I guess I could start my story with the fact that I was the fastest sperm in my class but that would be a bad idea. I think I’ll start with an Import/Export company I “worked” for leading up to the big one, the war in Europe. I was lucky I guess. The company was important to the war effort and was able to wrangle a pass when it came to sending guys to the front. So I stayed in London and had a pretty good pay check each month when a lot of my neighbors were scrambling for the next shilling.
That meant I had money in my pocket. Which was okay unless you were drinking and there was a period there when I was drinking a lot – maybe too much. I guess that started when I got word that my father had been killed in combat and took a definite turn the wrong way when I got word that my younger brother, Thomas, had joined him.
I told the police that some ruffians had attacked me after I left a pub down by the river Thames and took all of that money I had in my pockets as well as my ID cards and wallet. In the fighting I managed to get loose and try to run for it. Then there was a shot and the next thing I knew I was waking up in London General Hospital with Dr. Graham Culver looking down at me and clucking his tongue. Seems the bullet grazed my skull and tossed me over the railing and into the river. Some Bobbie found me downstream half drowned and cold as a fish. He got me to the hospital where it took me almost two days to wake up. Dr. Culver said it is likely that the cold is what saved my life because it slowed down my bleeding and my breathing.
I was pretty grateful to be alive and took an almost instant liking to the surgeon but that almost died an early death because he snitched on me to the police. He recognized a bullet wound when he saw one. Seems he was patching up all kinds of wounds on Tommies who were being shipped back to London from the fighting in the trenches.
Next thing I know this big guy is sitting on the edge of my bed and shaking me awake. His name was Harry Buchanan. I could tell almost from the beginning that he was either a police officer or had been a police officer at some point. He wanted to know two things. First, how did I get shot and, second, what was I doing muttering in German, French and Italian while I was delirious?
I was able to convince him that I had been rolled, robbed and had been shot trying to get away. I was also able to convince him that I had studied German in school and had used it and a smattering of French and Italian working with the company. Turns out he had already checked that out and, of course, the company existed and confirmed that I had been working for them since just before the war. They even filled in a blank for me telling Harry that before the war started they had had dealings with the Krupp corporation buying pig iron. They also expressed concern over my well-being and wanted to know what hospital I was in and how I was faring – when I might be getting back to work.
In the end, I was cleared to get out of the hospital which I did as fast as I could. I also moved to a new flat and started counting my chickens. Dumb me, I thought I had pretty well disappeared so I was surprised when Harry showed up at my door a week or so later. I had my walking stick in my hand when I answered the door and told him I was just about to go for a walk. He invited himself along and we took a good long walk. Along the way he offered me a job. He said I could put my language skills to work and help my country out. The pay he offered wasn’t too good but my chicken counting told me I’d better take the offer.
A couple of days later I reported to the address he gave me. It was a kind of a nondescript office down near the Soho district. The guys I met were very businesslike and, like Harry, seemed to have some kind of police background. They asked me a lot of questions and filled out some forms and made me promise to provide them with additional identification documents the next day. I did that and about three days later I was told to report to a warehouse just a couple of blocks up off the main docks downtown. I had no idea what I was getting into and I was a little more than nervous about what was developing here.
It turned out that I was joining the newly minted Military Intelligence Section 6, or MI6 for short. And my job was going to be “debriefing” Prussian soldiers that had been captured in Europe and elsewhere. I acted as an observer for the first two weeks or so as more experienced employees “debriefed” the prisoners. Debriefing was a pretty word for extracting military information from these men while it still might be useful and in a lot of cases it wasn’t something you’d want to write home about.
Week three I started work on my own. The prisoners were a mixed bag but over the next few months I accumulated quite a record for getting information out of them that other guys couldn’t. My secret was a carrot and stick approach and the fact that I could either tell a good joke or threaten them with a lot of pain in a convincing way. I got a pay raise the second month there and continued my “work” throughout the rest of the war.
Along the way I got Dr. Culver to go out to dinner with me and we shared a few pints together. He was a great guy and I had found out before I left the hospital that I really owed my life and the ability to think properly to his expert work on my skull and my infected lungs. The river Thames is filthy by the way.
Anyway, we became friends and it was during one of our sorties that he told me about the journal he was working on. He had been accumulating data on the wounded he had been treating particularly those suffering from “Shell Shock”. He was very distressed by the fact that he could heal their bodies but not their minds. He had been trying to see what commonalities they shared and was surprised to find out that some seemed to be suffering from a common delusion; namely seeing monsters on the killing fields and in the trenches. Even more astounding, he told me, was the fact that soldiers in very distinctly different locations and on completely different dates had seemed to see the same “monsters”.
That was when I shared the fact that I had experienced the same thing. I wasn’t supposed to talk about my “work” but we were a couple of pints to the wind when the subject came up and before I knew it I was telling him about five soldiers that I knew of who had apparently seen “monsters” tearing men to pieces and burning everything in site. I managed to avoid telling him about one of the dead. But the cat was out of the bag and before I knew it he was telling me about something called the “Illumination Society” that he wanted me to join.
We remained good friends and we still see each other about once a month. I’ve attended a couple of meetings of the “Society” and have heard some pretty great stories about how they have debunked various mysteries and charlatans over the years. And he’s shared some of the “sightings” from his journal but we’ve kind of moved on.
After the war it turned out that MI6 kept working. Nobody wanted to go into the future as dumb about things as we had been going into WWI and I was routinely sent to talk to various people both in London and on the continent about specific issues Harry and the upper team wanted to get cleared up. I couldn’t use some of the more physical methods we used on some prisoners but I became pretty adept at a new carrot and stick routine particularly where the carrot was cold hard cash and the stick was the fact that I had found them in the first place and could do it again.
It turns out that Professor William Yates, a guy I worked with and for during the war, was also a member of the “Society” although he got out of the Service after the war and took up teaching. That was a surprise. So was finding out that a local showman, an American “cowboy” who performed a marksmanship demonstration in a theater here in London, was also a member. And a couple of years ago he introduced me to his mother and a servant of hers who were also members along with Professor Julius Smith (not relation) a man I hold in great regard.
I’ve had to watch who I got attached to over the years – because of my job and all. But I have certainly managed to collect some unusual contacts along the way. My only regret is the loss of my father and brother and not knowing what ever became of my mother. Life has taken some strange turns for me and mine. Some strange turns indeed.