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Freefall: Chapter 35

Miriam Zakon

Colonel Cohn tells Moe that he needs him to help him understand the codebreaking work going on in Bletchley Park. Moe feels more enthusiastic.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

M oe had carefully wound and set his alarm clock for seven before falling into bed, but there was no need for it; well before dawn he’d been awakened by a smell both tantalizing and completely unexpected.

Liver? What in the world??

This wasn’t the Freed Hotel on Thursday night, with Mrs. Horn and Annie kashering the “leiberlach” for Shabbos. This was wartime England, with rationing in full force. And for heaven’s sake, it was five thirty in the morning!

He moved the heavy blackout curtains slightly and peeked out; all was still and dark. Last night, escorted by a taciturn British army private, he’d walked through the blacked-out streets of Milton Keynes to the house that was to serve as his billet for the duration of this posting. His brain, as he walked into the row house on a small, rather shabby cul-de-sac, seemed as hazy as the London fog he’d heard so much about, his thoughts a mass of disconnected pieces of information, like the intercepted German messages before the BP geniuses had gotten them decoded and analyzed. Amazing, what was going on in that mansion!

It was late, there was just a dim light on in a hallway, and Moe had hardly noticed his surroundings. He had a shadowy impression of a tall, thin man giving him a strong handshake, and a woman’s voice showing him to his room. The bed was comfortable, the summer quilt was cozy — he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep, until wakened by these…

Chicken livers?

He dressed as quietly as he could. Though most of the people he’d seen at Bletchley were in civilian dress, he decided to follow Colonel Cohn’s example, and he put on his uniform. As he made his way in the dark and unfamiliar room, occasionally bumping his knees on an unexpected piece of furniture, his thoughts jumped between the massive amount of information he’d been exposed to yesterday, and the strange doings that seemed to be going on in this dark house right now.

Imagine! The Germans’ Enigma machine, with its rotors and plugboard that made the odds of guessing the right letters when decoding the message something like 150 million million million… what a number…

What is that smell?

And the only way to decode it is by figuring out the settings that the German operators choose every day…

It’s not even six in the morning. Why do I hear people talking?

And that electro-mechanical machine they’re using, that can check tens of thousands of code-breaking possibilities in such a short time. What do they call it? Oh, yes, the bombe. Oh, my goodness, I hear singing. What is going on in this house? He opened his door a crack.

The house was dark, but beneath one door he saw a sliver of light. He could hear a man’s voice, and as he approached he could make out the words and the tune. Voos vet zahn ven Mashiach vet kumen…

Someone in this Alice in Wonderland house was singing a classic Yiddish song about Mashiach.

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