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Shapes And Shadows #2

After a solitary lunch enjoyed during a sunny period in the large, city centre garden in Gramin Square, the writer sat down at his work station and tapped the space bar on his keyboard. He found himself wishing that he had a 'I don't wish to know that' key as the screen saver subsided.

You Now Have 2 Unread Messages

"I don't wish to know that," he said aloud.
    "How did you get away with only two?" Sally Lee asked from the adjacent work station. "I thought you didn't accept any messages when you were in the archive?"
    "I think they're out to get me," the writer replied. "First, they overload me with messages I don't want to read, then they stop sending them and let me drive myself nuts wondering why I'm not getting them any more."
    "Diabolical!" laughed Sally. "And I think it could work, too."
    The writer decided that he could cope with two messages. The first was a blunderbuss blast - aimed at one person but copied to everyone else in the building, apparently, for their inconvenience. The writer gave it a standard 10 seconds of his life before consigning it to his 'Read Later Box'.
    The second was a warning from the network supervisor that a number of 'doubtful' e-messages had been detected on the system and an exhortation for all staff to 'think carefully' before sending e-messages in future.
    "Have you got one of these?" Sally Lee drew the writer's attention to the same message on her monitor screen.
    "Maybe people have been thinking carefully and that's why I got only two messages," the writer decided.
    "I bet things are back to normal tomorrow, quantity-wise," Sally sighed.

Dear Diary, It would seem sensible to avoid using e-messages for the exchange of sensitive information. But what are the alternatives? The telephone? Phone conversations were being routinely monitored for key words by secret services long before e-messages were invented.
    Personal contacts? The ubiquitous security camera sees all and tells all. Who is meeting whom, where and for how long. These days, it's possible to get a full record of the topic under discussion thanks to super-sensitive microphones and sound filters keyed to voice patterns.
    An alternative is the old-fashioned, written notelet. In theory, a message may be written, delivered and read without exposure to the zoom lens of a security camera. In practice, the correspondents will slip up at some point in the process more than once. And if they are observed exchanging messages either regularly or furtively, they will trigger the interest of the security department.
    Perhaps the only answer is to conduct all contacts and pass all information away from the strictly controlled work environment. But in that route lies surrender to the forces of oppression and loss of human dignity.

"Find anything in the archive?"
    The Feck-Meister had crept up from behind his back but the writer had detected Sally's reaction and he was ready for a verbal sneak attack. "It's not as good as the Ottral piece," he returned, "but there's quite a good bit of scandal involving the present mayor's grandfather on his mother's side."
    "Where is it?"
    "I sent you an e-message. Didn't you see it?"
    "I've not done my messages yet. I'll check it out now. Keep your eyes open. Hoi, you, you waste of space, the feck are you up to with that piece you turned in this morning?" The Feck-Monster headed back to his office via a detour to reprimand one of his unfortunate charges.

Dear Diary, I wonder if the Feck is trying to bring me into a dangerous conspiracy? He seems to be almost approving of me at times. But knowing the Feck, I'm probably being set up as the fall guy in some diabolical plot.
    The Feck in an apparently matey mood is bogus to the max and extremely dangerous.

You Have 1 New Message

The writer interrupted some polishing on an article about the scandal related to the mayor's grandfather. He clicked on the 'OK' button with the promptness of someone who had resolved not to let his messages get the better of him for once.

How about a drink after work? Bring your har#em if you like.
J.B. Rules OK!
Death to everyone else!

The writer replied with 'Only if you're buying.' He received a one-word reply to his reply - 'Flush.'
    He knew that Jeff Boon was a bit of a gambler and that Boon's 'bit' was selective rather than compulsive. Most of the sports correspondent's very occasional bets on horse races went on certainties - or on choices which were as certain as one can get in a world subject to shocks and horrors.
    Jeff Boon studied form and every so often, he came up with an absolutely dead cert. His next move was to rush around putting on a calculated number of modest bets at the last possible moment to try not to disturb the odds too much. His principal aim was to avoid being noticed by the bookmaking community and being barred for being too good at taking money off them.
    The consequence of detection, he believed, would be that he would have to get agents to place his bets, diluting his profit from what was just a diversion rather than a main source of income. His betting on certainties had helped him to pay off his mortgage in just six years and it bought him a new car every year if he wanted one, but it consumed a great deal of time and reduced his capacity to enjoy life's pleasures.

"This stuff you got out of the archive." Pierson Day arrived to harass the writer. Such was not his absolute intention but that was what his presence in the same building felt like from the writer's point of view.
    "I've just been doing a bit of tidying up on that," the writer said.
    "Let's see." The Feck-Meister took hold of the back of the ergonomic swivelling chair and wheeled it and the writer away from the work station to get a better look at the writer's monitor. "The feck! This is just what I want."
   The writer surrendered his chair to allow Pierson Day to slot his piece into Thursday's, rather than the following day's, newspaper. The timing of the article seemed to have some hidden significance. This was apparent from the evil grin on the deputy editor's face when he headed back to his office.

Dear Diary, I am being drawn into the conspiracies of others against my will. Nothing good will come of this. The problem is, however, that human beings are suckers for a secret. We cannot resist trying to be in possession of knowledge which is shared by a bery few, which is why

"What are you doing tonight?" Sally Lee asked when she and the writer were taking synchronized coffee breaks.
   "Having a drink with J.B," the writer replied. "He's buying and you're invited."
   "By whom? You or him?"
   "Female and F-Star? That's an automatic invite. No obligation to do anything but have a drink and be your natural, charming self. Unless you've got something better to do."
   "I could have tomorrow night. But I've got nothing planned for tonight."
   "Sounds like someone's got a social life."
   "I met quite an interesting bloke at the fitness centre. We're having a social evening tomorrow. Did you know that the blokes only go to the fitness centre to tune up their bodies, not to lose weight? Not specifically to lose weight."
   The writer shrugged. "I suppose it's more manly to be tuning up than slimming. So you're on for this evening?"
   "It can only be an utter disaster at worst," Sally decided. "You're on. Both of you."

You Have 1 New Message

The system had been waiting for the writer to go to the coffee machine before sneaking up on him. He clicked the 'OK' button without stopping to think it over.

What about the other 50% of your har#m?
J.B. Rules OK!
Death to everyone else!

The writer replied with a message saying: 'Today is Tuesday. Jackie isn't available for social drinks with anyone other than her boyfriend.' Jeff Boon's response was brief and to the point: 'Thje F#ck!'
    As an afterthought, the writer turned to his phone and tapped out a number. Jeff Boon looked in the writer's direction indignantly when he realized that he was being confronted telephonically by someone in the same room.
   "What's the Feck got against the mayor?" the writer asked before the indignation could become verbal.
   "I think he got the brush-off from his sister big time a couple of months ago. Why?"
   "He just seems interested in sticking a knife in him, that's all."
   "And what bit of that is unusual?" Boon demanded. "Everyone's his enemy."
   "I concede your point. See you tonight." The writer returned to his work, knowing that he would be able to make a bid for freedom in just over in an hour and a half.

Sally Lee was bursting to talk to the writer on Thursday morning, two days later. She managed to contain herself until ten o'clock, then she dropped a very heavy hint about a coffee break. The writer followed her to the nearest coffee machine, heading toward the same destination but definitely not going with her.
   "You're not following me, are you?" Sally asked a double-edged question.
   "Two people can arrive at the same destination without one of the following them other. Just like us last night."
   "You could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw you talking to Mike."
   "Very gregarious bloke is Chazzer."
   "His parents named him Michael Phillip Charles Enright Chan, so he told me, but everyone calls him Charlie. Apart from the ones who call him Chazzer, apparently. How do you know him?"
   "We used to go to a lot of the same gigs. I was doing interviews and reviews, Chazzer was on the technical side - controlling sound boards and lighting. He's the interesting bloke you met at your torture club?"
   "He wanted to tune his body up."
   "Not specifically lose weight, you mean?" the writer said with a laugh. "Yes, Chazzer always was a bit of what they used to call a trencherman."
   "I got another surprise when I saw who you were with. The waitress from Lunghi's."
   "She's an actor-person. Filling in with a menial job between parts."
   "Yes, there's a lot of that about."
   "Hey, Marin, the Feck's looking for you," Andras Ektors, the assistant interiors correspondent, remarked in passing.
   "Sounds an excellent reason to get lost and stay lost," the writer remarked.
   "So when did you ask her out?" Sally Lee persisted when Ektors had moved on.
   "It was her idea, actually."
   "How did she know where to find you?"
   "Remember J.B.'s celebration on Tuesday? We went to another pub after you left us. He wanted to check out a band that was playing there. And at about half-ten, he met some woman he knows and I started getting get-lost signals."
   "Which you obeyed?" laughed Sally.
   The writer replied with a shrug. "It was a bit hot and loud in the pub, so I wandered off to the park in Gramin Square and sat watching the lights of the big city for a while. Then someone sat down beside me, and the next thing you know, she was nodding off all over me."
   "And this was what's her name? The waitress?"
   "Lorraine, yes. So I propped her upright and said shouldn't she be going home? Then we recognized each other, especially when she smiled at me. And she told me the reason she's been smiling so much at Lunghi's while she's lugging the spicy pasta round is that she's just got a pretty decent part in a play. Which is now in rehearsal."
   "So she'd been out celebrating?"
   "Right. So, to cut a long story short, I escorted her home - she lives in one of those weird groups of houses they've built in what used to be shopping streets just off the city centre. And I gave her one of my cards because she insisted she wanted to ring me and thank me for protecting her from the city centre's muggers and rapists when she sobered up."
   "And she suggested you should have a night out right where she knew I would be having a night out with Mike?"
   "And she accuses me of being paranoid," laughed the writer.
   "Hoi, the feck are you up to? You're supposed to be here to work." Pierson Day impaled the writer with a baleful glare. "I want a word with you in my office when I get back." The deputy editor strode past the coffee machine with the air of a man on a mission.
   "Well, there's the highlight of your morning," Sally Lee remarked. "A telling off from the Feck."
   "Some days, it doesn't pay to get out of bed," the writer said gloomily.

Dear Diary, even the coffee machines are bugged in this place. One cannot have a private conversation with a female colleague without finding the busy ears of management stooges flapping around one.
   And even though the conversation is taking place during what the management agrees is a permitted 'health and safety' break from exposure to a VDU, managers at a certain level cannot resist attemptint to exert their authority and trying to spoil things.
   Abuse of power, thy name is Day.

The writer tracked Pierson Day with his eyes as the deputy editor moved towards his office after completing his mission, which had required his personal presence rather than an electronic substitute. Day stopped in the doorway and glared at the writer. The writer raised a thumb in acknowledgement and carried on typing. He knew that he could make the deputy editor wait while he finished capturing a thought. It was a recognized writer's privilege.
   "I want to look at the source for your piece on the mayor's grandad," Day said as soon as the writer was closing his office door. The deputy editor rose to his feet, clearly archive-bound.
    "Actually, it's on the system," the writer told him.
    Pierson Day subsided into his chair and wheeled it to one side. The writer tapped at the keyboard of the deputy editor's work station and moused about. He stepped aside when he had loaded the file into the reader program.
    "Okay, I'll check this out. You're in the archive again this afternoon, by the way." Pierson day wheeled his ergonomic swivelling chair back in front of the monitor and ignored the writer.
    Knowing that a word of thanks was too much to expect, the writer headed back to his own work station.
    "You're not looking too sand-blasted," Sally Lee told him after a brief inspection.
    "No, it's about that piece I did on the mayor's grandad," the writer told her.
    "Oh, right. I heard about the Feck and the mayor's sister. It's her birthday today."
    "Figures." The writer opened his complimentary copy of that day's morning edition of the Sentinel & Advertiser. His article was there in all its glory - in one of the places where, extensive research had shown, the eye falls naturally when someone is scanning a printed page of the S&A's size. It was placed discreetly but prominently.
    "So who's going to get the blame for this?" Sally mused. "The piece has got your name on it but it's got the Feck's fingerprints all over it. Are they going to think of you as a hit-man, working to the Feck's orders? Or just a stooge doing what he's told?"
    "And does anyone care?"
    "Oh, yes. A slight to the mayor's family?" laughed Sally. "That's not going to be forgotten in a hurry. I should go into hiding."
    "I don't need to. I'm in the archive this afternoon."
    "No good deed goes unpunished," laughed Sally.

During the afternoon, the writer was unable to resist the temptation to write another filler article around an item which he found in a recently processed batch of copies of one of the Sentinel & Advertiser's defunct rivals. He polished the article through the rest of his stint in the archive, then sent it off to the deputy editor as an e-message just before he and Jackie left for an evening meal and a literary discussion.
    Jackie had been reworking a section of her novel which the writer had identified as containing facts which should have been established earlier. She wanted an expert's opinion on how she was coping with the task.

The next morning, the writer found a PostIt notelet tacked to the centre of his monitor screen. The message read 'A word. P.D.'
    "I bet you get two," Sally Lee said with a laugh from the adjacent work station.
    "Have you been reading my messages?" the writer retorted indignantly.
    "It's impossible not to," laughed Sally. "In fact, I bet you get a lot more than two words. And I bet they include the definite article and 'feck' a number of times."
    The writer crumpled the message and dropped it into his waste bin - just in case there was anyone who had not yet seen it. Pierson Day scowled at him when he knocked and entered the deputy editor's office compartment. The writer stood in front of Day's desk wearing an innocent expression.
    "The feck's this all about?" Day demanded, revolving his monitor to show the writer's e-message.
    "It's a bit of defunct scandal," the writer told him.
    "Why the feck should I print this?"
    "It's a very interesting story. The guy in question went to gaol but everyone knew he'd been paid to take the fall for someone else. Someone with a whole hell of a lot more to lose. Someone with quite a prominent social and political position to maintain."
    "Not a certain chain-wearing person's grandad?" Pierson Day saw the light and a slow, sadistic smile crept across his bulky face. "The feck!" he added in impure delight.
    "And it can be shown that not going down for this rather serious crime was the main foundation of what became the Corrigan family's business empire. If he'd gone to gaol, he would never have been able to build up the contacts he needed to achieve his power and influence. The fruits of which are enjoyed so conspicuously today by the chain-wearing person and his immediate relatives."
    "The feck! I need to see the source of this."
    The writer summoned the relevant document to the deputy editor's work station and left him studying it closely as he returned to his own work station.
    "Get a good chewing?" Andras Ektors asked as the writer regained his desk.
    "Both legs and an arm," the writer told the assistant interiors correspondent with a smile.
    "Bollocks!" Sally Lee said indignantly at his side.
    The writer looked at her and found that Sally's gaze was focussed on her monitor screen rather than him. "Who rattled your cage?" he asked.
    "Jill bloody Day." Sally Lee turned an indignant face from the message on her monitor to her colleague. "She only wants me to be the paper's feng shoowy consultant just because I'm ethnically Chinese."
    The writer shrugged. "It's just another job, Sal. You've had weirder."
    "I don't know bugger all about feng shoowy. Except if it was supposed to be called 'fung shway', they wouldn't spell it 'feng shoowy'."
    "Wouldn't it be a good idea to check out the potential advantages before you get too bent out of shape?"
    "That's being reasonable about it."
    "Oh, right! You, being a female person, you're excused reasonable?"
    "Right. What advantages?"
    "There's got to be a skiving potential in it. And maybe some personal privileges and perks."
    "Name four," Sally challenged.
    "That sounds more like a research job for our new feng shoowy correspondent," the writer decided. "And do you have any choice in the matter?"
    "Well, if you put it like that ..." Sally turned back to her work station, trying to coax herself into a more positive frame of mind.

Dear Diray, a friend of mine has just been given a job because she looks the part. She is of Chinese extraction therefore she has the credibility to become the paper's feng shui correspondent. She may not know anything about it but she looks the part. Credibility is the journalist's wages and pension.
   It certainly took a heroic effort on my part not to remind her that Sentinel TV ran an item last week about the American company which was calling executive ladies of easy virtue 'personal feng shui consultants'. It's a good job that one of the male management staff didn't try to recruit her as a PFSC. Or one of the female managers.
   And so I am left wondering what our managers have in store for me. What evil thoughts are in transit through what passes for their brains when they look at me?
   Time alone will tell.

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