Fleet Street in London is the traditional home of Britain’s newspaper industry, and as such it was the place to go if one wanted to meet up with a journalist. More specifically, one would visit one of a number of pubs in the surrounding area, as writing news articles and opinion columns to a tight deadline is often thirsty work.
Ian Fleming sat in one of those pubs, and started to wonder if he should just relocate to London, as he had been spending more time there in the past few weeks than he had in the area in which he was nominally based. This time he was down in the city to see Tom Driberg and to give him the documents from Hess, so that he could “accidentally” let them be found by the right kind of person.
Driberg was a committed anti-Nazi, but he had connections among the right-wing set, and was well known as being able to set aside his own politics if an opportunity for fun came along. What was less well known, outside MI5 circles, was that Driberg was also an agent who had spent much of the previous few years infiltrating the Communist party.
Now that role was more or less over, as he had been unceremoniously dropped by most of the Communist contacts he had so carefully cultivated, and he was sitting in the Bunch of Grapes, just off Fleet Street, nursing a pint of bitter.
Fleming looked at him with something approaching contempt. The man was a high society gadabout, and seeing him slumming it, drinking bitter in an attempt to appear working class, almost made Fleming shudder. Why pretend to be worse than you were?
After exchanging perfunctory greetings, the two men had made their way to the snug, where they were unlikely to be disturbed. Fleming disliked doing secret business in public – walls had ears, and careless talk cost lives, as the posters one couldn’t avoid seeing hammered home – but the risk was less great than if Driberg had been seen going into a building owned by the security services, and at ten o’clock in the morning the bar was deserted, as even the thirstiest of hacks usually waited at least until lunchtime.
Fleming himself thought that the earlier one had one’s first drink of the day, the quicker the hangover from the night before would wear off, and Driberg currently seemed to be of the same opinion. Certainly he appeared already slightly the worse for wear before Fleming had even arrived, although with Driberg appearances could often be deceptive.
Fleming had explained the job to Driberg, but Driberg remained unconvinced,
“So you’re asking me to worm my way in with the Fascists now the Communists have kicked me out? You must think I’m far better at espionage than I really am.”
“No, I think you already have an in with these people, and that they know you’re the kind of person who’d sell out your country for a shilling if you thought it might be amusing.”
“Come on, Tom. You know your reputation as well as I do. You’re a communist, a queer, and a cad. Now, the first two I can forgive, and the last I rather like, but no-one’s going to think you’re a flag-waving patriot, are they?”
“So what do you want me to do with these papers?”
“Oh, just make sure they get to the right people. You know the types – anyone a little less than keen on our kosher friends. There must be plenty of them among those mumbo-jumbo chanters you hang around with.”
Driberg picked up the papers and looked through them, at the endless rows of gibberish.
“So I take it this is in some kind of code?”
Fleming nodded. “Best you not know anything more than that. The less you know, the less damage you can do.”
Driberg took a long drag of his cigarette, and blew the smoke towards Fleming’s face. Fleming tried not to look aghast at the fact that the man was apparently smoking Woodbines now.
“You really expect them to fall for these?” Driberg asked. “For them not to wonder where I got them? They’ll know they’re forgeries in an instant, and know that I’m trying to trap them.”
Fleming sipped his glass of cheap whisky while deciding how to reply, and wondered again what on Earth Driberg thought he was doing pretending to be working class in a place like this. The contrast between Wheatley’s club and this bar couldn’t have been greater, even though Driberg was of a far better family than Wheatley. Probably one of Driberg’s enthusiasms that he’d be over in five minutes, like all the others. Next week, no doubt, Driberg would be pretending to be the illegitimate heir to the throne or something.
He came to the conclusion that it was probably best just to tell Driberg the truth.
“No, they won’t know these are forgeries, because they aren’t. They’re copies, but all the text is taken from the actual papers we captured from Hess.”
Driberg boggled. “Why on Earth would you want to hand those to fifth columnists?”
“Because we want to see what they do with them when they have them. There’s nothing in there, as far as we can tell, that will actually damage the country, but if we know who gets the papers, and can see what they do with them, we might be able to mop up the whole fifth column in one go.”
Driberg looked thoughtfully at Fleming.
“The whole fifth column?”
“Or near as dammit.”
“You really think we can do that, with just these papers?”
“I do. This is something we’ve been setting up for months. Hess walked right into the trap, and now he’s given us exactly what we need.”
Driberg leaned back in his chair, and took a long drag of his cigarette. He held the smoke in his lungs a while, and then slowly let it out through his nostrils. Then he smiled.
“This could be a hell of a lot of fun, couldn’t it, Ian?”
Fleming smiled back. “Oh yes. Definitely your sort of caper.”
Driberg took the papers, and said he knew what to do with them.
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.