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the trainee

They took him to a double-storied house on the outskirts of London early in the morning, the housekeeper met them at the door and led them inside. They gave the trainee four minutes to walk in and out of every room before he was taken away.

Two months later, towards the end of his course, they drove the trainee back to the double-storied house at 2am after an interrogation that had lasted 24 hours. They took him inside the darkened house, put a gun to his head and asked him to retrieve a package from the drawer that had been left open the last time he was here.

Spying is a game of nuance, paranoia and genius played by men and women who move as invisibly as shadows within shadows and when two meet for the first time there is an observance that must be met. A procedure of recognition, after all, they are strangers to each other.

The Swiss bankers were known to tear a postcard in half, give one to their customer and keep the other. When a bearer presented his matching half to the bank the money was his to withdraw.*

The agent had a slip of paper torn from a book, the agent he was waiting for had the book it was torn from. But that would not be enough for two men who didn’t know each other.

A mutual recognition procedure had to be successfully completed before the slip was measured against the tear and their secret business completed.

page slip

Perhaps that’s how it was when the lieutenant and the nurse first met. She was a spy, her daughter said so, and the lieutenant, so delicate and skilful when when asked by the journalist if the nurse knew of his involvement in Intelligence.

His reply: ‘Only if someone else told her.’

The nurse wore her uniform, the lieutenant his: mutual recognition procedure successful.

Then one of them showed the slip, the other book it was torn from and a successful pairing of agents completed. Is that how it went?

Is that what the nurse was celebrating when she gave the lieutenant a copy of the Rubaiyat over lunch? We’ve all seen the book the lieutenant took home, every page intact so not an operational copy, a keepsake then, with an inscription, Verse 70. Signed Jestyn.

We think the nurse left the lieutenant another sign.

rubiayat v70

The last word in the verse, the only one offset, deliberately set apart.


Spying is a game of nuance, paranoia and genius played by men and women who move as invisibly as shadows within shadows, but sometimes they leave signs of their passing.

*Edward Lucas. Deception.

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