The crowds on the broad, tree-lined promenade that was London’s Victoria Embankment were substantial. Fleet-footed delivery boys and office messengers weaved their way around smartly dressed bankers and lawyers, on their way to or from important engagements, or newly-arrived tourists who wandered at their leisure, gawping at the sights shown in their guidebooks.



It was a fine spring day, the first such of 1913, but there remained something of a chill in the air and a stiff breeze blew in steadily off the dark, slowly moving waters of the Thames. After the long confines of an unpleasant winter, the populace at large were relieved to have the opportunity to escape their homes.

Whilst the crowds were a welcome harbinger of the changing year, they also presented something of a challenge to the nondescript gentleman with the light brown hair and rather large nose, whose task it was to follow the every move of a much taller figure up ahead. The taller man wore an especially fine top hat and twirled a long black cane as he made his way briskly through the crowds. Indeed, if not for that top hat, Alexander Templeman suspected he might well have lost his man by now, struggling, as he was, to simultaneously keep the fellow in sight and maintain sufficient distance so as not to draw attention to himself. The other man was, after all, Kurt von Luck, a suspected German agent.

The British Secret Intelligence Bureau had known for some months that their German counter-parts were obtaining copies of supposedly confidential Government papers, but neither the source of these papers nor the German agent involved had, as yet, been identified. The information being leaked concerned many facets of Government activity, including a draft of the recent annual budget and proposals for a review of local government boundaries.

However, by far the most concerning of these were papers from the War Office regarding the disposition of British Army units and Royal Navy ships, along with several papers from the Foreign Office discussing the Government’s approach to diplomatic negotiations with a number of other European powers. It seemed only to be pure chance that, so far, none of these had presented a very serious threat to the safety of the nation, but the expectation was that such a situation could not continue for long. This extremely worrying matter had been made a priority for the Bureau, after details of these breaches began to filter back from British agents in Germany.

Templeman and fellow Bureau agent Henry Laidlaw had been assigned the task of establishing whether it was von Luck who was securing these papers and, if it was, who was passing them to him. Two other suspected German agents were being similarly kept under close observation by members of the Bureau. Thus far, no progress had been made in identifying either the source or the recipient.

Von Luck, a tall pale-faced man who walked with a distinct military gate, had been working at the German embassy, ostensibly as a senior diplomat, for the last fourteen months. For the most part, he engaged in all the usual activities of a diplomat, attending conferences and taking part in the ceaseless round of social engagements that occupied a considerable part of most diplomats time. However, during this period he had made several trips backs to his homeland, which provided ample opportunity for removing illicit documents from the country.

It was not so much his activities in London that cast the light of suspicion upon him; rather some portion of his previous record. In particular, he had been identified as one of those engaged in a disreputable attempt by a small group of Germans to blackmail three members of the French Ministry of the Interior into supplying confidential government information. The German ambassador in Paris had been able to persuade the French government that he was entirely blameless in the affair and those responsible had been sent home in disgrace, or so he claimed.

The similarities between the failed plot in Paris and that currently being investigated by the authorities in London was lost on no one. Both Templeman and Laidlaw remained exceedingly optimistic that their man was the mastermind behind the affair and they looked forward with much relish to unmasking him.

In the meantime, however, when it was his turn to follow von Luck during the morning, Templeman’s time was occupied in a familiar pattern. He would wait for the German outside the opulent Blenheim Hotel opposite Hyde Park, then follow him down Park Lane to the German Embassy in Belgravia.

Most mornings at precisely eleven, a cab would draw up outside the embassy and carry the diplomat across town, always dropping him off at the same spot across the road from the Houses of Parliament. From there, he would make his way down on to the Embankment and spend the next hour walking alongside the Thames, then turning up to the Strand and on through Whitehall back to where he had started. What appeared to always be the same cab would be waiting to convey him either back to the Embassy or on to some pre-arranged engagement.

Templeman had wondered early on whether this choice of location for his morning exercise was merely because von Luck liked to stroll besides the river or if there might be some other motive. Perhaps beginning and ending his walk outside the Parliament buildings and strolling through the heartland of the British Government in Whitehall gave the diplomat some sort of daily encouragement to do his best, so that Germany might one day become as great a country.

On occasion, von Luck would stop alongside the river and spend a little while reading his newspaper. This particular morning was once such occasion. The diplomat purchased a newspaper from a vendor, then took a seat on an empty wooden bench that looked out across the Thames and there he began to peruse the day’s news.

Templeman found another bench, from where he could observe the German while remaining out of his line of sight, and made a show of studying the barges and other shipping that made its way up and down the Thames. At times, the river traffic was so thick that it was difficult to see the water and it was a remarkable accomplishment, mused Templeman, that there were not a good many comings together.

As the minutes ticked by and the Englishman allowed himself to relax, he found his thoughts drifting to domestic matters and, in particular, his wife, Caroline, whom he had left at home preparing herself for a visit to her parents. The six months that had passed since their wedding day had been a gloriously happy time. Much to his surprise, he had adapted with ease to the new domestic routine set by Caroline, including the addition to their household of a part-time servant to help with the daily chores. The number of visitors to their little flat in Pimlico had grown extraordinarily, but even this he found he was able to take happily in his stride. This was all very different to his self-centred, easy going bachelor days, when he had no one other than himself to think of, free to come and go as he pleased and return home from his club as late as his fancy desired.

There had been discussions, at Caroline’s prompting, about the desirability of starting a family, but they had agreed they would first need to find a home more suitable in which to raise one. They had visions of a little house with a room for a nursery and a nanny, along with a garden in which the children could play and Caroline could grow her beloved dahlias. It was to be their own little piece of Paradise. Only the previous week, Caroline, with the aid of her mother, had begun the search for their new home; a rather tricky challenge given the relative paucity of the budget they had available to them.

The echoing chimes of Big Ben began to signal eleven o’clock and Templeman snapped out of his day dream with a start, for a moment concerned von Luck might have slipped away unnoticed. But, no, there he was, folding away his newspaper before checking his pocket watch, as if he was not content to accept the accuracy of the clock towering over the Houses of Parliament. Apparently satisfied that the hour mark had indeed been reached, he eased himself off the bench, pushed his newspaper into the hands of a passing boy, who looked somewhat bemused, then continued on his morning walk.

It was, considered Templeman, a disappointingly familiar routine that offered up no sign whatsoever that the German might possibly be involved in the securing of the leaked Government papers. He puffed out his cheeks, clambered back to his feet and took up his pursuit once more, glad that he would be handing on the baton to Henry Laidlaw once they returned to the German Embassy.

Von Luck’s usual routine was to continue on to Waterloo Bridge, where he would then turn away from the river, up towards the Aldwych and the Strand, which he would then follow westwards, to Trafalgar Square and Whitehall. This morning, however, shortly after he had passed under Hungerford Bridge, the German turned into a small, narrow park that looked out on to the river. As he did so, his pace grew a little quicker.

Templeman felt his senses come alive at once. Finally, something out of the ordinary. Perhaps all those hours and days spent forlornly tramping around after von Luck were about to have their reward. The Englishman turned on to the path into the park with his heart beating a little faster and his eyes fixed on his quarry.

It immediately became apparent to Templeman, however, that caution was the order of the day, since there were far fewer people for him to keep between himself and the German. He slowed his pace and dropped back a little. If some meaningful event did lay ahead, the last thing he wanted to do was to spook von Luck.

It crossed Templeman’s mind that perhaps the German intended to meet an acquaintance in the gardens and his ideas of skulduggery were but wishful thinking. However, such a notion was promptly dispelled as the German strode on through the broad gateway that led out on to Villiers Street, sending a host of flapping, noisy pigeons to the wing as he did so.

Here, in the narrow street that ran alongside Charing Cross railway station, the crowds were once again thicker and Templeman began to regret having dropped back so far from von Luck. He quickened his step. It almost proved to be too late, for the German disappeared into a mass of bodies as he passed a tobacconists and, for a moment or two, Templeman thought he had lost his man.

But, just as the first sensations of panic began to grip the Englishman, he caught sight once more of von Luck, who was, unquestionably, now walking faster still. Was he, mused Templeman, doing nothing more than shortening his usual walk, perhaps necessitated by an appointment at the embassy? Or perhaps the German had some other business to attend to.

The shouts of a street trader seeking takers for his wooden toys echoed off the closely packed buildings as Templeman passed the man’s barrow. Distracted by this performance, a well-to-do lady wearing the largest hat he was sure he’d seen so far that morning bumped into Templeman, whereupon she promptly turned to exchange apologies with him. It was a fateful moment, for, when the Englishman looked back up the street to see how much further progress his quarry had made, there was no sign of von Luck and this time he did not reappear from out of a crowd of bodies.

Templeman cursed his own carelessness, instantly certain this was the moment they had been waiting for, when von Luck would finally show his hand and the traitor leaking Government information would be unmasked. Templeman broke into a trot, weaving his way through the crowd. His body now tense and his heart rate quickening, he scanned every doorway and peered into every shadowy corner. Wherever there was a press of bodies, he lingered long enough to cast his gaze over every face. But as the opening on to the Strand loomed large ahead there remained no sign of the German.

A short distance before the Strand, Templeman spied a narrow road, barely more than an alleyway, leading off Villiers Street to his right. He stopped at the entrance to York Place and peered into the gloom, allowing his eyes a moment to adjust. There were no shop fronts here; rather, it appeared to be used primarily as some sort of storage or dumping area by the street vendors and shopkeepers. There were a number of carts on either side and small piles of wooden crates pressed up against walls. The smell of rotting vegetables and damp reached Templeman’s nostrils as he stepped into the alleyway and the world fell oddly quiet, the hubbub of Villiers Street somehow unable to penetrate its narrow confines.

Templeman could not push away a peculiar sense of unease that grew upon him. It was as if his body was trying to warn him of an impending danger he could neither see nor hear. He steeled himself and pressed on, one careful step after another. There was a sudden movement at the far end of the short road and the Englishman turned his head at once, his body tensed, his eyes cutting sharply through the poor light. A tatty mongrel looked back at him, ran a thick tongue over its lips, then turned and walked out into the daylight.

The Englishman felt the tension in his body release at once and he shook his head, feeling foolish at his needless sense of fear. Aside from any other consideration, he had absolutely no certainty that von Luck had entered this road; indeed, at this very moment he could be strolling imperiously through Trafalgar Square. Once more Templeman cursed his own ineptitude. He clearly still had much to learn about his new trade as a secret service agent.

He was about to give up on exploring the unfamiliar and unwelcoming York Place when something caught his eye. He strained to see more clearly what it was, then took a couple of steps forward. Yes, there on the ground, poking out from behind a wheel of one of the carts, was a man’s arm. A drunkard, sleeping off the worst of his night-time misdemeanours, thought Templeman, who took several steps forward.

Good Lord,” he exclaimed, the words leaving his lips before he could stop them.

He could now see all of the man, spread upon the hard, cold ground. It was clear he was no drunken vagrant. Far from it. The man wore a fine grey suit, his dark hair looked recently cut and his chin shaven. A bundle of bound papers lay on the ground in the lee of the cart. But most noticeable of all was the growing pool of blood that spilled from the man’s torso.

Nausea welled up in Templeman’s mouth and it took him a moment to regain control of himself before he could step right up to the body and drop down on to his haunches to see if the man might still be alive. As he reached out to take hold of the man’s wrist, Templeman was aware of movement behind him. But something solid hit his head before he could turn to investigate and he slumped to the ground, unconscious.


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