The Broken Heart Machine: Part 3

This is part 3 of a short story, The Broken Heart Machine, that I’m posting online. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here. Paul Wiezerski, an American solider, is on a special assignment in England at Bletchley Park during World War II. Bletchley Park is home to a top-secret effort to decrypt Nazi communications. Paul discovers that strange messages are being captured at Bletchley–messages that appear to come from someone from Paul’s past. He forges a pass and abandons his post at Bletchley to search for the source of the messages, which he believes will be found in a remote village in Ireland.

The town of Fishguard sat on the west coast of Britain. It was an unremarkable place save for the ferry service that crossed St. George’s Channel to the Irish village of Rosslare.

Paul, who had traveled for nearly nine hours on the motor bike, pulled up to ferry yard at 4:00 a.m. A fence enclosed the yard, and the gate was locked. A battered old sign informed him that the first ferry wouldn’t depart until 5:30 a.m.

Paul cursed. He kicked the gate of the ferry yard, then walked the bike in a small circle to find somewhere to hole up. A few hundred yards away was a high hedge that ran alongside the road. Paul found a gap in the hedge and walked the bike through into a hay meadow. Three larch trees stood nearby. He leaned the bike up against one tree, then sat down with his back against the trunk of another.

The ground was damp, and a knot on the tree trunk bore into the knot in his back, yet he still caught himself falling into a doze.

He stood up, brushing grass and damp dirt from his trousers. He was tired and sore, and his body cried out for rest, but he couldn’t sleep for fear he’d miss the ferry.

If Bletchley didn’t know he was missing yet, they’d know when he failed to report at 7:00 a.m. Every military base and police station in Great Britain would be given his description, and an American on the loose wouldn’t be hard to track down–the moment he opened his mouth it would be clear to anyone he was from the States. He had to keep moving if he hoped to outrun the alarm and stay ahead of the inevitable pursuit.

He spent a miserable hour among the trees, pacing in tight circles and slapping his own face to keep himself awake. At 5:00 a.m., he rolled the motorbike out of the hedge and rode to the gates, which were now open. He saw a ticket office standing near the overturned hulls of several row boats. Two or three people were already in line.

Paul parked the bike and bought a ticket. He waited to be interrogated by the ticket clerk, an old woman with hairs on her chin, but she sold him passage for himself and the motorbike with nary a glance.

He eyed the other passengers, but if there were MPs or a spy sent to snatch him, he couldn’t tell. For the most part, the passengers seemed to be of the rural type—farmers or maybe domestic workers.

He stayed with the bike until it was time to board. He queued up at a long dock of weathered planks that jutted out over the dingy grey water of the harbor. A soldier was inspecting tickets.

The soldier was an older fellow, perhaps in his fifties. Paul recognized the uniform of the Home Guard, the volunteer service of men ineligible for the regular army. The man was wore a sidearm and had whistle round his neck. According to the insignia on his epaulet he was a captain.

Paul had run into Guardsmen once or twice outside Bletchley. They had been officious busybodies, eager to spot infractions of War Office rules and pleased to wield the little power they had.

This one looked as if he could give Paul some trouble. His shoes and belt were polished to a high gloss and his uniform was impeccably pressed, if perhaps a big snug around the stomach. He checked each ticket carefully, peered into passengers’ belongings and queried the ferry riders about their reasons for crossing the sea.

When Paul stepped forward, the captain held out an arm. He looked Paul up and down with a skeptical eye. Paul realized he must look a mess after so many hours on the road.

“Ticket?”

Paul handed over his ticket for inspection. The soldier scrutinized it for a beat longer than was quite necessary.

“The reason for your travel?”

“Excuse me?” asked Paul. The man had a thick Welsh accent and Paul didn’t understand the question.

“Why are you traveling to Ireland?”

Paul stammered for a moment. He hadn’t thought up a cover story. “I…uh…I’m looking up some relatives. Irish relatives.”

“You’re American?”

Paul nodded. If a bulletin had gone out about an American on the run, he was pinched for sure.

“What are you doing in England?” asked the captain. “It’s rather a strange time to be coming across the Atlantic for a family reunion.”

Paul could hear the suspicion in the man’s voice. He imagined the calculus going on in the captain’s head: a fit young man of age for military service, but not in uniform and far from home. This was not a calculation that added up to anything good. Paul decided a bit of the truth might help.

“I’m in the Air Corps,” said Paul. “The U.S. Army Air Corps. My unit was sent over here to assist with…certain operations. I’m stationed outside London, and I have a few days’ leave. I thought I’d travel the country a bit.”

The captain’s eyes narrowed. “Do you have identification?”

Paul produced his military I.D. The captain examined it closely.

“Corporal, eh? Why aren’t you in uniform?”

Paul looked down at his clothes, which were dusty and grimy from the road. “I didn’t want to make a mess of it.”

The captain grunted. “You’re looking up relatives?”

Paul nodded.

“Not a lot of Wiezerskis in Ireland. Seems you’d need to go east for that.”

Shit! thought Paul. His tired mind staggered around his skull, grasping for a story. It seized on a man he’d once known—the floor boss at the slaughterhouse, a petty tyrant named Ned Donnelly. Paul could still hear the man’s sneering brogue as he lorded it over the Poles and Slavs that did the killing and the cleaning.

“Donnelly,” blurted Paul.

“Eh?” said the captain.

Paul looked the man straight in the eye as he lied. “My grandmother was a Donnelly. On my mother’s side. From Wexford County.”

The captain raised an eyebrow. “You Yanks really mix up the blood, don’t you? You’re on leave then? Let’s see your pass.”

Paul produced his stolen pass. The captain unfolded it and read it over very carefully. Paul wanted to jitter, to tap a foot, to bounce up and down like a child. Instead he forced himself to be utterly still.

The captain refolded the pass, then snapped his heels together and offered a crisp salute. Paul returned it automatically.

“If you want my advice,” said the captain, handing back the pass and the I.D., “stay out of the pubs. You go asking for Donnellys over there, you’ll find ‘em by the hundreds—and you’ll have to buy them all a drink.”

“Yes sir,” said Paul. He wheeled the motorbike past the officer and down the dock to the ferry. The ferry was a single-decked steamer. A seaman helped Paul pull the bike onto the deck and lash it to a rail. Paul thanked the man, then found a seat in the passenger section. He closed his eyes and sighed. He trembled for moment, his limbs releasing their exhaustion and anxiety. As he waited for the ferry to cast off he watched the dock, expecting at any moment for the captain to march down and haul him off the boat.

Finally a bell sounded, ropes were cast off, and the ferry chugged away from the coast. Paul watched until England disappeared behind the horizon. Then he fell asleep.

#

It was late afternoon when Paul rode into the village of Fahan. He’d crossed from east to west of Ireland in about seven hours. Many of the roads he’d taken had been little more than cart tracks cut through the green turf, and as a result the motorbike was in poor shape. The shocks were worn out, and the engine had a troubling cough. Paul had little hope the bike would make it back to Bletchley; then again, he wasn’t sure he would make it back either.

The village was a small collection of shops and cottages along a cobbled road. At the far end of the road was a small church with a turreted tower. Paul walked the bike past a pub and a grocer’s. Several women in shawls, baskets on their arms, eyed him warily.

He found the local post office. He needed directions to Slea Head, where Helen and her father had rented a house two years ago. Paul hoped someone in the post office could point him in the right direction.

After a few frustrating minutes of sharp questioning from the post mistress, he emerged with an idea of which way to go. He mounted the bike and kicked it to life. The cobblestones jounced the bike rather violently, but the road soon reverted to hard-packed dirt, and the going was more smooth.

He passed a clutch of small farms, but the road soon led to more open country of rolling green pastures. After about fifteen minutes, he saw the peaks of a many-gabled roof rise up from the horizon. Several minutes later the full building came into view.

In his mind Paul had pictured Slea Head as a modest cottage with a thatched roof and white-washed walls. He should have known such quaintness would never have suited Helen’s father.

Slea Head was a Victorian mansion of wood and stone that stood proud amid a manicured park of green lawns and well-ordered hedgerows. Dozens of windows glittered in the westering sun, throwing shards of light like signal mirrors.

“You could sleep a hundred people there,” thought Paul. But Helen and her father had had the place to themselves, according to her letter. Paul felt a stab of loneliness at the image of Helen walking through silent rooms or sitting alone in a parlor as a grandfather clock ticked down the minutes of a solitary afternoon.

He stopped the bike to consult his memory of her letter. She had described walking down a narrow track to the shore, where a clutch of the beehive huts stood like aging sentries. But where? He turned to look at the coastline at his left. There was a border of green heather, perhaps twenty or thirty yards wide, and then what looked like a steep drop down chalk cliffs to the sea.

Paul caught site of an older man coming up the road. He was dressed in rough wool trousers, an old coat and a weather-beaten cap. Paul eased the bike forward until he drew level. The old man had a wind-seared face and deep brown eyes.

“Pardon me,” said Paul. “I’m looking for clochan. Clochan?” He wasn’t sure of the correct pronunciation.

The old man looked at him but said nothing.

“Stone huts,” said Paul. “Shaped like beehives. I was told I could find them near here. By the ocean?”

The man spoke, but Paul could make no sense of the words. Was he speaking Gaelic?”

“What did you say?” asked Paul.

The man spoke again. He gestured once or twice, but not in any specific direction.

“I don’t understand,” said Paul, his frustration mounting.

The man rolled his eyes. With unexpected quickness he climbed on the back of the motorbike and wrapped one arm around Paul’s waist in a surprisingly strong grip.

“Hey!” cried Paul.

The man gestured with his free hand down the road.

“You’ll show me?” said Paul.

The man nodded, and gestured for Paul to drive. Paul could smell the old man’s breath, dull and sour.

“What the hell am I doing?” he thought.

They rode for ten minutes, the Slea Head mansion always at Paul’s right shoulder. A high hedge marked the border of the estate. Then the old gent shouted in Paul’s ear. Paul eased the bike to a stop. The man got off. He pointed to a slender gap in the hedge, then drew an imaginary line with his finger across the road. Paul followed it and saw the beginnings of a winding track in the heather. It seemed to plunge over the edge of the cliff and vanish.

“Down there? The clochan?”

The old man nodded.

“OK. Thanks. Thank you.”

The man touched his cap and then started his walk back along the way they’d come. Paul killed the engine and wheeled the bike into the heather. At his feet was an old goat path that switched back and forth on itself down the cliff.

“No way I’m getting the bike down there,” muttered Paul. He set the kickstand and pocketed the key. Then he began the descent on foot.

The track was uneven and barely wide enough for a single person. It sloped downward at a ridiculous angle. Shards of rock and clumps of sharp-bladed sea grass jutted out of the dirt, making the footing treacherous. Wind gusts leapt up the cliff face and slapped him on his cheeks and chest.

Paul glanced down. He was perhaps a hundred or a hundred and fifty feet above a stony spit of beach that poked like a spearhead out into the ocean. Out on the horizon, the bottom edge of the sun was touching the waterline. It would be dark soon.

“Where am I going?” he asked himself. What did he expect to find at the end of this path? Helen, sitting inside a beehive hut, praying the rosary and waiting for him? Another cryptic message? Or just the realization he’d been chasing an imaginary summons across the length of the fucking United Kingdom?

“Maybe I’m insane,” he said aloud. He was certainly behaving crazily. He’d abandoned his post, stolen a bike, and now risked falling to his death.

He spent twenty minutes negotiating the track. The path ended at a hump of earth, a rolling hillock that stood against the cliff like an ottoman shoved against a wall. The hillock sloped down to the stony beach he’d seen at the top of the cliff.

A cluster of stone structures stood grouped on the hillock. The clochan. They stood in solemn silence as dusk fell, like weathered old men saluting the sunset. Each hut was made of stacked stone, wide at the base and narrowing to a rounded top, looking indeed like beehives, if only for monstrous bees. Each hut had a dark maw of an entrance, a mouth that was always open.

He remembered Harold saying these things had been built in the Middle Ages. That would make them five or six hundred years old. How many centuries had they stood here, squaring off against wind and weather? Shouldn’t they be in a museum instead of left here, discarded as casually as a tin can?

Paul looked behind him at the narrow track running precipitously up the cliff face, then at the setting sun. He would not risk going back up that path in the dark, so whatever he was going to do, he better do it quickly.

He counted the clochan. There were eight of them. He sighed and began his search, not entirely sure what he was looking for. He had to stoop to get inside. The first five huts he entered were entirely empty, save for piles of ash; remnants, he supposed, of fires lit who knew how long ago by the religious men who had lived in these odd structures. They must’ve been hardy fellows; the clochan were damp and dark, and the wind from the sea whistled through chinks in the stacked slate.

Inside the sixth, which seemed slightly drier, he found a pair of women’s underwear, and the shards of a bottle that had been smashed against the stones. Teenagers? Or perhaps a monk who was more careless in his devotions than his brethren? The seventh hut was also empty. In the eighth, he found something that he first thought was an overturned tub. He righted it. It was some kind of little boat, oval-shaped and just large enough for one person. It was made of interwoven branches covered with a tight skin of animal hide. A wooden oar leaned nearby.

Lovers and fishermen, thought Paul, finding new uses for these odd constructions.

He exited the clochan and stood at the lip of the hillock to stare out at the sea. Had he missed something, perhaps a note tucked under a rock? Or was there nothing to find in the first place? He wanted to sit on the stony ground and weep, in part from exhaustion and in part from disappointment. He had truly believed Helen was calling to him. Now he realized he had fabricated a message from random scraps of radio intercepts.

“Idiot,” he said to himself. “Lovesick idiot.” There was nothing left but to start his way up the path, then find the nearest military base and turn himself in. He’d probably spend the rest of the war in prison. When his sentence was served, the military would spit him out and send him back to Chicago, a disgraced junior officer and a Class A fool. And what then? Back to the cramped and cabbage-reeking tenement with his mother, father and brothers? Back to the slaughterhouse?

The sun was nearly gone behind the horizon. He walked to the path and began his ascent. He moved quickly and carelessly, half wishing to slip and fall because a broken neck would be better than whatever awaited him at the top.

A quarter of the way from the cliff’s edge, he paused and glanced behind him. The sun was gone. The sea and sky were a single dark canvas. Then suddenly a light flicked on and off, somewhere out on the ocean. Paul blinked, wondering if he’d imagined it. He saw the light flick again, then a third time. Like a signal.

A snatch of lyric leapt to Paul’s mind. You were on the ship, and I was on the shore.

There had been a message for him in the clochan. The tiny boat.

Paul plunged recklessly back down the path. She was out there, somewhere on the ocean. He didn’t know how, or why. But the light was from Helen. It would guide him to her.

He hauled the boat out of the hut and carried it to the shoreline. He set it on the ground. A wave rolled in and lapped up against the hide skin. Paul watched the middle distance, waiting to see the light again. He reached into his pocket and removed his cigarette lighter.

The light appeared, a small bright circle of white that flicked on and off.

Paul struck the lighter, wondering if the tiny flame would be visible. He passed his hand up and down in front of the flame, attempting to return the signal.

He signaled three times, then waited. The light in the distance flashed three times in return.

Paul felt his heart leap. She had seen it!

He shoved the boat—coracle, it was called a coracle—into the water and followed after it. He walked into in the cold water to waist height, then pulled himself in. The tiny craft nearly capsized, but in a moment Paul was sitting unsteadily on a slender bench that bisected the coracle. He took up the paddle and shoved it manfully through the water.

Waves lifted and dropped the coracle, and salt spray soaked his jacket. The craft was hard to steer, and several times he nearly tipped himself into the water. But he struggled forward.

After several minutes of paddling, he stowed the oar and took his lighter from his pocket. He tried to light it, but it wouldn’t catch.

“Damn,” he thought. He stared into the night, hoping to see another signal light, but all was dark. He took up the oar and started up again.

He paddled for fifteen or twenty minutes, not sure where he was going. As he paddled, doubt crept into his mind. The light could’ve been anything. He knew from the maps he’d studied that this part of the coast was dotted with tiny islands; perhaps it was just some shepherd in an island cottage lighting a lantern. Or perhaps a fishing boat finding its way back to shore.

A wave lifted and dropped the coracle, nearly spilling Paul into the water. A second wave slapped the boat sideways. The coracle spun in a wobbly arc. Water was pooling at Paul’s feet.

“Helen!” he screamed. “Where are you?”

At that moment he heard a whistle blow. A police whistle. The sound came from the shoreline.

A voice carried across the water, sharp and commanding. “You in the boat! Paddle back to the shore! Do it now!” Lights were bobbing along the beach, lanterns or flashlights.

Military police, thought Paul. They’d tracked him down.

“Paul Wiezerski! Corporal—you’re ordered to turn back!”

Paul spit into the sea. What to do?

Suddenly the water surged and foamed around him as if the sea were boiling. A craft breached the surface. It looked to be thirty or forty feet long. Its color was the same as the sea. A hatch opened, and a figure emerged, rope in hand. The figure tossed the rope. Paul caught it. In short order he was bobbing next to the strange craft.

“Climb aboard,” said the figure, his voice muffled by a thick scarf. Whoever it was wore goggles and a wool hat as well, obscuring his face. “Quickly! There are ships in the area.”

Paul found a series of handholds welded to the hull of the submersible, and quickly scaled up the side to the hatch. The coracle drifted away into darkness. The police whistles were blowing frantically now. Men on the beach shouted.

“Get in,” said the figure, motioning to the hatchway.

“What is all this?” Paul asked, steadying himself against the slight swaying of the craft.

“We’ve got to hurry. Two destroyers are converging on us, and there’s aircraft activity.”

Paul glanced up, but iron-grey clouds obscured the sky. He clambered down the narrow hatchway and found himself in a short corridor. Directly ahead of him looked to be some kind of control room. From behind came the hum of an engine and the smell of diesel.

The stranger was now coming down the ladder, having sealed the hatch above them. Paul stepped aside to let him down. The person was short and slim; Paul could easily overpower him, but then what? Paul hadn’t the faintest idea how to operate this craft. Besides, this person would likely bring him to Helen.

The figure gestured for Paul to go down the passage, away from the control room. The passage was narrow, and Paul had to stoop. Paul was directed to a small stateroom. He entered, and then the metal hatch clanged shut behind. Paul turned to the hatch, grasped it in his hands to fling it open, but heard a bolt sliding home. He was trapped inside. He banged on the hatch.

“What the hell’s going on?” Paul shouted. “Who are you? Where are you taking me?”

There was no response. Paul tried the latch, but the door was locked tight. He heard footsteps begin to tramp away. Suddenly an idea flashed into his mind.

“Helen!” he shouted. “Helen, it’s you!”

The footsteps stopped for moment. Paul held his breath, waiting for the bolt to slide free, waiting for a reunion that he had long dreamed of. But the footsteps continued on, leaving him alone. He gave the door a last kick and then leaned against it, lost in a kind of melancholy swoon. But soon his emotional state gave way to the physical; the room was cold, and he was shivering in his wet clothes.

He surveyed the chamber. It was metal, tiny, and unadorned. A single bulb spilled sallow yellow light from a socket over his head. A porthole was set into the far wall. As he watched, the sea rose up quickly to cover it. Soon his view was nothing but a blank wall of dark water. They had submerged.

Paul sat on a small bunk that was soldered to one wall. A set of clothes had been laid there, and a typed note.

It’s best to change into these clothes. It gets very cold. The bunk doubles as a footlocker. You’ll find provisions there. Be patient.”

The note was unsigned, but Paul recognized the handwriting.

Paul stripped out of his sodden clothes and into the ones provided. There were grey wool trousers, a clean undershirt, a black wool turtleneck, warm socks, and new boots. The clothes were finely made and fit well. Once dressed, he lifted the thin mattress that covered the bunk. There was a locker underneath. Inside were blankets and a basket. He lifted out the basket and examined its contents: drinking water, a wedge of hard cheese, some bread, and a small flask of scotch. And–joy of joys–a pack of cigarettes and dry matches.

Paul gulped the water, suddenly aware of how thirsty he’d become. He ate the bread and cheese, and then smoked a cigarette. He opened the flask and sipped. The liquor sent a creeping warmth through his body, and he sipped twice more before sealing the flask again. He was already lightheaded at the thought that Helen was mere meters from him, and that she had summoned him for help.

The room grew darker as the craft dove deeper beneath the sea. Paul looked at his watch. They had been traveling for more than an hour already. Exhausted from the unceasing travel of the past twenty-four hours, he wrapped himself in a blanket and let his mind drift.

#

At some point Paul was roused from his sleep by a glow coming from the porthole. He rubbed his eyes and stretched, his body cramped from the small cot. He checked his watch—they had been traveling for more than six hours. He peered out into the murky dark and was surprised to see large shapes near the craft. It took him a moment to understand what he was seeing—undersea ice. He watched in fascination as the craft maneuvered among jagged canyons and great overhangs of green-blue crystal.

He felt the vessel slow as the submarine approached a massive wall that rose up and reached down through the ocean, far out of the light’s reach. An iceberg. From a distance its face looked smooth and even, but as the craft moved closer Paul saw a host of imperfections–great gouges and cracks in its face, dark crevices where the iceberg collided with pack ice and ocean water ate away at its surface, leaving it rough and careworn.

The craft approached one of the larger rents in the face of the ice, and Paul realized with a shock that they were headed inside. For several minutes his view was nothing but seawater and blue-white ice. He felt a curious sensation in his stomach—the vessel must be rising. He watched sea water fall away from the tiny port window. Then a quiet settled through the craft as the engines cut out. He heard water lapping against the hull. Then the bolt that locked the stateroom door rang as it was slid back. Paul stood, waiting to be released, waiting for Helen to step through. But nothing happened.

He stepped forward and pulled down on the handle. The door swung inwards. The passageway was empty. A pool of light spilled down into the passage—the topside hatch was open.

Paul stepped out of the stateroom and walked to the ladder. He scuttled up, the metal cold to the touch, his breath clouding in front of him. He squeezed through the hatch and found himself in a cavern of ice. A high, frozen ceiling arched over him. Blue-white stalactites hung overhead, icy teeth in the mouth of a giant.

A small dock had been built inside the cavern. The submersible was moored to a metal gangway. A second craft, identical in shape, bobbed next to it.

He slid down the side of the submersible to a slim, metal pier that floated on the surface of the water in the cavern. The pier led to a wall of ice with an archway cut into its face. He stepped through and found short, narrow corridor. An insulated electrical cord was strung overhead, tamped into the frozen ceiling. The cord connected to a dim light bulb that cast a pale light on the smooth, cold walls. Knobbed rubber mats formed a walkway through the passage. At the far end stood a steel hatch set into more ice.

Paul walked forward carefully. He felt slightly dizzy, perhaps from the liquor he had drunk, or the strangeness of his surroundings. Overhead and around him the iceberg groaned and knocked. He thought uneasily of the immense weight above him, and the relentless salt sea squeezing and slashing at the edifice of frozen water.

The hatch in the ice stood slightly ajar. He eased it open, stepped through, and found himself in the foyer of the Strands’ home in Chicago.

Paul blinked and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. Was he hallucinating?

When he removed his hands, he saw there was no illusion. He stood on a Persian rug, its patterns spiraling into infinity. The foyer’s walls were paneled wood, and a crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling.

The foyer opened on a hallway. At the end of the hall directly in front of him a door stood open. As Paul peered down the hall, a figure appeared in the doorway.

“So you’re here,” said a voice that brought hot blood to Paul’s cheeks. “Don’t just stand there dripping on my rugs. Come in.” The figure moved away from the door. Paul stood for a moment, breathing heavily, his fists clenched. He wanted to scream “Where is she? Where’s Helen?” Instead, he mastered his roiling blood and walked, stiff-legged, down the short hallway and through the door.

It was Professor Strand’s study—the same one where Paul had been dressed down for daring to associate with the man’s daughter. Details leapt out at Paul–the lacquered bookshelves cradling a host of antiquarian volumes, the scent of leather bindings and creamy paper, the warm electric lamps, the deep pile carpet. The only detail that wasn’t right was the fireplace. Instead of a fire in the hearth, a squat black radiator hissed in the grate.

The Professor sat in an overstuffed armchair. He was dressed formally, as he always had been on campus–jacket, waistcoat and tie. A thick volume was open in his lap, as if Paul interrupted him in the middle of a passage.

“We meet again, Pawel.”

“It’s Paul.”

“So you say. You’ve ingratiated yourself very well, Anglicizing your name and joining the American armed services. I suppose you think you’re quite clever, pecking away at Third Reich code.”

“How did you know… .”

“That you’d be breaking ciphers? Why else would the British bring over an Air Corps. officer with a degree in math who doesn’t fly planes?”

Paul said nothing. The professor smiled, as if pleased with his deductions.

“I’m sure the project you’re working on is top secret. Cloaked in shadow and all that. But nothing remains hidden forever. The Germans think they’ve conquered secrets–that their Enigma ciphers are unbreakable. But they haven’t accounted for the law of accidents.”

“Accidents?”

“The British will recover a code book, or a scrap of plaintext, or even an Enigma machine itself. Perhaps a careless radio operator will send the same message in the same code twice. The Allies’ busy minds will find a way inside those ciphers not because they are poorly designed, but because life is chaotic.”

“Did you bring me here for a lecture?” Paul asked. “Should I get a blackboard?”

“Merely setting the stage,” said Strand. “I too am subject to the law of accidents. I thought surely I could find refuge beneath several tons of ice in the most treacherous sea on Earth, but unfortunately we’ve been discovered.”

“By the Germans?” asked Paul.

“No. By the Americans. They sent ships to sniff us out. In turn, those ships attracted U-boats. I destroyed one U-boat, but then a second came in search of the first. That too I disabled, but it managed to make its way to the surface.”

Paul remembered Harold’s story. “It was discovered by the British Navy,” he said. “Some kind of secret weapon killed everyone on board.”

Strand said nothing.

“It’s you. You created the weapon.”

Strand nodded. “It’s me.”

“How does it work?” asked Paul.

Strand closed his book, stood and walked to a corner of the study where a violin lay on a desk.

“A long time ago I discovered that each organ in the human body resonates at a particular frequency, like the strings on a violin.” He plucked at a string, and a warm note sounded.

“When the body is healthy, these frequencies resonate in harmony, the same way the individual notes resonate harmoniously in a chord. I surmise that this is the reason music can have such a powerful effect on human beings. The work of the great composers are an echo of the symphony of our own living being.”

“What does this have to do with killing Nazis?” asked Paul.

“You’re just like the War Department—so practical,” said Strand. “Once you understand an organ’s frequency, you can, with proper amplification, create dissonance and attack it. I built a device that broadcasts a tone. The tone creates arrhythmia in the heart. The muscle stutters, stumbles, and finally seizes up. Unless the victim is attended to, death follows soon after. Here, under water, sound carries magnificently. It is the perfect medium for my device.”

“And the Allies want it?” said Paul.

“They want many things from me,” said Strand. “I thought I had done enough for them, but I was wrong.” He clapped a hand to the side of his head, and the mask of cold politeness fell away from his face and was replaced with a grimace. “They’ll keep after me and after me until they’ve scraped out the inside of my head like a gourd.”

He tossed down the violin onto the desk, then opened a drawer. He removed a package, walked across the room and thrust the package into Paul’s hands. It was wrapped in oilskin and had the shape and heft of an encyclopedia.

“Go back to your masters,” said Strand. “Give this to them. It’s what they want.”

“This will tell them how to build your weapon?” asked Paul.

Strand waved a hand. “My little machine is inconsequential. It’s only really useful under water—air is an imperfect medium. But even in the sea the device is easy to thwart once you understand the principles; you simply need a counter tone to neutralize the wave, or even make a lot of noise to disrupt it. It’s no replacement for torpedoes and depth charges.”

“Then what’s this?” asked Paul, hefting the package.

“They’ll know what it is,” said Strand. “Tell them it’s everything. Absolutely everything. I’ve nothing left. Tell them to leave me alone.” He walked back across the room to his chair and sat down heavily. He leaned back, eyes closed, the tips of his fingers gently massaging his temples.

“Why would I do a damned thing for you?” asked Paul.

“You wouldn’t,” said Strand. “But you will for Helen.”

“Then where is she?” asked Paul.

Strand said nothing, but he turned his face away from Paul.

“Where is she, damn you!” He advanced on the man, one hand clenched into a fist, ready to strike him.

“I’m here, Paul.”

Paul spun around. She was standing just outside the study. She wore dark trousers and a grey wool seaman’s sweater. Her hair was pulled back from her face in a simple braid. He could see she was pale and careworn, new lines etched in her brow.

Paul’s hands began to shake. How many times had he imagined seeing her again? How many visions had he spun out in his mind’s eye of their reunion, and how he would cry out her name, run to her, take her up in his arms? But now that she was here, all he could do was stand numbly. He felt as if he’d been struck with a billy club; his head spun, his knees trembled. If he tried to walk toward her, he might tumble to the ground.

“Are you all right, Father?” she asked.

Strand waved her away.

“Paul,” she said, her eyes turning toward him. Suddenly Paul’s paralysis was broken. He strode across the room. The package slipped from his hands and thunked on the floor as he wrapped her in his arms. He trembled as he felt the familiar contours of her waist and her back beneath his hands. She thrummed like an electrical line as he pulled her closer, currents of vitality coursing through her body. He bent forward, burying his face in her neck, his cold cheek pressed against the warm skin of her throat. He breathed her in and then sobbed, once, a wretched cry spilling out his longing and despair.

And then she broke away, bending to pick up the package. She held the package to her chest, moved around Paul without meeting his eyes, and closed the door to her father’s study.

“Helen,” Paul croaked.

He looked in her eyes, and a question leapt silently from him to her. Am I here to take you away with me? She shook her head, once. No. Paul nearly cried out again. He looked away.

“Come with me,” she said. Paul followed her dumbly down the hallway and through a door. He found himself in a small galley kitchen, caught a glimpse of a stove and cabinets, and then they were through a second door and into another study—Helen’s study. It was smaller than her father’s, but warm with her presence. Helen led him past a writing desk strewn with papers to a pair of arm chairs. A silver tea set stood on a small table between the chairs.

“Please, sit down,” said Helen. Paul sank into the chair. She poured two cups of tea into delicate china cups and handed one to Paul. He took it, his eyes fixed on the floor.

“I must…I must explain something to you,” she said. “Will you look at me?”

He lifted his head slowly and turned to face her. Her eyes were shining with tears. Suddenly he felt a great hate for her. She was breaking his heart again, and yet he ached with her pain. Love and fury roiled in his chest. He wanted to dash the delicate cup in her face, or dry her eyes with his fingertips. Turn over the chairs and desk, slash the books on her shelves, or hold her in his arms until darkness took them. But all he did was sit and look at her.

“Go ahead,” he croaked.

“I want you to understand what I had to—what my father had to do.”

“To hell with your father,” said Paul. “I should’ve strangled him in there. And maybe I’ll go back and do it! He’s practically a Nazi—the enemy.”

“No,” said Helen, her voice breaking. “No. The world was supposed to think so. The world was to despise him.”

“They do,” said Paul, hating himself for gloating over her pain, but unable to stop.

“Yes,” she said, her eyes falling to her lap, where her hands wrung together. “But I want you to know the truth. I can bear the lie if one person knows. If you know.”

For a moment he wanted to leap to his feet, to storm out of this bizarre illusion beneath the ice. But he stayed. He would hear her out. As she knew he would.

“Tell me,” he said.

To be continued…

2 thoughts on “The Broken Heart Machine: Part 3

  1. Pingback: The Broken Heart Machine: Part 2 | Andrew Conry-Murray

  2. Pingback: The Broken Heart Machine: Conclusion | Andrew Conry-Murray

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