A black and white photograph. Five men walk along a concrete path, one ahead, the other four behind, line abreast. They wear identical black uniforms but we know who the leader is because he walks alone. Four of the men are aware of the camera. The leader walks with self-conscious determination, arms straight at his side, straight back, manly. One walks with head slightly bowed, hands behind the back. His spectacles make him look the philosopher of the group. Two have slight smirks, they are in the presence of the leader but one has a neutral expression, his eyes on the leader. He looks capable of anything.
So I find myself in the cafe that stinks of wet mackintosh and grease. The windows were steamed so I have to find him as I walk nonchalantly to the counter to order an undrinkable tea but he is not difficult to spot. He has created a force field around him and the other customers have chosen to sit at other tables.
I approach him, the cup slightly clinking on the saucer but I smile with public school confidence. “May I sit down?”
He regards me with his heavy hooded eyes. There is the slightest of shrugs and I put my tea down and pull back the chair opposite him.
“Thank you Herr Mitchison.” Now he stares at me but it is with disgust.
“It’s Mr Mitchison.”
“Ah, forgive me. Unforgiveable. Let us start again.”
“Who are you?”
Now I shrug. Now the game begins.
“Let us say that we have been watching your group with interest, naturally.”
“Oswald has been to Germany several times. Everyone knows that.”
I hide my smile. “Of course. But not everything can be said when leaders get together. Everything must be sweetness and light when the champagne is drunk but you and I, we operate at a different level, where more practical things are discussed.”
He looked around and sneered, “Here?”
“Where better? Here is just two friends talking, nothing written down, no notes taken. But you are right. This is just a first meeting, nothing definite. Perhaps we can meet again. You know where the German embassy is?”
“You want to meet there?”
“Of course not, but at the end of the road there is a Lyons Corner House. Will you meet me there at two thirty tomorrow afternoon? We can walk in the Park like English gentlemen and discuss the future.”
He nodded and I rose, gave him a curt bow and left. Now I could really smile. Before two o’clock the following day I was outside the German Embassy, checking the street. Once happy I went inside. It is easy, as long as you appear determined and with a fixed purpose, to pass unchallenged in an office environment.
A little after two thirty I strolled out as if I owned the place and looked up the street. There was my man waiting and he had seen me come out of the embassy. I shook his hand and suggested we take a walk in the park.
When we came to the third empty bench I directed him to it. “Have you told anyone about our meeting?”
“Good.” First test passed. “The time is coming when the goats will be separated from the sheep in your country. We are just a little concerned that your organization is not sufficiently… goatish.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your leader is an English aristocrat, with aristocratic sentiments. That was evident in his visits. Ve have found aristocrats useful but not the necessary, if I may be indelicate, thuggishness.”
“You will not find him lacking.”
“I am sure you are right but we do not like to leave things to chance. It is perhaps time for someone else…”
How quickly he caught on. He must have been thinking about it for ages.
“We will provide you with everything you need.” So it took me much shorter than even I expected. All my well rehearsed arguments were not needed. Within the hour I was back in my real office, a decrepit room overlooking Trafalgar Square facing an enjoyable few hours playing the typewriter, though I was interrupted by a summons to Sir Evelyn, whose office did not smell of damp.
“How did it go?”
“Much easier than I expected.”
“The important thing is that he suspects nothing. The scandal…”
“I was careful.” I didn’t say so but I think my quarry trusts me more than Sir Evelyn does. And my man had reason to trust me, given the information I gave him. It is a weakness of powerful men that they think they can commit the peccadilloes of us lesser mortals with impunity. It is really not so. There was quite a file. I deeply regret that I could not be present at the meeting where it was all divulged. Mosley was finished and, a foolish aristocrat to the end, went away and shot himself.
So to Phase 2, the leadership contest. As anticipated it was between my protégé and the bespectacled philosopher, the conscience of the party. Sadly the Communists got to the poor little fellow first. My man was now the only choice and the party received a boost of popularity from the nation, the British do not like assassins making their political choices for them.
My man did not disappoint me. He was much better at public speaking than I had expected and very willing to take tuition. His was seen as the Peace Party. Doors that were firmly shut against Sir Oswald were magically charmed open by his charisma. Powerful forces considered how they could make use of him. On our advice he was able to get much better concessions from Germany than poor deluded Chamberlain. He was forthright and seemed to know what he was doing while other politicians were dithering.
When a Tory M.P. was found with a prostitute, our boy won a previously safe Conservative seat and could now berate the Government from within the Commons.
Phase 3 began when Sir Evelyn called me into his office, slightly earlier than I had hoped.
“This has gone on far enough. Time to reel him in.”
“What do you mean, Um?”
“The plan has changed a bit. We thought we might let it play out to its natural conclusion.”
“Who the devil are “we”?”
“A few fellows in the service. You could join us if you like.”
“Are you mad? The whole point of the operation was to protect democracy from demagogues. What you are suggesting is quite beyond you pay grade. You’ve talked yourself into resignation.”
He stood up angrily, as if to throw me out of his office. “I rather thought you would say that.”
The .38 Smith & Wesson is a wonderful weapon and in half expected moments like this training takes over. One shot to the stomach to stop him. Wait, aim, second shot to the head, job done. Of course there was one hell of a stink. You can’t go shooting holders of the Imperial Service Order with impunity. I think there was serious discussion that I would have to be side-lined to the Washington office though somebody had a word with somebody and nothing happened in the end.
Of course this was all frantic paddling under the dark murky waters while the swan of state swam serenely on. My man made a nuisance of himself in Parliament and certain newspapers reported each infraction of the rules with delight. A convenient poll voted him the most popular politician of the decade. Quite a few backbenchers who saw how the wind was going came over to his side.
It is a failing of many men whom fate has given the opportunity for greatness that they will wobble. I was quite happy now to allow my man to act as he saw fit, without my interference but then word was passed to me that he wanted a meeting. I found it more than a little annoying. We had arranged to meet in St James Park. I find the distant view of the Foreign Office the finest vista in London. It encapsulates all we are fighting for.
As I feared he was a disappointment. I had hoped for the best Savile Row tailoring, the sleekness of power. Instead I got the puffiness of too much alcohol and too little sleep. I did not hide my disappointment. “Have you even changed your shirt in the last few days?”
He put his head in his hands. It is part of my trade to see the emperor without his clothes but this was bordering on despicable. The Smith & Wesson lay heavily in my coat pocket but I hoped that this would neither be the time or the place when I might need to use it.
“I can’t do this. I just wanted to help change the world for the better, not to have to make all these decisions.”
“Poor chap.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “You have the chance to be the greatest man of his generation and you aren’t up to it.” I was relieved to see a look of anger.
“I just need a rest.”
“You can have plenty of that when you’re dead. Now your country needs you.” He smiled, which was a good sign.
“You’re ascending to great height. It’s only natural if you got a bit of the jitters. You’re staring into the abyss. You either jump, which is the easy way, or you think about making a bridge.”
“How do I do that?”
“Why do you think I am here?”
Now it was time to get serious. In some ways my profession is like that of a journalist, we collect little bits of information here and there. Some might be earth shattering but those are rare. Most are small, insignificant, might never amount to anything but occasionally, putting those little pieces together we can make a very big picture indeed. It was time that several members of the establishment could be told about some of these pictures we had made and their part in them. But they need not worry, the information would never be made public, at least as long as they did what they were told.
A fortuitous crisis on the continent concentrated minds. There were some who would risk war but that was certainly not the mood of the public, or rather I should say our newspaper editors. My man accreted support with his tough but fair policy. It was he who was granted audience in Germany ahead of the Prime Minister and therefore he who returned with the promise of peace and to wide acclimation. The government could not withstand this insult and a general election was called. The mood of the electorate was for change.
I happened to come across that old photograph in my desk today. Only one of those men is now alive but we are in power so I hope they will forgive me. Thanks to their sacrifice the whole of Europe can look forward to a thousand year Reich. Both North and South America look as if they will soon follow suit, although Canada may be a problem.