IDEAS by Chris Green
‘The guy was a complete stranger,’ says Laura. ‘He just walked up to me and handed me the bag.’
‘And you didn’t think to say what are you doing or who are you?’ says Matt.
‘There wasn’t time. It all happened so quickly. I was taken completely off guard.’
‘And he just disappeared into the crowd.’
‘Well, yes. That’s exactly what happened. Look! It was busy. There were a lot of people around. People were coming out of the cinema. People were waiting for the 66 bus. And there was a large group of passers-by watching a street musician with a trumpet. He was very good. If you hadn’t gone into that games shop, you would have seen how quickly it all happened. You could have done something about it.’
‘So you were distracted. That’s what you are saying.’
‘That’s right, Matt. You know I like jazz. This was free jazz.’
‘And the fellow that gave you the bag was about average height, average build and was wearing blue or grey.’
‘That’s right. Even his balaclava was blue, or grey. Can you get off my case please?’
‘You do realise what this is, don’t you?’ says Matt.
‘But there’s nothing in it. I’ve looked. The bag is empty.’
‘I know that is how it looks. But does it feel empty?’ Matt says, handing her back the blue Ikea bag. ‘Here! Feel it. It’s very heavy.’
‘You’re right. It is heavy.’
‘There is something in there. Feel inside it.’
‘It got a shape. ….. But …. but it’s invisible. What is it?’
‘It’s an enigma. That’s what it is.’
‘What? One of those machines the Germans used in the war?’
‘Not exactly. …… But you might be on the right lines.’
‘Well, if that’s the case, someone’s going to want it. Someone’s going to be looking for it. Someone’s going to be looking for us,’ says Laura.
Laura is right. Someone is looking for it. Casey Boss of the Specialist Operations Detail is looking for it. His department is extremely security conscious. There is a lot at stake. How could the courier have been robbed like that? From his van. In broad daylight. Who were these cowboy logistics people? Weren’t there supposed to be two people on board when they transported sensitive cargoes? And how did the thieves get it into the Ikea bag?
Casey Boss has the van driver in his eleventh-floor office overlooking the river. He is trying hard to stay calm. He was recently hospitalised. Dr De’Ath warned him he must avoid stress. Losing his temper again will send his blood pressure through the roof. He is on powerful beta-blockers.
‘You do realise the gravity of the situation,’ Boss says, swilling a couple of extra Propranolol down with a glass of water. ‘You understand that we have just lost something staggeringly important.’
Zbigniew Wozniak has some difficulty in following him. There are several big words there. English is not even his second language. His job as he sees it is to get things from A to B. Even this can be a challenge sometimes. He has difficulty with some of the road signs. How was he to know that it wasn’t a real diversion sign? The next part of the scam was easier for Wozniak to understand.
‘Man’s face is covered,’ he says. ‘He says gun if I don’t give him.’
‘Where did covered man go?’ says Casey Boss, reduced to mirroring Wozniak’s pidgin English.
‘Have big black car,’ says Wozniak. ‘Drive fast.’
‘It’s a pity that you hit that car, George’ says Mavis Deacon. ‘Look at the time. We are going to be late for indoor bowls. And you know it was our turn to make the tea.’
‘I know, dear, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.’
‘Black ones are definitely harder to see, aren’t they? I think the last one you ran into was black.’
‘It was the other fellow’s fault, though, dear. He did pull out in front of me.’
‘That man certainly didn’t want to hang around to give you his insurance details, did he? Running off like that. Why do you think, he was in such a hurry?’
‘I don’t know. Perhaps he had to get that bag to the shops quickly. It was one of those bags, wasn’t it?’
‘I think it was an Ikea bag, George? Perhaps we could go to Ikea sometime. They do some very nice kitchenware.’
‘Yes. I believe it was Ikea, Mavis. And we will go one day. If we can find it. Anyway, I expect the police will be along in a minute. They will sort things out. His car took a bit of a knock though, didn’t it? They don’t make them like they used to.’
‘Why do you think he was wearing a balaclava, though, George? That seemed to me to be a little odd. Especially if he was going to the shops. The security people in the shops might think that he was a criminal with a gun, who was going to rob them.’
‘I’m sure there’s a rational explanation, dear. And anyway, he’s bound to be on CCTV cameras somewhere.’
Matt and Laura are in Café Baba, a small establishment run by a Moroccan family down a discreet alley, away from the main shopping centre. They have gone there to get away from the hubbub and to take stock of their situation. Matt feels inside the bag. What can possibly account for its weight?
‘I think it might be changing shape,’ he says.
‘You mean like it’s alive?’ says Laura, nervously.
‘Kind of. …… Not exactly. …… I don’t know. Have a feel.’
‘No, thankyou! I’ll take your word for it,’ says Laura, grimacing. ‘Look Matt! Enough is enough. We have to get rid of it.’
‘What do you suggest we do with it then?’ says Matt. ‘We can hardly go to the police with it, can we?’
‘Can we not? Why’s that?’
‘Don’t you think they might find us a little suspicious, handing in a blue Ikea bag with an invisible object inside? A heavy invisible object that keeps changing shape, no less. I really don’t think they would be likely to understand. A man handed it to my wife in the street. No, she hadn’t seen him before. No, we did not get a look at his face. He was wearing a balaclava. They would detain us as aliens or something.’
‘I suppose so, but that seems a bit irresponsible.’
‘Wait! Don’t you have a friend who is some sort of scientist, Matt?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘The one with the multicoloured framed spectacles.’
‘Oh, you mean Theo. No. Theo’s a prosthodontist. That’s basically a dentist. I don’t think that’s quite the same.’
‘What about the one who works for MI5?’
‘Oh, Hank. You’re talking about G4S, not MI5. Hank works for G4S. Used to be called Group 4. He’s a night security guard at a building site.’
‘Well. Perhaps you could come up with a suggestion, but we’re not taking it home.’
Casey Boss realises he has an emergency on his hands. He must not let the situation escalate. There is no telling what harm could be done. He leaps into action. He quickly puts a number of his people on the streets to requisition CCTV footage from cameras over a distance of several square miles. Freeman and Willis send him film of the crash at the Cross Hands crossroads. He plays the footage. The white Skoda ploughs into the side of the black BMW. A hooded gunman gets out of the Beamer and runs from the scene. An old couple slowly emerge from the Skoda.
‘Doddery old farts like that shouldn’t be allowed on the roads,’ he says to his colleague, Jagger. ‘Look at him, he’s about eighty. He’s got a white stick. He’s probably blind.’
The gunman with the blue Ikea bag heads in the direction of the shopping district. It is strange, Boss thinks, how little notice people seem to take. It is as if they are all too used to seeing armed men in balaclavas running through the streets with heavy Ikea bags.
Boss moves his focus to footage from a bank of sixty-four cameras located in the centre of town in the comms suite of the municipal building. He is able to witness the masked man’s progress through the town on multiple cameras, past BetFred and BetterBet, past the Hungarian supermarket, past the bank of posters advertising Killing Joke’s reunion concert, through the park where the street drinkers assemble, into the square, past the fountain of Poseidon and into the smarter part of town. He passes the 66 bus stop by John Lewis, but then it is not clear where he goes. He disappears into a crowd of people that are watching a weathered-looking jazz trumpeter with a hunched back in a black coat and black trilby hat. It is unusual for a street musician to draw such a crowd. Jazzman’s audience grows by the minute. With the movement of the crowd, it is difficult to see what is going on. There is no sighting of the masked man emerging from the melee.
Boss tells Jagger to put out the word to bring the jazz trumpeter in for questioning.
There are no further sightings. He hopes that as the day wears on, there will be more on the CCTV footage to view and that other witnesses come forward. Some public-spirited citizen must have noticed a man wearing a balaclava weighed down by an Ikea bag. Surely. Perhaps he went into a shop. Perhaps one of the local premises is a front for some clandestine operation. Perhaps a number of the shops are fronts for clandestine operations. A lot of ethnic traders have moved in lately. He instructs his team to question all the traders in the area, threaten them if necessary.
Meanwhile, the jazz trumpeter too has disappeared. He has somehow avoided Boss’s men, who are now all over the west side of town. With his gear packed into a makeshift box trolley, he is making his way to Café Baba. He likes to relax here with a slice of orange and almond cake and a glass of mint tea, away from the afternoon crowds. Ahmed will usually have some mellow jazz playing. They might even have a bit of a jam later in the back.
Matt and Laura are already there, discussing what to do with the bag. It is a quiet time of day at Café Baba and they are the only customers. The Gaggia machine is switched off. There is a faint smell of hashish. Behind the counter, Ahmed and his younger brother, Youssef, are sharing a pipe. A tune by Mulatu Astatke’s Black Jesus Experience plays gently in the background. East African beats. This is free jazz. All about ideas, inspiration and improvisation.
Ahmed notices that there is a little tension at Matt and Laura’s table. Their voices are raised. Perhaps its the food. Maybe they are not familiar with Moroccan delicacies. Perhaps the briouats or the kefta wraps are not to their liking. They do not seem to have touched them. He ambles over to their table to see what the problem might be. In his djellaba and babouche slippers, his movement is hushed, so Matt and Laura do not hear his approach. They are facing the window. They appear to be in the middle of an argument.
‘I think we need to find out what it is,’ says Matt. ‘Before we make a decision.’
‘I want it as far away from me as possible,’ says Laura. ‘It’s gross.’
‘Someone might offer a reward for its safe return.’
‘How do you even think of these things? Matt. Where do you get these ideas from? Sometimes I think you live in a parallel universe. It’s a bloody Ikea bag, for God’s sake.’
‘But a mysterious Ikea bag.’
‘We’re getting rid of it.’
‘We could put in a storage unit or a locker at the station until we find out more.’
‘But Laura …….’
‘Matt! Matt! Look!’ says Laura, grabbing him by the arm. ‘I swear the bloody bag is breathing.’
Ahmed follows her gaze to the inlaid leg of the walnut table. He notices the blue bag does look as though it’s breathing. It appears to be edging its way across the mosaic floor tiles. It has moved several inches. He is about to remark on this, but at that moment, Chet appears at the door with his gear. Chet comes at about this time every day after he has played his pitches in the town. He is struggling a little today. He is not getting any younger. Ahmed goes over to help him with his cart.
‘We’ve found him, boss,’ says Freeman.
‘Who?’ says Boss. ‘Speak up, man!’
‘Sorry. It’s a poor signal. …… Is that better?’
‘What is it, Freeman?’
‘We’ve found Jazzman, sir. He has been caught on CCTV passing the horologist’s in the old town. He’s gone down one of those alleys with some equipment. Willis thinks he might be heading for Café Baba.’
‘Café Baba. It’s an African place.’
‘What’s the lowdown on it, Freeman?’
‘Could be a front for terrorist activity, possibly.’
‘What about the bag?’
‘He didn’t seem to have the bag, but perhaps it was packed away with his gear.’
‘Keep Jazzman there until I get there. Stay outside, for now, but keep a close eye. We’re not going to lose him again. …….. But I want to be the one to apprehend him. Bring the car round, Jagger!’
‘You asked me to remind you to take your tablets, sir.’
‘Quite, Jagger. Thank you. And let me have some of the others, the ones you got from your man, Zoot.’
Matt and Laura have put away their differences for the time being and realised that they are hungry. Perhaps it has something to do with Chet and Ahmed having sat themselves down at the next table. Chet and Ahmed are waiting for Youssef to bring the mint tea. They are listening to Miles Davis’s So What. It is a live version. Ahmed has turned the volume up a bit.
‘Jazz should be about breaking down conventions, experimenting,’ says Chet. He looks forward to these conversations. They affirm his dedication to the art. ‘I mean, it has to have energy, be a bit raw, come from inside. You know what I mean.’
‘Absolutely,’ says Ahmed. ‘You certainly get that with Miles. He doesn’t do pre-written chord changes.’
‘That’s right,’ says Chet. ‘Miles probably never played this tune the same twice. His improvised melodic lines are the basis of the harmonic progression.’
‘He’s a genius. Where does he get his ideas for improvisations from?’
‘I know. It’s like he opens the bag just before the show and grabs a handful of ideas?’
‘Some of these people you hear today on Jazz FM. It’s like you are stuck in a lift,’ says Ahmed. ‘This so-called smooth jazz. I mean, what’s that about? Smooth jazz is a contradiction in terms.’
They sit back to take in an improvised passage.
‘The pastries are delicious, by the way,’ says Laura, trying to make amends for their earlier lack of decorum.
‘Really tasty,’ says Matt.
‘Thank you,’ says Ahmed. He remembers the conversation that they were about to have before Chet’s arrival, the one about the bag. The big blue bag is still there under the table. It appears to have settled.
‘What is in the bag, by the way?’ he asks.
Casey Boss and Jagger arrive at Café Baba. Freeman and Willis are waiting outside.
‘How’s it looking?’ asks Boss. ‘Is jazzman in there?’
‘Yes,’ says Freeman. ‘He didn’t bring the bag, though, but a man and a woman were already there with it.’
‘So there’s more than we thought. What about the café owner?’
‘I think they must all be in it together,’ says Willis.
Casey Boss has not done a lot of fieldwork lately. He is suddenly racked with uncertainty. Shouldn’t Zoot’s meds be working by now, he wonders, to give him a little confidence?
‘What do we do now?’ he says.
‘We generally burst through the door pointing guns and shouting,’ says Freeman. ‘I’ve always found that to be effective.’
‘What are we waiting for then?’ says Boss.
The four of them make their entry in the recommended manner.
‘Nobody move!’ yells Jagger. He has brushed up on his commands.
No-one looks as if they were about to move. It’s as much as they can do to look around. They see so much street theatre, these days.
‘Stay away from the bag!’ says Jagger.
‘What’s the fuck’s going on?’ says Ahmed. His sentiments are echoed by the others. Eyes gradually focus on the Ikea bag. Whatever is happening, this is at the heart of the narrative.
Boss picks it up and examines it. He feels calmer now he has the bag. The meds are finally beginning to kick in.
‘Whatever is in the bag seems to have got everyone hot and bothered,’ says Ahmed.
‘Whatever’s in the bag! Whatever’s in the bag! You know perfectly well what is in the bag. And we are going to find out everything about your little operation here at Café Baba.’ says Jagger, producing several pairs of handcuffs.
‘I swear none of us has any idea what’s in the bag,’ says Matt.
‘Well let me tell you what is in the bag,’ says Boss, feeling magnanimous. Zoot’s stuff is a real mood changer. ‘The bag is full of …….. ideas.’
‘It’s what?’ says Matt.
‘A bag full of ideas,’ Boss repeats.
‘What are you all talking about?’ says Chet.
‘It’s a bag full of concepts potentially present to consciousness,’ Boss elaborates. ‘Ideas.’
‘Cool,’ says Chet. ‘A bag full of ideas, eh? Can I have a look?’
‘Stay back,’ says Jagger, pointing the gun at his head.
‘I will attempt to explain,’ Boss continues. ‘It is dangerous for too many people to have access to too many ideas. Ideas need to be carefully regulated, so it is necessary to keep them in a central repository. But it is also important to have a new idea now and then. New ideas generate investment. Even the most antisocial ideas generate an investment. Sometimes raw ideas need to be transported to another location in order to be developed. Different skill sets you understand, storage workers and visionaries. Earlier today, in transit, a delivery was hijacked and has ended up here in the blue Ikea bag.’
‘What are you talking about?’ says Chet.
‘The bag is empty,’ says Laura. ‘Or at least what is in it is invisible.’
‘Obviously, it’s invisible,’ says Boss. ‘Ideas are invisible.’
‘And heavy,’ says Laura.
‘Of course, it’s heavy. You don’t think ideas just come in through your internet browser, do you, or blow in gently on the prevailing south-westerlies?’
‘Anyway, you’ve got it all wrong,’ says Laura. ‘A hooded man ran up to me in the street while I was standing there watching the jazz and handed me the bag and ran off.’
‘What?’ says Boss looking round at Jagger. Has his colleague messed up again, he wonders?
‘Why do you think he did that?’
‘Panic, possibly. I don’t know.’
‘And I’ve been trying to get rid of it ever since.’
‘Well, am I glad you didn’t get rid of it?’ Boss says. ‘There are a billion embryos of ideas in that bag. Ideas in their raw form are the seeds of creation. Their value is immeasurable. Imagine if they fell into the wrong hands. We would have chaos. It is important, the general public doesn’t get the wrong idea. We need to get them to a secure location.’
Aren’t we going to arrest them?’ says Jagger.
‘Of course, man!’ Boss says. ‘The lot of them. We don’t want word of this getting out, do we?’
Copyright © Chris Green 2022: All rights reserved