You know how it is. You’ve let things slide a bit, taken your eye off the round bouncy thing, failed to keep across it all etc etc and now there was going to be a reckoning …… and consequences.
The reckoning, in this particular instance, came with the realisation that the cheap steam cleaner from the occasional bargain cages in Lidl was not up to the job of cleaning a kitchen floor that had over suffered from a trail of gardening boots and cycles. The consequence was that I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor – not something I would normally welcome – but sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves .
Suddenly the back door slammed open and in strode a figure that exuded trouble and complication.
‘What the hell do you think you are doing?’
It was Jim from MI5 and I could sense he was not best pleased about something and moreover that this something might involve me (my first degree was after all Communication Studies which involved a whole slew of linguistics, psychology, non-verbal behaviour and what not). I thought it best to play with a straight bat.
‘I’m cleaning the kitchen floor Jim, do you mind moving over there?’ I indicated the other end of the kitchen, ‘I’ve done that bit and you are leaving footprints.’
‘Never mind your floor,’ he shouted as he left a trail of marks in his wake.
‘Hey, not so fast, you can’t just barge in here and mess up my hard work!’ I moved to wipe away the offending marks.
‘I bloody can,’ he said brandishing his warrant card, ‘You are in big trouble.’
‘Me?’ I tried to sound confused, with a touch of affrontedness to provide that crucial underpinning of sincerity, the response of a man wholly committed to leading a blameless ….’
‘It’s your bloody blogsite again.’
I tried to maintain my air of injured innocence, ‘But I haven’t written about the Mafia since you told me not to.’
‘It’s not the Mafia this time …… you have pissed everyone off …… royally!’
‘Everyone? ……. crikey that would be trouble.’
This did not elicit the smile I was hoping for – Jim could normally be relied on to see the absurdities in any situation. So I carried on.
‘Who? ….. exactly.’
‘Us and the Russians,’ he paused to collect himself, ‘and that shows either real devilry or complete incompetence! They can’t make out whether you’re a dangerous agitator set on bringing the whole world order down or ….’ he paused again, ‘a buffoon’.
‘Happy to be seen as a buffoon,’ I remarked brightly, thinking that much as I might like the idea of being so ……. well, important, I knew that wasn’t really me … I’m just not that sort of chap. ‘Do you mind standing over there on these sheets of newspaper whilst I finish off?’
There was an awkward silence, as we shall see, the first of many.
‘Well at least the CIA isn’t …..’
‘The CIA is incandescent …. It’s Burgess and Maclean all over again!’
I stopped mid scrub, ‘Don’t be ridiculous Jim … no one’s defected ……. er ….. well not really’.
‘It’s incompetence by association – their funding is under threat! ….. new president and all that.’
‘But no secrets have been spilled.’
‘You know that do you? You have Mr Golinski’s assurance on that matter I suppose?’
I tried a little grin, to take the heat out of the exchange, but Jim was still on the ceiling, whilst I was … well …..
‘Where did you get this from?’ he barked, producing the record sleeve for Heading South for the Sun. ‘All this stuff in Russian and …’ he pointed at the text on the back, ‘this address – it’s the British Embassy in Moscow!’
‘Ah …………… sorry Jim I don’t read Russian.’
‘But you seem very happy to publish it on your blogsite.’
‘I know .. but …’
‘Where’s the fact checking eh? Where’s the journalistic rigour?’
I couldn’t help but laugh, ‘No one does that stuff these days …. you know that Jim.’
He shook his head angrily, ‘You are responsible for spreading this inflammatory stuff!’
I know I shouldn’t have done, but I did ….. I laughed again, ‘Jim are you real? ….. this is supposed to be sat….’
‘Who else is involved in this?’
I hesitated, which somewhat gave the game away I suppose, but I had responsibilities to others here: Michaela S Penj (not his real name … obviously), the artist possibly still known as Riddle and of course Mr Grimly. All good friends and enthusiastic collaborators (perhaps not the best term in these circumstances), I could not implicate them.
‘Sorry Jim, no one else involved, just me’.
‘I need names …… or you’re in deep shit.’
I shook my head and returned back resolutely to scrubbing the floor.
‘Who is John Smith and where is he?’
‘Sorry Jim can you move over here?’ I indicated two freshly placed sheets of newspaper, ‘I need to …’
It was at this point that Jim kicked the bucket – not, I hasten to point out, the proverbial – but the bucket that was full of nasty looking black water (I had been about to change it for fresh when Jim’s sudden appearance had somewhat got in amongst me, distracted me and all that). It, the singularly distasteful looking liquid, spread like a small tsunami of dirtiness across my almost pristine floor.
Now in retrospect it may well have been that this was not a ‘kick’ as such, a deliberate act freighted with ill intent. He may have accidentally caught the side of the bucket in his efforts to comply with my request, but, whatever, the sight of that disaster spreading before my eyes caused my equanimity to fray. In fact to cause it to shred might be a more accurate term.
Now I pride myself on being able to cope with an inordinate amount of nonsense but I have to confess to going full Harris. I was furious – all my hard work – undone by this bumbling fool spouting complete and utter bollocks … what right did he have …… barging in here and shouting the odds?
I may have unwisely suggested that he was the least intelligent intelligence officer in the whole cosmos (I think I may have been plagiarising myself here but I was mad and in full flow). I think he may have opined that my brand of journalism should be buried at the bottom of a medieval midden. There was more, much more ……………………………. much more that probably would have been better left unsaid – but that is often the way in these situations, don’t you find?
Eventually we shouted ourselves out into a couple of malevolent stares.
I got wearily to my feet, picked up the bucket and turning my back on him made towards the sink.
‘Hey! You can’t just ignore me.,’ he started.
I didn’t directly witness what happened next, but I think we can fill in the pieces – wet floor, standing water, over hasty movement. There was a loud yelp, a thud and a crash and when I turned round there he was, sitting in a puddle of water with his hand still clutching a chair that lay across his legs.
‘Jim are you alright?’ I asked anxiously.
He glared up at me, ‘You can’t just absolve yourself of all responsibility’. He was shouting at me again and I have to say I began to feel that all this was getting just a bit tiresome.
On and on it went, he called everything from a pig to a dog, finally coming to a breathless halt with ‘You can’t just make all this or me disappear!’
‘No you can’t!’
‘Can too !!!’ and with a triumphal laugh I continued, ‘I’ll just write you out of the narrative’.
‘I’ll expunge you from the record, you just won’t exist,’ I was cross again now.
Jim, still sitting in the puddle, seemed to sag as though his life was already leaching away.
‘Please don’t do that.’
‘But you bring me nothing but trouble.’
‘It’s my job …… and …… you wrote the job description!’
Now, call me a bit slow on the uptake, but I was beginning to feel that I was losing control of the sitch – and I still had the kitchen floor to clean – again!
I helped Jim to his feet, righted the chair and sat him down at the table.
Then, as I filled the kettle, he slipped in the killer line, ‘And what would become of my family?’
I turned to see him shaking his head sorrowfully, ‘Yes …. my partner, the kids, the dog and the gerbil,’ he blew out his cheeks.’
I made the tea in what felt like a particularly strained version of that recurring silence. There was, evidently, a problem.
Returning to the table I handed Jim a mug and sat with mine opposite him.
‘I didn’t know you had a family.’
He grinned somewhat sheepishly at me (or was it for me?).
‘Seems as though I do.’
I felt cornered ….. and I don’t mind admitting it, a growing sense of panic – after all there’s nonsense and nonsense! and the trajectory into the latter was becoming somewhat unnerving.
We sipped our tea.
‘What’s with the fucking gerbil?!’ I eventually exasperated.
‘Sorry ….. we only got that last week …… but they don’t live long…. so ………’ he trailed off, then brought matters back to the key issues that we needed to grapple with. ‘Maybe we could come to some sort of accommodation?’ it was his turn to grin now.
‘Accommodation?’ I stuttered.
He nodded, ‘I’m sorry about the floor, have you got a squidgy mop or something? ……. What’s this?’ he grabbed the previously discarded steam cleaner with an air of triumph. ‘Should’ve used this in the first place …. would have avoided the whole mess!’
That remark might have broken many a person, but with extraordinary will power I remained silent.
‘We’ve got to talk about it,’ he looked back at me over his shoulder as he filled the water reservoir of the steam cleaner at the sink, ‘At least tell me who John Smith is.’
‘There is no John Smith,’ I said wearily.
He laughed, ‘Don’t be preposterous, there’s thousands of them, maybe tens of thousands for all I know.’
‘Jim! I made him up.’
There was another edition of the silence whilst he fiddled the water reservoir onto the steam cleaner, switched it on and then grinned as steam began to escape from under the cleaning pad. With a vigorous sweeping action he was off, working his way across the floor.
‘Make sure you get into those corners properly.’
He did, I have to accept, a good job, notwithstanding the obvious – that I had already done the hands and knees work. When he had finished the floor looked fantastic. I got up to admire it.
‘Hey! Stay where you are, I’m not having you tramp all over my clean floor.’
‘Sorry, Jim …… and thanks ….. for … er ….. doing the floor.’
‘My pleasure, you just need the right tools and … er … a bit of application.’
Things had been going well for a bit. Jim had busied himself with the floor and I had ….. well …. watched him, lost in a second, and it has to be said, much more contemplative Jerome moment. But now that awkward silence returned and I guess we were running out of diversions – I had decided that it wouldn’t have been prudent to ask him to clean the windows as well.
He sat back down at the table, swallowed and then it all started again.
‘I don’t think this making things up malarkey is very helpful if I’m honest.’
‘But it’s the truth.’
‘No not very helpful,’ he repeated, ‘You see I don’t think that would go down very well in Court …. Do you?’
‘Yes in Court – there’s an application being prepared for your extradition.’
‘What!’ just when you thought things couldn’t ….
‘I know, I know,’ he shook his head, ‘It’s the Americans, it’s their new toy … anyone they don’t like …. You know how it is.’
Well I didn’t and what’s more I didn’t want to, but before I could say anything he slipped into an altogether different approach.
‘Look, let’s just say that all you did was receive emails from the man … and the episodes of course. You had no idea how sensitive the material was and foolishly did no fact checking and all that stuff that you are supposed to be doing before you posted them on the blogsite. You thought it was a bit of a laugh, a joke. You now realise how irresponsible your actions were and will be far more careful in the future. Perhaps you might acknowledge that your behaviour has caused a lot of difficulties for a lot of important people and,’ he looked directly at me, ‘you might consider regretting any harm that may have occurred to the country’s security.’
You won’t credit this, I could hardly believe it myself when I heard myself saying ‘But I did contact him, right at the start …. and actively encouraged him to write the bloody stuff.’
‘He was clever, wasn’t he? ….. fooled you! – proof that you were manipulated, that’s excellent.’ Jim beamed, he for one seemed happy – and I suppose I had a clean floor so …….
‘I’ll just pass you off as a mostly harmless idiot.’
‘Unless you wanted to be a useful idiot?’ He raised his eyebrows enquiringly.
‘Yeah, like Arthur Ransome was to the Bolsheviks.’
I snorted incredulity, ‘Don’t be ridiculous Jim, I don’t know any of Putin’s secretaries ….. and anyway I am already happily married …..’
‘Now who is being ridiculous? I mean work for us …. write fake news and all that, you know – nonsense – you’re good at …………………………… oh, perhaps not.’
I wrote him out through the back door. As he left he turned and smiled, ‘Don’t worry we’ll have a good laugh about this when we’re next down the pub.’