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Latchmere House, behind the low walls, behind the curls of barbed wire, between the spill of hastily constructed barracks, was a pale-green monstrosity. The building, three rambling stories of damp and mildew, had been built as a mental hospital after the Great War. The army had found euphemisms to disguise Latchmere’s true purpose; they had called it a “home”—so much nicer than “hospital”—for “victims of shell shock”—so much nicer than “mental patients.” But the architecture screamed “lunatic asylum,” and there was no mistaking it. The windows were narrow slits, far too small for a man to slip through. The rooms were bare, dark, drafty, and draconian. Taylor ushered him into a small chamber furnished with one small table and two rickety chairs. Grayish sunshine filtered in. The air smelled sour and earthy, like the air in a fruit cellar. “Have a seat,” Taylor said grandly, “and I’ll tell you the greatest secret of the war.” More dramatics, Winterbotham thought. But he sat, settling his bulk carefully into an unsteady chair, and took out his pipe. A small suitcase was resting on the table. Winterbotham looked it over curiously as he packed his orange-flavored tobacco. The case was tarnished metal, compact and nondescript. It was slightly too squat for a chessboard. He considered asking about it, and then decided that Taylor would explain in due time. This was Taylor’s show, after all, and he had to let Taylor go ahead as he liked—unnecessary drama and all. Taylor sat in the other chair, produced a cigarette, and waited until Winterbotham had his pipe going before lighting it. Then he leaned back, crossed his pudgy legs at the ankles, and said, “It’s rather a lot to digest, what I’m about to tell you. Stop me if I go too fast.” “Never fear,” Winterbotham said. “You remember what I said the last time we met—about playing games?” Winterbotham nodded. “Playing games is what you do.” “Not just us. Hitler, too. He and his friend Canaris.” Winterbotham nodded again. Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was one of Hitler’s more infamous cronies—the head of the Nazi intelligence service, the Abwehr. “Would you care to guess, Harry, how many spies the Abwehr has sent to

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A Gathering of Spies - Excerpt  

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