July 31, 2016Posted by on
“Dammit!” He whispered, quiet enough for the in-car mobile not to pick it up — or so he thought. “What the hell does Beccy want.”
“Sorry to interrupt your musical interlude Edward but will you pick up some demerara sugar on your way home, I need some for the desert.”
“Light or dark?”
He abruptly cut her off, annoyed that she had interrupted the performance of Parsifal that he was listening to on Radio Three.
Rebecca put the phone down and picked up the kitchen knife again, talking to herself as she viciously attacked the carrot on the chopping board. “Stephen is bringing Beth to dinner, I’m slaving away over a hot Aga and all I get is bloody Wagner, ‘dammit’, ‘Beccy’ and being cut off because I interrupted Parsifal. Wagner is bad enough but Bayreuth: Bugger Bayreuth!” She paused at the thought of many past visits and the forthcoming misery she would have to endure next week at Bayreuth. How he always called it the Bayreuther Festspiele and told people they were going to the Bayreuther Festspielhaus. “Bayreuther! Festspielhaus! Pretentious bastard! For this I spend a week of hell every year listening to soul crushing Wagnerian dirges and vacuous discussions about bloody leitmotif between the Bayreuth faux cognoscenti.”
Recovered her composure Rebecca put more garlic on the lamb and called out, “Jessica sweetie, go and bring mummy some more rosemary from the garden please.” She knew Beth didn’t particularly like either. “Hardly a Kundry, more of a Brünnhilde!” The amusement at her portrayal of Beth as a large breasted Valkyrie quickly turned to rancour at the thought of the fecund Beth, the mediocre cook, being married to Stephen. He always used their children as an excuse for not leaving Beth. Rebecca grabbed another carrot, placed it on the chopping board and began furiously slicing it with the knife.
Swinging into the supermarket Edward parked the Lexus where he thought it would be safe and then sat quietly while he listened to the end of Parsifal. When the opera had finished he reluctantly left the car after making sure that it was safely locked, assuming that anyone using this store had criminal tendencies. He hated all supermarkets but especially this one, referring to it disparagingly as ‘Jeremy Kyle country’. Walking between the electronic article surveillance guard at the entrance he felt a jolt as if he had just received an electric shock. The jolt was severe enough to disorientate him, causing him to fall forward into the store. Feeling somewhat embarrassed he straightened himself up and looked around to see if anyone had noticed. A few were looking at him but most seemed oblivious to his presence.
He did notice the security guard inside the entrance to the store looking anxiously at him, while viewing what he assumed was the cctv screen in his cubicle. The guard’s cubicle was larger than he remembered. Now it was completely enclosed with a clear surround protecting the security guard inside. He wasn’t surprised at the store’s need to protect the security guards from the customers. Then he noticed the customers. It wasn’t that they were all wearing their customary track suits, it was the fact that apart from the colour, all of the track suits looked very similar. My God, it’s getting even worse! He thought. Now they must get their ghastly track suits on welfare and with a choice of colour. Little wonder that the country’s going to the dogs. Bloody socialism gone mad.
Two grim faced security guards were approaching, he looked around again, he hadn’t heard the article surveillance guard alarm go off and couldn’t see anyone acting suspiciously. As they approached him one of them said, “We’d like you to come with us.” Adding in what he thought was a menacing tone, “You should come quietly, we don’t want any trouble.”
Thinking that they could surely recognise he wasn’t the average hoi-palloi who frequented this store he asked, “What’s this about? I’ve only just popped in for some sugar. I assume that wearing a suit and tie in this store isn’t an offence or is it tracksuits only now?”
The sarcasm of his last remark obviously fell on deaf ears as they both drew some kind of sidearm that they pointed at him saying, “Come quietly, or we’ll be forced to immobilise you.”
Edward started laughing at them both. “I know this store caters to the indolent welfare fraternity but what are those? You’re not policemen, do you think those toy guns intimidate me. Immobilise me — what tosh! Call the manager now, I’ll see you two toy soldiers reprimanded or fired.” The last thing he remembered was them both shooting him.
When he came to he found himself sitting in a pleasant room with a small table separating him from an attractive woman dressed in what looked like a unitard. She smiled at him saying, “Hello Mr Smythe, I hope your recent experience hasn’t upset you too much.”
“How do you know my name?”
“It was on some things contained in what I believe is called a wallet.”
He instinctively tried to reach inside his jacket for his wallet only to find that he wasn’t wearing his own clothes, instead he was dressed in a tracksuit much like the people he had seen at the store. “What is this!” He exclaimed angrily and started to get up out of his chair, suddenly he felt a sharp pain in his head that caused him to slump back into it.
“You really shouldn’t try to leave the chair Mr Smythe, I just want to ask you a few questions.”
As the pain in his head began to recede he wondered why he was being subjected to such illegal treatment. Whoever was detaining him must know that as a senior civil servant who knew the Police and Crime Commissioner personally, he could make life extremely unpleasant for them. “I don’t know who you are or where this is but you must know that I am not the sort of person you should trifle with.”
She replied, “We’re aware of who you claim to be.”
“What are you talking about, claim to be? You must know who I am, surely my wife has already confirmed that I stopped off at the store on the way home.”
“What do you mean you stopped off on the way home?”
“Haven’t you phoned my wife yet?” Her non committal response suggested that she hadn’t. He began to get out of the chair again while saying angrily, “My superior and his wife are coming for dinner this evening. I insist on leaving now.” This time the pain in his head caused him to slump back semi comatose into the chair.
This must a dream, he thought but the pain in his head felt real enough. Opening his eyes he saw that the woman was still sitting there smiling at him.
“I did warn you. Perhaps you would now like to tell us what we are interested in. How did you managed to get this far into the city and into the store before being recorded on our surveillance system?”
“If you had phoned my wife you would know. She wanted some sugar to make the desert, normally I wouldn’t go near the damn store but it was the closest and easy to park there.”
“Now you’re taking stupidity to a new level. Park the car.”
“You have a car?”
“Of course I have a car, a Lexus SUV”, thinking that the mention of it would impress her, that and his love of Wagner. “We’re going to the Bayreuther Festspiele next week to see Parsifal. I was in the car listening to it on Radio Three when my wife called asking me to pick up some demerara sugar on my way home.
Clearly unimpressed she simply said, “There is no car park at the store.”
“Nonsense! Of course there’s a car park, even the indolent welfare layabouts who use the store mostly drive cars or take taxis when they go there.” Adding, “At least those that are not meeting Jeremy Kyle.”
“Is someone named Jeremy Kyle known to you?”
“Of course not. Are you making fun of me?”
“Far from it but I do think that you’re being deliberately obtuse in refusing to give sensible answers to my questions.”
He frantically tried to think of a reason why anyone would subject him to this kind of treatment. The only thing that came to mind was his knowledge of government policy over Hinckley Point, the Severn Barrage or even the Somerset Levels. There were commercially sensitivity matters relating to all of them that could be of a financial advantage to someone. Eventually he said, “Are you employed by a foreign government or some private consortium perhaps?”
“What an odd question: Why do you ask it?”
“I’m trying to think of reasons why I find myself in this situation.”
“I’ve already told you, we want to know how you arrived at the store without being detected until your personal profile appeared on the store surveillance system as not being on record.”
“I can’t explain that. I’m sure that my car is detected by surveillance cameras and I wasn’t aware that individuals were profiled.”
“Really! Then tell us how you were transported to the store without it being recorded on any surveillance system?”
“Perhaps there was a system fault.”
“We don’t have system faults.”
“Had you phoned Rebecca my wife, Stephen Fisher my superior, or any of the contacts on my mobile, you would know that I’m telling the truth. Phone Charles Macauley the Police and Crime Commissioner he will vouch for me.”
No longer smiling she said, “We think that everything about you is deliberately intended to misinform us. I advise you not to persist with this charade.”
Unable to think of any answer that would satisfy her, he angrily jumped out of the chair shouting, “You have no authority to keep me here interrogating me in this manner, I’m leaving now!” Then clutching his head, he screamed in agony before he collapsed.
After reading the medical examiner’s report Sami told the visio screen to contact investigator Alex, linking them if he had also read the report and was ready to discuss the case.
Alex appeared on her screen, “Hello Sami. So the medical examiner’s report concludes that a neural implant malfunction killed him.”
“A 200 year old neural implant Alex, surely they have that wrong?”
“That’s what I thought, so I made them check it again. It’s so old and in such original condition that our personal profile system didn’t register it, which is why we weren’t aware of the implant.”
“I wonder where it came from and why the subversives would go to such extremes?”
“Finding where it came from is a lead we can pursue. Their intention may simply be to cause mayhem in the agency, the implant and death being an intentional part of their plan. Knowledge of our interrogation techniques is just one of the many issues here. They must have succeeded in compromising our surveillance system to achieve the result they did. This incident may be nothing more than an elaborate deception. Whatever else their intention may be, the subversives have already caused mayhem. The internal investigations to find security weaknesses in the agency have virtually doubled.”
“Surely the agency is aware of the consequences of that?”
“I’m sure it is but we must assume that the agency has been further compromised. You were never convinced by his story were you Sami?”
“I was impressed by his faultless use of period language in support of his story.”
“A time traveller?”
Laughing Sami replied, “His death would make that conclusion pure conjecture Alex.”
“Perhaps this was an intended suicide mission as the incident suggests.”
“Do you really believe that subversives have become fanatical enough to undertake suicide missions?”
“This incident suggests so.”
“Then let’s hope the researchers come up with something useful.”
“Therein lies another complication Sami. I was about to send you a copy of their report. One of the researchers is claiming that everything so far about the dead man’s story checks out. She says that archived records indicate that there was senior civil servant called Smythe who had a neural implant. He mysteriously disappeared some 200 years ago amid a lot of media speculation.”
“Is she suggesting that the dead man came from the past?”
“The other researchers scoffed at the idea, saying that time travel is scientifically proven to be impossible.”
“Obliquely she may. She found some hard copy programmes from the Bayreuth Festival Theatre and reported that 200 years ago it featured Parsifal at the time indicated. It seems she’s a history aficionado. She could also be a subversive plant intent on discrediting our investigation.”
“You don’t believe in time travel do you Alex?”
“I believe that you should interrogate this researcher.”
It was over an hour since she had phoned Edward and he still had not come home. Being late home wasn’t like him at all. Rebecca called Stephen’s mobile and managed to catch him before he got home. When she told him about Edward he quickly took control of the situation, telling her that the car’s tracker would reveal where the Lexus was. He would phone Beth to cancel the dinner then come to pick her up in about ten minutes. When he arrived Stephen told her the car was in Freshco’s car park and had been there for an hour. He would take her to the store and she should bring the spare car fob in case they needed it. Rebecca went and asked Jessica to finish cooking the dinner, then left with Stephen for Freshco’s.
On the way to Freshco’s Stephen jokingly said, “You don’t think he’s done a Mr Polly do you?”
“No, he’s too set in his ways for that.”
“So everyone thought Mr Polly and Reginald Perrin were.”
“Neither of them were a senior civil servant who loved Lexus SUVs, Wagner and annual visits to Bayreuth.”
They both laughed at her remark and Stephen raising her hand to his lips, kissed it affectionately, and said, “You don’t think he’s found out about us do you?”
Rebecca took her hand away, tersely replying, “Would it change anything if he has Stephen?” He didn’t answer and they sat in silence for the rest of the journey, each afraid to give voice to their thoughts in case they should elicit a response they didn’t want to hear.
Parking alongside the Lexus they went inside the store. Following their fruitless search of the store for Edward, Stephen asked to see the manager who he insisted made an announcement over the store PA system and ask for a Mr Smythe to report to the information desk. After a while and with no sign of Edward, Stephen told the manager to send for the police. A reluctant manager said, “I’m not sure that I can do that. What shall I say to them, no law has been broken?”
“Tell them that there’s an abandoned Lexus SUV in your car park and no sign of the owner who, like me, happens to know the Police and Crime Commissioner personally. That should get their attention. If you’re not willing to make the call, let me do it or do I have to use my mobile.” If the manager was offended by Stephen’s attitude he was intimidated enough to know that his head office would be especially angry with him if he upset a person as well connected as Stephen seemed to be. He called the police and on putting the phone down told them both that the police would be there shortly.
‘Shortly’ turned out to be an hour, during which Stephen had demanded to see the surveillance cameras. They watched Edward arrive at car park, enter the store, stumble at the entrance and fall somewhere off camera. He never appeared on camera again. “That’s funny” said the manager, “we have cctv coverage of all the aisles and every entrance and exit to the store. Where did he disappear to when he stumbled off camera?”
When the police eventually arrived they all watched the cctv recordings a second time. Turning to Rebecca, one of the constables asked, “Are you sure that’s your husband?”
Irritated by the question Rebecca replied, “Of course I’m sure. Just as I’m sure that he wouldn’t abandon his precious car or forgo the trip to Bayreuth next week.”
“Then it certainly looks as though he’s disappeared madam. The manager assures us that no one matching his description is in the store now and as you never found him I’m afraid that there’s nothing more we can do at the moment. If your husband hasn’t returned home by the morning phone the station and we’ll come to collect further details from you.”
“But there is no sign of him leaving the store!” Stephen exclaimed.
“I’m sure there’s an explanation for that Sir, we will have the cctv surveillance checked but unless there’s a discrepancy between the camera’s time stamps it seems be in working order.” Adding what seemed to Rebecca as being a deliberate question, “Oh! If we do need to visit Mrs Smythe tomorrow will you be there Sir?
The inference she read into the constable’s question made Rebecca blush and she thought that Stephen blurted out rather too indignantly, “Of course not constable. If you need me I can be reached at my office or my home. You have my card.”
After the police had gone Stephen said, “Come on Rebecca, I’ll follow you home to make sure Edward isn’t already there.”
“You should stay for dinner Stephen, Jessica is preparing it. It should be ready by the time we get back.” The thought of having dinner at home with Stephen without Beth or Edward excited her.
Turning to the manager Rebecca said, “Will you get me a bag of demerara sugar.”