by Bob Clay
Townsend prodded the file on his desk with his forefinger, the way you might prod a motionless cat to see if it was alive. The frown on his face was one of disgust and loathing. Clearly the file, whatever it was, was not dead.
“This whole business should have been over years ago,” he said. “The department has moved on. We do not do this sort of thing anymore.” He looked at me but I said nothing. I was beginning to feel like a man who realises he has walked into a minefield.
“The Director General seems to think you should handle this. He said it was more your style.” I remained silent, pondering on the idea that I had style.
“Well, say something…” Townsend said as he pushed the file toward me as if it were a Petri dish filled with deadly bacteria.
“I’m retired,” I replied. “Like the department, I don’t do this sort of thing anymore.”
Townsend frowned a frown that swept across his bald head like a series of tsunami waves. “The Director General was very keen that you take a look at this. He was most insistent.”
“He’s not my boss anymore,” I smiled at him thinly. “The only person who gives me orders these days is the landlord at my local.”
He prodded the file again so that it nearly fell off his desk onto my feet. “I’m authorised to make payment of six months’ salary at grade ES2. That would buy a lot of orders at your public house.” Only Townsend could call a pub a public house. He’d probably never been in one.
“Six months’ salary? Just for looking at a file?”
“Don’t be tiresome,” replied Townsend, leaning back on his chair so as to distance himself from the faded brown file envelope.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” I said. “I’ll read the file, and offer my advice; a sort of consultant. One month’s salary as payment and then I’ll be on my way.”
With an expression of disgust on his face Townsend extended his hand and tapped the file in the corner. “You know what that symbol means. Top Secret Umbra. You’re not going to read this file and then just swan off to a bar with several thousand pounds in you pocket. Simply not going to happen, dear fellow.”
“You’re right,” I said, getting up out of the chair. “I’ll just have to spend my own money.”
Townsend shook his head then stood up angrily. “I really do not know why I have to deal with people like you. You are all dinosaurs, living in some long gone cold war fantasy. All right. I am authorised to let you read it and make payment. But you will have to read it here. That file cannot leave this room.”
Smiling, I picked up the file, noting the worn corners of the envelope. “I’ll read it here no problem. But I need quiet. So fuck off.”
If it’s possible for a man to pirouette and leave a room silently, but stating a message of pure disgust at the room and its contents, Townsend did it. I felt satisfied at upsetting the little prick. But I felt weary too. I will always be outnumbered by the Townsends of this world.
So I sat down and picked up the file. It was a blank file envelope, except for the little security classification in the top right corner. It looked old and worn, a bit like me perhaps. Its contents were probably dusty, devious, dangerous and dated. I wondered if that was like me too.
I also wondered who they wanted me to kill.
Still, a job is a job.
Bob Clay lives in Cornwall.