I was holed up in the warehouse for what felt like weeks. I grew accustomed to the smells of imported spices and tea. The temperature dropped markedly over the days that followed and I sheltered in the office near the only fireplace in the building. Snow began to fall steadily on the fourth day of my incarceration, leaving a clean white carpet over the warehouse courtyard and surrounding buildings. Templeton was relentless in his teaching, constantly going over the plan of the operation. I would present myself at the mission under the name of seaman Herbert Grant. The mission acted as a front to the opium import business, using homeless ex sailors as couriers and messengers. Templeton’s intelligence suggested that the drugs were distributed through a gentleman’s club in Holborn but the mission sent out invites via these destitute sailors.
I was conscious that this would be my first and possibly last Christmas not at Travers Nook. I would miss the parties and lavish dining. I longed to hear carol singers and smell plum pudding and mince pies. I yearned for those things that felt familiar, whilst knowing the discomfort and danger to which I was entering.
The day arrived. I dressed in some old clothes that although grubby, were in fact warm and well fitting. My dishevelled looks could have fooled any close relative or friend. I opened the door inside the gate of the warehouse. As I stepped out into the cold crisp snow, Templeton grabbed my arm and spun me to face him.
‘Travers, you know the plan. Stick to it and no heroics. Meet me at the Wetherton Club on the 23rd at 11pm. Don’t let your country down Travers!’
‘I hope that my country appreciates what I am doing. I understand that drugs attract the wrong sort but am frankly struggling as to why the drug takers are so important’ I answered.
‘These men represent so many of the upper echelons of society and make decisions that affect all of us. We cannot allow their judgements to be clouded by narcotics and corruption. We have suffered under those whose minds are addled by drink in the past as well as those bribed by the criminal underclass’ Templeton said.
‘Do your job and don’t let me down’ he added.
I turned away and trudged off through the snow towards the dockside. As I neared the river, I could see several large vessels moored by the docks. Men scuttled on and off vessels whilst cranes lifted boxes and containers off ships to waiting carts. I wandered through the hustle, side stepping. I could hear the sound of carol singing coming from an alleyway.
A small uniformed group sang heartily. I stopped to admire the rendition of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ when I noticed a small sharp eyed man watching me intently. Retiring quickly to the dockside I turned to see if I was being followed. Suddenly I felt a firm hand on my shoulder and then