“I’m being blackmailed.”
As soon as his shift had ended, the first thing Adil had done was make it to Toby’s room. Despite D’Abberville’s threats, he knew he couldn’t try and brace this himself, and he wouldn’t be able to face himself if he broke Toby’s trust like this; no, even with the threats looming over them, he had to come clean before he truly did something he’d regret.
“Blackmailed?” Instantly, Toby’s giddiness at seeing him melted away, and his hand on Adil’s shoulder froze. “Adil, who is it?”
Adil bit his lips, looking down. “D’Abberville,” he whispered to the ground. “He cornered me at the bar, this morning—threatened to have us exposed, or my family—” God, why was this so much harder than he’d thought?
Toby stepped back, eyes wide with shock. “What does he want?”
“Information.” Adil’s eyes were still focused on the floor. “Information about your work, your research, things like that.”
He glanced up. Toby had shifted, moving towards his writing desk where a collection of documents rested (“To work on from home,” he’d explained. “I mean, everyone does it.”). “Information, huh?” Adil sighed. “Adil, did you have any intention of following through?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
He was finding it a bit hard to breathe. “Toby, do you understand what’s at stake here?” he said, his hands trembling. “It’s not just me he’s after; if I don’t work with him, this could cost us both. Having us charged for gross indecency, all because I refused to play at his little game—”
“But you told me.” Toby had sat down, rifling through his papers. “You’re telling me upfront that you intend to steal from me.”
“I couldn’t look myself in the eye if I didn’t, Toby,” he said. “I love you too much.”
Ok, this was not exactly how he expected his first “I love you” to go, but it really was the truth; pilfering from your lover unknowingly just seemed far too dangerous.
Toby was silent, pulling out a clean sheaf of paper.
“He needs something, doesn’t he?”
“Just—” He raised a single ink-stained finger. “Just hang on.” Adil could only watch as he picked up his quill, muttering something under his breath as he scrawled away furiously.
“What are you doing?”
“ Sixty-nine, forty-two, ninety— ” He nodded to himself, then shook the piece of paper to dry it out, folded it into a neat square, and handed it to Adil. “Well, here you are. The precious secrets he’s after.”
Adil’s heart jumped. If Toby was really being as foolish as to expose state secrets for his sake— “Toby, you can’t do this,” he said. “If you were caught—”
“What, caught handing out fraudulent information?”
Toby’s face broke out into a wide grin. “I’m not stupid, you know.” Adil raised an eyebrow. “Shut up. Fine, I’m not that stupid. But if he’s just after details, he probably wouldn’t be able to differentiate fact from fiction.”
“So these points of data—”
“—are meaningless!” he said, chest shaking with laughter. Despite himself, Adil couldn’t help but join in. “It’s complete bullshit, Adil! But it’s numbers!”
“Oh my God.” Adil snorted, and they leaned into each other, just cackling into each other’s shoulders for a few moments. “You’re trying to have it both ways.”
“You came to me about it, what did you expect?” said Toby. “It’s my job to plan, after all.”
Adil shook his head, planting a quick kiss on his lips. “Thank you. Thank you so much, I can’t even begin to—”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, softly gazing at him. “Just—good luck, alright?”
Adil kissed him again, wrapping his arms around him. “I’ll do my best.”
It was noon when D’Abberville stopped by at the bar with a smarmy grin and an outstretched hand.
“Ah, good afternoon, Mr. Joshi,” he said, all honeyed charm as he sat down. “Do you have anything for me?”
Adil paused, setting aside the glass he was polishing (it was already spotless, he’d just needed to pass the time) in favor of digging in his pocket for the note. “As a matter of fact, I do,” he said, keeping his voice even and measured despite the growing knot in his stomach.
He slid the folded note across the counter, keeping his eyes locked on the man in front of him the whole time.
“Perfect,” he said, his eyes shining as he pocketed the paper. Dimly, Adil wondered if he could tell if it was all just meaningless drivel, if the lies upon the page weren’t somehow burning themselves into his fingertips as he sauntered away. “I shall see you again tomorrow, then?”
“Y-yes,” he forced himself to say, quickly wiping down the spot on the counter where the paper had rested as if he could scrub away the sins they’d committed. Alright, maybe he was being a bit melodramatic, but business was slow, and he wouldn’t be able to put it out of his mind otherwise. “Have a pleasant day, Mr. D’Abberville.”
D’Abberville chose not to bid him any farewells, simply sauntering off with that sickly charm of his as always.
As soon as he left the ballroom, Adil found himself letting out a breath, leaning against the counter.
“Everything alright?” asked Tom as he appeared behind him.
“Oh, no, er, yes, I’m alright,” he said, flinching and going right back to polishing perfectly clean glasses. “Just tough clientele.”
The gods clearly were on their side, as D’Abberville did not find out that the top-secret files he held were complete rubbish.
Or, at the very least, if he knew they were rubbish, he didn’t say it out loud; he just kept sauntering up to the bar with a measured smile and an outstretched hand, and Adil would nonchalantly slip him whatever lies he and Toby had penned together that morning. After that first meeting, Adil figured it would probably be safest if the “intel” was in his penmanship, rather than Toby’s; it would give the whole affair more of an air of clandestineness, as if Adil was truly pilfering through his lover’s briefcase rather than just taking information willy-nilly and risk getting caught.
Of course, despite their best efforts, it couldn’t stay underground forever, and when the Germans attempted to intercede an army base that didn’t exist, it was understandable that the government would come snooping around.
Toby had been at breakfast with his mother trying to weasel his way out of another conversation with his love life when the men in suits showed up.
“All I’m saying, Toby, is that you’d look much happier with a girl at your side, wouldn’t you think?” she said, taking another sip of tea as Toby intently focused on the very fascinating cup of earl grey in front of him. “Whatever happened to Lady Teresa? She was quite sweet on you, wasn’t she?”
Too sweet, he desperately wanted to say, but before he had the chance to unleash his thoughts, they arrived.
Priscilla frowned. “Excuse me, gentlemen,” she said, setting down her teacup, “but what business do you have being here?”
“Oh, nothing grave, I assure you,” said a portly gentleman, stubbornly refusing to take off his bowler hat. “We just wished to chat with Mr. Hamilton here.”
She swiftly moved to her feet. “I assure you, Toby here’s done nothing— ”
“It’s not a question, Lady Hamilton,” he said, gently taking Toby by the arm and dragging him up. “Don’t worry, you should expect him back by supper.”
Thankfully, after MI5 had whisked him away, Toby found himself not in a dark and windowless room, but in a pleasant (but still windowless) office, where he was promptly poured a glass of whiskey before the portly man from earlier began to question him.
“Someone’s been leaking fraudulent information to the Germans.”
Toby paused, taking a sip of his whiskey before continuing. “And you think it might be me?”
“I think you might know who it is, Mr. Hamilton,” he said, the harsh overhead light bouncing off his bald spot. “The intel leaked was similar to information processed by your department.” He takes a sip of his own drink. “A very small department, Mr. Hamilton.”
His fingers began to drum against his glass. “And I have your word that everything I say is completely confidential?”
“As long as it doesn’t endanger national security, yes.”
He sighed, biting his lips. “It was me.”
“You, Mr. Hamilton?”
“Yes,” he said, tipping back the rest of his whiskey before continuing. “Yes, I leaked false information to the Germans.” He paused. “In all fairness, though, I am being blackmailed by a German spy.”
“You’re being blackmailed?”
Toby just stared incredulously at him.
The man cleared his throat. “Right, then,” he muttered, evidently forgetting that when someone was blackmailed, they generally did not wish to share the details of the arrangement. “In any case, it seems that since nothing you leaked was actual intel, no espionage charges need be brought forward.”
Toby exhaled, closing his eyes in relief. “Thank you, sir,” he breathed. “I really did just want to mess with the Germans, you see, since I had no choice.”
“Very well.” His interrogator stood up, evidently satisfied with his findings. “You’re free to go, Mr. Hamilton.” Toby quickly scrambled to his feet. “Next time, however, we would appreciate some professionalism in how you conduct your dealings.”
He cocked a single eyebrow; Toby could swear he was grinning. “Report to my division tomorrow morning, Toby.”
He hastily saluted him. “Yes, sir,” he said, before turning on his heels and hightailing it out.
“Agent Garland? ”
“Not so loud, you’ll let the whole hotel know.” Toby pressed a finger to Adil’s lips as they lay in bed together, the sunset casting a warm glow upon his bare chest; honestly, Adil found it hard to focus on his words sometimes when he looked so enrapturing. “And before you ask, it was for Judy Garland, not your boss.”
“Judy Garland?” he whispered, resting a hand on his hip and drawing him closer. Toby complied, snuggling up to him and resting his head on his chest. “You mean, your code name is an actress?”
Toby pouted. “I’ll have you know she’s a very good one.”
“I never said she wasn’t,” he said, running his hand through his hair and smiling as Toby hummed contentedly. “It was just a surprising choice, that’s all. Didn’t peg MI5 to be Wizard of Oz fans.”
“Oh, didn’t you hear? Apparently she’s got a lot of friends.”
Adil coughed, flushing a bit. “Oh, uh, right, of course,” he said. He sure knew the implications of that phrase, though he wasn’t sure how much Toby understood the irony. “But, well. That aside. You’re professionally making things up now?”
“Technically it’s ‘sabotage,’” said Toby, punctuating his remark with air quotes, “but yes, I’m basically being paid to lie. Professionally.”
Adil chuckled. “And all because of that blackmailing arsehole. Who knew being so affectionate in public could pay off?”
“Keep making eyes at me from behind the bar, I’m sure we’ll find out.”
They fell into a natural silence as they rested, gently nestled against each other.
“This…” He paused, looking up at the ceiling as Toby continued to trace gentle patterns on his chest. “This won’t affect our… arrangement with our friend in any way, will it?”
“Oh, absolutely not.” Toby shifted against him, hair tickling Adil’s chin. “You very well know I fully intend to continue to produce amateur rubbish to satisfy D’Abberville alongside the artisanal rubbish MI5 will be getting.”
Adil smirked. “Artisanal rubbish, eh?” he said, pressing a quick kiss to the top of his head. “Fancy yourself a rubbish connoisseur now, Mr. Hamilton?”
“Aw, shut up.” He playfully smacked his hip. “Don’t you have to be up early tomorrow, Mr. Joshi?”
“Hypothetically. Now shut up and let me sleep.”
“Aw, love you.”
He stilled. Somehow, in the month they’d been meeting up and trading secret kisses, they’d never really properly said it to each other—at least, not under duress. But hearing Toby just casually let it slip, as if he hadn’t a care, well… it was nice.
It was really nice.
“Love you too,” he whispered as he began to drift off. “But seriously. Good night.”
It became a comfortable routine of sorts.
Toby would wake up earlier than he’d wanted, head to work, and get down to business comparing official reports and seeing which data points he could safely release to the Germans: the true but useless statistics, the vital points timed to arrive just too late, or if all else failed, just straight-up lies disguised as the truth.
He’d type away furiously, turning blank numbers into editorialized garbage; he and his handler Lars had invented a sort of persona for himself as Rudolf Lambert, a fanatic Nazi sympathizer and double agent all too eager to spill the dirt on whatever Britain was up to. He couldn’t say it didn’t sicken him sometimes, or remind him far too much of his father—but this was war, and if he had to suck up to the Fuhrer in order to protect their actual secrets, well, so be it.
That was half of his work. The other half he spent taking slightly different rubbish intel and typing it as plainly as he could, back when he was just a civil servant typing almost meaningless numbers with no fluff around it. That he would keep and take home with him, to ensure that Adil still had something with which to satiate D’Abberville.
And, despite all odds, it worked. D'Abberville didn’t seem to notice the baseless conjecture he was being handed; he was still amiable as ever to the both of them, thanking Adil every time he had another note to pass him. Toby’s old work mates were a little bummed to hear of him being “reassigned,” but so long as he was still good for Friday night drinks, they were still friendly. Mother and Freddie seemed pleased that he was doing so much to protect his country, even if he couldn’t quite share the details. And he and Adil always had a good laugh at it near the end of the day, knowing that as long as they could keep this charade going, they were safe as could be.
It worked. It worked brilliantly.
Until it didn’t.
Neither of them knew how it happened.
Perhaps Toby was simply exhausted from pulling double duty on the rubbish front; perhaps they were too distracted by the upcoming anniversary celebrations and bar stocking and speeches and American journos peeking in at every corner; either way, they slipped up, badly. Neither of them realized the extent to which their cock-up extended until the first week of December, just as Adil was closing up for the night and taking stock of their inventory.
“Mr. Joshi.” Adil looked up from the row of reds he was focused on to meet D’Abberville’s eyes. “I wonder if I may have a word?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said, smoothly as he could muster, “but I’m afraid we’re closed for the night.”
D’Abberville has smiled them—icy cold, refusing to reach the rest of his face. “Oh, I insist,” he said, digging into his pocket.
Adil’s veins went cold. “Was it about this afternoon?” he whispered. “I thought what I provided would be sufficient.”
“Oh, it’s not about today, I’m afraid,” he said, throwing a sheet of paper onto the counter. “Mr. Joshi, would you happen to recognize this?”
Adil glanced at the paper; he couldn’t say he remembered everything on it, but he did recognize his own handwriting scrawling out various codes and figures. “Well, I certainly gave that to you, didn’t I?”
“That you did,” he said, fishing out another piece of paper. “Now, if you could please take a look at this for me.”
The second piece of paper proved to be a letter, full of flowery language praising the Third Reich. Adil was about to say he had no idea what this letter was supposed to be—until his eyes slipped down and caught wind of some numbers and bits of information jotted down.
His heart skipped a beat when he realized those were some awfully familiar numbers.
“Awful similar, aren’t they?” D’Abberville loomed almost triumphantly over his little display. “And yet, you swore the information you sent me was completely top-secret from Mr. Hamilton’s office.” He let out a short laugh—more of a bark than anything. “ So tell me, Mr. Joshi, why would this Mr. Lambert fellow have access to it?”
Oh, shit. “Perhaps,” he started, once his voice had finally returned, “this Lambert fellow may be a double agent of sorts. He might have just as much incentive to leak information as—”
“Not a chance,” he said, honey-smooth as always even as he leaned over the bar counter and got his face uncomfortably close to Adil’s. “You know why?” Adil said nothing. “Because Mr. Hamilton works in a very small department, you see.” Adil could feel his wine-sour breath on his face. “And far as anyone knows, not a soul named Rudolf Lambert works there.”
Oh, God, they screwed up.
“Fact of the matter is,” he continued, “you and Mr. Lambert had access to the same pieces of information—information you could only access through Mr. Hamilton.” Adil tightly gripped the edge of the bar, willing himself to stay upright. “You told your little boyfriend about our deal, didn’t you?”
“Mr. D’Abberville, I would never—”
He grabbed him by the shirt collar, tugging him forward. “You told him, didn’t you?” he growled, all pretenses of friendliness gone alone with his icy smile. “After you promised you wouldn’t get anyone involved with our little affair—”
“Mr. D’Abberville, please—”
He struck him; Adil lurched back, nearly falling back onto the shelves behind him as D’Abberville regarded him with nothing but pure contempt.
“You’ve made a terrible mistake, boy,” he said, before promptly exiting the ballroom, footsteps clacking loudly on the marble beneath him.
Adil didn’t get much sleep that night.
D’Abberville didn’t show up to the bar the next morning.
Adil kept waiting for him to slink by as if nothing ever happened and keep asking for more details, more intel; that evening, by the time Toby slipped in to make eyes at him over a glass of whiskey, he still hadn’t shown himself.
To say he was on edge would be a bit of an understatement; he fully expected that night to be the last he could spend in Toby’s room, holding him tightly as Toby tried to reassure him that whatever would happen, he would keep Adil’s name out of it, but Adil could tell from his trembling hands that he was just as panicked.
The day after was just as uneventful. D’Abberville continued to miss their appointment; hell, for the entire day neither of them could get a glimpse of him throughout the entire hotel.
Adil kept waiting for the arrest to be finalized; perhaps Mr. Garland would stop by the bar one day and let him know in that gentle yet firm manner of his that he’d been sacked, or perhaps he’d simply be dragged off in the dead of night. Either way, he and Toby remained stubbornly un-arrested. When he’d frantically phoned home on the fourth day of D’Abberville being missing, they seemed surprised (yet touched) at the concern; he hadn’t gotten to them either.
It would take a week for them to vaguely uncover the truth; Toby was at breakfast with his mother again discussing the non-classified parts of his job (of which there really wasn’t much) when he caught sight of Mr. Garland casually sauntering across the room.
“Mr. Hamilton.” The manager turned on his heel, his face the complete picture of friendly neutrality. “Is there something you need to speak with me about?”
Toby paused, briefly glancing at his mother (expressionless) before turning back to Mr. Garland. “Well, I was wondering,” he began, carefully weighing his words as he spoke, “about Mr. D’Abberville, you see.” He thought he heard the clattering of a teacup being set down, but he continued speaking. “I haven’t seen him in a few days, and I was wondering… well, would you happen to know where he is?”
“ D’Abberville ?” He blinked, still wearing that most pleasant mask. “Oh, I’m afraid he’s no longer staying with us.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he could tell his mother was holding herself very stiffly. “Oh, is that so?” he said, trying to keep his voice light. “Well, that’s a shame.”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Garland with a smile. “I only know how well you two were getting on.”
And with a final nod, he went back about his business.
It was moments like these where Toby truly understood just how terrifying Mr. Garland was at times. Even he understood the euphemism behind his phrasing, how apparently the man causing him and Adil so much trouble had just vanished and forgotten to file charges. And never mind how unsurprised Mother had been the entire discussion…
“I’m sorry,” he said, turning back to his teacup. “I know how fond you were of him.”
She sniffed. “Oh, never mind him,” she said, just as interested in her breakfast as he was all of a sudden.
The two hardly spoke as they continued to dine, only exchanging the occasional glance in between bites. Toby could only suppose she’d probably found out something about D’Abberville; she really didn’t seem as upset as he’d expected from a woman who’d just lost her fiancé a week prior.
“Well,” she said as soon as their dishes had been cleared, “I suppose we should be moving along, then.”
“Right,” he said, standing up and fiddling with his jacket. “Erm. Take care.”
His mother paused, before clapping him on the shoulder. “Take care, Toby,” she said, her voice surprisingly gentle. “You and your… friend.” Wow, had his shoes always been this scuffed up? He really needed a new pair. “Well. I’ll see you tonight.”
“You as well,” he said, not taking his eyes off his feet until he was reasonably certain she was gone, before making a beeline straight to the ballroom.
Adil was once again polishing glasses when Toby slid up to the empty bar.
“You’re a bit early, Mr. Hamilton,” he said, his voice its usual pleasant tone even as his face no doubt gave away his fondness for the other man. “I’m afraid we haven’t opened yet.”
“Listen.” Toby’s eyes were narrowed as he scooted up, his hand held up in that little way he always did when divulging the latest gossip. “Adil, I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure my mum killed D’Abberville .” Adil snorted. “I’m being serious here!”
“Your mother killing D’Abberville?” he repeated, shaking his head. “Come on, Mr. Hamilton—”
“Toby.” He cut him off with another wave of his hand. “It’s Toby. We’re alone, aren’t we?”
Adil grinned. “Fine, but come on, Toby,” he continued, “we all know how sweet your mother was on that man. You really think she had it in her to…”
“You didn’t see her,” he whispered, eyes wide. “At breakfast. Mr. Garland was all ‘Oh, sorry, he’s no longer staying with us,’ and she hardly even flinched, Adil—”
Adil sets down the glass he was polishing and grabbed a fresh one. “Isn’t it just as likely that Mr. Garland killed him?”
“I don’t know!” He threw his hands up. “Maybe he did. Maybe she helped. Maybe they’re in cahoots.”
“Sounds like your namesake really is as formidable as he seems.”
“Told you already, I’m named for Dorothy.”
“Ah, right. She of the numerous friends, huh?” Toby sputtered. “What?”
“That’s the other thing,” he said, looking at the doors before continuing. “She didn’t bug me about my love life all morning, and…” He sighed. “Adil, I think she knows about us.”
Adil’s eyes widened. And just when they thought they were being careful… “How?”
“I don’t know,” he said, raising his arms. “All I know is that she wished both my friend and me well this morning.” Adil’s hands froze on the glass he was working on. “If it’s any consolation, though, she didn’t seem… disgusted? Just told me to get a move on.”
“Ah,” said Adil, his voice oddly distant as he replaced the glass. “You think he told her?”
“I dunno,” he said, drumming his fingers on the counter. “Maybe she caught him trying to phone the police and lost it.”
“Offed him trying to protect us, eh?” If Lady Hamilton was really willing to go that far to protect them, even if she knew… “She must really care for you, then.”
“I suppose.” Toby kept staring at his hands. “Well. Guess our little arrangement with our friend is all but null, I suppose.”
He sighed, relief flooding his body. “Right,” he said. In all the mess of D’Abberville’s absence, he hadn’t let himself dwell on the possibility that he really was gone. “Shame. I would have loved to see what new amateur rubbish you would come up with next.”
Toby chuckled. “Just the artisanal sort for now, I’m afraid,” he said, leaning forward over the bar. “You know I’m a real connoisseur .”
This was ridiculously dangerous. “You know I love that about you,” he said, taking a step forward anyway. “Mr. Hamilton…”
The doors flew open.
“Mr. Joshi,” said Mr. Garland as Adil staggered back. “Have you finished taking stock?”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Garland,” he said. Toby clearly took that as his cue to leave, though not without shooting Adil one last look before staggering away (seriously, they really had to learn to keep their eyes to themselves one of these days).
And as he turned his attention back to the bar, the burden of the past month was lifted off their shoulders. They were safe, for now. No one else knew about the two of them—or, at least, no one that could cause them any harm.
“You seem to be in good spirits this morning, Mr. Joshi,” said Mr. Garland. Adil just ducked his head, smiling even more brightly.
Ah, if only he knew how good he had it.