before. Roger continued with more slightly embarrassing stories as Evans listened helplessly, watching the façade of being a serious army officer that he had worked so hard to construct come crumbling down. However, his concerns were misplaced. His credibility, far from being eroded, was becoming greatly enhanced in the eyes of his men, who were finally learning of his sense of humour.
Roger rose from the table after they had talked for quite some time and ordered several more rounds of drinks, trading stories of their school days and of their experiences in the war so far, at least those that they were allowed to talk about. Taking his leave, Roger announced to the group, “Well I’m sure you didn’t come here to hear some pilot tell stories, you probably came here to find some female company, which is what I’m off to do now. John, you’ll be joining me of course.”
“Thanks Roger, but I am quite to content to sit here and finish my scotch,” said Evans.
“Come on John, as we say in the Air Force, you should never fly without your wingman, plus it might do you some good,” Roger insisted.
“He’s right you know,” Bromhead spoke up, “You could use a woman in your life Mr. Evans.”
Evans was incredulous, “Nigel, coming from you of all people, the whole time we were in North Africa I never saw you write to a girl once.”
Bromhead scoffed, “If the Army wanted me to have a wife they would have issued me one, you should know that by now.”
Not in the mood for an argument, Evans rose from his chair, reluctantly agreeing to follow his friend. The truth was he was utterly clueless when it came to women. Not that he had many opportunities to meet them, having attended one of Cambridge’s all male colleges and currently being in the Army. Despite these disadvantages, so many of his classmates and colleagues, in particular Roger, always seemed to so effortlessly have girls following them around, leaving Evans wondering what mystical power they must possess and how to harness it. He couldn’t help remembering the last formal ball he attended at Cambridge with a local girl Roger had introduced him to. He remembered how painfully awkward it felt trying to force conversation topics, and how she apparently had no interest in hearing about the research he was doing for his thesis paper on Lord Byron’s poetry.
They walked around scanning the room for a while, attempting to lock on to something in a target rich environment. At first glance, all the young ladies in attendance were either already being chatted up by men in uniform, or were talking amongst themselves in impenetrable groups. Finally, close to the bar, they spotted a glamorous well dressed brunette who was trying to appear coy, but couldn’t prevent her eyes from shooting inviting glances towards Roger. Meanwhile, her red haired friend, who appeared attractive in her own right but in a more bookishly shy sort of way, seemed to be staring off into space, even more apprehensive about being there than Evans was.
Sensing an opening, Roger quickly approached the two ladies with Evans in tow. “What are two nice girls like you doing alone in a place like this?” he asked them, with a suave confidence in his voice.
Evans was appalled by the brazen garishness of that line, and he was both greatly amused and slightly frustrated that Roger’s cheesy approach almost always seemed to work.
The brunette stumbled over her answer, “Well…err…maybe we were waiting to be rescued by a pilot.” She was trying her best to maintain eye contact, but her eyes were drawn to the wings on Roger’s uniform, not believing her luck at having met an actual RAF pilot. With his perfectly coifed dark hair, tan by British standards complexion, and the athletic frame of a former Cambridge cricket captain, Roger looked as if he could fit right in with American movie stars like Clark Gable and Gary Cooper. Add in the uniform, and he was basically a walking RAF recruitment poster.
“And what would your name be Miss Damsel in Distress?” he asked, somehow managing to sound endearing and condescending at the same time.
“Lydia,” answered the brunette, “And this is my friend Daisy.”
“Lydia, what a lovely name. I’m Roger and this is John, at your service Madame,” he responded. ‘So Lydia, would you like to dance?”
She happily nodded and Roger led her out onto the dance floor, turning back to give Evans a look that seemed to say, “I got you in the door, now you have to close the deal.”
Evans watched, struggling to understand how Roger managed to pull off his smooth act, and why girls always seemed to fall for it. He looked back at Daisy, who was awkwardly staring at the floor, and he soon found himself doing the same. They were about five feet apart from each other in an awkward standoff, neither one really sure how to break the ice.
“Lydia’s really living up to her name, chasing after officers like that,” Daisy observed, to nobody in particular.
“Is that a Pride and Prejudice reference? You’re comparing her to Lydia Bennett, chasing after Mr. Wickham?” Evans asked nervously.
Daisy looked at him incredulously, “You’ve read Jane Austen?” A man who knew Jane Austen was a rare find indeed.
“Well, I studied English Literature at Cambridge,” Evans answered her. Being the modest man he was, he was usually reluctant to admit his academic credentials.
Daisy smiled, “Well how did you enjoy attending a second rate university?”
Evans looked at her quizzically, that was certainly not the type of reaction he was expecting.
“I went to Oxford,” she explained, “I studied classical languages.”
Evans exhaled, not believing his luck at having discovered such an intellect. Now that he knew of their mutual literary interests, he found it easy to steer the conversation in that direction. They were beginning to feel comfortable around each other as they became involved in a deep discussion about romanticism and the industrial revolution. An excited murmur spread through the crowd as the band began to play one of the new popular swing dances.
“Do you know how to swing dance?” Daisy asked.
“Yes, of course,” Evans lied. Evans looked around the room as they walked towards the dance floor. MacDonald and Reynolds were already out on the floor, making drunken fools of themselves. Meanwhile Bromhead was sitting with a group of older World War I veterans, presumably discussing military tactics.
Evans took Daisy’s hand as he carefully tried to mimic the movements of the couples dancing all around them, finding it easier than expected. Feeling slightly emboldened, Evans gradually attempted more and more audacious moves, until he attempted to spin Daisy in a complicated twirl, only to lose his grip and send her flying. With a loud crash, she slammed into a nearby cocktail table. The table flipped over on its side, spilling several glasses of red wine on Daisy’s blue dress.
Completely mortified, Evans ran over, hoping to help her up and profusely apologize. But before he could make it, the evening was interrupted by the unmistakable high pitched wails of the air raid sirens. The lights flickered off as a large mass of people pushed towards the exits.
Evans quickly reverted to Army officer mode, and was now solely focused on getting his men out safely. He was able to find Bromhead in the confusing mass of a crowd, and together they grabbed MacDonald and Reynolds, who were very reluctant to leave. In a surprisingly orderly fashion, the crowd spilled outside and into the nearby underground station that was serving as an air raid shelter.
Evans looked through the massive crowd huddled together in the station. Roger, Lydia, and Daisy were nowhere to be seen. He quickly pushed those thoughts out of his mind. He had safely extracted his team from a dangerous situation, and that was the only mission that should matter to him right now.
“Bloody Germans, they ruin everything,” said MacDonald, as the bombs began to fall overhead.
Evans looked out the window of the government car that had been sent to pick them up. By some miracle, they had all been ready to leave on time, although MacDonald had needed a little help getting his uniform on properly. They had left London and driven for hours on winding country roads, taking the most indirect route possible to wherever they were going, just in case they were being followed. Evans couldn’t help thinking about Daisy, and regretting that he never had the opportunity to apologize to her, let alone obtain her surname or a mailing address. He concluded that it was probably for the best, and that there was no use getting mixed up in anything while the war was still going on.
They finally arrived outside a large country estate, and the government agent who had driven them there indicated that they should follow him inside. They walked through the main entrance, impressed by the Georgian architecture, and the lush green fields that were a marked improvement over the North African deserts.
Evans received a massive shock, one of many to come that day, when he discovered that Daisy was the one to sign them in when they walked inside. Not able to find the right words, he awkwardly avoided eye contact and pretended not to recognize her, and it seemed like she was doing the same. The sandy haired officer looked around the reception area, and saw several other young women hard at work. He recognized Lydia, looking very tired and slightly disheveled. Roger, you old devil, he thought to himself.
The agent led the four soldiers up the stairs and into a secluded conference room. Looking around the room, they saw a very odd assortment of guests. Evans recognized General Alan Brooke, the Army’s Chief of Staff and one of Winston Churchill’s primary advisors. Seated around him were the director of MI6, a middle aged professor like man who probably worked for MI6, Albus Dumbledore, another grey haired wizard around Dumbledore’s age, and a stout broad shouldered wizard who the others addressed as “Minister.”
General Brooke rose and spoke first. “Gentlemen, now that we’ve all arrived we can begin. I believe we have all read Lieutenant Evans’ dispatch on the Egyptian mission. Prime Minister Churchill is very pleased with the success of this mission, and he believes we have discovered a successful operational model for fighting both Grindelwald and the Nazis. “
Stewart Menzies, the Director of MI6, spoke next. “With the combined resources of the military, intelligence, and magical communities he have the ability to create a new small but effective organization, one that it is off the records and outside the confines of government, an organization that does not officially exist.”
Dumbledore elaborated further, “Our recent victory, though it may seem insignificant in some respects, has sent shock waves through the magical community. Many have been reluctant to oppose Grindelwald, fearing his power and wrath. Now that we have proven that Grindelwald’s forces are not invincible, we will be able to recruit many more witches and wizards to our cause.”
The professor like man spoke next, introducing himself as Alastair Thorndale. “This new organization will based right here at Bletchley Park, a place whose existence is known to very few. From here we will launch our new strategy. We will be carrying out precision covert strikes, attacking Grindelwald wherever he is vulnerable, never letting him rest. At the same time we will aid the allied war effort in any way we can, aiming to fracture the Grindelwald/Hitler alliance and make them both weaker.”
General Brooke spoke up again, “Lieutenant Evans, because you and your squad have already had success in this type of mission, you will be given first choice for this assignment. Should you refuse the assignment, you will be returned to your unit with no questions asked.”
Evans made eye contact with Bromhead, MacDonald, and Reynolds, who all seemed to be thinking the same thing. “Sir, I believe I speak for all of us when I say it would be an honor to accept this assignment.”
“In that case we are adjourned,” said General Brooke, “Mr. Thorndale and Mr. Doge here will brief you further on your new assignment.”
As the large group of men filed out into the hall, Evans nearly bumped into Daisy, who he was still awkwardly trying to avoid.
Finally, she spoke, “So, you didn’t tell me you were the famous John Evans.”
Evans blushed, “I wasn’t aware I was famous,” he stammered nervously.
“Well you’re famous around here at least, I read your dispatch from Egypt, that was some pretty amazing stuff,” she said with a warm smile.
“Oh, that was nothing really,” he said modestly. “Listen Daisy, I want to apologize for how everything ended up last night.”
Daisy laughed, “John it’s no problem, really.”
“Are you sure, I mean I ruined your dress and everything,” he insisted.
“John, I had a great time last night, and besides, I never liked that dress anyway,” she assured him.
Evans was greatly relieved; feeling like a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
“Well I have to go transmit these messages, but I’ll see you around,” said Daisy, looking back and smiling as she walked away.
Evans and the others followed Thorndale and the wizard called Doge as they embarked on a tour of the facility. Evans felt a surge of excitement that he would soon be embarking on ground breaking missions, and also that he would apparently be spending a lot more time with a certain red head. He tried to make sense of it all, not sure which one he was more excited about.