Shrouds of Grey

It was 1915, and though we weren't in the war yet, the United States and United Kingdom were secretly sending envoys back and forth as we discussed buisness pertaining to the Great War. That's what I was then, in fact it was my first assignment, and to this day those screams haunt my memory, urging me to tell the tale of what happened that day in May all those years ago.

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2. A Simple Assignment

~April 27th, 1915

   Stepping out of the Ford he had driven for the past few days he slammed the door, adjusted his collar and walked towards the Capitol Building. Washington looked lovely in the late spring, with everything in bloom save for the cherry blossoms which had already begun to shed their first round of porcelain and rosy colored pettels. Yes, indeed this was a wonderful time to be a tourist in this fine nation's capitol, however, he was not a tourist, he was a military man called forth from New York to receive a briefing at the nation's capital.

   "I'm cutting it close," he mumbled to himself as he hurried along, having briefly examined a small clock that stood at the corner of where he'd parked his car. Breaking out into a mild jog, which in an officer's suit wasn't the easiest task. Almost immediately, his body, unable to effectively purge the heat that was building up in him began to profusely sweat. "Ofcourse, like I really needed this..." he grumbled to himself as he kept going. 

   "Ah, George! There you are!" called the brassy tone of a slightly bulbous man in a petticoat. He was leaning up against a railing as he joyfully drew a long puff out of the cigarette he was enjoying as the thinner man caught up to him. "Well, I see you made it here in a timely manner.." he laughed as he stomped out the butt of the cigarette and began to briskly walk beside him.

   The two men walked briskly up the steps and into the building; moving through the central atrium and down a series of small passageways, the pair soon found themselves in a small office with sea foam green walls, and a small oak desk and chair. 

   "Afternoon gentleman," called the firm voice of a stout man in glasses as he slipped in behind them. Taking his seat behind the desk, he adjusted his glasses before starring squarely at the two of them. "Well, are you gonna just sit and gawk at me, or are you going to take your seats?"

   "Ofcourse, Mr. Garrison," George stated briskly as he seated himself.

   "For Christ's sake, Joe, close the damn door," he motioned to the more bulbous of the men. Leaning back in his chair, he shoved the door, not returning to his normal position until there was the definitive 'click' to signify that the door had indeed been closed securely. 

   "There, happy Garrison?" Joe answered in a dry tone, lighting another cigarette as he went. There was a moment of pause as Joe exhaled a long puff of ash and smoke through his nostrils. Finally though, George broke the silence.

   "So, Mr. Garrison, may I ask why you've called me away from my post?" he inquired, shifting slightly as the man redirected his glare at him. 

  "Simple, I need someone to run an important errand for me," he answered as he slid an envelop over the desk's surface in the direction of the young man. "You see, Mr. Callahan, though we won't publicly admit it, our country is already involved in the war over in Europe." Leaning back as George opened the envelope and examined its contents, Mr. Garrison continued, "Indeed, from shipping cargo and supplies, to even sending envoys back and forth, conducting buisness that, publicly, we cannot do. Damn, pansies in Congress won't open their eyes to the inevitable." 

   "So where do I fit in, sir?" he asked, "I'm only fresh out of basic training at the academy, I'm a soldier, not an agent after all..." Sliding a document and pen over the surface of his desk again, Mr. Garrison smiled slightly.

   "Not anymore you're not," he spoke flatly, "Sign those papers and you'll become an official agent of the OSS and, an envoy between the US and good old England across the pond."

   "Why?"

   "Your intelligence is far superior to that of a common soldier," the man answered, "Your code reading skills are infallible, your ability to read and write in French, and German is quite helpful in our needs."

   "That being that of a strategist?"

   "Indeed, so, will you take on the task?" He thought heavily on the notion for a bit, but, eventually he gave in and signed on to the transfer; he didn't relish potentially being on the front lines of a war anyways.

   "There you go," he answered, sliding the paper back across the desk. Spreading the contents of the envelope onto the desk, he began to piece things together. "My first job is that of an envoy then?"

   "You'd be correct," the Secretary of War answered, again adjusting his glasses. "Those tickets there are for a Cunarder that'll be leaving port from New York on May 1st. Your job is simple, deliver these documents to our contacts in London once you make land fall, exchange information with scent contacts and return home; a simple assignment."

   "The RMS Lusitania, huh?" George muttered, "I think I've heard of her before, she's the current holder of the Blue Ribbon for fastest Atlantic crossing, right?"

   "Since her maiden voyage in 1907 I believe," the man answered.

   "No, I believe her sister, Mauretania is the current holder," Joe cut in as he extinguished the cigarette in the ash tray on the Secretary's desk. 

   "That aside gentleman," the Secretary cut in again, "You'll be on that ship when she leaves, your destination is London. Here's your tickets for the ship, and the tickets for the connecting train from Liverpool to London." Standing up, he handed Joe a brown, leather shoulder bag, "The classified documents and letters are in here; keep them safe." The Secretary gave a quick salute, to which, both men returned the gesture and then departed from the office as they headed back into the outside world.

   ***************

   It was some time later, when the two men were on the road, heading back to New York that George popped the question.

   "So Joe...?" he began, "How long have you been an agent?"

   "Since I first met you when you were coming in as I was graduating," his friend answered, "You know how the government is with secrets though." He laughed a bit as he finished his sentence.

   "Yeah, I do now..." he trailed off, his eyes reconcentrating on the road ahead of them. Thoughts swirled in his mind, spawned from the events of the day that had occurred. "Something doesn't feel right," he thought to himself briefly, before quickly disposing of the felling by shrugging it off as perhaps just the jitters brought on by his new job.

   "Hey, you alright there, George?" his friend asked.

   "Yeah, just a bit overwhelmed by all that's happened is all," he responded. He felt the heavy thump of his friend's hand on his shoulder; his way of saying that he understood how he was feeling.

   "Before we leave, I'll buy you a drink or two," he smiled, "Settle your nerves it will." He reclined back for a second before leaning over again. "Now, can ya pull over? I gotta take a major leak."

   "Yeah, sure," he answered as he pulled the Ford off to the side of the road. Slowly getting out from his side of the car, Joe quickly mumbled that he'd be right back before he vanished into the woods to take his leak in peace.

   "Just stay calm, George," he mumbled to himself as he lit up his own cigarette, "All will be alright, it's your first assignment. Just delivering some papers is all, a simple assignment, right...?"

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