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The Gates of Hell


By Fred Piechoczek


As I step out of my door and descend the steps to the grey London pavement matching the sky, I ask myself, why did I do this? The commute I suppose, avoiding it by living in London. What makes a hero? Who wants to be a hero? Do I want to go through with this? The underground is miserable as ever, but at last I ascend to fresh air, well, London air. I make the short walk, and still I ask myself why I am doing this, how I got into this. I stand outside the office, my last chance to say, no, this is not for me, but I do not say that. So I enter the building and I do all the things that we do in office buildings these days, like identify ourselves to porters who care not a damn, security guards, video monitors, whatever obstacles are set in our way, but we always get through, why bother?

I will wait in some kind of reception area, public or private, and then they will invite me in to talk. They will ask me questions of no consequence, and all the while I will have in my head knowledge that they would kill for, but their protocol will not permit them to ask me those questions, not yet. So why am I doing this? The answer is difficult and cannot be said in a word. The simple answer is that I do not have the hard evidence, that I need them to help me get it, and arguably I need them to stay alive, my preference over the alternative, and I need them to share my knowledge. Once they share my knowledge, it is no longer necessary that I be a target, as the knowledge will no longer disappear with my demise.

You ask already, showing your age not mine, if my name is Walter Mitty, perhaps, but no it is not – it is just me, sane, sober, well much of the time, and privy to something not many of us would wish to know, me in particular. They have a water machine here now that bubbles in the corner every time someone takes a drink; the old coffee machine has gone, possibly in the interests of caffeine-free health, and the secretaries no longer wear short skirts, because they have been replaced by laptops, do not misunderstand me, computers (not secretaries) that now go on the lap, apparently. I am young and I am as politically correct as anyone, having a higher than average contribution to teenage pregnancy than most, and being as digitally switched on as the rest of them.

As I sit and wait in a place like this, I look like a spy, but I often wonder when you are in, say a restaurant, looking like an average sort of guy, whether people have the least inkling of what it is that you are discussing, like should we nuke the bad guys this afternoon, or give them until tomorrow to meet our demands? Should we stop arms shipments to our major client just because our government has declared war on his country? After all, they did not ask us first. How much should we charge for the photos of the PM with the Lithuanian girl? You know, that sort of thing, business that is conducted in restaurants rather than offices with ears. Then I wonder why on earth the secret police, spies and so on have offices, so that anyone can watch them coming and going, and put their pictures in their records. Still, mine is not to reason why.

Let us get to the problem. The problem is that someone wants to shoot me (or use some other equivalent means to the same end) for what I know. So I try to find out more, and your reasoning will tell you that this will make them want to shoot me even more, which is true, and I think they will always want to shoot me. It is just that if I can find out enough, then they will not be able to shoot me, however much they so desire, because they will be either dead or in jail, both alternatives being acceptable to me for them. But it is a little more complicated than that. Right now they want to shoot me but they do not know who I am, so it is a race: do I find out enough about them before they find out who I am? And why it is more complicated is because if I try to find out more, I make it easier for them to find out who I am. Do I want to expose myself, in other words? Well, I am here, so I suppose that question is answered.

“Hi.” A female screech. This is exactly the reason I mentioned earlier why such organisations should not have offices like this: now someone knows I’m here as I sit in this public reception area, acting like the sort of guy who does not need to be shot, you know, reasonable, would negotiate, has anyway locked the information in a safe deposit box to be opened on this death, it’s contents printed in the New York Post. I mean, my body language must say at least that. But no, she comes across to me, and I reply in Russian, having in the meantime stretched the contours of my face beyond their normal bounds, to look more like Tonto than the Lone Ranger.

“If you want to try that ruse, you should have learnt Russian,” she says, and I wished I had tried a more familiar language, like say English. Now she knows it is me, knows I am here, and shooting her is not an option, not here, not in the public area of this office. I start out of my daydream, as a voice says, “Could you please come this way, Sir?” I rise to follow the prototype of the laptop.

My motto is that everyone is beautiful in their own way, although I do admit that I meet individuals on the London Underground bent on disproving my theory. How is it that some individuals give off the impression that they are slimier than a snake (which in fact is not slimy)? Such was the man I was introduced to this morning in his drab London office ovelooking a light-well, a misnomer itself. He believed not a word I said, asked not a question of any value and dismissed me with the words, “My name is on my card, Albert Grey. Call me if you have any further information.” I left.

They stood in the conference room overlooking the street and watched me wave down a cab, enter it and take off down the street.
“So what do you think, Albert?” the tall man asked, who had listened in from the next room.
“Incredible. He knows so much he wants to tell us. A very impressive man. I held him back, because we need to work out what it is that we need to know, before we download him. I mean, he’s got stuff in there that we definitely would not want to know, or at least have anyone know we knew.”
“Perhaps we should kidnap him and interrogate him,” the tall man said. “That way we can deny knowledge of what we do not wish to know and just report the good bits.”

Again that insistent voice: “Where the hell are you? I want those figures now! Now!”
My reverie is penetrated. I leap up, grab the papers and an obedient mongrel trots in to its master.

A Painter's Apocalypse

The Gates of Hell

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