Message from the past.

Image by Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay 

A very boring day at the office just got a little more interesting. I mean, who actually enjoys ammunition audits, I mean apart from the armoury boys, but …enough said… Special Branch have just handed over a Dead drop spike that was found in Hyde park. They were in a hairs breadth of destroying it with a controlled explosion when someone recognised it for what it was.

The spike is essentially 8inch hollow bakelite tube with a point at one end and a screw cap at the other. To be fair to Branch, they do look like munitions of some kind. This however, is old school spy craft, real cloak and dagger stuff. Spikes were used as a means of indirect communication between handlers and field agents.

A message was placed in the tube which was then hidden in an accessible  location, you literally just pushed it in the ground out of sight. The handler would then indicate that a message was waiting, usually by placing an innocuous chalk mark somewhere the agent would see it in their daily routine. This works equally well in reverse and avoids direct contact between the handler and agent.

The location for a drop was usually a public space, anywhere that someone could go without arising suspicions, but not too crowded, parks being ideal.The alternative is a live drop in which the two parties would actually meet. This is still only done in emergency’s or when the information has to be retrieved immediately.

Everything handed into the office goes through clearing and decontamination, even if it’s come from our own side. The technical department has done all the hard stuff, X-rays, explosive tests and chemical sniff, the works. The rest is all down to Neil and Alan. 

Neil has photographed the spike from every conceivable angle and is pouring over the results with a magnifying glass. Moving to the computer, he brings an image up on the main monitor. He flicks back and forth between a number of black and white x-ray images, before sitting back with a furrowed brow. There appears to be a void running the length of the tube, not the main tube which is to be expected, but a secondary that runs parallel to the main. The image isn’t as clear. He does his table tapping thing. No one moves or makes a sound, a genius is at work.

Alan sits looking at the spike, as if staring intently at it will somehow make it reveal its secrets.

“Anything interesting on x-ray ?” He asks not moving his gaze for a second.

“Nothing…….probably not booby trapped… can’t rule out an acid vile…if we know who made it, it would help.” 

This gets his attention.

“What ? Acid vile… as in..…Raiders of the ark….. face melting….. thing?”

“Thats what I’d have done. Pressurised the whole thing….make it spray out.”

  We all look at Neil before moving away from Alans desk.

Alan looks at Neil.

“The likelihood of the that ?”

Neil scratches his chin and thinks for a minute. You can cut the tension with a knife.

“Not likely if it’s Russian, they never were that imaginative, that rules out East Germany as well……but if it’s Korean….now there’s a thought….trouble is, all these things look the same…….you’re probably safe….”



We hold our collective breath.

As nonchalantly as one can, when dressed in a zip up cardigan, Alan slowly unscrews the the end cap, opens the spike and pulls out a single sheet of paper.

“Boring….” He exclaims holding it up to there light. “It’s a 1950’s book cypher, going on the paper texture and grade…used an Imperial typewriter.” 

He places the paper on a viewer and adjusts the focus, before changing the light spectrum. Differing colours are often able to highlight differences in the ink used. In this case, however, nothing , just the same uniform tone across the page.

The paper is a mass of seemingly random numbers relating to pages, lines and words of a chosen book. All the recipient had to do was look up the corresponding words and decipher the message. Without the book it’s just a meaningless page of numbers.

“Would you have preferred the acid?” I ask peering over his shoulder.

“Would have preferred biscuits…..but you can’t have everything.”

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