Chapter One cont...
Why does God need people? What use are we to Him? In His possession is absolute knowledge, so what can God learn from people? Why create people? What’s the point of doing anything when you know it all already? He knows the beginning and the end of each and every one of us, but still we keep coming, faster and faster, spamming His world with nothing he doesn’t already know, with nothing He hasn’t already seen. We enter His world and face two exits. We are tested, judged. We dare to live and fear to die. We can pass into heaven or fail into Hell. You created me God, but you knew I would ultimately fail. Was I necessary? Was I needed? Did you need me, God? Or am I weight, just ballast? A spec of junkie dust? What can you gain watching me suffer here or forever in Hell?
Does this, us, make Him happy or sad? Can we move God to tears? Can we make him smile? If we fail to educate Him, is our purpose to entertain? Is life an audition for God? Well if so, look away, God, look away from me. I seek no recognition. I need no fame.
God, in my mind, is insane. Imagine knowing everything; imagine needing to do nothing and having eternity to do it in. Imagine having no hunger, no need or urge to know. Nothing would ever surprise you. Nothing would ever challenge you. You would exist in a singular state. Nothing would ever change, not even time. Nothing would really exist.
Why bother with people? Does He consume our souls? Do people have value? Is God addicted to beauty, to perfection, in finding it in something other than Him?
All this drama, it all seems a bit much to me, but then I am a simple man. My use to God, I dig graves. I earn money from death. In the countryside, you can often earn a few quid digging a home for the dead. I enjoy it. It’s one of my most favorite jobs, even in a winter freeze when the earth becomes one, a solid, zipped-up mass. I’m good at it, too. Not a boast you’ll often hear, but digging a grave satisfies well. Nothing morbid, you’ll understand. To me, it’s thirty quid cash-in-hand and a full body workout. Hard, manual labour can get me high.
Anyway, I have dug the grave; job done. The final resting place of Tony Spence, who died from a heart attack aged just fifty two, a local man who I’d acknowledge with a smile or a nod of the head, whose death has inspired great pity and sadness and created the catch phrase,
‘Just fifty two, so young, too young to die.’
But then tell that to the billions who came before him. To all but a few the life of Tony Spence would seem divine. He was never short of food; he was never out of work. Not once did he fear for his life; not once was he told to kill. His house was solid and rightfully his own. He travelled to foreign lands as a free man, for pleasures as simple as lying in the sun. All his children lived. At forty-five, when a mole on his shoulder became cancerous, a medicine man cured him, not with magic but with science. Of course, as modern wisdom insists, his fondness for cigarettes, pastries and beer pushed him hard to an early grave. But did he care? Should we? Historically speaking, he lived a long and successful life. In the history of humankind, Tony Spence was a winner.
My time is up, my thirty minutes gone. I’m lying in the grave looking up at a near cloudless sky - my usual practice once I've finished digging a grave. I enter the earth to rest and think. To let my thoughts drift with the clouds. Not that they ever do. They always seem stuck on a topic that is rarely of my choosing. Often, I hear people, those visiting the dead, their feet on gravel, rarely the spoken word, but only once, and then a child, has someone looked down into the freshly dug grave to witness me resting. The child, a boy of about eight, on seeing me asked,
‘What are you doing down there?’ I should have replied,
‘Keeping it warm.’ But I didn’t. I smiled, shrugged and stared.
I live off the land. I hunt, forage, grow and poach. When you live by the coast, you can always find food. I eat well, better than most: fresh fish and seafood that I catch myself; fresh game, poached of course by me. I even rustle the occasional sheep, and the farmer’s crop I treat as my own.
I live isolated, perched on a cliff top, in a four birth caravan on an acre of land, which I bought for a single weeks labour. Cheap, you may think, but listen, hear the sea work the cliff, hear it smash and grab the earth and rock. In three years time, my land will be gone, erased and fully consumed, a tenant of the sea once more.
The area where I live has never been a tourist haven. The coastline is too wild, the beaches too pebbled. Only walkers seem to visit. Today, however, we have marked the map, and the map has called us treasure town.
It is a brisk, autumn afternoon. Thick, sunken cloud docks in the sky above. Embraced by a beautiful wind, I walk along a ragged stretch of coastline on my way to gather mussels. This should be a solitary affair but today I am joined by people, crazed, manic people. Some are local, most are not. Whole families are out to snatch the bounty.
The full details, to me, are vague, but we have made the news, captured the public’s imagination. A cargo ship, which failed to hug a storm, has spilled forty or so containers. The contents of which, from toys to homewares, unable to resist the desire of the people, have been pulled towards this beach, and now the people embrace the bounty as if a suddenly found long lost relative, a rich one at that.
Two women mother and daughter would be my guess, bred in the fashion of Chinese Whispers, both wearing near identical sportswear and both carrying that fat gene, the one activated after eating copious amounts of cake, furiously drag a reluctant bounty laden shopping trolley up along the beach. I know that modern women, men too, like to own things, but thirty sets of cutlery? Thank God no one invites me to weddings. The beach becomes steep, the pebbles sharp and slippery. The trolley becomes stuck; their fury thickens. The trolley is now the latest scum that clogs their passage through life that conspires to deny them all that is rightfully theirs. They stop, unable to progress. One pulls out a mobile phone and makes a call. Somewhere a skinny man with emotional problems splutters into life. Seagulls glide on the wind looking down, picking up tips.
I scramble up a grassy embankment onto a narrow footpath. Instantly my scent is snatched by a TV News film crew, one of six out hustling for the action. Without hesitation, the Anchorwoman charges towards me, her microphone thrust forward and aimed directly at my face. A crew of two dutifully follows. Her smile glitters through the grey of the day. She rapidly nears me. I hear her purr,
‘Are you local? Can I ask you some questions? We are the news!’
They are the news. I thought we were the news. I have no intention of stopping. I lower my head and stare at the ground, enough body language to inform them all of my intent. The purr begins to growl.
‘We’re national! This is your chance to be on national television!’
They block the path. I continue to walk. The Anchorwoman stops; I do not. Her reactions are good. She just manages to twist her body beyond my course. The cameraman fails to react so gets lightly shouldered aside, as does the soundman.
‘Oh for fuck’s sake,’ she snaps, with bemused contempt.
I turn to look at the news. The Anchorwoman stares at me with a look of absolute contempt. A look I know well.
‘Bashful, are we? Grow some fuckin’ balls!’ she continues.
Heard that said, too, only said with more aggression.
What is it with balls? Everyone wants balls, especially people in suits. Get balls, be ruthless. Fine by me, but why draw the line? What if I now pulled out a knife and took it to her throat? What if I answered her with a cold, ruthless action? Would she congratulate me for having king-sized, made-of-steel balls?
My father, who was a violent man, loved to recall how he and an army friend once beat the living daylights out of four Punk Rockers. The irony, of course, which my father knew, was that the Punks, who claimed to be anarchists, ran to the arms of the fascist police for safety and to demand the arrest my father and his friend. As my father would say, they got taught a proper life lesson and all for fuckin' free.
I wouldn’t volunteer to live in a society without laws, but if it happened, then I believe I would prosper, certainly I would survive. Would the mid-ranking men and women in suits? I leave the knife in my pocket and politely flash them a smile.
I gather the mussels quickly. The tide is starting to turn and will soon rapidly rise. The mussels grow on a six decayed wooden jetties that have long stopped having any other use. In the distance, to my left, I can see the scavengers, all high on their own good fortune, and all blissfully unaware of how quickly the tide will turn. To my right, set back against a foaming sky, a Land Rover ambles slowly away. It is the same Land Rover that I have already encountered four times in the last two days. Now, I’m not classifying this as suspicious, but five times, in my isolated world and each time in a separate location? Whoever sits in that Land Rover may not be watching me, but me, now, I am watching them.
My day had nearly finished. The time is 9.38 p.m. I am at home in my caravan, well fed and warm. I am standing at a window, peering through the curtain, watching a car as it pulls up outside. I am expecting no visitors, I never do. The car engine is switched off, the headlights follow. The shape of a Land Rover silhouetted against a moon-lit sky is revealed. I step away, stand still and wait.
Two cars doors open then gently close. I hear no voices. Footsteps approach. A short, sharp, not too loud knock on the door. I wait, let them knock again. Seven seconds later they do. The knock is exactly the same - no increased force considered necessary. I open the door, and in the murk of the night, see two men and a Police wallet-badge raised for me to read.
‘Mr. Dean, we’re Police. We need to speak to you. Don’t worry; we’re aware of your disability.’
I have a disability? I assume they mean that I am a mute. They both seem serious and, unless armed, physically not a threat. Both are touching forty and dressed as company men in smart, office clothing. Both are lean, fit and seemingly healthy. The badge I ignore, it tells me nothing. I mean, how can I tell if it’s real? I gesture for them to enter, which they calmly do.
‘My name is Phillip; this is my colleague, Andrew.’
First name terms already. No constable or detective. Phillip continues,
‘We’re from Special Branch.’
I stare at them passively, remaining outwardly calm. Inside a swirl of confusion, is this serious or ridiculous? When spoken, it sounds both. They stare back at me, solid and without reaction. Should I believe them? I could ask them to prove it but what good would that do? They couldn’t. All I can do is let them speak; let them say what they’ve come to say.
We crowd around a small dining table. We are bunched tightly together, but neither of them seems uncomfortable. There is a fresh pot of coffee sitting on the stove; its smell is loud and delicious. I offer them nothing, but neither seems to care. Andrew pulls out a notepad and pen from his coat pocket then slides them towards me. Phillip places the black leather folder he has been holding down on the table then quickly gets down to business.
‘Mr. Dean,' he says, 'firstly let me make it clear, you are not in any trouble. We are not investigating you or anyone you personally know. Our visit is for one reason and one reason only and, that is to ask for your help.’
He opens up the folder. I see a photo of a house that looks familiar. He slides the photo towards me and continues to explain.
‘This property, it’s familiar to you,’ he continues.
It is, so I nod my head.
‘It’s isolated, but you pass it on a regular basis when you’re out poaching or foraging for food.’
Again, the truth, so I nod.
‘Recently the property has been bought by this woman.’
From the folder, he hands me a second photograph. It is of a woman standing outside the house. She is about sixty years of age, a pensioner hippy-chick dressed in colourful woolens, the sort you can buy at craft fairs. Somehow I think she looks wise, with skin regularly refreshed by the great outdoors. She is smiling even though she seems to be alone. Phillip continues,
‘Now, what we can tell you about this woman, and we can tell you this with absolute certainly, is that this woman plays an active role within the animal liberation movement.’
Without pause the double act begins; Andrew breaks his silence.
‘She’s a key player.’
‘A figurehead,’ adds Phillip.
‘Not as physically active as she once was, but as an organizer, as an inspirer, she is still very much an important figure.’
Silence. They both look at me for a reaction, but I give them nothing. Andrew continues, somewhat impatiently.
‘Her views are extreme. Do we need to explain them to you?’
I shake my head. He continues.
‘Do you sympathise with her views? Do you have any sympathy at all for what she believes in?’
Phillip rolls in seamlessly.
‘If you do, you must tell us, you must tell us now.’
I shake my head.
‘You’re saying no?’
‘Good. As we thought.’
They pause, watching me, making sure. Convinced, Andrew continues, his impatience settled.
‘We want you to watch the house. We need you to tell us when either of these two men visit, which in time they will.’
Andrew fans out eight photos on the table, all are ten by eight inches in size. They show candid surveillance shots of two average looking men, both aged around thirty. In none of the photos are the two men seen together.
‘These are dangerous men,’ says Andrew.
In your opinion.
‘Not one-on-one,’ adds Phillip.
‘They’re terrorists. Cowards. They harm from a far. The sort of men it’s easy to hate.’
Pull me in. Let us hate together. Phillip continues.
‘We can’t talk specifics, but we need to know when they visit her.’
‘This doesn’t mean we want you to set up a surveillance unit on a twenty four seven basis. We’re simply asking you to be aware, to be vigilant. To pass the property in the morning and at night. To follow your usual routine, nothing more.’
‘To react to any intelligence that we feed you.’
‘When they show up, which they will, for a period of two to three days, all you need to do is make contact with us.’
‘Make a note of any car number plates and any other details you think important. If anyone else visits, then do the same.’
‘Simple but important.’
There is a pause. Being a mute, pauses don’t unsettle me like they do other people. I can quite happily stare someone silently in the eye without a care in the world. Andrew sees this and breaks the silence.
‘Why you? Why are we asking you? Well, there’s the obvious reason you’re local, you know the area, it wouldn’t be unusual for you to be seen in the area or to be seen carrying binoculars or wearing camouflage.’
‘Of course, we know other locals who fit the bill but none of them are quite like you, are they, Mr. Dean?’
I offer no response. Unfazed he continues.
‘It’s also a question of resources. We have none.’
He smiles. He wants me to share his truthful joke. We’re all mates now. I return no smile. Phillip brings the matter back to business.
‘Or rather, what we do have quickly runs out. The service is under a lot of pressure. I’m sure you can understand that, and that animal liberation is not exactly our priority.’
I can. It's hardly the glamour gig in this day and age.
‘To be perfectly honest, you’re the easiest option.’
‘So, can we count on you?’
I write on the notepad, ‘I don’t work for nothing.’ Seeing my words Andrew is quick to reply.
‘A payment, of course, if reasonable.’
I add to the note ‘A thousands pounds, cash.’ Again his reply is instant.
‘Done. So we have a deal, Mr. Dean?’
I nod and agree to take my second job of the day. Jesus, call me a rat I must be joining the race. They both look ever so slightly relieved and pleased with themselves. Phillip glances at Andrew then speaks.
‘Well, that was all very, civilised.’
They share a smile then focus on me.
‘Do you have mobile phone?’ Andrew asks.
I shake my head.
‘I assume you know how to use one?'
I nod. From his inside jacket pocket, he pulls out a mobile phone and charger then places them on the table.
‘For you. Standard, simple to use. In the contacts is one number, our number. If you need to contact us, use it, text us. Oh, and business only. Over step the mark with personal calls and you’ll have the most feared men in the service after you, the accountants.’
They both laugh. I force a slight smile.
‘That’s not a joke. They will check the bill. Anyway, to reiterate, if either of these two men visits, which they will in the next month or so, then we need to know A.S.A.P. That is your prime objective. If they arrive in a vehicle, then take the details. If anyone else visits, then do the same. That’s all we require of you. Is that clear?’
I nod. He continues.
‘These people assume they are under surveillance. It’s not in your interest, or ours, for you to take any unnecessary risks. Neither is it in your interest, or ours, for you to tell anyone what we have asked you to do, or in fact to tell anyone anything we have said here tonight. Is that understood?’
I write, ‘It is. Now, what about the cash?’
After fetching the money from the Land Rover, they leave.
I sit at the dining table and study my bounty: a thousand pounds in twenty pound notes, a mobile phone and charger, a notepad and pen and eight photos of two men wanted by Special Branch. Not a bad haul, but then life never deals straightforward, unambiguous positives and tonight is no exception.
One of the photos concerns me. It shows one of the men, his back to the camera, his head turned to look behind. He is wearing a t-shirt tucked into a pair of jeans. The jeans are Levi’s 501 Red Tab. The waistband Red Tab label is clearly visible, as is the red Levi material tag that is stitched to the left side of the right back pocket. My concern is simple; the Red Tab label is made from suede. Now, wouldn’t a man involved in the animal liberation movement, involved to terrorist level, be a vegan? Wouldn’t he be savvy enough to know a label on his jeans was an animal product and so point blank against all that he believes in? To my mind, he would. So why is he wearing the jeans? Maybe he’s undercover, posing as someone who couldn’t give a shit, but that would be stupid. A man who assumes he is being watched by the government undercover for his cause? Maybe he’s a double agent. Maybe this man was himself an agent of Special Branch and the photo shows him in Civvy Street. Maybe this man has nothing to do with the animal liberation movement and is instead wanted for something completely different.
I have been in the employ of Special Branch for less than fifteen minutes, and already I am becoming paranoid.
My day had nearly finished. All was calm and settled. My only pressing decision was one whisky or three. I could have said no. If all had seemed well and genuine, I would have, but it didn’t so I said, yes. I couldn’t resist. I will not walk away from a lie.
Could someone be trying to mess with me, playing a practical joke? But then who would play it? No one I know, after all I know so few and those I do, would have more sense. Maybe I am over reacting. Maybe there is a true and valid reason why he’s wearing the jeans. After all, even people with serious, passionate causes can be stupid. The majority of people I’ve met who have held deep, unmovable beliefs have seemed pretty thick to me. If the human race has one true genius, it’s the ability to adapt, to think freely and to understand, at some level at least, that there is no one, singular, absolute truth. Many a stupid man has been empowered by an ideology. It saves them from having to think for themselves and provides easy, ready made quotes and answers. It wraps them up all snug and warm in the collective acceptance of others.
Of course, this man may be a psychopath, and animal liberation an easy route to violence, murder and pain. I mean, how many psychopaths have used a political cause to satisfy their psycho desires? Two percent of the population is thought to be psychopathic. Now violence is always in the hands of the minority, but what minority, two percent? What percentage of Catholic men in Northern Ireland joined the IRA to kill and maim?
Animal liberation, my honest opinion, depends on my mood, depends on the image. See a monkey chained, his eyes silently screaming why, then gladly I’ll sign the petition, but such an image will quickly fade as I get back to my own survival.
The most interesting animal experiment I know of is this: two mice kept in large, separate cages. Both cages were full of twisting tunnels, and natural vegetation. One mouse was given all the food he could eat, and guess what, he got fat and lazy. When he wasn’t sleeping, he was sitting perfectly still, waiting for the time he could feast again. The other mouse was given hardly any food, certainly not enough to survive, and guess what, he stayed sharp and active, lean and healthy. He spent his day scurrying around the cage investigating, looking for food. He was happier, healthier and lived longer.
So if you can stay hungry whilst all around are feasting.
I could contact them, text them on the phone and demand an explanation, but why should I? I’m sure they could come up with a plausible explanation. What good would it do me? The only thing to do is to play along, to act out what I have agreed to do.