Out of the Bag by Chris Green
‘It didn’t occur to you that a two-year-old Mercedes Sprinter on sale in Toker’s End for less than two grand might be hot,’ Jonny Geezer says.
‘To be fair, we were strapped for cash, guv, and there wasn’t much around,’ Gandy says. ‘And time was of the essence.’
‘So, let’s get this straight. To do a knock-over, you saddle us with a dodgy set of wheels that the filth will be all over even before we start,’ Jonny says. ‘You might as well have just nicked one like other blaggers do. ……. What’s in the blue bag in the back there? Looks like one of those Ikea bags.’
‘It appears to be empty, guv,’ Gandy says. ‘The odd thing is, it weighs a ton. I could hardly move it.’
‘You’re such a wimp, Gandy?’ Jonny says. ‘Let me have a go.’
With a huge effort, Jonny manages to move the bag a few inches. While he is doing so, the bag appears to change shape.
‘It is as if the bloody thing is breathing,’ he says. ‘It seems to have a life of its own.’
‘I meant to tell you about that,’ Gandy says.
‘Then why didn’t you, man? I might have done myself an injury.’
‘What do you think it is, guv?’
‘It’s not someone’s shopping from Ikea, is it, Gandy? What was the fella that sold you the van like?’
‘Average height. Medium build. Dark hair. Didn’t take much notice, to be honest, guv.’
‘Not from outer space or anything, then?’
‘No perfectly ordinary guy. He had the registration document for the van. I gave him a fake name and address and handed him the cash and that was it.’
‘You’re sure it was a kosher registration document?’
‘Well, now you come to mention it, he seemed to want to get things over with quickly, like.’
‘Sorry to spring this on you so early, sir,’ Lennon says. ‘But there’s no easy way to tell you. Another bag has gone missing.’
‘From your serious expression, I take it you mean another blue Ikea bag,’ Inspector Boss says.
‘I’m afraid so,’ Lennon says. ‘Like the one you told me about.’
This is not the kind of news that Casey Boss of the Strange Occurrence Detail wants to hear first thing in the morning. His stress levels are already through the roof following SOD’s bungled inquiry into the phone signal hi-jack. And the fallout from the invisibility investigation. With so much weird shit going down lately and landing in his lap, it hard for him to keep up with it all. Doctor Hopper has ordered him to avoid stressful situations. He warned him that any more stress could prove fatal. He is on powerful beta-blockers which he supplements with black-market drugs. He is not sure he should even be at work. The trip up in the lift to his fourth-floor office these days is enough to raise his anxiety.
‘That was what started it all off. I was coping well before that, Lennon!’ Boss says. ‘Is that really your name? ….. What happened to Jagger?’
‘Jagger got shot, sir. Last month. Don’t you remember?’
‘Oh, that’s right. I remember now. Outside the tulpa research centre, wasn’t it?’
‘That’s right. What is a tulpa, sir? I’ve been meaning to ask.’
‘Never mind that now, lad. That’s one for Google. Give me the lowdown on this new business. We’d better get on to it. What do we know?’
‘The courier who was supposed to deliver this blue bag to the secret location used by the Department that we are not allowed to mention had his van stolen at 3.30 yesterday morning,’ Lennon says.
‘I see. And presumably said van hasn’t turned up,’ Boss says. ‘And the thinking is that the bag is packed with APIs, I take it.’
‘Apparent metaphysical impossibilities, Lennon. Anyway, APIs have huge value on the open market, so the bag will probably be in the hands of a rogue regime or terrorists by now, and that’s why we’ve been landed with the case.’
‘I suppose so, sir. And as you keep telling me, in these cases the first forty-eight hours is critical.’
‘I know. I know, lad. Just give me what we’ve got, will you?’
‘Would you like me to get you your meds, sir, and a glass of water?
‘We need to find out what this weird shit is, Gandy,’ Jonny Geezer says. ‘PDQ.’
‘What about talking to TeeJay?’ Gandy says. ‘You never know. Whatever it is in the bag might be worth money.’
‘He’s not going to buy something he can’t see, is he?’ Jonny says.
‘Brett and Bro?’ Gandy says. ‘They’re gullible. Especially Bro. I sold him his own Kawasaki bike once.’
‘I’ve got it,’ Jonny says. ‘Pete the Maj. He is the man to see. Pete’s a spoon bender. He knows about paranormal shit. He lives around here. Dulcimer Street. Pete will know what is going on.’
They drive the van around to Dulcimer Street. Pete the Maj’s house is a quotidian no-fines semi, distinguishable only by the bank of satellite dishes and the black flag flying on the flagpole outside. Pete answers the door. Jonny and Gandy exchange puzzled looks. In their world, men don’t often answer the door wearing full length red capes with marmosets perched on their shoulders.
‘Hi guys,’ Pete says. ‘I’ve been expecting you.’
They hadn’t phoned ahead. How could he possibly know they were coming, they wonder?
‘And what’s more, I know what exactly you have come about,’ Pete adds. ‘What you have is a bag full of concepts waiting to be realised. In a word, my friends, ideas.’
‘But it looks like there’s nothing in the bag,’ Jonny says.
‘What do you expect, Jonny? Ideas are invisible,’ Pete says.
‘But despite this, the bag is heavy,’ Gandy says. ‘It took the two of us to pick it up.’
‘Of course, it’s heavy,’ Pete says. ‘Ideas are often complex. You didn’t think they just came floating in through the kitchen window, did you? Or did you think you could download them from the Internet?’
‘If you can’t see them, how do you know what they are?’ Jonny asks.
‘Firstly, you need to know where they came from,’ Pete says. ‘I’m guessing by the look of you that you don’t know.’
‘Not as such,’ Gandy says.
‘Then you need to have the right equipment and the necessary skills to get them to materialise,’ Pete says. I’m pretty sure you are not going to have that.’
‘So without this equipment, no one can tell what it is,’ Jonny says.
‘Exactly,’ Pete says. ‘Perhaps now that you’re here, you might like to sing to my marmoset. She’s called Sacha. She’s very friendly.’
‘You wouldn’t like to hazard to a guess what the stuff might be, I suppose,’ Gandy says.
‘Many new ideas come from military sources, microwaves, GPS, 5g. All these are military in origin,’ Pete says. ‘The internet too originated in the military, along with lots of everyday things like disposable razors and superglue. So that’s where my money would be. ……. Although you wouldn’t think the military would transport the raw material in a blue Ikea bag.’
‘We’d better get the courier in here, Lennon,’ Boss says. ‘What did you say his name was?’
‘It’s a hard one to get your head around,’ his sidekick says. ‘Banana Petroleum or something like that. He’s Albanian, apparently. ……. Ah, here it is, Bajrami Pernaska.’
‘Let’s stick with Banana Petroleum. ….. OK! Get Petroleum in here this morning. He could well be in on it, don’t you think?’
‘It would certainly make our job easier if he were, sir.’
‘Look! If you joined the department because you thought it would be easy, Lennon, you’re in for a rude awakening. This isn’t the regular constabulary, lad. This is SOD. The Strange Occurrence Detail. You better be ready for all kinds of weird shit. None of it good or easy.’
‘I didn’t for a minute imagine it would be easy,’ Lennon says. ‘I knew there would be a lot to learn. I’ve not worked in metaphysical policing before. I have a mind games background.’
‘Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, eh, lad?’
‘Semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower.’
‘From old songs, lad. I thought you might know them.’
‘Before my time, I imagine, guv.’
Inspector Boss’s Albanian is not up to speed and Banana Petroleum’s English is not much better. It takes twenty minutes to establish that BP is a delivery driver for Safe as Houses Security and while the van he was using when it was stolen belonged to them, due to an oversight in planning, it had none of the firm’s livery. It was a plain white van.
‘I stop van for smoke,’ Banana Petroleum says. ‘When I return, van gone. In trouble now. Yes.’
‘You know what was in the van then I take it,’ Boss says.
‘Van gone,’ BP repeats. ‘In trouble now. Lose job.’
After an hour they establish that BP probably did not know what he was carrying, and the van was taken from outside the community centre on the Toker’s End estate, a notorious spot for petty criminals and drug dealers.
‘We’d better get around to Toker’s End, Lennon,’ Boss says. ‘Have you had any small arms training?’
‘Not really, sir,’ Lennon says. ‘Most of my work involved writing confusing copy for under-the-counter publications.’
‘Well, no doubt, these skills will come in useful,’ Boss says.
‘I don’t know how to tell you this, guv, but the bag seems lighter,’ Gandy says. ‘Like something has escaped.’
‘And how did that happen, Gandy?’ Jonny Geezer says. ‘I told you to keep an eye on it.’
‘I kept an eye on it. I didn’t let it out of my sight.’
‘How did that happen?’
‘A complete mystery, guv. I even made sure the CCTV was focussed on it. But I’ve played the footage back and there’s nothing to see. The hard disc has been wiped.’
‘That should be impossible. ….. Well. Never mind, Gandy. I suppose it’s a good thing in a way, seeing as the stuff in the bag was invisible anyway and we wouldn’t have been able to sell it.’
‘Shall I just ditch the bag then?’
‘To be on the safe side, we’ll hang on to it for now. With all this strangeness around, you never know.’
‘Before we rush off to Toker’s End,’ Lennon says. ‘Have you seen this splashed across the front of the paper? It says that all across the country, time is going backwards. In Brighton, it has gone back to Tuesday. In Swindon, it’s Monday last week and in Bristol, it has gone back to January.’
‘Let me have a look, will you?’ Boss says.
‘Here you go, boss.’
‘Don’t call me that, man. How many times?’
‘Nor that. Guv is for hoodlums and lowlife.’
‘God’s teeth! You are right, Lennon. It looks like time is on the blink. Looking at the locations they mention here, there doesn’t seem to be a pattern to it, although all the places are in the south of the country. I hope it’s not heading this way. We haven’t noticed anything different here yet, though, have we?’
‘I didn’t like to mention it, sir, but the hands of my watch seem to be going backwards.’
‘I see. Oh, my God! So they are. Not good, lad! I’ve got a bad feeling about this. It could well be connected to the disappearing bag. That’s why the bigwigs have got us on it. I imagine we will get a call from them shortly telling us to pull our fingers out.’
‘I’ve just had a newsflash come up on my phone,’ Lennon says. ‘It’s from Devon Live. It’s about 9/11. It says planes have crashed into the Twin Towers in New York. A newsflash. As if it’s just happened. Time must have gone further back down south.’
‘Have I got much of that stuff left, Lennon?’ Boss says.
‘You mean your meds, sir? Yes, there’s enough for a week or so. But, to be on the safe side, would you like me to order some more? I think I have your man’s number here. Is he really called Razor?’
‘Yes. I think you’d better. This could be a fraught investigation.’
‘Who do I speak to in SOD?’ the Home Secretary, Mercy Creech asks her PA, Dodd. Mercy is new to the job. She has only been in post for three weeks.
‘That would be Inspector Casey Boss,’ Dodd says. ‘Would you like me to get him on the phone?’
‘Yes. That would be good. What’s he like, this Boss?’
‘Well, he’s probably in his late fifties,’ Dodd says. ‘He appears to be a little vacant unless this is merely an affectation. But you’d have to say, he’s a bit dour. He’s always complaining how under-resourced SOD is. But don’t they all claim to be undermanned.’
‘Got you. SOD has lost a few of their officers lately, haven’t they?.’
‘Yes, Home Secretary. They had one taken out just last month. Jagger, I believe. Terrible business.’
Dodd keys in the number and hands the phone to Mercy Creech. Inspector Boss leaves it to ring for a while before picking up. He has a fair idea of what is coming.
‘Ah, Boss. Home Secretary calling. Good to make your acquaintance. I take it you are up to speed on the crisis.’
‘I’ve picked up the gist of it, yes.
‘Look! I’ve spoken to the Department that I’m not permitted to mention and they tell me that this matter is now Category XX. In a word, time is going backwards. Now, as I understand it, because just one bag of whatever it was went missing, this is only happening in certain places, mostly down south. In other locations, nothing has happened. In most parts of the country, it is still today. But the rupture in time could spread. How is it where you are?’
‘It’s just stared here, Home Secretary. Weird business. One minute, it’s dark and the next it’s light and then it’s dark again. At a guess, we are about three weeks back at the moment.’
‘I see. It’s gone so far that they are already back on dial-up in some places. In West Somerset, they say it has gone back to 1961.’
Boss wonders how they can tell. It probably always seems like 1961 in West Somerset, but he doesn’t say anything.’
‘We do need to recover the missing bag quickly,’ the Home Secretary continues. ‘Even then, it might be too late.’
‘I might need more personnel, Home Secretary. We’ve taken a bit of a hit lately, if you’ll excuse my pun.’
‘Yes, so I hear. We will look into it and be reassured, we are trying to get to grips with gun crime.’
‘And my new sidekick, Lennon is inexperienced in the field.’
‘Lennon, you say? Is that really his name?’
Casey Boss is always nervous about contacting Colonel Ж of the Department that cannot be named, but if they are to make any progress on the case, he realises he must do so now. To prepare himself, he takes a handful of the Razor’s designer supplements. He has no idea what they are, but they seem to do the job.
‘Ah, Boss,’ Colonel Ж says. ‘I was wondering when you would call. What’s it like where you are?’
‘Time is going backwards here. I don’t know how exactly it works but as far as I can tell, we are not going backwards with it,’ Boss says. ‘If you get my drift.’
‘It is one of those things that is difficult to predict with any certainty,’ the Colonel says. ‘Especially as nothing like this has happened before. Time is still going forward normally here, but, of course, this could change at any moment. The distribution seems to have happened more or less at random. I’m getting conflicting reports. There’s nothing uniform about the spread. In Swindon and Bristol, the first pictures of 9/11 are just coming through. Brighton is back in 1983 and the gay clubs have closed because no one has come out yet. And it’s gone back to 1913 in Windsor. They are worried about the military build-up in the Balkans.’
‘I’ve given the issue some thought,’ Boss says. ‘Off the top of my head, it would appear that we need to get to the depot where the van was loaded. And hope that time in this location has not gone too far back. Then, we can just load the bag or bags that were to be transported on a different van and perhaps that will change things back.’
‘Good thinking.’ the Colonel says. ‘I’m not sure it will work but it’s certainly worth a try. If I give you the location, can you get another van there quickly?’
‘I’ll get my man, Lennon on to it right away, Colonel,’ Boss says.
‘Lennon? Is that really his name?’ the Colonel says.
‘From what you said earlier, sir, I gathered we were on a tight budget, but guess what, I managed to get us a two-year-old Mercedes van from Gumtree for a very good price,’ Lennon says. ‘Only 100,000 on the clock.’
‘Good work, Lennon. Let’s get on with it then,’ Boss says. ‘Time is of the essence.’
‘In more way than one, sir, if you get my drift,’ Lennon says.
‘Oh, I see, time. Very droll,’ Boss says. ‘Here’s the postcode to key in.’
After driving for several hours through fractured time zones, they find themselves in logistics land, deep in the heart of the Midlands. Here, the roads are newly tarmacked and have clear white lines and elaborate traffic furniture at all the roundabouts. There are new warehouse buildings lining both sides of the road. Time seems unaffected. It is six-thirty on Thursday evening, which they calculate is what it should be.
‘Only three more miles, sir, Lennon says.
‘Perhaps we are in time then,’ Boss says.
‘In time. You are at it again, sir. Look! That must be the depot up there on the right, don’t you think? The tall one with the camouflage cladding.’
‘I think that’s probably Colonel Ж getting out of the Hummer.’
‘You can get quite a lot of people in a Hummer, can’t you? And look! They are heavily armed.’
‘Military unit, Lennon. All we were given was this pistol. And, as you know, I had to beg for that.’
‘My watch is starting to go backwards again, sir. But that’s good, isn’t it?’
‘Perfect. All we have to do then is get out and wait until yesterday.’
‘That may not be too long. The hands on my watch are spinning wildly.’
The cargo always travels by night, the Colonel tells them. The missing cargo set off from the depot with Safe as Houses Security at midnight. The task this time is to pick up the bag an hour earlier than originally planned and head for the secret location. They will be escorted by Colonel Ж and his men in the Hummer. The secret location is a hundred miles away in the direction they’ve come. They will be informed of the exact location once they are near. The latest reports from the secret location suggest that time here is behaving as it should. Boss wonders why the Department could not have done this without them, but his is not to reason why. Why hadn’t they delivered the original cargo by helicopter if it was so sensitive? Or at least put it with a reputable carrier? It seems a bit lax to trust it with a random Albanian dude with a white van. Boss wonders too at what point time will correct itself. Will this return to normal when the bag is safely aboard the van when it has travelled further than it originally did or only when it is safely delivered? While logic suggests the first option, there is nothing rational about the current situation. Perhaps it is a riddle that no one can be sure of the answer to, not even the Colonel.
‘We don’t know exactly where the van was stolen,’ Boss says. ‘Banana Petroleum was not very specific and in the end, we found we were just wasting time by grilling him further, but we have a rough idea. So to be on the safe side, we will take a different route.’
‘OK. Let’s get the show on the road,’ Colonel Ж says ‘We’ll be close behind you. You can be sure of that.’
‘We’d better try to get rid of the van,’ Jonny Geezer says. ‘Count our losses. If we don’t ask much for it, someone around here is sure to snap it up. Probably someone else who wants a plain white van to do a knock-over.’
‘I was meaning to talk to you about that, guv,’ Gandy says. ‘The van has, how can I put it? Gone. One minute it was there, the next, it wasn’t.’
‘Someone must have half-inched it while my back was turned. I was on the phone to Loulou. The van was only out of my sight for a few minutes, then I went back to lock it up and …… well, it wasn’t there. I didn’t hear anything. It must have all happened very quickly.’
‘Someone who knew we wouldn’t report it, probably.’
‘Next time, we’ll just have to nick one like you said, guv.’
‘You ditched the bag, didn’t you?’
‘You told me not to. …… Didn’t you?’
‘Where did you put it?’
‘It’s in the shed back here, boss. …….. Look!’
‘Where am I looking, Gandy?’
‘Oh no! The bag has gone too.’
As far as it’s possible to tell, time has settled down. Dates for events throughout the year are once again set in the calendar. To the good folks of Windsor, the threat of the military build-up in the Balkans is nothing more than a moment in history. They are once more able to harangue the graceless town planners in neighbouring Slough. In Devon, they have gotten over the shock of 9/11 and can once again whinge about the legions of caravanners that flock to their beauty spots every year and get stuck in the narrow lanes. The urban centres of Swindon and Bristol are back on track, each dreaming that one day, they might be able to produce a successful football team. Maybe eventually field a side to progress beyond the Fifth Round of the F.A. Cup. In Brighton, they are once more learning to relax and not do it when they want to suck and chew it. Throughout the land, clocks and watches are once again synchronised, even in fractious Stroud where they had the time riots. Only in parts of West Somerset does it still appear to be 1961.
Copyright © Chris Green 2021: All rights reserved