An excerpt from God's Formula

“So, William, what brings you here?”

“War is coming.”

 

“Any day now.”

“Roosevelt needs to know your state of readiness.”

“It’s nil.”

“I know. I’ve told him. But that’s not why I called you.”

“I’m all ears.”

 

Shaded by a large sycamore, Ian Fleming and Bill Donovan sat over tea on the rear terrace of Fleming’s flat in Belgravia.

 

“Our people in Berlin have been contacted by a German scientist,” the American said, “who wants to defect.”

 

“Is he important?”

“Have you heard of the atomic bomb?”

“Vaguely.”

 

“He’s been working on it.”

“You have people in Berlin, certainly.”

“Yes, but that’s just it. Roosevelt says no.”

 

“You want us to do it?”

“Well…”

 

“Why not you?”

“Six months ago…”

 

“Yes.”

“We thought Friedeman was a Jew.”

 

“You were approached then?” Fleming asked.

“Yes, by Albert Einstein.”

“And you turned him down?”

“Yes, my government did.”

“You thought it was a Jew looking after a Jew.”

“Something like that.”

“But our man’s not Jewish.”

 

“No.”

 

“The ironies abound.”

 

“The UK has not exactly opened its doors.”

 

“I agree. And why not now?”

“Hitler’s cooking up a reason to invade Poland. We don’t want to give him a reason to declare war on us as well.”

 

“I see, but Poland is our ally, so if we get caught, what’s the difference? We’ll be at war with Germany soon anyway. Is that it?”

“Yes, I’m afraid that’s Roosevelt’s thinking.”

“Real politique.”

 

“Yes. Hard as nails.”

“Are we in urgent mode?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so. Our man believes he is being watched, that he will be arrested quite soon, that his formula will be discovered or tortured out of him.”

“How did you come by all this?”

“In March I asked one of our people—your old friend Rex Dowling—to make contact. He did. Our scientist contacted Dowling last night. I should say early this morning. He’s in panic mode.”

“I’ll run it by the old man.”

Donovan remained silent. Sunlight, filtering through the old tree’s thick branches, cast dappled shadows on the small table’s snowy-white cloth covering.

 

They sipped their tea and the silence stretched out.

 

“I’ll be discrete,” the Englishman said, finally.

“Thank you.”

 

“Did I hear it from you?”

 

“Yes, but I made no request.”

“You mentioned it in passing.”

“Something like that.”

 

“What’s the man’s name?”

“Friedeman. Walter Friedeman.”

 

The two men stared at each other over their teacups, their faces masks of politeness. Then Fleming put his cup down, extracted a Morland’s Special from its packet, tamped it on the table, placed it snugly into its holder, and lit it.

 

“What’s your interest?” he asked after taking a long drag and exhaling it with obvious pleasure.

 

“Personally?”

“Yes.”

“Einstein.”

“What about him?”

 

“He said Friedeman had found a way to make the bomb in three months.”

 

“Three months. Bloody hell. And you believed him?”

“Yes. He’s Einstein for God’s sake.”

 

“I thought he was a pacifist.”

 

“That’s just it. That’s what sold me. He sees disaster coming and has been forced to change his principles. To bend them actually. He thinks the a-bomb would be better off in our hands than in Hitler’s.”

“If we get this bomb…”

 

“We’re a long way from that.”

“Yes, but if we do.”

 

“You’ll use it.”

“We’re a small island. Hitler’s a mad man. I daresay we will.”

“As I said, Albert is obviously willing to bend.”

“It’s an old story, Colonel. More tea? A bit of a bracer?” The Englishman had his hand on a bottle of St. George’s.

Donovan looked at his watch.

 

“Do us good,” said Fleming. “What with war coming and not being ready. Turn to the bottle.”

Wild Bill Donovan smiled and slid his teacup toward his host. “Let me know what Godfrey says,” he said. “I’ll do what I can to help.”