Benton 'Ben' Meredith Walters is an agent with American Intelligence.
I use that nebulous description because the name of the organization for whom Walters will go to work is not given because it does not have one, or at least his new boss admits he will not tell Walters. What he can say is that it is not the FBI or the OSS but it is still a part of the American government. Officially Walters works as an assistant for a Mr. Farnwell, Director of the 'Reference Research Bureau' but in truth Farnwell is not the boss's real name and whether the RRB actually exists is totally irrelevant since Walters never goes near any office with that name. Both the faux-Farnwell and the newly hired Walters like it that way.
He is not an operative when we initially find him in the first recorded adventure; he is working in an office at a bank, said space being so small "I had to go out into the hall every day to take my cigarettes out of my pants pocket". Guessing he was less than thrilled with his employment is a very safe bet. He had been an employee there before he was called away to serve in the military during the War and thought of himself as "a sucker" for having gone back to deal with "nothing but figures all day" - "some part of me had become fed up". That frustration ends as soon as we meet him as he tells off his supervisor and walks out.
That is when Walters, "six feet two inches and two hundred pounds of weakening tissue and mental lassitude", now out of a job and feeling wonderful about it, decides something a whole lot more exciting than another office job was needed to make him happy. He is 28 years old and single, healthy with "a football degree from a corn-fed college", fairly good looking with "a permanent blue-black five o'clock shadow and a nose twisted slightly toward left field". In the days spent unemployed but searching, he was "smart enough to spend the first half of each afternoon .. getting back into shape".
The ad in the paper that caught his eye - and did not promise more of the same as his last job - was looking for someone "young, muscular, restless, and intelligent". The interview process was best described as unique - socking your interviewer in the jaw usually will not get you hired but it helped with Walters. "Job filled" was the interviewer's comment to the remaining applicants, once he got back up.
Even more interesting is that when asked by his new employer how patriotic he is, Walters says he is "as patriotic as the next guy but I don't go around waving flags", ending that topic with "anytime they have a war they can come and get me. I'll be the guy under the bed with the cold chills". Strangely, he still had the job!
Walters' primary area of work is dealing with former Nazis who have not quite accepted their fight was over. A good number of them had, according to Walters' boss, escaped judgment by heading to neutral Spain where they were building towards another shot and it is the mandate of faux-Farnwell and Walters to stop them.
This assignment will start with a couple of apparently unrelated investigations and, interestingly, absolutely no training whatsoever. Even the assignments are presented, as Farnwell predicts, in the form of double-talking letters making it hard for unauthorized readers, and Walters himself, to discern the actual task.
This lack of preparation and the nonchalant way that Walters accepts it is fascinating and it quickly leads to unusual situations which will test Walters' tenacity and bravery, not to mention his sense of humor.
About that sense of humor, Walters has one that seems fine to him but which he admits is usually lacking "a kindred spirit" resulting in his being "a great thrower of lead balloons". Case in point, Walters learns that being quick with flippant responses to questions while tied to a kitchen chair will elicit unpleasant results - said loss of a tooth being something Walters will dwell on for some time, as does his tongue.
Back on that lack of training - or real explanation as to what he is supposed to be doing - Farnwell will have the decency to admit sometime later that he "needed a man in a hurry" but throwing said new guy into the deep end without preparation does seem unusual. Walters certainly feels that way as he at one point offers to quit with a "Pay me off and let me get the hell out. You guys are all nuts".
Walters' desire to get back into shape will prove to have been a smart one as he will find numerous instances where not being in condition could prove deadly, not the least case being that his office is a few stories up with no elevator. "I bounded up the first two flights, trotted up the next two, walked up the next three, and leaned on the wall outside my office door wondering if my breath should sound like Bert Lahr with asthma," he tells us. This was immediately followed with "I lit a cigarette".
Walters must seem a tad unhinged himself as he later admits, again to himself, that he was "employed by persons unknown .. to hinder, obstruct and discombobulate other persons unknown". Add to that the fact that after a couple of small but interesting assignments, he is given an assistant - "a charming blonde morsel named Hilda, last name unknown" who he is told "was the smartest one in the business - whatever the business is", and when he asked her straight out who exactly they were working for, "she tells me she wishes she could find out".
Hilda will go on to prove she is by far the better operative - certainly considerably more trained and experienced - but while she will have plenty of opportunities to look at Walters sideways, she helps keep him alive when things get dicey. And to be fair to Walters, he saves her as well.
- Sneaking into a house, Walters is discovered and says of the tenant holding an automatic on him, "He is smiling but the mouth of the gun isn't".
- Waking after being hit in the head with that gun, Walters observes, "My tongue being in a place where there had always been a tooth for as long as I can remember".
- Concerning an unnerving assailant, Walters admits, "I am not sensitive but that guy gave me the quick creeps".
- Of a woman that Walters learns will be working with him, she "smiled at me with what looked alarmingly like a species of amused tolerance".
- Regarding his new partner and the way she quickly shot down his advance and put him in his place, "Women under most circumstances should be kissed or punched heavily in the head".
- When Hilda has to dress seductively for an assignment, Walters observes, "Her skirt was so tight that I didn't see how she could sit down, and so short that I wanted to see her try it".