Cover Story

Cover Story by Chris Green

A vermilion memo is circulating at the research establishment, one down from red. Red means evacuate. Tension levels are rising. I am glad it is time for my shift to end. Although I keep my head down at work, I have suspected for a long time something weird is going on that the big guns do not want to get out. Information that does not belong in the public domain. Information too sensitive even to be shared with base security staff. An experiment gone wrong perhaps. I am accustomed to a quiet drive home along country lanes after the night shift. I usually drive straight home, but as Donna is up north on a training course, I decide to take a detour. There is no traffic on the road at this hour. I can relax to my Borodin CD. Or my Nick Cave compilation.

On occasions, I might come across an early morning dog walker en route or an agricultural worker, but this is rare. There is seldom anyone up. So, naturally, I am surprised when I catch sight of a woman struggling to climb out of a front window of Storm Clouds, the Gothic house on the edge of Compton Wilbury. Not only surprised but puzzled because, in my experience, cat-burglars are predominantly male. My suspicious nature tells me I ought to investigate. It is my duty as a responsible citizen. I stop the car and approach the house. As I get closer, I can’t help noticing that my quarry is wearing a skirt and a chunky jumper and ….. seamed fishnet stockings and heeled pumps, hardly the outfit you would wear for cat burgling. There must be another explanation. Some fellow’s wife has returned unexpectedly, and this is the other woman discretely leaving the scene? Or maybe she is the imprisoned wife fleeing from a catalogue of domestic abuse. Unlikely in this neck of the woods though I would have thought.

Is everything all right?’ I call out as I approach.

No. Everything is not all right,’ the woman says, straightening her skirt and trying to regain some composure. ‘Nothing in my house is working and my keys have gone and my husband is away and ……’

Whoa!’ I say ‘Slow down!’

I’m being harassed in my home and someone has broken in and my phones have been cut off and …..’

One thing at a time, please,’ I say. ‘Perhaps, start at the beginning. I’m Phil by the way.’

Hello Phil,’ she says. ‘Claire.’

Now we have introduced one another, she seems calmer. Claire is someone you would be likely to notice in a crowded room, thirty-something, blonde and well-rounded, a lady of some refinement. To be honest, I can’t seem to take my eyes off her. She gives a detailed account of a nightmare few hours.

It’s the middle of the night when she hears a knocking sound. She turns over to see if her husband, Max has heard. But Max is not there. Maybe he has gone downstairs to find out what is going on. Then she remembers he is away on a business trip. Although Max goes away often, she can’t seem to get used to him being away, and she hates being alone in the big old house. Even with all its modern security, she does not feel safe. But she is reluctant to bring this up with Max, in case he might consider her wimpish. Max, she says, comes from a tough world. He doesn’t understand fear. He was brought up in the Bush.

Random nocturnal creaks and rattles are no more than you would expect in an old house, she says, especially on a rough night. But as soon as she starts to settle, she hears the noise again and it definitely sounds like someone knocking on the front door. No way is she going to get up and answer it. It’s nearly 3 a.m.

Why would anyone be calling on anyone at this time of night?’ I say. ‘Especially out here in the sticks.’

She agrees. She says she ought to have insisted they got a guard dog when they moved out here. An Akita or a Belgian Malinois, perhaps. But, the fact remains, they do not have a dog, and she is frightened. It probably didn’t help that she watched the penultimate episode of Killers on Netflix earlier in the evening.

I am familiar with Killers. I resist the temptation to tell her what happens in the final episode. Donna couldn’t hack it. She stopped watching half-way through.

Claire doesn’t feel she can phone Max. He will be asleep and probably has an early morning meeting. For that matter, she has an early start too. She has to show the Muellers around Hope’s End at 8:30. This was the only time that both the Muellers were available and Hope’s End represents a big sale for Sellers and Sellers. Fortunately, whatever it was, the banging sound does not continue. But she finds herself unable to get back to sleep. She tosses and turns trying to neutralise the dark thoughts that keep coming. She is just about to drop off when the phone rings. When did Max change the ringtone on the landline to the Tales of the Unexpected theme music, she wonders? More importantly, why? Is this his idea of a joke? She goes downstairs to answer it but finds no-one on the other end. She replaces the receiver and dials 1471. She is told the caller did not leave their number.


On occasions, most of you will have been plagued by an earworm. Annoying, isn’t it to have a tune stuck in your head? Sometimes the tune going around and around will be the last one you heard. Or the most catchy one on your last shuffle or however you listen to your music. Something you heard on the radio or in a shop. Think of those irritating Christmas tunes, for instance. Various studies have been carried out as to what song is the most catchy ever, some of these claiming to be scientific. Among those frequently cited are Michael Jackson’s Beat It, Abba’s Dancing Queen, The Queen’s We are the Champions and Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. I am plagued with earworms all the time, but none of these tunes features. My earworms seem to be entirely random. Captain Beefheart’s Mirror Man, a Bartók String Quartet or the Tuvan National Anthem. Last week it was MacArthur Park. They just seem to come out of nowhere. Bob Dylan’s tunes aren’t always thought of as being catchy so where has the one about the silver saxophones that is going around and around in my head come from? ……… Aha! I think I might know. But should I let on?


As Bob Dylan moves on to the Queen of Spades and talks to his chambermaid, I try to catch up with what Claire has been saying. I may have missed something. She has taken her shower and brewed coffee. She is now switching on News 24. From the graphics darting around the screen, she tries to work out what the disaster story they are speaking about might be that has left so many dead, when the TV goes dead.

I suspect it is an update on the fire ripping through the conference centre, but I do not interrupt. I’m not completely certain that this is where Max is. But how many Max Curtises can there be?

She discovers all channels are out. Even the twenty-four hour baking channel is down. She really has to phone Max now. To her horror, both the landline and her mobile phone are also dead and the router has a flashing red light. The stark realisation that she has no communication with the outside world strikes her, she says, like a blow to the head. She searches in her bag for her keys. They are not there. Where can she have put them? The spare set from the kitchen drawer has gone too. She searches high and low, in coat pockets, in bags she has not used for months, underneath work surfaces, in cupboards, but finds no keys. This is impossible. She is locked in, a prisoner in her own home. She is terrified. The only way out is through the downstairs bathroom window.

She seems to be up to date with her account. It has been exhausting just listening. I tell her that she has been through quite an ordeal and do my best to comfort her.

Do you have a phone I could use?’ she asks.

You are welcome to try,’ I say. ‘My phone’s in the car. But, you won’t have a signal here. It’s a bit of an O2 black spot.’

Where is your car?’ Claire asks.

It’s ……..’ I look around. To my astonishment, my Nissan Qashqai is no longer there.’

Jesus, Mary and Joseph!’ I say. ‘Where has it gone?’

It is nowhere to be seen. It has completely vanished. What in God’s name is going on around these parts?


Claire doesn’t have the keys to her Kia so we decide we must seek help in the village. Surely, someone must know what is happening.

We find no-one at home at any of the houses in Compton Wilbury. Speculation about where they might be is clearly going to get us nowhere. Does it matter that the Shipmans at Grey Gables have never been known to go away, or that the Mansons in the barn conversion down the road might have just popped out? Is there any point in knowing that there is a de-consecrated church in the next village or that there was a full moon last Tuesday? Something is happening here and we don’t know what it is. My phone signal does not re-appear, nor does Claire’s. The village phone box is out of order. We trudge along the lane to the neighbouring village of Myrtle Green.

How far is it to Myrtle Green?’ I say after about ten minutes. Not a single car has passed.

Not far,’ Claire says. ‘Half a mile or so. Be thankful you have sensible shoes on.’

The turning to Homiton should be round about here,’ I say. ‘We can’t have missed it.’

There are a lot of clumps of trees that look the same,’ Claire says.

Even so,’ I say. ‘We don’t appear to be making much progress.’

It doesn’t take long for the same thought to occur to Claire. Nothing in the landscape is as it should be. We should surely have passed the field with the abandoned red tractor by now, she says, and where is the dry stone wall covered in lichen that you can peer over to get a glimpse of the distant hills? It’s as if the landscape is being pulled away from us.

You said that you were driving home from the …. uh, base,’ Claire says. ‘What is it they do there?’ Is she thinking there might be a causal connection?

Even if I knew, I wouldn’t be able to tell you,’ I say.

So, you are saying you’ve no idea?’


There are, of course, no CCTV cameras in the subterranean depths below Level D. But rumours have been circulating that the boffins are doing research into random virtual infinity lapse and they are developing a large-scale invisibility cloak down there. No smoke without fire, you might be tempted to say but it would be a mistake to believe all the rumours. I’m thinking that there might not be a causal connection with what’s happening to Claire and me. Occam’s razor suggests there should be a more obvious explanation.

Far from making any progress, we seem to be going backwards. It’s like the road ahead is being rolled up like a carpet. The scenery is disappearing. There is no longer a vanishing point. No horizon. There is nowhere to go. At this rate, before we know it, we will be back where we started from. But I have the feeling that things may not be the same. The universe is in a permanent state of flux. Change is the only certainty. On this basis, there is a good chance we might already be somewhere else. We might have been there all along.


How did we end up in bed together? Claire is asking the same question. How long have we been here? Since this morning? Last night? Time runs away with you when you are enjoying yourself. But Max will be home soon, Claire says, back from his business trip. He has probably been trying to contact her. Now the phones are back on, she needs to have her story ready. I remind her that this is what I do in my spare time, make stories up. Philip C. Dark, author and auteur. Look me up on Google. She says that’s all very well, but I’d still better go. It would be easier for her if I weren’t here. Perhaps I will have to break it to her about the fire at the conference centre. How her husband is now in custody. What was it that made him, Maxwell Conner, a successful businessman, start the fire?

In case anything about my involvement should come to light, this can serve as my cover story. I’m reliably informed that, somewhat paradoxically, the more you embellish your account, the more credible it becomes.

An earlier version of this story was published as ‘Unreliable Narrator.’

Copyright © Chris Green, 2021: All rights reserved


Snow by Chris Green

It’s getting very cold. I wonder if it’s going to snow,’ the text message reads.

It’s an odd message and I do not recognise the number. But to get into the spirit of things I reply, ‘It’s only August.’

This appears to strike a chord because immediately I get a reply which reads, ‘Meet me in Providence Park by the lake in twenty minutes, the third seat in.’

I am now curious as to what this is about. Perhaps it is someone I know playing a prank. Perhaps not. But whatever it is, there is a sense of intrigue about it. As I am close by and not due to pick Hannah up from the hairdressers for an hour, I make my way along to the park. I approach the lake, trying to make the best use of the trees for cover. I don’t want to walk into some kind of trap. The third bench is the only one that is occupied. Beneath the fedora and dark glasses, the woman sitting there looks as though she might be quite attractive. Surely, there is no need for the overcoat at this time of year though. Curiosity gets the better of me. Throwing caution to the wind, I go across and say hello. She gestures for me to sit alongside her.

I think it is going to snow very soon,’ she says, deadpan, as she slides me a large brown envelope. With this, she gets up and leaves. I call after her, but it seems the lady is not for turning.

This appears to be textbook spy-spoof behaviour. Cloak and dagger stuff. With all the electronic media available, this cannot really be how espionage is carried out in this day and age. And what could it possibly have to do with me? Where would I fit into the clandestine world of the secret service? I’m a heating engineer.

The envelope contains a 12 by 8 black and white photo. A name, Grigoriy Zakharov. An address, 19 Len Deighton Drive. An instruction, use the Glock.

I am perplexed as I have never heard of Grigoriy Zakharov, have no idea where Len Deighton Drive is or even what town it is in, and as far as I can remember I don’t own a Glock, which as I understand it is some kind of handgun. There is not much need for small arms in central heating installation or boiler maintenance. Admittedly, since the downturn in the economy, money is tight and people are struggling to make ends meet. But we have not yet had to resort to such drastic measures to collect our fees.

If it’s not someone having a lark, it must be a case of mistaken identity. It’s easy to get a digit wrong when you are keying in a mobile phone number. I found myself talking to Ed Sheeran once. It turned out Ed didn’t need his Baxi combi-boiler serviced. I expect the woman who contacted me has by now realised she has slipped up. I don’t imagine I will hear any more about the matter. It would be too embarrassing for her to admit her mistake and contact me again. I feel it is sensible not to tell Hannah about the incident though. In case something is awry. I know if I mention it, she will worry. Hannah hates strange.

While I am sitting in the car outside Cutting Edge waiting for Hannah, I decide to change the CD in the car player. The Coldplay one has been in the player for several days. Perhaps we could have Snow Patrol instead. I am one of those old-fashioned people who has not yet embraced the digital revolution of in-car entertainment. For one thing, I have hundreds of CDs at home that I have paid good money for. What would I then do with them?

To my astonishment, in the front of the glove compartment instead of a selection of CDs, I find a gun. I don’t know much about guns. I’m more used to handling pumps and valves, but this matt black Glock pistol looks and feels like the real deal. The odd thing is, it somehow doesn’t seem out of place. It’s a scary idea, but it is almost as if I expected to find it in the glove compartment. My head is reeling with conflicting thoughts. Who, why and how? But speculation is difficult once logic goes out the window. I don’t have time to dwell on these matters. I need to conceal the gun before Hannah gets into the car.

Perhaps it is the sign of a skilled hairdresser, but Hannah’s hair looks exactly the same as when she went in. It never seems to look any different after her appointments. I tell her it looks lovely. I have learned it is always a good idea to compliment a woman emerging from the hairdressers on her coiffure.

Three text messages ping in quick succession on my phone as we are driving along Tambourine Way.

Shall I see who that is?’ Hannah says.

No,’ I say, trying hard not to show signs of panic. ‘I’ll pull in at the supermarket car park. We need a few bits and pieces, don’t we?’

I did the shopping first thing this morning. Don’t you remember?’ she says, giving me a quizzical look.

I come up a few things that weren’t on the list. Things that I know Hannah won’t have thought of. Garibaldi biscuits, Baby Bio, shaving soap, drawing pins, WD40, and Special Brew. The quizzical look morphs into a contemptuous look. I can tell she does not want to be doing this after an arduous hour or so at the hairdressers. If it comes to that, neither do I want to be doing it. There are better ways of spending a Saturday afternoon. But this is a situation that needs careful handling.

While I am getting a shopping bag out of the boot, I check the text messages. To my relief, they are all spam. But while I am looking for a more suitable place to hide the gun, I get an incoming call.

It is nearly September. Is it going to snow?’ the caller says. She does seem to want it to snow.

To pacify her, I tell her that it might still snow.

I do hope so,’ she says. ‘A lot of things depend on it. You won’t be able to ski if it doesn’t snow.’

Before I have the chance to respond, she ends the call.

Hannah says she will pop into the art supplies shop next door while I tackle the supermarket. This gives me breathing space to contemplate my course of action. Should I inform the police? Not such a good idea. While I still have the gun, this could easily backfire. Should I let Hannah in on what is going on? Probably not, if I can avoid it? Especially as I don’t have a clue what it is. At the supermarket checkout, I buy a new Sim card and put this into my phone. If my mobile phone is the perpetrator’s only means of contact, then this should be sufficient. If it is not, then who knows?

Hannah seems cheered by her visit to the art shop. She has several packages.

Let’s go to Mangia e Beve for lunch, Nick,’ she says. ‘Emma in the hairdressers says they do an excellent involtini di melanzane ripieni di uva passa, capperi e noci.’

Sounds complicated,’ I say. ‘What is it?’

Rolled aubergines stuffed with raisins, capers and walnuts,’ she says. ‘But I’m sure they will have some tasty meat dishes too.’

While I am still looking through the menu, the woman from the park comes in and sits down at a nearby table. She seems to have ditched the overcoat but is still wearing her hat and sunglasses. She looks across at me. It is not a happy, smiley look. I feel a chill run down my spine. She keys something into her phone and I receive a text message about the snow clouds forming. I’m not sure how this can be happening. How can she have found out the new number? It should be impossible. I suppose, in my confusion, I may have accidentally put the old Sim back into the phone and disposed of the new one. This is the kind of thing anyone might do when they are under stress. The message is followed by another, saying that unless it snows soon, there will be no tobogganing.

Hannah is busy texting one of her friends so I take the opportunity to google Grigoriy Zakharov. The only two matches it comes up with are a Soviet architect and a commodities trader from Minsk. Perhaps the world of international espionage has changed, but it would be stretching the imagination a little to think that spooks would be interested in this pair. Especially as according to Google, Grigoriy Zakharov the architect died in 1982. I can find no-one with that name closer to home. But, perhaps I ought not to expect there would be. The whole point of secret services is that they are secret. They operate undercover. If he were an agent, whoever Grigoriy Zakharov is would use a code name.

Having delivered her message, without further ceremony, my handler gets up to leave. But there is no reason to suspect that this means she is letting me off the hook. I get the impression she will keep appearing until the deed is done.

That was Rosie Parker from number 42,’ Hannah says. ‘She says there’s been a lot of strange activity outside our house. Men in dark suits and dark glasses getting in and out of black BMWs with tinted windows. She is worried one of them might have a gun. She wonders if we have any idea what might be going on.’

I decide that I have no choice but to come clean. I explain about the text messages concerning snow, the woman in the overcoat and dark glasses, the mysterious Grigoriy Zakharov, and the Glock pistol in the glove compartment.

You fool,’ she says. ‘What have you landed us in? If you had ignored the original message, none of this would be happening.’

We don’t know that,’ I say in my defence. ‘She does seem pretty persistent.’

So, how do you account for it, Nick?’ she says.

I don’t know,’ I say. ‘But it looks like we are in trouble.’

There is a protracted silence while Hannah seethes. I stare at the menu in the vain hope that by avoiding her gaze, the problem might somehow disappear.

I think I may have an idea about what has happened,’ Hannah says, finally.

You do?’ I say, looking up. Is she going to offer me a lifeline?’

Do you remember when we went to see that Tim Burton film at the multiplex?’ she says.

That was months ago,’ I say.

I know, but as we were leaving, you picked up a flyer about the new cold war thriller that the production company were planning to make. Don’t you remember?’

Vaguely,’ I say. ‘It was going to be based on an Ian McEwan novel.’

There was a competition in the flyer, wasn’t there?’ she says. ‘As I remember it, you had to answer questions about spy films, and this gave you the opportunity to become an extra in the film and have dinner out with the stars. It mentioned some of the ones they hoped to cast. Benedict Cumberbatch. Liam Neeson. Emily Blunt. Scarlett Johansson. ……. You didn’t happen to fill it in by any chance, did you?’

I may have,’ I say. ‘Now you come to mention it, I believe I did.’

Well, that explains it,’ she says. ‘You are slow on the uptake, you know, Nick. Don’t you see the connection? Snow. Cold. Cold War thriller. It all adds up. She couldn’t have given you more obvious clues. She’s telling you that you’ve won the competition. I expect they are ready to start shooting the film. This is probably your audition for the part. Perhaps it’s even part of the film.’

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

We Tap Any Phone


We Tap Any Phone by Chris Green

Monday morning

There was a thick layer of dust on the car again this morning. It was more than just a sprinkling this time. I only took it to the car wash last Thursday. This wasn’t a dust storm coming in from the Sahara; it was an ash deposit coming from the spy base three hundred yards away. Several times a month, they burn their confidential waste and if the wind is in the right direction the residue is deposited in the vicinity of my house. Late in the evening, a big plume of smoke rises up to the sky, like a mini 9/11. You would think that with all the sophistication of their kit these days they would be able to find a better way of getting rid of their secret papers. What is wrong with shredding? You must be able to get industrial scale shredders.

Tuesday evening

The base’s activities are really starting to get to me. I haven’t been able to pick up a single TV channel since they installed their new equipment. And my phone only seems to work on Sundays. BT say they cannot do anything about it. And the mobile is no use. There’s just no signal once you get close to the site. The people at the base don’t appear to work on Sundays; the car park is always empty when I walk Rolf, after lunch at The Whistle Blower. There is definitely a connection (or not, lol). The white radome that recently appeared behind the razor wire fence may look like a golf ball but beneath it I am told is a giant satellite dish. Merv is not a conspiracy theorist, he knows his stuff. He used to work for Department Ж. If he says there is a ninety-foot dish, then there is a ninety-foot dish.

Wednesday morning

I’ve had an idea. Street art, a mural! Of the dish. Decorated with of dozens of mobile phones. Or a phone and a tap. Maybe a sniper or two. I’m going to go out and buy the things later. I’ve been reading up on how to cut stencils and I saw a handy looking builder’s tarpaulin with a support frame in the DIY store when I went to buy the extension pole to clean the residue off the upstairs windows. I can buy the spray paints at the same time. B and Q has a good selection of colours. All I need is to think of some way of avoiding the banks of cameras around the base. Even the street lights are cameras.

Thursday evening

I’ve found the perfect place. There is a blind spot on the cameras. I noticed it while I was walking Rolf earlier. I approached it from both directions to make sure. There is a row of half a dozen older style terraced houses with the end of one of them facing the base. There are not even any street lights. It’s also one of the few places around there without double yellow lines. I can hire a white van and park it up.

Friday evening

I cut the stencils out this morning. The process is quite time consuming, but it is easier than you would imagine if you do drawings first. I used to go to art classes at the community centre, so this part was not too hard. I spent the afternoon watching YouTube videos on spray can art technique. Short sharp bursts from each can from about eight inches seems to be the key and you can smudge it and make shapes and patterns applying newspaper to the paint before it dries. You have to be quick, but it seems to work. I have hired the van, loaded up and now I am ready. Davy is going to help. Davy might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is keen and he doesn’t argue. I’m picking him up at 1 a.m.

Saturday evening

It went like a dream last night. We fixed the tarpaulin around the side of the house and got cracking. It was a quiet night. Only once or twice did we hear voices. When we did we crouched down and kept quiet. Passers-by just assumed that our tarpaulin was a sign that routine work was being carried out. The base often had the pavement dug up for workmen to lay cables, so our lean-to tarpaulin did not seem suspicious. We finished just as the dawn was breaking. The mural of the radome with the sniper standing on top looked quite professional, I thought, for a first attempt. The radome was made up of dozens of stencilled mobile phones in day-glo colours. I finished it off with WE TAP ANY PHONE, in large caps. The finished work looked good. I dropped Davy off and took the van back. I was dog tired. I slept all day. Rolf has been barking a lot. I think he wants a walk, but I’d better leave it until tomorrow.

Sunday morning

There was a helicopter hovering overhead all of last night. They are waiting for me to break cover. My stencil street art really seems to have upset them. Davy phoned me to say it was on the front of the local paper and was on the TV news. I hoped I’d remain anonymous – at least for a while. Banksy has managed it for twenty years. No-one knows who Banksy is. Banksy probably doesn’t know who Banksy is. I have a suspicion that Davy might have tipped the papers off, and the TV people. I can’t watch it on TV of course and my internet seems to have been cut off. And, although it is Sunday and the phone is working, every time I pick it up I hear a high pitched humming sound. Merv is coming round later with his sound bandwidth sensor. He says if he sets it to a low frequency and the bandwidth indicator pops a couple of times per minute then my phone is tapped. I imagine it is tapped. It would be remiss of them not to.

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved

Manila Folders – A ‘Man’s Story’


Manila Folders – ‘a man’s story’ by Chris Green

Officially my job doesn’t exist. Nor do the jobs of the other operators in Department Ж. Department Ж is a clandestine organisation, with no mailing address, phone number or website. It appears on no records. Its offices are to be found only by the very determined, hidden as they are in a remote location behind miles of razor wire. Our best guess is that we are government employees, although which government might be open to conjecture. It has been suggested that we might all be taking part in a reality TV show. There are certainly sufficient cameras around the place. All we are sure of is that someone pays us – handsomely – in bitcoin. No one actually applied for their job, we were each individually head-hunted. Perhaps our employer is Tesco, or HSBC, or one of the global pharmaceutical giants. After all, large corporations are now more powerful than governments.

My job is to make alterations to details in old newspaper reports, making sure that all archived copies of the edition in existence are consistent with the revised version of events. I have to make my amendments invisible. I come from a printing background, but things have moved on so fast that this is probably irrelevant. But I do have a keen eye for detail and I am thorough in my approach.

No explanation is given for any of the alterations my colleagues and I have to make. Information is handed down on a need to know basis. We are discouraged from having contact with one another, beyond that which is absolutely necessary. We are only too aware that we are carefully monitored. Apart from the different codes I have to key in to enter different areas of the building, Department Ж also employs extremely sophisticated biometric technology using face, voice and lip movement recognition to identify a person at a number of different points on each floor. We accept all of this as part of our working practice, although sometimes I find the claustrophobia of secrecy taxing.

Sealed manila folders appear on my desk with instructions of the required changes. I have one now. I wave the file in the air.

What do you think this one is?’ I ask Ludwig, my colleague at the next desk.

Did you see the football last night? Franco played a blinder,’ says Ludwig, looking a little panicky about my reckless line of conversation. ‘He scored a hat-trick in the first half an hour.’

How about a small watercolour by completely unknown painter was taken from an art gallery in Lands End and they want us to change the name of the artist,’ I continue, in the absence of a suggestion from Ludwig.

It should be quite a game against Inter Milan,’ adds Ludwig. ‘They’ve signed Mussolini.’

There is a very slight whirring sound as several of the cameras pan round to focus on us. I feel like Winston Smith. In fact, in this milieu, I quite often feel like Winston Smith.

Yes it should be quite a game,’ I concede.

The folders come by night. I arrive at work at around eight. I show my security clearance to the armed militia on the gate, park my grey Prowler in the subterranean car park, take the lift to what might be the lower ground floor, but could also be the top floor as the entire construction is underground, and of course windowless. I get out swipe cards and key in numbers in the appropriate places and make my way to my desk. If there is a manila folder in the in tray, I open it and read through the instructions, work out how I can best go about the task, and get on with the job. The folder then has to be shredded. You might think that a shredder is just a shredder, but the sophistication of the department’s shredding machines is mind boggling.

I break the seal and open the folder. My guess is way off the mark. This is the gist of the contents.

Two years ago, The Shadowsea Gazette, a small local newspaper reported thus: Vladimir Zhulov(38) a security consultant, of Gloucester Road, was apprehended for breaking into the university library and charged to appear before Shadowsea magistrates. This has to be amended to: John Smith (43), a Big Issue vendor of no fixed address was apprehended for breaking into an outbuilding at Shadowsea Primary School. He was later released without charge. A net gain of one character, I notice instantly. A relatively easy task. I program it into the Newszap and select Baskerville Old Face, 11 point. Like most of the changes I make it seems of little consequence. Why is this information about a minor offence important? You tell me. Sometimes the amendments involve merely changing someone’s age, or occupation. Other times I have to replace an entire article and mock up some photographs. Occasionally I have to remove all references to an individual across a number of publications, but I think that it is fair to say that my endeavours are unlikely to bring down governments. This cannot be considered rewriting history in the Soviet sense.

Speaking of Soviets, my colleague, Jacques, tells me that Barcelona have just signed Brezhnev from Dynamo Kiev for 50 million euros. He will play up front alongside Honecker. I put it to Ludwig that Barcelona might beat Chelsea.

Not a chance,’ he says. ‘Chelsea have Polpot and Ceausescu.’

My work entails tracking down all the copies of the paper that are kept in archives and placing the amended passages in them. I use a NewsZap 2020. For those of you not familiar with the world of revisionist journalism, NewsZap, the result of several years of research and development and a multi-million dollar budget, is a state of the art pocket-sized device that erases the original newsprint and in an instant replaces it with the corrected passage. This is made out in exactly the same typeface as the original, applied with the same amount of pressure and taking up exactly the same amount of column centimetres on the page. No one would be able to notice that there had been any change. The device even simulates a fold or crease on the page and matches the degree of page discolourisation. But print is dying out. Archived material is of course now primarily electronic. Might my days be numbered?

Department Ж employs a staggering number of teckies whose role is to modify remote electronic information. Their work involves hacking into computers. These are the type of people that the top virus-checking software companies employ to compose the viruses and trojans that cripple computers and help to sell their products. My guess is that they get the very best. The Department offers them a very high salary. With the recent rise in bitcoin, this is just shy of £1 million. The teckies are based in the floor below us or is it the floor above. Once you have signed in, the lift has a randomiser, so that if you stray from your post you do not know where you are.

Locating all the archived copies of a newspaper and gaining access to these is one element of my work that can be extraordinarily time-consuming. As access usually has to be achieved without complicity, the operation needs meticulous planning and can be enormously labour intensive. In these days of high terrorist alert, many of the locations have extremely elaborate security. We have our own security specialists and we have a crack breaking and entry team as backup for night work. We have helicopters at our disposal in case aerial entry to premises is required. As while we do not officially have a licence to kill, a few fatal accidents along the way have been overlooked.

Should you be typing all this stuff in at work?’ asks Bjorn, with a look of concern on his face.

A camera arcs towards us. Bjorn too is seemingly a football fan. He comes out with something about Bayern Munich’s playmakers, Mugabe and Thatcher.

If a national daily is involved, sometimes an investigation can take several weeks. And as newspapers archives are now stored electronically, I often need to call in the teckies. DVD, DAT and RAID have become standard as a method of storing data for publishers and libraries along with of course, cloud. However, you may have read in some of the more serious broadsheets recently of instances where information archived this way has been found to be unaccountably corrupted. Cloud is definitely no longer a safe storage method. As for the others, our departmental operatives carry staggeringly powerful electromagnets. Dmitri, one of my colleagues, (incidentally a Parathanaikos supporter) accidentally switched his on in the car park a couple of months ago and I had to have all the electrics on the Prowler replaced.

I’m not engaged by the narrator,’ says Patti. ‘He’s not at all interesting. Besides that, he’s uncaring and nasty. In a word, I don’t like him. And all this football nonsense. This is a man’s story.’

As in history you mean, not herstory’

My reservations began three weeks ago. There had been sharp frosts for several days. It can be bitterly cold in this part of the country in January, temperatures frequently dropping to as low as minus twenty. I was having to get up several minutes early to allow time to defrost the windows and the windscreen of the Prowler. I live ten miles or so miles from the department’s base. The drive to work takes me along a little-used lane, through a small village, with perhaps three houses and a small farm, more of a hamlet really. Thereafter all traffic will be heading for the base. This was how I realised that I was being followed, rather clumsily I felt, by a driver in a black Apparition. Had the Apparition pulled in to the base I would not have been suspicious. If the truth be told, the first time it happened I thought that perhaps the driver was lost. There are after all no signposts anywhere nearby, certainly nothing to denote the presence of the base. The base does not even appear on Ordinance Survey maps. However, this happened three mornings in a row. At roughly the same point in the road each time, just past the barn conversion with the outsize satellite dish, I noticed the sinister looking black 4 by 4 with its bull bars and an army of fog lamps, large as life in my mirrors.

Over the following weekend, the same black Apparition followed me to a country park, the Prowler dealership (modifications to the satnav), The Whistle Blower public house, and the airport, where I was dropping off my wife, Ingrid. The driver followed at a discreet distance of a hundred metres or so, but every now and then he would tailgate me to let me know he was there. He remained hidden behind the Apparition’s reflective gangster-black windscreen.

Ingrid is a musician. She plays the cello in an internationally acclaimed symphony orchestra and is away from home for long periods. The orchestra seems to spend a lot of time touring Italy and Sicily. ‘I think you’re really a hitman for the mob,’ I joke with her sometimes. They’ve gone to Russia this time. Perhaps she has switched sides. Ingrid’s motives often seem a mystery to me. I am inclined to agree with Freud who said ’after forty years of dealing with women, I still don’t know what it is they want.’

On occasion, while Ingrid is away I use the Eros Escort Agency. I phone them, let them know what sort of arrangement I would like to make, and they send someone round to the house. I usually ask for Kyla, but on this occasion, I was told she was unavailable. Instead, they sent round a tall busty brunette who called herself, Paloma. Paloma looked fantastic in her little leather skirt and sheer black stockings, and performed every bit as well as Kyla, but I felt a little uneasy with her and I felt, her with me. Had I been less distracted, I might have been more suspicious of her. It must have been while I was in the bathroom that Paloma placed the discreet listening devices in my shirt collars. Unfortunately, it was several days before I discovered the first of these, during which time I had had several conversations that would have given away critical information about what I was engaged in. I was also followed twice during this time by a midnight blue Silhouette Turbo with blacked-out windows. Once again not the most discreet vehicle to tail someone with. I formed the impression that whoever was behind it wanted me to know I was being followed.

The story is phallocentric, a bit too James Bond,’ says Patti.’Women are here merely as ornamentation. There is no subject position that I can take up.’

I do not mention that James Bond is, in fact, the most popular fictional character in history, although clearly not herstory.

The more I thought about it, the accident last Tuesday involving the Stealth Diesel and The Subterfuge Nine Eleven seemed stage-managed. I was driving back from some reconnaissance work at the offices of the Dungeness Herald, along the link road when I came across it. The road had been relatively quiet when suddenly the traffic was backed up a couple of hundred yards. The two shots that grazed the roof of the Prowler seemed to have been more of a warning than an attempt at a direct hit. As a result of the accident the traffic was almost at a standstill, which would have given a sniper plenty of time to fire more shots, should he have wished to do so. Counting my lucky stars, but not wishing to hang around, I negotiated the debris from the crash and as soon as conditions permitted I put my foot down.

Over the next few days, I was subjected to a series of anonymous phonecalls. Each time I answered I was met with silence on the other end and each time the number was withheld. I suppose I could have got one of my techie colleagues to check it out. Tapping into the exchange would be small potatoes to them. But until I had a better handle on what was happening I did not want to cause undue alarm. Even last Friday, when I got home from having a few drinks at The Double Agent, to find a tank outside my house and a large crater in the front garden I did not panic completely, although this seemed to represent a step up in intimidation tactics. I had been on several military training courses in dealing with difficult or unexpected situations. I stiffened the sinews and summoned up the blood, or something else appropriate to the occasion. As the tank continued to bombard the house, I managed to creep away in the car unobserved. I drove around for a little while, acutely aware that I was over the limit, and decided to stay in a Travelodge. My grey Prowler, which I left in the hotel car park, is for no tangible reason now a red Prowler. Perhaps vehicle re-spraying is an extra service that they provide at Travelodge.

Yesterday I opened a manila folder that had appeared overnight on my desk to find something that really did panic me. I was instructed to amend a report of a motor accident that I myself had been involved in a few years ago. The original report relating to the accident had a sentence which read: Aaron Beazer (48), a specialist print technician, the driver of the Prowler was treated for minor head injuries and was later allowed to return home. This was to read: Aaron Beazer (48), unemployed, the driver of the other vehicle died later in hospital from head injuries sustained in the accident.

My job doesn’t exist. I do not need to resign. It seems like a good opportunity for a change. I have often fancied the idea of a houseboat in the Hindu Kush. I am packing some things. I hear the front door open and close. I go to the landing at the top of the stairs. Ingrid?…. Ingrid? Is that you? You’re not due back until next week. Why are you pointing that gu……………..

What was that all about?’ asks Patti.

Death of the Author; it’s the literary argument that to give a text an Author and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it is to impose a limit on that text.’

You mean that the author’s intentions in creating a text are irrelevant in interpreting that text. That the writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original’

Except that this really does concern the death of the author’

You always take things too literally. Anyway, I still don’t like it. It’s a man’s story.’

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved