Andrea V is a freelance agent.
"V" is, of course, not his real last name or even last initial. His true identify remains a mystery because, as he explains in the opening words of his first recorded adventure: "The initials under which I write these confessions are not those of my real name, which I could not disclose without exposing myself to the revenge of formidable enemies."
In describing his adventures he cautions "If I should be found to err on the side of frankness, I can only plead in excuse that I have never yet betrayed the confidence placed in me by the various Government and illustrious families which have employed me from time to time." He further adds, "The late Prince Bismarck once honoured me by saying: 'To tell secrets to Monsieur V is like putting them into a strong box, with the certainty that they will not come out again until one wants them to.'" Having said that, he then proceeds to tell all sorts of confidences.
V explains his past by telling the reader "By birth I am a citizen of the United States of America, being the son of a Polish father, exiled on account of his political opinions, and a French mother. From my childhood I showed an extraordinary aptitude for languages, so that there is now scarcely a civilised country outside Portugal and Scandinavia in which I am not able to converse with the natives in their own tongue. At the same time, I was possessed, ever since I can remember, with a passion for intrigue and mystery."
We learn also that at age 16, working at an insurance company in an office, V decided he wanted more and "ran away" to try for a job with the Pinkerton Police. "Although my youth was against me, my phenomenal comand of languages turned the scale in my favor and I was given a trial. Very soon I had opportunities of distinguishing myself in more than one mission to Europe, ont he track of absconding criminals; and in this way I earned the favourable notice of the heads of the detective police in London, Paris, Berlin, and other capitals".
It was after some time that he decided to leave the Pinkertons and set up his own company in Paris where he has "been employed at one time or another by nearly every Government in the world, and my clients have included nearly every crowned head, from the late Queen Victoria to the Dowager Empress of China. I have been sent for on the same day by the Ambassadors of two hostile Powers, each of which desired to employ me against the other."
This wide range of clients is attested to by the tales he relates, showing an assortment of people from far different countries and occupations needing his services. Some are practically fawning when entreating him to work for them while others are downright obnoxious and dismissive of his ethics even as they seek to lure him to their cause. Through it all, V remains (usually) unprovoked. He tells one particularly abrasive suitor, "each of us has his own part to play. The soldier fights with the enemy in the open field; the man of my profession has to encounter the foes who burrow underground."
Many of the people from whom V will learn the intelligence he was hired to gain are people high up in government but not all. Having reaches in all levels of authority was something V was especially proud of for he could talk with secretaries and Secretaries alike and if one didn't know the facts, the other might. Quite often this meant greasing a palm and V was known to remark "the higher one goes, the more expensive it becomes". V is always careful that it is not he who pays the bill.
Most times V is approached by a would-be client and offered an assignment which he might ponder for a bit and then take the job. Other times, he finds himself intrigued by something and he would want an answer but was too much a businessman to work for nothing so he would have to spend time finding a party willing to pay him to do the work he was already set on doing. One amusing case of this was when he used an offer of a job to "disentangle a miserable intrigue of the harem [of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire]" and he used that unpleasant work "more suited to a private detective than to a man in my unique position" to gain an audience with the Sultan to convince him to hire him for the job V already wanted to do.
While V might display more than once his unspoken set of rules concerning who he might take as a client, he is usually very open to all takers. In one case he put it in a straight-forward way with "Provided I am sufficiently well paid for my time and trouble, it makes no difference to me where I go, or whether there is anything for me to do when I get there. It must be always understood that I am at liberty to refuse this business, if I choose, without assigning any reason, and that my refusal will make no difference to my charge for the journey itself."
V has his own set of rules by which he operates and he follows them strictly. He is never false with his clients; though he reserves the right to hold back things as he chooses, he will never openly lie to them. Those who have not employed him, on the other hand, should expect to be deceived at every turn for one thing that is very impressive about V is his ability to come up with a total falsehood at the blink of an eye and to pull the deception off like a stage actor. Observing him at work in this regard can bring a smile to the reader's lips.
Violence is not a normal part of V's m.o. He is a man of action but rarely does that result in harm to anyone but he most definitely is not adverse to it when needed. At one point he knocks a man out to keep him from sounding an alarm. In another, he pointedly runs over a man who tried to stop his car, all with a tad remorse but no hesitation.
Europe at the turn of the 20th Century had not yet seen introduction of powered flight. Telephones were gaining in popularity but had hardly reached the masses yet. Telegraph ("cable") was the means of long distance communication and V makes tremendous use of it. However, being a spy in those days was largely a matter of HUMINT (human intelligence) and that meant that V needed to be where the facts were. For that reason, he was an extremely frequent customer on the trains all over Europe and knew the schedules as well as the conductors well.
Since the adventures of V are told from his perspective, there is not much in the way of description for him but in the illustrations that accompany the tales, we see that V is in his mid-to-late 40s with a receding hairline giving him a pronounced widow's peak. He sports what appears to be a petite handlebar mustache. His attire, unless he is undercover, is tailored vested suits, often checkered or pinstriped, with a bow-tie. His demeanor, even in the presence of kings and queens, is polite nonchalance showing that while he is respectful to those in authority, he is not daunted by them.
Andrea V is a man who loves imparting his opinions and some of those, as well as the occasional comments by others, make for interesting reading. Below are some which caught my eye.
"Curiosity is the besetting weakness of a secret service officer."
"Of all men the gambler is the easiest to corrupt, because to him alone money is everything, and because there comes a time to every gambler when money is not to be had."
"An anarchist is little more than a Socialist who has gone out of his mind."
"The elaborate machinery of secret meetings, oaths, ballots, and so on has no existence except in the imagination of popular novelists"
"It is the curse of Anarchism that every one wants to have his own opinion."
"There is nothing a fanatic resents so much as reason, except ridicule"
"It is not an easy thing to guard a monarch against his will"
"When Russia openly declares herself a tyrant, it is difficult to believe she is dissembling."
"Russia has discovered that her conquests advance better under the cloak of peace"
"I have generally found the boldest game to be the most successful."
Regarding secret societies, "China is the one land in which such societies are truly formidable."
"The most powerful and reckless of ... Chinese societies assumed the most innocent and poetical names, as, for example, the dreaded brotherhood of the Waterlily, which deluged Southern China in blood."
Of Kaiser Wilhelm II, he said the man was "a ruler not inclined to take too low an estimate of his own consequence."
Said by a high Russian official, "No one will credit the British Government with intelligence enough to acquire knowledge of its enemies' intentions."
"It [is] better to be suspected of subtlety than nescience."
"I held my tongue. It is the art by which I have learned most of my secrets."
"The Russians do not dislike Englishmen, as individuals, in the way they dislike Germans."
"With what sophistries will a woman deceive herself where her heart is concerned! And how worse than useless is it to reason with her." (Ah, men, too!)
"The ways of women are proverbially difficult to calculate."
"Murder, red-armed and tigereyed"
"[V has] the heroism of soul to save the man you hate at the prayer of the woman you love."
In a conversation with a British Lord about his nation's intelligence organization, this short exchange:
V: "The Secret Service of Great Britain is the most scrupulously conducted in the world."
Lord __: "That means, I suppose, that it is the most inefficient?"
V: "It is worst paid."
Lord __: "We have acted in the belief that the British Empire was too strong to care about what its enemies were planning."
"I was amused to find that several of the secret agents in the service of the British Foreign Office were receiving much larger salaries from the Russian Government than from the one they were supposed to act for."
"In dealing with Englishmen ... a Bank of England note inspires more confidence than a testimonial from an Archbishop."