The Nohzone Trilogy comprises three novels and a further novel entitled
"And death shall have no domain name ...", none of which include excerpts from a previous novel entitled "Operation Nohzone", which is/was clearly (or not clearly) a necessary part of this escalating labyrinth of texts which might, or might not, finally be described as "The Memoirs of Dr. Michael Schlieman".
Herewith the first chapter of a novel which might well have been spawned from your reading ...

 

Please ignore the texts below ...
unless ...

 

 

1

 

"Facts copulate with facts and create fiction."

Carmen St. Keeldare: PULP ELECTION

 

We were having a drink in The Green Man not too far from my shabby damp basement flat in Battersea, an unfashionable mile south of the Thames, too far from the park to derive any benefit from the night-breathing of the trees.

'You should be pleased to get rid of the dump, you always hated it.'

'Yeah! Just part of the front. No-one knew who I was or what I was doing, it's easy to be anonymous in a Battersea basement. Not that I'm easily noticed anywhere these days, even in a Nash flat in Regent Park, having spent all my life training myself to be invisible. You might even say I have a penchant for it. I've already emptied the flat of everything personal, and already had a couple of buyers sniffing and making offers, but don't tell anyone, for god's sake. I've told them all I'm staying rooted to London for a year or so, to settle my affairs, while I decide where to retire to, eventually. They'll smell a rat if they discover I've cleared the place out already and I'm ready to leave for far far away places ... Forever!'

'Yeah, there's been plenty of rats scuttling around your back alleys, recently. You've hardly been MI5's latest bright-eyed boy. No doubt about it, the time's ripe to move on, Michael. Just remember nowhere is far enough away, these days. Get out before they come for you ... before there's a leak about the publication of your imminent memoirs. If there is one, it won't be from me.'

'I know, don't worry. But I reckon they must have figured something out, already. Anna knows me too well. She had has a woman's instinct about such things, especially loyalty. Women sense betrayal when its still only a recurring dream. I'm not too naive, you know, to think I can get off from all this scot free. This kind of shit gets under the skin, pollutes the blood, as you know. It'll take me ages to come clean. Can't wait, though at times I'm dreading it. Maybe the skin will slough off too ... maybe I've taken too many risks over the years. To think, I once thought all this was fun! And morally and ethically sound! The mind boggles ... not that I like the phrase. Mind you it is the mind that sees, it's true, not the eyes. You know?'

'You and your philosophising. Give it up! Why not go off and have some simple dirty fun, in your old haunts. Cairo  or somewhere! You know they are all ruthless in HQ these days. Never known such a bunch of insecure, wimpish, power hungry zealots. Anna does a number with you because you are single and she secretly reads your detective novels, but you know she would shop you at the drop of a trilby ... there's been too many careless agent's funerals, lately, for my liking. There's be more, or I'll eat my trilby!'

'You can eat your hat - me, I always eat my words! I keep telling myself it doesn't matter what they think, what matters now is how well I organise my escape. My final disappearing act. Into the magician's box! Most of all, it depends on where I go. I don't want to be on the run for the rest of my life, living in shabby hotels. I want to walk the hills somewhere beautiful, spectacular, truly wild, where falcons and eagles will keep me company  -  breathe in the mountain air. Talk to the trees!'

'The trees and the birds, nature in all its naked glory and gory ... savage in tooth and nail, isn't it? But not forgetting the naked women you collect as examples of mother nature's procreative work. Careful who you get involved with on the way, I say. No more loose women, find yourself someone serious. One of your so-called dancing girls will be the cause of your downfall, you know that, don't you?'

'Of course ... they always were. Isn't the danger, the fun of it? Why else live the lonely life of the spy?'

'Yes, true enough, but I'd not admit it to the wife. We are very different, you and I. Always will be.  You live in the present, I plan the future. That's the main difference between us, apart from the fact you can write and I only use my pen for doing the lottery numbers. You are lucky, you are free to go on the run. To escape to the ends of the earth. Just can just write your books, anywhere. Very lucky, to be so alone.'

'It was good planning. But I wouldn't  recommend the loneliness, it gets you at times. But you're right. I shall find someone one of these days .. to wash my socks while I walk through the forests and write my self-destructive, apocalyptic tracts - as Sister T calls them. You're the only two people in the world who know about them. I hope I haven't compromised you too much!!'

He frowned. Shrugged. The scene would have looked better in black and white. A flickering neon sign behind him, the sound of a wailing siren on the sound-track. He looked me in the eyes. Straight. Too straight. I felt uncomfortable. He didn't do it often, in case I noticed he was still capable of feeling.  

'You still live too much in a dream world, Michael. It's dangerous.  Women. Those crazy pots you collect. The books, and all that. I worry you no longer know what is really going on ins this fucking so-called real world. It's got pretty vicious nowadays, with the allies fighting the allies. Not that we have no real common enemy - everyone has become an enemy, even our friends! We needed the Russians, they were the ideal Barbarians knocking at the gate. Who is it now? The Chinese? No, it's Japan and Europe. Economics. Big business. Money. And where's there such huge amounts of money, the Mafia rule ... even though they may call themselves share-holders in multi-national companies. Energy. Oil. Gas. Nuclear power. It's us now, at war with ourselves, our own greed. At war with our own politicians, who must be even more greedy than we are. But you know all this!'

'Yeah ... don't depress me even more. I've wasted my whole life deluding myself! Fighting the Barbarians ... not realizing they were here, within. You're right ... they have betrayed us over the years.  But it was my fault. It was Genet who said that betrayal was the essence of the human impulse for power, and desire. Betrayal. You know al along but choose to deny it. Because you know you're capable of betrayal yourself. Everything has become betrayal because nothing is authentic. Like women. Like movies. Screens, masks. We're all doll junkies these days. You're right, it's time I wised up before it's too late. But that's what I've done surely? I'm more than half way to getting out! HQ will get me if they can, before I can publish, I know that. It's me against them. Publish and be damned for it, but I'll feel good. Cleansed. Especially when I have told Maria's story.'

'Good luck Michael. You said it, not me. They are ruthless. You've not been in their good books for as long as I can remember. Just take care on the last lap! You old bastard. In truth I envy you! You kept yourself free of ties. Nothing to cling to. Very clever, you old sod, you old Buddhist you!' He laughed. When he laughed you could see the scimitar-shaped scar across his throat. The skull beneath the skin.

T14 had left off working in the field, after he'd been caught and tortured in Dublin. Torture? Where did they get idea from? Like being forced to read Finnegans Wake, out loud, a stroke of the belt for every hesitation. I guess they thought he was me! Since then he'd been exploiting his passion for technology, in control of the recent extensive upgrades on the MI6 computer systems, dealing with the (fraught) interface with those of MI5. He knew his stuff. We'd met on this occasion to talk about some new software he'd developed especially for me, to protect the data on my laptop from any eavesdroppers (what were they doing hanging from the roof?) who might have decided that what I was re-thinking about my past and its misdemeanours, (actions which did worse than demean me), memories I was careless enough to record on a magnetic disc or two, might be a threat to the security of the realm. Or, worse for them, their own dark guilt-ridden secrets. My laptop was the single most crucial bit of luggage I'd be taking on my trip into the nowhere domains. Meanwhile though, I'd be making back-ups at every step of the way, in case they simply stole the machine.

I was putting all the stuff, as soon as it was written, directly onto a number of obscure, elusive websites on the wwweb, that no-one knew I had registered! My own little private world on the web, on which my writings could live on, forever if necessary. Sites with domain names that would give no clue as to their contents ... phizone.com: espion-age.com: streetwisenameddesire.com: somatrix.com: timeweft.com: karmatrix.com: virgenius.com:  virgenie.com: universace.com: godsgenome.net: stellarimington.co.uk; rumpelstiltskinismyname.co.uk; sirenqueen.com: microtofs.com: quelcul.com; fromheretoinfinity.com; lasttangoinparadise.com; chrispetit..co.uk: blairgate.co.uk: idiotcom.com: walladmor.co.uk: godisanenglishman.com: and a further mutinous host of others ...

*** (see below)

All the texts I'd completed were distributed around these delibately obscure sites,  already, hovering, waiting. Waiting to be connected, one day, all the multifarious fragments fused into a (nefarious some would say) whole. Each time I'd despatched s text from the laptop, the details were erased - T14 had sorted out the software to do this, instantly. No way of seeing where I had been, what sites I had visited or down-loaded stuff onto. 'Once loaded there's no-one in the world other than you and me who can access your stuff. It'll be completely secure. On your laptop but even more so, out there on the web!'

'Stuff' was not exactly the way I would have wanted to describe my written work (its multifarious, contradictory, paradoxical and discordant forms),  especially the explosive chronicles that would comprise the final volume of the memoirs, which I was at last in the mood to complete: all mapped out, twenty eight chapters, ready for a final purge ... 

'Stuff?'

'Your most esteemed literary and politically pretensions!'

I suspected he was not referring, thus, to my detective novels, that facet of my work he had always considered the most suspect; if at least modestly entertaining, for the non-literary hoi polloi.  

'Not the trash pulp fiction, but your Confessions. Isn't that what you said you would call them? Rather than memoirs, suggesting it was you who committed the crimes? Mind you, even in your detective novels you reveal far too many details of your intelligence work, despite yourself. I can see they're almost biographies, an unsettling picture to anyone who knows the codes. You must get smarter Michael, you were always too curious about the psychology of it all. Playing games, with codes and names, but sometimes codes and names become real people, and yet you were  always too trusting. You must hide everything from now on, the time of the private jokes is over. People are sharpening their knives at the mere hint of someone else in British Intelligence writing their memoirs. Knowing them, they will find a woman to infiltrate your defences. Just remember I warned you! They know you too well. A sweet little honey pot from Russia or Poland, offering to be your secretary! Good at short-hand! Like the one they sent to us, an au pair, having tapped our call to the nanny agency. They are fighting us, just as bitterly as the enemy, these days.'

He was right. Never feeling I had much to lose, I had enjoyed the games, the risks, flirting with death ... not easy to admit. It took me a long time to reach the present chastened, cooled caste of self-understanding. It was true my pulp novels were often poorly disguised versions of real-life assignments, the contexts accurate even if the characters were somewhat embellished. Especially the girls, whose pretexts were invariably nothing less than deadly. I was never really cut out to be an academic, and I only clung to my job (at MI5's advice) as part of the front, the mask behind which it was easy to act out my work, but also my own drams in my own private theatre. I always had a penchant for greasepaint and black lace stockings. I can't sleep at night without curtains around the bed, Maybe that was why I always felt so much sympathy for poor old Lockwood, trapped inside his wooden box. 'Let me in, let me in ... ' words on the wind, whipped by the tree's branches, the howling wind, a child's face at the window. Dreams, opium inspired dreams I have shared all too often ... no doubt about it, Emily was an addict, like her brother Branwell. Such a quintessentially English novel ...   

But T14 was a true friend, he kept me on my toes, warning me when the level of malignant gossip in HQ was verging on the virulent. He shared my disillusion with what had become 'the inner war we can never escape', as he was now calling it. 'The intelligence services become the agents of covert political oppression of its own people - working for the good of the big companies!' We had seen some of the Intelligence gathered 'stuff' that had been sent off pronto to the English companies who would benefit from the insider information on the secret workings of foreign companies! Especially the French and the Germans ... those buggers flooding the English markets with the cars and cheap tin trays! 

Now we were the enemy. Peter Wright, Richard Tomlinson, David Shayler, and now Stella Rimington herself! Who was going to be plagiarising who? Who would dare to sue? Who would dare to cast the first stone? We knew we were trapped in the same frame-up, little more than pawns in other people's ruthless political manoeuvres. The Intelligence web, with its hi-tech robotic mind, irreversibly  entranced with power, intricately interlaced with the networks of international commerce, which was by definition political power, cultivating intrigues that guaranteed that who was in power, stayed in power. The  new sub-text after the demise of the cold war was the obsession with being left out in the cold, economically. Modern espionage was often little more than industrial espionage - gone the old addictions (ideals) of foiling terrorist conspiracies aimed at sabotaging the defences of the realm.

T14 and I had been accomplices as well as friends, for several years, share-holders in a new club, whose motto was Hic Sunt Futilitas, refusing to be conned, despairing at the new self-centred political hypocrisy, and the deep disillusion it engendered. But he also owed me a special favour. A tip-off I'd given him - only a cynical despairing hunch, at the time - had saved his life. Ever since, he'd been happy enough to develop what I needed for my computer, a failsafe foolproof security system. Now I could be confident of working in secret, with no fears of my computer being infiltrated, even if stolen. 'But back up everything onto the net, everyday, as if it was your last. First onto the detachable Jazz drive I've set up for you ... ' The name seemed.

'Good, I can put my Miles Davis and the MJQ onto it. In case I get stuck in the arctic, on the Trans Siberian express!' Though it was now looking as if it might be the bullet train to Hokkaido.

'I'm being serious, Michael, they trust no-one, least of all you! Just because you're a jaded aesthete and failed academic, you think you are safe. You forget you trained Shayler in the art of assassination! He knows far too much about your trip to Libya, after all. They're desperate, capable of anything, even setting you up with a fake assignment, which goes mysteriously wrong. You're the perfect fall guy, for this Sellafield debacle. They hate everything to do with you and Cambridge fucking university. I'm sure they hope you are the last they ever weaned from the place. They'll make sure you are, and that you die in silence, they have the technology to blow you away, phut, from a thousand miles away. Especially if you are on the internet! Don't send any more e-mails. Okay? Otherwise they'll send a jade-green laser down the line, as lethal as a cobra, that will fry your mind!'

He was right, we'd seen similar 'stuff' already. T14 had placed the bugs himself in our own agent's gear - sliced invisibly into the modem circuits. Trapped him instantly. That's when I was on the right side of the system. Now I so far to the left I was in danger of becoming code-named Judas Iscariot!

'To be safe, double up everything - two copies on the Jazz discs, send the second one to me, then the internet satellite sites. Whenever you can. Never too careful, just in case.'

'Thanks! Listen I've not even left England, yet!'

I told him I had already agreed, in principle - I would await the details - to the final assignment.

He stared at me blankly. Shook his head, as if he hoped the tumour would fragment and ooze out of his ears, like chocolate sauce. 'Good luck my friend ... !' He handed me the doctored laptop and accessory  equipment. 'Follow the codes we've agreed on. In that way I can decipher everything.'

I felt calm, I could now relax wherever I was, committing my 'stuff' into the virtual domains on the computer's continuum. I knew the telephone line at my college had been bugged for years. I had been doubly careful, but it was easy to slip up while talking.  The mind would take over ... as it did in dreams. Especially talking to mistresses ... now it was a new beginning. I was on the edge of being reborn. I needed a new name for the 'person' who would be pursuing my new, real, serious work, in case of a careless slip of the tongue. Who should I become? It was not enough, even for an absent minded literary don as myself, to refer to the fruition of my life's work, intended to unmask with all the necessary documentation the personal corruption and political mendacity of the British Intelligence services, as my 'stuff', and expect it not to be picked up as an essential key-word on their scanning computers. I needed to invent a suitably misleading title, for a new detective novel I had started, and make sure I referred to nothing else but that ... though it ought to be a novel I was studying for a literary paper on pop culture, its new all-pervasive powers of dumbing down and brain-washing the unsuspecting populace ... sketch out a feasible story-outline, if they went quietly snooping into my mind, as it spoke out aloud as I was out walking in the forest ... talking to the trees or the birds, or to the ghost of De Quincey or Ruskin, or whoever else I met crossing the fells on the old sheep tracks ... thousands of years old apparently. Someone had dug through one and found flints that pre-dated Stonehenge - wondering where it was I took the wrong track myself, so many years devoted to something I  instinctively mistrusted. How had I also been brainwashed into becoming a government  agent - albeit part-time, though it had become more and more serious as time went by. 

Somewhere on one of those tracks over the Cumbrian hills, which I used to follow as a kid, was an old signpost, split by lightning ... one arm pointing up, the other, fractured, pointing down. I needed to find it, to put the words back together, carved into the oak ... or had it only been a dream?  

I took a pen ... doodled. I needed something kitsch, that would look good in bright red lettering ... smudged lipstick on a mirror, or on a black and white photograph, a figure in a long dress ... The Satin Woman was ideal, but too obvious, with suggestions of a morbid fetishistic obsession with silk and skin, a book to be read only at night, alone, perfect company surely for a broken man. Perhaps I'd already written it, or it was a Hank Jansen novel I'd sort-of lifted ... a sign of respect, really. God! After two nips of Islay Malt, I couldn't even recall the titles of my own trash novels! Sooner I got to Japan and let the wind blow out the cobwebs from my mind, the better!

Yes, I ought really to go there, immediately. 'I'm just not physically up to it any longer, Anna, and you know my heart scans show physical signs of damage ... ' True enough, alas. My heart beat was erratic, positively rhapsodic at times, more syncopated than Miles Davis's Kind of Blue ... I had the sheets of X-ray film to prove it. Paroxysmal Atrial Filibration, they said. What did they expect after twenty years flirting with death? The scans looked like a Paul Klee drawing, or an early Goya etching from the War images. Sure my heart showed the signs, after years of addiction to corrupting melancholy, to images (ethereal and impalpable) in words and line, culled from their own misery by  nineteenth century romantics ... the love of beauty, innocence, nature,  even in small doses, as treacherous as arsenic. Popular at the time with betrayed wives. As for my own undeniable signs of tangible atrophy, clogged up arteries, my body battered by too much fish and chips eaten out of soggy ink-run pages of The Sun (pausing on the odd page three, made more sensual by the vinegar rendering the palimpsest translucent) while stuck in cars stalking out terrorist safe-houses. Cricklewood, Bethnal Green, Blackheath. Listening to tapes of Indian Ragas played on the flute by Pannalal Ghosh, or Janacek's string quartets, even late Beethoven string quartets (after another failed love affair: 'You are always so busy, and when you are here, your mind is elsewhere ... ')

'We bugged his car. He can't be MI6, just listen to the crap music! Must be waiting for some swanky bird ... ' 

Time seeps. When a man discovers he is not immortal, sees proof of the running grave tracking him down, his mind inevitably turns to thoughts of time lost, opportunities wasted ... memoirs confess what could not have been said before, while you were still fully blindly alive,  living it ... not easy to tell one story that embodies them all ... but there was no going back, I was leaving the war zone and entering no-man's land, armed only with my laptop and few books. Ecstasy!

But the danger would still be the assassin's bullet. This time the bullet could come from either side of the perimeter fence.

How far back should I go? To the time when everything was wonder and awe? It sounded rather corny. Better to start with the pursuit of the anarchists ... 

'You seem far away!' T14 had drink his second pint.

'I was wandering ... sorry! I'm already there, looking down on the Lake, wondering what the hell to write!'

'One last thing. The pretexts, as I called them.'

These 'pretexts' as T14 had aptly named them were some written password-codes that invoked the necessary scrambling algorithms before any new text files or recordings could be made. Not the usual stuff: BY345/J&&*-DOPN69 - but created especially for me, he said ... 'An elegant poetic quotation, easy to remember and ineradicable, already recorded in your brain cells! No it's not, The falcon no longer hears the falconer ... '  (one of my favourites, as he knew).

Nor was  it And god has pitched his tent in the place of excrement  ...

' .... ... .... ... ... ... ... .... .... ..... ... ... ' he said. 

'Ah, de Quincey. Yes, even better! Thanks!' From Murder considered as one of the Fine Arts. T14 knew quite a rattle bag of my favourite allusions. He had always been amused by my habit of carrying books around, even on the most dangerous assignments. 'Take care your past doesn't catch up with you, one day. Some of those IRA men you put away. The newly released  jailbird catches the bookworm!'

That was the nickname they enemy had given me, written in a note by one of my victims, eagerly appropriated by the malicious Anna. 'You were a fool to show your cards!' It had always been one of my best-known eccentricities to employ suitably 'visionary' code books and phrases, obscure literary sources that even in fifteen wild Decembers no-one in the philistine outfit would ever discover, even under D16/F torture procedures, or drug-induced hypnotism. 'We have a way of making you speak!'

Talking of which (the drug-induced visions and writing of the Victorian Romantics always having intrigued me) talking of which, LSD, now out of fashion in the Service, had been replaced with a much more focussed tool, a chemical scalpel developed by an Indian tribe eking out a technologically dispossessed existence in the higher reaches (or un-reaches) of the Amazon: a nature-respecting tribe of people (who can hear a dead leaf drop off a tree above the canopy a hundred yards away in a rainstorm) soon to become extinct. Their truth drug (by which they spoke directly to their ancestors, on what they called the 'R' Field - the letter R in their language being the only difference between the word for corpse and the word for sex) was a mixture of the venom of two highly poisonous rattle snakes. Which two snakes, out of the hundreds they knew? Why and how had they stumbled on this deva-stating combination? Why two snakes at all, you must ask. It was said the shamans of the tribe discovered the idea of this revelatory potion while eating a mixture of the juices of two vines. During these initiatory visions they received the further detailed instructions to move onto a higher plane, with the venom of snakes. But why had they started off by eating two vines together? No-one seemed to know. I found the conundrum of this doubling (Thomas de Quincey would have called it an 'involute') provocative, and guessed it was something to do with the archetypal image of the caduceus ... two snakes, two vines.

I was intrigued to compare some of the tribes' well-documented stories of their visions, especially their alterations in the perception of space and time, and thus memory, with those enlightened souls under the influence of opium, closer to home, our illustrious romantic poets wandering in the wilder domains of our forgotten collective pasts ... wandering over bleak mountain passes, striding, notebooks in pockets, in the broad-leaf woods behind Grasmere, as high as kites on laudanum bought at the local apothecary's shop, watching the skaters on Lake Windermere. It froze solid every winter. Those were the days ... that incestuous gang of (inadvertent) drug addicts who lived in a converted Wayside Inn once called The Dove and Olive. Presumably a dove with an olive leaf in its mouth returning over the waters of the first great flood. A cataclysm predicted by seers of old ... and soon to return, nature's aborted child.

Truth. True confessions ... 'Truth accessing' drugs had never been entirely absent from the sticky fingers of British Intelligence, ever since their abundant exploitation during the opium wars with China. Evidence in the MI6 archives, dark dungeons deep in the bowels of the building (not easily accessible to anyone without a perverse literary mind such as mine) proved that in the nineteenth century, stuffed deep into people's throats with lashings of red wine, opium in huge doses was guaranteed to bring out the best (or worst, which was often the best) in a victim, man or woman ... though shame, cleverly contrived,  was always the best penetrative instrument with the latter ... Truth that would otherwise have remained concealed.

Would I sink or swim, on the run in the domain of the Lakes Poets, envious of their attachment to the natural world, their opium-saturated dreams, swimming in the grottos where the sirens sing ... of things that have passed are passing or are to come ...  

I was getting quite drunk. I was thinking about drugs ...

Stemming from my literary explorations of the virtual peaks and vales of nineteenth century romantic literature, I had been intrigued recently to discover more about brain-washing, in the context of the broader picture, fascinating new developments in the maverick field of psycho-pharmacology; the new chemistry of consciousness, and not denying an unhealthy interest in the smart drugs being created by enlightened truth-seekers in other fields - of fantasy and culture. For me, the future was not with computer and gene technologies, on their own, but with the psycho-pharmacologists. Expanded consciousness, seemed to me, to be the future of the human race, in one form or another. It would be intriguing in Japan to find some pure opium, as it was once brewed and exported to our finest poets, novelists and dreamers ... political and otherwise. William Blake can hardly have abstained. Gout corrupted everyone with its pains. 

No doubt it, with my avowed interests, I could assume I had been under surveillance for some time, as T14 had persistently warned me.

After his recent heart attack, there was no knowing how long T14 would, in fact, be around. 'Maybe those boffins of ours in Porton Down have found a new drug, a virus to give us heart attacks!'

'Just keep your eyes wide open, that's all I say. Retirement or no retirement.' He too was drunk. He wasn't the best company when he was maudlin.

'It's being alone that will probably kill me! Not many dancing girls where I'm going. Lap dancing or otherwise. Only my computer on my lap, alas, precariously balanced there on my arthritic knees ... ' 

'You'll soon find someone, you old rogue,  some unsuspecting victim fallen to your raptorial skills ... there's always naive young girls who go for older men, who prefer the company of books to women. It's a challenge, they have to win you with their minds as well as their bodies.'

It wasn't an easy responsibility. I knew that T14 now saw my work as the medium for his own voice. He was quite sure he would soon be silenced. 'Of course, I'll tell your story as part of my own. We were in a lot of it together. That 's what friends are for!'

He'd already given me twenty encrypted 5 gigabyte disks on which he'd recorded details of his worst episodes. 'Dynamite! Watch the date when you publish them. Not 5th November. All history is cyclic. Isn't   that what you wrote?'

'Yes, but I was quoting Coulianou ... his Tree of Gnosis!' I was always flattered when he recalled something I'd written, or quoted.

Many years before, when we first met, he'd had to listen to one of my papers, called Lest we Forget: And death shall have no domain name. I was lecturing at Warsaw university, and he'd been a cultural attaché at the British Council in charge of buying books for the library. Yeah!  Amongst other things. Since then he'd worked in Northern Ireland. Years before that he'd been the undercover agent sent in to investigate and eventually expose Anthony Blunt. Like attending a quick course at the open university he'd come out of the fray having learnt a lot about Cezanne, Poussin and an acquired fondness for Picasso's erotic prints. We'd become friends soon after. At first he'd  thought I 'was another one' ... it came much later. By which time he too was disillusioned.

It was awesome what 'stuff' you picked up in this business, apart from variously-hued honey-pots. 'Put Schlieman on this one!' A bent Romanian academic with a love of the Securitate - she wore satin, so thin it made silk worms horny, and thigh-high leather boots in bed. 'He's always prepared to learn the background stuff, obsessed with anyone crazy, eccentric, bizarre.'

That word 'stuff' again. It had been a hard life.

'Did Anna force you, or did you agree willingly? Isn't it just too suspicious, they know the Lake District is your place, de Quincey, the Lakes Poets and all that? To me it smacks too much of coincidence ... it's a set-up. A pretext for your failure, and for silencing you. They want you up there, not here in London, but in the wilds, and the Lake District is the perfect setting for a crime. Hardly the hard rock café. It's difficult to hide there except in the mountains. There, they'll get you with the dogs. It's easy to use tourists as their front. Watch out for German cars. You are more likely to meet Harcourt on the road, your favourite enemy, than the Bishop. I know it's a coincidence you were planning to go there, already, but it still smacks of clever deception. They wouldn't ask you to go to Cromer, would they?'

'Why Cromer?'

'You went there a couple of times with your girls. You know they know all that. They needed something you couldn't say no to. You were already going there so you couldn't say no without causing suspicion, and spite. It's as if they're warning you that they know you're planning to disappear. Once you're in the mountains in your own narrative rather than theirs if something nasty occurs, like you falloff a sheer rock-face two hundred feet high, or get bitten in the throat by a jaguar escaped from a zoo, or someone out hunting hares just happens to give you a sable fur hat he claims he found on the path and then shoots you by accident, saying he thought you were a roedeer! Nothing to do with HQ, it was that old hag mother nature who was your undoing! Check out their story, best be forewarned. Isn't Sister T still your bosom pal? She should know, she could find out for you.'

'I didn't want to involve her again, she's taken many risks for me.'

'And the story of a Japanese connection, too far fetched. The French maybe, the Russians. Am I being paranoid?'

'No more than usual.'

He shrugged. True, it gets to you, it's an occupational hazard. In our work you have nothing to be paranoid about except the inevitably of developing your own especially virulent brand of paranoia. Always deadly, it carries your own DNA so you have no immunity against it.

'Yeah, paranoia is a drug with its own pantheon of hallucinations ... easy to get high on it, the anti-truth drug, preferring to tell yourself lies, because you've repressed the too hideous, too fatal truth. The sooner you write your memoirs the better, before they het evidence of what you're really up to in your eyrie in the mountains  - they'll slip in when you're doing their work - and bump you off. You were going to the Lakes and now they suddenly want you to be there. It stinks, Michael and you know it ! I was always suspicious of two stories in one. Be extra vigilant, keep yourself D16F20B secure!' By that he meant, shoot first. Like we did in Ireland.  

'You know how they dispose of people, Michael. You have proof of one of their executions on my discs. The Aldermaston physicist I told you about. The Pakistani. Either they'll make sure you get dosed up with radiation - an accidental leak from a broken cask of plutonium which just happened to be under the front seat of your car - they'll say you stole it and were planning to sell it. You'll not have the brain-cells left with which to tell your tale. Or they'll get you shot by the Japanese mafia (an Irishman with a grudge and wearing a Noh mask from a Yeats play) and plead they have to keep the story from the Media ... for security reasons.'    

'Don't worry, I wasn't born yesterday ... '

'Yeah, I know that, but let's hope you're not dead tomorrow!'

 

That evening, after scanning Anna's letter into my computer, I burnt it. I'd decided to keep a precise account of this narrative right from the start. Just an  intuition. Narratives involving the weird machinations of the Intelligence services, especially when they go wrong,  have a way of becoming schizoid, suddenly splitting into two and you fall in the void between. T14 obviously had the same instinct about this one, my so-called last assignment. Thinking more about it, it was worrying that I'd never been considered before, for anything to do with Sellafield. BNFL and the British Nuclear Industry had its own specially trained clique. Why a sudden change of heart, just as I had decided to leave the Service, go feral, find the proverbial silence, exile and cunning?

I transferred some files from my main computer (soon to be moth-balled somewhere safe) to the Jazz discs. Un-encrypted. A front. Notes for an academic book, working title: Without Completion. Thomas de Quincey, Opium and the Altered Perception of Space and Time.

'She took off her knickers, and yeah ... she was a true blonde!'

Not a quote from one of my own novels, but one chosen as an epigraph recently to an article in the Times Literary Supplement, discussing the detective fiction genre, in which I was given a small mention. 'The plot line, a typical Crookshank (pretentious!) stab at plagiarism of a Greek myth; or legend. Oedipus and Antigone comes to mind ... Let us thank the promiscuous depraved gods (which he often 'quotes') it wasn't that favourite of our more perversely obscure writers. Ulysses! Yet again!'

What a fuss! Just a thread to help you get out of the labyrinth, once you're lost in there.

 

*** further websites of Michael's Virtual Continuum.

 

allpossibledomains.com: thestellarimingtonmemoirs.co.uk; ioancoulianu.com: noraand.net: eonzones.com: londonplayboy.com; bloomstone.com: grididiot.com: ufomystic.net: damnednation.co.uk; dotcosmology.com: gtacsurveillance.co.uk: novacola.com: hoteleuphoria.com: holozones.com: imachic.com: nubilephone.com: lordsofthecyberverse.com: cyberfascism.com: acescape.com:

... to name but a few ...

 

***

 

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