Section B5(B) of the Security Service had a very different remit from the rest of MI5. While most of the service was devoted to fairly routine espionage operations, Section B5(B) operated out of separate offices, and had little contact with the rest of the service. It had to keep secrets even from the rest of the organisation, because its job was to infiltrate subversive movements, and to report back on their activities. Only one man, known as “M”, knew everything that his section was up to, and he kept it to himself. Fleming and Turing had made arrangements to meet up with him, to make sure that their plans weren’t going to involve them treading on his toes.
Maxwell Knight was someone Fleming had known for some time, but had never really been able to understand. The man was a mystery wrapped inside an enigma wrapped inside a bully who could destroy an underling with a well-chosen expletive, and nobody Fleming knew had ever got close enough to him to understand what made him tick.
His office gave little indication of his importance. It was functional – a desk, filing cabinets, a telephone, and little else. There were windows, but they were kept closed and blinded at all times, and the light in the room came from a desk lamp. Like much about the Security Service, the office gave away little about what activities took place there, and even less about the character of the man who did the work.
While the rooms through which they had walked had been full of the noise of ringing telephones and clattering typewriters, Knight’s office was sufficiently insulated that the only sound in the room was of its occupant scratching away with his pen at the papers he was reviewing.
Fleming was always slightly intimidated when he entered Knight’s office, but Turing seemed utterly oblivious to the importance of the man they were visiting – either that, or his casual stance was the product of a better actor than Fleming thought him.
While Fleming was stood firmly erect, Turing was slouched over, scratching at his ear distractedly, and humming under his breath. Fleming nudged him with his elbow, and the noise stopped for approximately thirty seconds, then started again.
They waited for a while while Knight, apparently unaware of their presence, continued to work through the papers on his desk. Eventually, Fleming gave a slight cough and spoke.
“Ian. And who’s this with you?”
“This is Alan Turing, one of the boffins we’re working with up at Bletchley. Quite a remarkable mind.”
“Really? Not got much time for the remarkable myself. It’s the normal we need. A remarkable spy would be no use, would he?”
“Indeed,” Turing replied, although Knight had not yet addressed him, “but not everyone is a spy. And while the normal people do have their part to play, so do the remarkable. The world needs all kinds of people, Sir Maxwell. It’s the Hitlers of this world who want everyone to be the same – it’s not a very British attitude, is it?”
Knight gave a slight “hmph”, and appeared to decide that Turing was a lost cause. He turned his attention back to Fleming.
“So, what are you after, man?”
“Well, Sir Maxwell, I’d like you to give me the latest on what’s been going on with Hess. I’ve been away for a couple of days, and I’m sure any information would be useful to Turing.”
“And what’s Turing doing, that he needs the information?”
“He’s the one who’s trying to decrypt the documents.”
“Ah. I see… and where exactly have you been, anyway?”
“It’s rather embarrassing, sir. I’m afraid it was a bit of a wild goose chase. I went to visit Aleister Crowley, in the mistaken belief that he might be of some use to us.”
“Aleister!” Knight’s eyebrows shot up, “Good God! How is the old rogue?”
“You know him, sir?”
“Oh, yes. I studied with him back in the thirties. Far, far cleverer man than you might think. Knows his stuff, all right.”
“So you know him well then?”
“Oh yes. Introduced him to your friend Wheatley, too. Wheatley only saw him a handful of times, though I believe they corresponded a little afterwards. For myself… well, the man’s definitely a cad, no question of that. But he’s a cad who knows what he’s about. Plays his cards close to his chest.”
“So you think there may be something to his Satan-worshipping?”
“Oh, he’s no Satanist. His beliefs are far more idiosyncratic than that. He has invented his own religion, with elements of every mad belief that has crossed his path and taken his fancy, but Satan isn’t a part of it.”
“Oh yes. What Crowley believes is that he is himself a god, but that anyone can attain that rank. `Every man and every woman is a star’, he says. The idea is that we’re in a new age, the aeon of Thelema as he calls it. He claims he was given a revelation by the Egyptian gods.”
“Surely no-one can believe in the Egyptian gods in this day and age? This is the twentieth century!”
“Indeed it is. But Crowley believes that those gods are still there, and that we are in the early days of a new religion – one of which he is the founder, prophet, and thus far only real believer.”
Turing interrupted “Sorry to butt in here, but is all this really relevant to the matter at hand?”
Knight grinned. “Ah, you’re one of that type, are you? Man who knows the value of everything and the price of nothing? Well, we’ll get down to business then, shall we?”
Fleming nodded. Knight was, despite his apparent impatience, clearly starting to respect Turing, as he had expected he would.
Knight continued, “There’s really not much news to give you. Hess has been transferred to the Tower, but he’s still not talking. But Ian, you might want to have a word with Tom Driberg. He may be able to help you…”
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.