Just something I'm playing about with, what do you think?
When I say I had inherited a flat, I had. But not in the strictest term that that implies, from a relative who had died. No, I used to go for a fag in Bloomsbury Square Gardens at lunch times and sit and read whatever book I was 'reading' at the time, and while sitting there one day the old guy who had been sharing my bench for the last couple of weeks spoke.
I was never a great conversationalist at the best of times and when on my lunch break I just wanted to clear my head, sometimes I was reading the book, or at least gave the appearance of reading the book while not really taking in anything that was written on the pages. It could have been a book on quantum physics or the latest best seller for all the attention I was giving it and, looking back, it was more of a defence mechanism than anything else. It was something to prevent people engaging with me or me engaging with them.
I had been working in an office as a clerk. I was 27 and had worked there for two years and was still a clerk. But, I couldn’t really complain as I had no real ambitions. I had been a mediocre pupil at school in Scotland and had run away to London when I was fifteen. It wasn’t that I had anything to run away from, my family were still there at the time, or at least my mother was and a brother and sister and while we were ‘poor working class’, we were in the same situation as everyone else, surviving day to day. But even at 15 I knew that there was going to be no job for me as all the factories were closing down. So I forged my mother’s signature on my sign up papers for ‘boy’s service’ in the Army and off I went. When my mother found out she threatened to have me sent back home, but as I pointed out to her that if she did, I would be straight off again, as there was nothing there for me, she relented and never said anything.
I spent the next ten years as an infantry soldier, promoted a couple of times and demoted a couple of times. Got shot, stabbed and crippled a couple of times, but recovered from all of them. When I wasn’t soldiering, when I had had my various incidents and was medically downgraded ,I was on ‘light duties’ which normally entailed admin work in the company offices for the company sergeant major, or in the stores or the armoury, and it was during those little soirees I learned to type, file and do general office duties.
When I got out after 10 years, I had accumulated a variety of skills, but, not ones that had a high demand in civvie street, apart from the general office dogsbody bit. I could drive, anything with an engine, any size, track vehicles as well. I could strip and assemble any infantry weapon blindfolded and was an excellent shot, qualified as a marksman and I was handy with a knife. I could creep about unnoticed in field jungle or desert and I could blend in, in a city street. I did a stint with intelligence after being noticed being able to pick up on certain information hidden in documents as a test that I wasn’t aware I was sitting! Apparently an officer in the regiment noticed something about me and decided to set me a little test reading some intelligence analysis reports; I picked out some information and highlighted it, and was seconded to a small intel unit for six months to analyse incoming information, interesting but boring, for me. While there I was asked to do a couple of things and was detailed with a team to shadow some people in London, Berlin and Paris. Languages came easy to me, so it was no problem and all I had to do was shadow, photograph where I could and write out detailed reports on movements and meetings. I ended up there for the next 8 years. At the end of my ten years I was asked to stay on, but I get bored easily and decided to leave.
Col Hicks, who I got to know while on secondment, asked what I was going to do. I had no idea. I certainly wasn’t moving back to Scotland. My mother had died while I was serving and there was nothing there for me. I had saved quite a bit of cash while serving. I liked to drink, back then, still do but not as much as then. But, there is only so much money you can spend on drink. I had never spent money on a holiday. Didn’t need to, I had been all over the world with the Army and while, from time to time I really had to earn my keep with some of the places I had visited and the things that I had to do, it was in effect like being employed with a holiday company; Germany, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Norway, America, Canada, Singapore Australia. I had relationships with women, and while I wined and dined them and even moved in with a couple of them, they lasted as long as I was in the country or area, and then they and I moved on, no regrets.
So, honourable discharge and a bank account with £40k in it, not a lot but at least it was a cushion. Col Hicks knew that I wasn’t going to be looking for much and suggested that I call on a friend of his who had publishing house on Great Russell Street. I asked him, “Is it a cover,” I knew what he was like, sneaky. He replied, “No, but Kirkus is an old friend from military circles, he took a degree in psychology and did a lot of profiling for us, when needed. He looks after people for us, normally people who need looking after, but others too, people like yourself Jason, people who have served us well, but who are not in need of special care, who just need a job to tide them over until they decide what they want to do. He will expect you to work but, it is not demanding and he will understand if you suddenly decide to up sticks for something else. And,” here it comes I thought, “it may well be that we may call on you from time to time if we have someone we need looked at, if you have nothing better to do for a couple of days, and you will be well remunerated for any work you do for us, cash in hand, but all the appropriate paperwork will be in place to ensure there are no problems with HM Revenue, if you know what I mean.” So there it was then, they didn’t mind me leaving but they might want to use my skills from time to time.... I didn’t mind. If Kirkus was going to pay me to do an easy job filing his paperwork, and I could get the odd backhander from HMG for doing things that I was particularly good at, what the hell, and that’s how I had been living for the last few years.
Kirkus, as it turned out, published a quarterly journal on psychology with contributors from all around the globe, but his main source of income was from publishing text books, don’t ask, who would have thought you could produce so many of these things and make money from it, but he did. I think he also had translators who translated them into different languages as well for overseas sales and this was apparently a lucrative market. I know they cost a fortune, but then all text books do as I discovered when I signed up for a degree course in security and, coursework was fine and gave me no problems and was into it by two years when the boredom kicked in again, so £8k down and gave up. But, the thing I did notice was that every text book I had to purchase, cost a fortune, so maybe students do have a problem, complaining about the cost of their education today!
I was set to work in the archives and that’s where I was for the next few years, it suited. Monday through Friday 9 to 5 and no weekend work. Hicks did call on me from time to time. Usually a manila envelope handed to me by Kirkus, with the comment that I should use the locked shredder, the one that destroys sheets of paper into minute specks and was kept in a locked cabinet in the archive room, I was the only one who worked in archives, once I read the information, that’s all he would say apart from, “I’ll see you when you get back then.” I was never asked if I wanted the job, there was no mechanism, that I could tell, for saying no, although I wouldn’t and I hadn’t thought about it, the consequences of saying no I mean! I also knew, that if I wanted to I could disappear, whenever I wanted to. And anyway, each job came with a minimum of £10k. I was contacted once by the bank and HM Revenue about the payments made into my account, I told Kirkus and was never bothered again. I also made sure that the bulk of the money I had was salted away in a non UK account, just in case I had to disappear and there was a variety of safety deposit boxes around London and abroad with passports and emergency cash. I also know that Hicks, the sneaky bastard, was keeping tabs on me as he did let slip on one occasion that he was surprised that there was not more money in my bank account! I knew from that moment, or at least it confirmed to me that he was a sneaky bastard and that I was right to do what I had been doing and in making sure that I was never followed when I sneaked out of the country.
I guessed that when I stopped making the payments into my bank it got back to him, and he knew I would not keep those sums of money in the office or lying around. He probably guessed I had other arrangements, and as long as he was only guessing, no harm no foul. And I was too god for anyone to stick on my tail when moving around. The usefulness of the drama lessons in the amateur dramatics society paid off in terms of make-up and disguises when changing appearance.
So, this flat I had ‘inherited’. The old chap had been watching me for a couple of weeks, not long after I started going to the park which was a couple of weeks after I started working at Gowe’s publishing, as he sat on the bench with a tartan rug around his legs, didn’t matter what the weather was he had a rug around his legs. Eventually, other than the cursory and pleasant good day, we never spoke. After a couple of weeks though, he spoke. “Why do you pretend to read those books when you are in the Gardens, young man? I couldn’t help but notice that you have had a different book every week, for the last three weeks, giving the impression that you are reading a book per week, but that you aren’t actually reading them. You are good though, you turn pages regularly and in the time it would take someone of average reading ability to read and move on, and I even notice that occasionally you will turn back a page, just to confirm a point, before moving on again. But, again you are not actually reading, are you?”
I looked at him, he continued, “And I noticed that there are plenty of smokers, like you in the park, yet you are the only one who does not dispose of his cigarette butt on the ground or in the waste bins either. Neither do you dispose of your sandwich packet or empty coffee cup in any of the bins, you take with you, exactly what you brought in, why is that!”
“I hate litter bugs” I responded. He smiled, it was a warm smile, he might be getting on but there was life in the eyes yet and they were slate gray with flecks of green that sparkled. They were the type of eyes that you wouldn’t want to see in a woman, if only because, once she caught you in the glare of them, you would be hooked. “I hardly think that that is the reason, no I suspect that there is something more to it than that. In fact, I’ll wager,” he continued, “ that you are a very careful person. You are a person that leaves very little trace of his comings or goings and that it would take a considerable amount of resources to determine that you were anywhere, where you did not wish people to know that you had been!”
“Do you read?” I asked in return. “As a matter of fact I do.” He responded. “I read a lot, not while I am here taking the air, but in my apartments” I considered this while he waited for my response, “taking the air” and “apartments”. He was clearly of a certain era, using phrases like that. “Crime and thriller, eh” I said. “As a matter of fact, yes” he replied and before I could add anything, ..................................