Ian Fleming hadn’t had much of a chance to head into town recently. While he was technically still working at the Admiralty, he’d been seconded to Bletchley for several months now, and London was too far away, and too dangerous, for him to travel there casually. So when Dennis Wheatley invited him to come into the city for a drink, Fleming jumped at the excuse. Wheatley was one of the few people in the world that Fleming knew could both be trusted and be helpful with his problem.
Fleming and Wheatley had been friendly acquaintances for some time, and Fleming couldn’t help but admire the older man. Wheatley had had few of Fleming’s advantages in life, but had nonetheless managed to rise to a much higher station than Fleming had, thanks largely to the success of a series of novels he had written which combined espionage and international intrigue with plenty of sexualised violence. And Wheatley’s new-found wealth had allowed him to live the kind of extravagant life to which Fleming could only aspire.
They met in Wheatley’s club. It was one of the more discreet establishments, and one where rationing didn’t seem to have affected the ability to get a decent meal and a good drink. Conversation during dinner was mostly casual – mutual acquaintances’ latest romantic escapades, the sales of Wheatley’s most recent book (a potboiling thriller about occult forces aiding the Nazis, which Fleming had made sure to read before the meeting), and the lamentably socialistic policies being pursued by the National Government in recent weeks.
After dining, they retired to leather armchairs, with a glass of Imperial Tokay for Wheatley, a whisky for Fleming, and Hoyo de Monterrey cigars, to discuss more serious matters. After a reasonable amount of small talk for appearances’ sake, Wheatley set his glass down on the small table between them and turned to Fleming.
“This Hess business – your doing, I take it?”
“Now, Dennis, you know I couldn’t possibly tell you that even if it were true, at least in a public place such as this.”
“Nonsense. You know as well as I do that the men at this club are, without exception, as trustworthy as any in the Empire.”
“Come now, you must have something you can tell me?”
“Not about Hess, directly, but something you may find interesting.”
“I’m planning to get in touch with Aleister Crowley soon. I have a little job of work for which he may be useful. Given the subject of your recent novels, I thought it might amuse you.”
Wheatley raised an eyebrow. “You are joking, I hope?”
“What do you mean?”
“The man’s an absolute monster. The very Devil himself.”
“Then I shall be sure to bring my longest spoon. But you know Crowley, I believe?”
“A little, to my shame.”
“Have you any advice?”
“Well, you’ve already refused my most important advice – to avoid him at all costs. But whatever you do, don’t mispronounce his name like that. He has a little rhyme – his name is Crowley, because he is so holy, and his enemies call him Crowley, in wish to treat him foully.”
“I know Crowley of old. He can be a charmer, if he wants to. Frightfully clever, frightfully witty. But cold with it. And the man’s a bugger. Of course, you and I are men of the world, we know that such things go on. But he’s proud of his beastliness.”
“Many of them are. Goes with the territory.”
Wheatley nodded and took a sip of his Imperial Tokay. “Crowley’s an odd fish all round. Writes about sacrificing children, engages in the most frightful beastliness imaginable, and a cruel, cruel, bastard of a man. But he has his own principles, of a sort, and if you’re on the level with him he might help you. But don’t trust him an inch.”
“I’ll bear it in mind. Anything else I should know?”
Wheatley paused for a second, then drained his glass and placed it on the table. He leaned in, a serious look on his face.
“Look. I know you’re a sceptic about this whole magic business. So am I. You know I’m a rational man. But…have you ever heard of a poet called Victor Neuberg?”
“Can’t say I have. He any good?”
“No. But that’s not the point. Crowley performed an enchantment on him and convinced him he’d been turned into a camel!”
“No, of course not!”
“So what’s the problem?”
“The problem is that, using only the power of his mind, Crowley managed to convince him that he had been. Poor man ended up in an asylum. Still there, as far as I know.”
“Surely he could just have been doolally to start with?”
“Possibly, possibly. I mean, very few people spending time with Crowley are liable to have their heads completely screwed on, are they?”
Wheatley snapped his fingers in the air, and within seconds a waiter had brought refills of the two men’s drinks. It was reassuring, Fleming thought to himself, that in these times of rationing and austerity it was still possible to live a civilised life in the capital, if one had the right friends.
“Still,” Wheatley continued, “it’s disturbing just how many people in Crowley’s life end up dead, or mad, or both. He turns everyone against him eventually, because he cares nothing about anyone other than himself, and he’s elevated his narcissism almost to the level of a religious principle. He’s a very dangerous man.”
Fleming sipped his drink and thought for a while, trying to find the best way of phrasing the next thought.
“Look, Dennis…I see two possibilities here. Either Crowley has no powers other than an ability to persuade the gullible to do what he wants – in which case we can make use of him, or…”
“Or Crowley is a magician, and magic does exist. In which case, given that the Germans have been looking into magic for years, we need to be able to make use of his magic, and quickly.”
“And you think you can make use of a man like Crowley? Rather try to make use of a bull elephant in musk.”
“Ah, but a bull elephant charging at one’s enemies could be a great deal of use.”
“Quite. Until the moment it turns around.”
Fleming sipped his whisky thoughtfully, and the talk turned to other matters.
This is an excerpt from my novel, Destroyer. If you like this chapter, please buy the book. It can be bought in hardback from Lulu. The Kindle and paperback editions are available from Amazon (UK) and (US). For non-Kindle ebook versions This Books2Read Universal Link will give you links for your preferred ebook retailer.