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Authors: Norman Russell

The Aquila Project

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Norman Russell


Wet Day in Berlin


, Her Majesty’s Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, was no stranger to the Imperial German Foreign Office in Berlin. He had contrived, over a period of six or seven years, to attach himself to various missions from Great Britain sent to soothe suspicions about the British Government’s European policy, and to hear plausible explanations of the expansionist ambitions of the German Empire.

Six years earlier, in the June of 1888, the young William II had succeeded his amiable father Frederick as King of Prussia and Emperor of Germany. A zealous patriot and unstable hothead, he had needed a lot of managing, especially after his dramatic dismissal of the wily old chancellor, Bismarck, in 1890.

Was ‘managing’ the right word? Certainly, these missions were a valuable part of Britain’s attempt at curbing some of the more tiresome excesses of the young German Emperor; with respect to his German advisers, the word ‘manipulation’ was probably more apposite.

There must be fifty people here, at least, thought Napier. These lunch-time diplomatic receptions are proving popular, not only here in Berlin, but also in Paris and Vienna. Perhaps we could do something similar in London?

Ah! Here was Paul Claus now, standing uncertainly at the door, and looking round the magnificent salon as though searching for someone. How insignificant he looked! ‘Mousy’ was the word that came to mind. It was a good disguise for a secret agent. He was supposedly a government clerk, a staunch German citizen, who had been appointed a courier of the Prussian Court of Requests – hence his presence here today, in the Wilhelmstrasse. But he was more than that.

What wretched weather! Napier stood at one of the long windows, half-hidden by green velvet curtains, and looked out at the heavy summer rain falling vertically on to the gardens of the Imperial Chancellery, and the green expanse of the Tiergarten beyond. It was a fine city, at once grand and gracious, but
on earth looked miserable in the rain.

‘My dear Napier, you’re moping! Why do you not mix? We don’t see enough of you in Berlin. You should come more often. Let me get you something to drink.’

‘Count von Donath! How kind of you to notice me. How are you? I’ve not seen you since ’92. Not to speak to, at any rate.’

‘I’m very well, Napier. You know I had pneumonia last winter? Touch and go, apparently. The Kaiser sent his personal physician to tend me. He’s very kind, you know; for a man scarce past thirty, he’s very considerate of others.’

Napier regarded his companion with interest. It was well-nigh impossible to tell from his well-studied public demeanour whether the man was a friend or an enemy. That long, cadaverous face, that clipped black moustache – they gave the count a sinister appearance, but the man’s voice was soft and purring, and his blue eyes were bold and seemingly without guile. But a man of Napier’s experience knew that von Donath was one of the most dangerous men in Europe.

Count von Donath was President of the Prussian Court of Requests, and so Paul Claus’s superior. (Where was Claus now? There he was, talking to one of the Rumanian attachés. He was moving nearer, waiting for Count von Donath to go.)

The count snapped his fingers, and a liveried waiter approached with a trayful of tall, fluted glasses of champagne. It was very good champagne, thought Napier. Probably Krug. He sipped his glass with a connoisseur’s appreciation.

Count von Donath thought to himself: Napier’s a handsome, distinguished fellow, but his air of friendly innocence doesn’t deceive me. He’s come to Berlin far too often over the last few years for his visits to be nothing more dangerous than mere
courtesy. Well, Napier, I’ve got your measure. I know quite well why you’re here today, and what to do about it.

‘I thought the Chancellor might have been here,’ said Napier. ‘In England there would be someone weighty at functions of this nature to add
to the proceedings. Someone like Salisbury, or Aberdeen.’

Count von Donath laughed, and drained his glass.

‘The Chancellor? No, he sent a message to the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps to say that he was very much occupied with official duties this morning. But the Kaiser sends warm greetings, which is very much appreciated.’

Napier thought: Is von Donath playing cat and mouse with me, or is the man simply being civil? He’ll know as well as I do that the Kaiser and the Chancellor will have left the gathering to its own devices, so that rumours and hints could be exchanged, and verbal agreements made between the representatives of potentially warring countries. From such hints and rumours arose the
of much of the secret diplomacy aimed at reconciling the self-interest of nations with the stability of the European balance of power.

Paul Claus was only feet away, now. If von Donath remained talking much longer, the opportunity of hearing what Claus had to say would be lost.

‘Napier,’ said Count von Donath, ‘I must leave you. I can see the French Ambassador beckoning to me. I wonder what he wants? You’re returning to England tomorrow, aren’t you? Early
next week, you’ll find that a new Second Secretary will have arrived at Prussia House – Doctor Franz Kessler. He leaves for London on Saturday. He’ll be anxious to present himself to you, I’ve no doubt. I
go. Let me wish you God speed!’

As soon as the count had gone, Sir Charles Napier turned to the nondescript man who was now standing at his side. Herr Paul Claus had a habit of looking away from you when he was talking, which sometimes made it difficult to catch what he was saying. He dressed soberly in unrelieved black, which allowed him to blend inconspicuously with the assembled company, but Napier had always considered him to be a fish out of water.

Paul Claus claimed Alsatian ancestry to account for his
to spy on his native Prussia, but Napier thought that it was love of secrecy, and an equal love of money, that motivated him. There were rumours that Claus was a double agent. Such rumours were enough to make Napier privately determine that this would be Paul Claus’s last assignment for the British Foreign Office.

‘Well?’ asked Sir Charles Napier.

‘You were right, Sir Charles,’ said Claus, looking across the crowded salon as he spoke. ‘It looks like yet another Polish secret society, formed with malignant designs against Tsar Alexander. I spoke to a man in Königsberg who told me that they were
to terror as a means of effecting change. We’ve heard it all before, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a threat.’

‘Can you tell me any names?’

‘None, but the man in Königsberg thought that some of the old Polish nobility would be involved.’

‘Very likely,’ said Napier drily. ‘It’s the nobility who foment these romantic fantasies of Polish independence. The peasantry are too busy trying to survive to take much interest in the matter. Anything else?’

‘Two phrases, sir. I’ve heard them whispered in various places that I visit. One is “The Aquila Project”. I’ve no idea what it means, but it’s a name bandied about in the sub-world of
The other is “The Thirty”. Thirty men, perhaps – or thirty pieces of silver, for all I know. There’s something else, too. They have a token, a sort of badge of membership. I’ve secured one of them, and have it here in my pocket—’

‘Not here, Claus,’ said Napier. ‘I’ve no doubt that a number of curious eyes are watching us at this very moment. Here’s the French military attaché making a beeline for me. I suppose I must be civil to him. You’d better circulate a bit. I’ll send a man to your lodgings in Landsbergerstrasse this afternoon. You can give him this token then.’

‘Very well, sir. Do you want me to probe further?’

‘No. No, thank you. I’ll take those snippets of information back with me to London, and work on them from there. Thank you, Herr Claus. Call at the British Embassy when you find it
– after I’ve left Berlin tomorrow. You’ll find a very pleasing remuneration waiting there for you.’


Just after two o’clock the crowd of guests poured out of the Imperial Foreign Office building and into the Wilhelmstrasse. The rain had slackened, but the wide granite pavements glistened, and in the sky above them the sullen black clouds had been rent here and there to reveal patches of weak, cold blue.

Count von Donath stood on the steps for a moment, watching Sir Charles Napier as he hurried away towards the nearby British Embassy, and then joined the throng and press of
Berliners moving in a typically ordered phalanx towards Unter den Linden.

A man in the crowd uttered a muffled cry, stumbled, and fell to the ground. The procession of citizens came to a sudden halt, and a number of people bent down to assist the unfortunate man. What was it? A fit? Was he, perhaps an epileptic? A man carrying a black bag pushed his way through the crowd.

‘Stand back, please!’ he cried. ‘I am a doctor.’

Count von Donath stooped down, and quietly retrieved
that must have fallen from the stricken man’s pocket, or perhaps from his hand. He quickly slipped it into his right-hand glove. The doctor looked up at his companions, his face stern, almost accusing.

‘This man is dead. He has been stabbed in the back. Does anyone know who he is?’

Yes, several people knew him. He was a government courier, with rooms in the Landsbergerstrasse, a man called Claus. Herr Paul Claus. Look! Here was a policeman. He’d know what steps to take.

Count von Donath continued on his way. He had business at the Reichs Bank, and this particular walk was a favourite of his. Besides, it had become hot and oppressive at the reception, and the cold air of the wet Berlin day would clear his mind.

What had Claus been saying to Sir Charles Napier? And how had he obtained that token? Well, whatever he’d said to Napier, it was of no import now. Thanks to the ruthless vigilance of Franz Kessler, Herr Claus’s days of gossiping treachery were over.

As Count von Donath passed the new cathedral and crossed over the Kaiser Wilhelm Bridge, he took a blood-caked knife from his pocket, and dropped it into the swirling waters of the River Spree.


Tower Bridge Day

30 June 1894

Box hurried out of Whitehall Place and crossed the cobbled square fronting the complex of old, smoke-blackened buildings known as King James’s Rents. For a fleeting moment his mind conjured up a vision of the magnificent buildings of New Scotland Yard, rising in all their glory of red brick and Portland stone at the Whitehall end of the Embankment.

Norman Shaw’s triumph of modern design had been opened three years earlier, and the Metropolitan Police had migrated there from their dingy headquarters in Great Scotland Yard, taking Sir Edward Bradford, the Chief Commissioner, and his 15,000
, with them.

Sir Edward had 598 inspectors, and Arnold Box was proud to be one of them, but it had not been his good fortune to move into New Scotland Yard. There was still a goodly number of officers remaining in Whitehall Place, and also here, in the sooty, mildewed obscurity of the Rents, fifty yards on across the cobbles.

As Inspector Box hurried up the worn steps of 2 King James’s Rents, a neighbouring clock struck the quarter after eight. So that was it. He was late, and no doubt Old Growler would have
to say about it. Well, he’d make up the lost fifteen minutes at the end of the shift.

He began to divest himself of his smart fawn overcoat as he crossed the vestibule towards the glazed swing doors of his ground-floor office. He could glimpse the small fire burning in the grate, and the massive figure of his sergeant, Jack Knollys, peering at one of the many notices stuck to the big fly-blown mirror. Would he reach the sanctuary of his office before his lateness was detected?

‘Is that you, Box?’ called a voice from above. ‘I thought you weren’t coming in, today! Up here, if you please. I shan’t keep you more than five minutes.’

Superintendent Mackharness stood on the half-landing at the top of the stairs, looking down at Box with what he recognized as his master’s air of patient resignation. The Superintendent was a man well over sixty, with a yellowish face adorned with snow-white mutton-chop whiskers. His thin grey hair was neatly brushed and combed. His civilian frock coat was smart and spotless.

Box struggled back into his overcoat, hurried up the steep flight of stairs, and entered his master’s dark front office on the first floor. As always, the room smelt strongly of stale gas and mildew. Old Growler had stationed himself behind his massive carved desk, upon which he had arranged a number of papers and folders.

‘Sit down in that chair, will you, Box,’ said Mackharness, ‘and listen to what I have to say. Three minutes ago, I heard the clock in the turret of Craven Street Brewery chime a quarter past eight. Punctuality is something that those in positions of authority should be particularly assiduous in observing. It sets an example to one’s inferiors. It inculcates habits of precision and – and, er, regularity—’

‘I’m very sorry, sir. If I might explain—’

‘Yes, well, never mind all that, Box. Now you’re here at last, I can tell you what I want you to do. Tomorrow, as you know, will see the opening of the new Tower Bridge, which, I may say, will
be acknowledged by all as one of the greatest engineering triumphs of the age. The thirtieth of June, 1894, Box, will for ever be remembered for the public inauguration of that great – er – achievement. Yes. Now, what was it I wanted to tell you? These constant interruptions of yours make me lose the thread of what I’m saying.’

‘About the Tower Bridge, sir.’

‘Yes, that’s right. When I came in here this morning – at six o’clock – I found a letter waiting for me. It had been delivered by courier an hour earlier. It came from Superintendent Keating of “J” Division at Bethnal Green Road. One of his detective
has apparently uncovered a plot to explode a bomb in the engine room of the new Tower Bridge, on its southern approach, at the very moment when the Royal procession is crossing it which will be soon after twelve noon tomorrow.’

Arnold Box sighed. Here we go again, he thought. Whenever a time of general rejoicing comes, some fool will want to throw something more lethal than a spanner in the works.

‘Does Mr Keating take the threat seriously, sir? We’ve had one or two crackpots recently threatening to do things to the new bridge.’

‘Mr Keating takes the matter very seriously, Box, and he’s a man whose judgement in these matters I respect. Besides, the detective officer who uncovered the lair of this man was Inspector Fitzgerald. As you know, he has a knack of unearthing people of that sort.’

Mackharness’s eyes met Box’s briefly, and then returned to one of the documents on his desk. That glance had made a statement about Inspector Fitzgerald’s methods of investigation that neither man would have cared to put into plain words.

‘Mr Keating enclosed a photograph of the suspected bomber, or assassin, or whatever he is. He’s been under observation for the past three weeks. His name, apparently, is Anders Grunwalski.’

Mackharness rummaged among the papers on his desk and
produced a photograph, which he handed to Box. ‘That’s the man,’ he said. ‘I don’t know him, but you may have seen him before.’

It was not a portrait study, but a candid image of a man standing at a coffee stall, a man in the process of handing over some money to the stall holder. The photograph had evidently been taken without the man’s knowledge. About thirty, thought Box, with a long, narrow face; good features, dark hair, respectably dressed. An artisan of some sort, perhaps. There was something earnest about his deportment.

‘No, I’ve never seen him before, sir. Or heard of him, either. He’s a new rogue for the gallery. I know where he is in that
, though: he’s standing near the opening to Hoxton Square where it turns off Bowling Green Walk in Shoreditch. What do you want me to do, sir?’

‘Do? I’m not sure that I want you to do anything, yet,’ Mackharness replied. ‘I’ve drafted a little plan of action for you tomorrow – you and Sergeant Knollys, that is – but I don’t want to waste your time over what may be a mere flash in the pan. You see, the security of tomorrow’s event is entirely in the hands of the City of London Police. It’s nothing to do with us in the Metropolitan Force. Lieutenant Colonel Smith, their
, had very kindly furnished us with a complete plan of the route, together with details of his dispositions, and I’ve already put those out for consultation and information in Room 6 along the passage.’

‘So City will be out in force?’

‘Yes. There’ll be vast numbers of their officers stationed
along the routes and in the immediate vicinity of the bridge. And then, of course, the army will be out in force – the 2nd Norfolk, the 8th Hussars, the good old 3rd Grenadiers, and the 1st and 2nd Life Guards. It’s all supposed to be pomp and pageantry, Box, but of course it’s really preventive security. Very clever, you know.

‘However, City has agreed with our assistant commissioner
that this business of Grunwalski should be left to the Metropolitan Police, and I want Sergeant Knollys to accompany a special detail provided by Southwark Division, who are going to secrete themselves in the first boiler room of the Tower Bridge. The information gathered by “J” reveals that the attempt to blow up the bridge will be made by the placing of an infernal device in the boiler room nearest to the Surrey end of the bridge approach. Knollys will be there to render any assistance
. As soon as you’ve left me this morning, I’ll make the necessary arrangements.’

‘And me, sir?’

‘Well, Box, I want you to take up a position on the roof of Carmody’s Wool Depot at the end of Pickled Herring Street, tomorrow, and survey as much of the scene as possible. Take some powerful field-glasses with you. From that height you should be able to see all the southern approaches to the bridge, and a good part of the bridge itself. Keep a watching brief, and stay alert for anything suspicious. You may see this Anders Grunwalski approach the scene, or you may spot an accomplice. Be up there on Carmody’s roof by ten o’clock tomorrow morning, and leave as soon as the Royal personages leave. I think that’s all, Box. It’s not a great affair, but it would be no bad thing if Scotland Yard were involved.’

‘If that’s all, sir,’ said Box, ‘I’ll go downstairs and tell Sergeant Knollys about it.’

‘I’ve already told him,’ Mackharness replied. There was a slight smirk of satisfaction on his face as he added, ‘Sergeant Knollys was here on the dot of seven-forty-five.’

Arnold Box rose to go. The guvnor was entitled to his little victory. As he turned towards the door, Mackharness put out a hand to stop him.

‘Don’t go yet, Box,’ he said. ‘Sit down there for a while longer. I shall be there tomorrow, you know, as a guest of my friend Lord Maurice Vale Rose. We shall be sitting in the northern pavilion
that they’ve put up, running up from Tower Hill to the north end of the bridge. I’ll be there with Lord Maurice at about ten thirty.’

The superintendent stopped speaking, and rested his chin on his hand. Box saw an expression of wistful sadness fall like a shadow across his superior’s face. He sat in silence, content to wait for Mackharness to speak. The old floorboards creaked and settled, and Box could hear the muffled footsteps of other police officers treading the many corridors and passageways of King James’s Rents.

‘I can’t help thinking, Box, of ten years ago,’ said the
at length. ‘The thirtieth of May, 1884, when we had the Fenian dynamite outrage just over the way in Great Scotland Yard. It was a little after nine o’clock in the evening when the bomb exploded, blowing out the front wall of the police station. I was there at the time, calling upon Inspector Robson of the CID. The noise of that explosion reminded me of the cannon in the Crimea….

‘There were other explosions and alarms that night, Box, which make the whole outrage stay in my memory. I don’t usually
, as you know, but this news of an attempt on the bridge tomorrow – well, it brings it all back to me. These people can only destroy, never create….

‘Well, there it is. Get down there tomorrow, Box, and keep a weather eye out for villainy on the bridge. For the rest, we can leave everything to the City of London Police.’


Arnold Box walked thoughtfully down the stairs and pushed open the swing doors of his front office. He was assailed by the smell of stale toast and coffee, which mingled none too subtly with the pervading odour of inefficiently burnt gas from the rickety mantle suspended from the ceiling. The gaslight burned night and day throughout the year in Box’s office, because full daylight never penetrated beyond the vestibule of the old building. The office was always cold, which was why a small fire was burning in the grate, even though it was the end of June.

Sergeant Knollys, who had been attacking the fire with a poker, looked up as Box entered, and treated him to a deferentially mocking smile.

‘Nice to see you, sir,’ said Knollys. ‘It was very pleasant weather earlier on!’

‘You cheeky man,’ Box replied, sinking gratefully into his chair at the cluttered office table. ‘I’ve greeted the rising sun, Sergeant, more times than you’ve had hot breakfasts. There’s a smell of toast in here. Is there anything to eat?’

Jack Knollys, thought Box, was looking even more gigantic than usual that morning. Smartly dressed, as always, with
yellow hair and an engagingly ugly face, he was an intimidating man at the best of times, his appearance rendered even more fearsome by the livid scar that ran across his face from below the right eye to the left corner of his mouth.

‘Didn’t you have any breakfast, sir?’ asked Knollys.

‘No, I didn’t. I got up late, by reason of having been out at that raid on the Bolt brothers’ den at Highgate. I was there till after three. That’s why I got up late. I fair ran all the way up Fleet Street, and stopped for a cup of coffee at a stall on the corner of Lancaster Place. “’Ere, guvnor”, said the man, “you’ll scald yer stummick if you drink it orf like that!” “There are worse things than a scalded stomach, my man”, I replied. Meaning Old Growler, you know. And sure enough, he was lying in wait for me on the landing, as usual.’

Knollys lifted a battered coffee pot from the hob, and poured what coffee remained into a chipped enamel mug. He set it down in front of Box, and pushed a biscuit tin across the table.

‘That’s the best I can do, sir,’ he said. ‘Did Mr Mackharness tell you about tomorrow?’

‘He did, Jack, so sit down for a minute, and let’s talk about this business of the mysterious bomber. Mr Mackharness tells me that you’re to go with a detail from Southwark to lie in wait for this madman, Anders Grunwalski.’

Box removed the photograph from his pocket, and put it on the table.

‘Unless I’m very much mistaken, Sergeant,’ Box continued, ‘that picture was taken by Detective Inspector Fitzgerald of “J”. He shares my interest in the use of photography in the solution of crimes. It was he who unearthed this Anders Grunwalski.’

Jack Knollys stirred uneasily in his chair, but said nothing.

‘Ah, so you’ve heard about Bobby Fitz,’ said Box. ‘He’s a renowned expert on the doings of the Fenians, with a sideline in anarchists. He doesn’t often stir from his patch in Bethnal Green, but he knows all kinds of things. The trouble with Mr Fitzgerald, though, is that he has his own ways of obtaining information, some of which could get him into trouble, to put it mildly.’

‘I’ve heard about that, sir,’ Knollys replied. ‘Apparently it’s something that everybody knows, but that nobody speaks about.’

‘That’s right, and I’m only mentioning it to you because we’re alone here in the office, and there’s no one at present next door in the drill hall. But if Bobby Fitz has winkled out this man Grunwalski, then Grunwalski’s a genuine menace. I’ve never heard of him, and neither has the guvnor, but that doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous. He looks mild enough, doesn’t he? But you can’t go by looks. So when you’re on duty tomorrow in that boiler room under the bridge, watch out for yourself as well as for him. I want you back here in the afternoon, Sergeant, in one piece.’

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