They led me into a spacious room. It was dimly lit, but even in the shadows I could detect the presence of others – yet more of them in those standout orange overalls, just like the two who guided me in. I guessed they were armed, and that they were highly trained. It would not do to cause a fuss.
I remembered the reason why I was here, breathed in, and tried to find some of the courage that had got me to make the phone call. The appointment had been a simple matter to organise, and my past experience in dealing with these people told me that was out of the ordinary. They had allowed me into the very centre of their power, and I was at their mercy.
The Director General sat before me, a tall strongly-built man whose frame took up most of the leather couch he was poised on. He looked nothing like the file pictures I had seen. But then the DG was an elusive man, and few pictures of him actually existed.
“Ah, Mr —-,” he said smoothly, but not rising. He gestured for me to take the seat opposite him.
I offered my hand, then withdrew it quickly as it became clear this man had no intention of offering the most basic of civilities. He kept his hands to himself, but I could see they were small and flabby, unusual for such a big man.
“I understand you have some questions about our operations,” said the DG. As he spoke I detected an accent – was it East European? But his English was crisp and immaculate.
The man placed a monocle over his right eye. His movements drew my gaze to his face, a fleshy face that two cold eyes punctured. I wondered what unspeakable cruelties those eyes had seen. A deep scar gouged his left cheek.
“Yes… yes, thank you for seeing me.” For a man so clinically cruel as the DG, my fear must have been obvious.
“We are often asked questions,” said the DG, “but we so seldom receive visitors. Especially after what those three gentlemen did. Such a shame what happened to them, don’t you think?”
He was referring in a menacing way to the protestors who had been arrested after trespassing onto the Firm’s facility and causing damage to its equipment. I had known the men well and had been pleased at their acquittal. But now the men were dead, victims of a freak boating accident – at least the police were saying it was an accident. Their funeral service had only been last week.
I spoke. “To be honest, I was surprised you agreed to this interview.”
He drummed his fingers across the leather armrest. “I like to surprise people. You see, when one doesn’t quite know what is about to happen to them, it keeps things fresh and interesting.” I jumped in sudden shock as something heavy hit me. I realised in a second it was a cat leaping onto my lap, a lump of fur and claws. It sneered at me in the way all cats seem to (for I am not a cat person, and cats seem to know it), before leaping to the floor and strolling to its master. The DG stroked the animal as he spoke.
“We were not impressed by the response to our press release,” purred the DG. “People continue to ask difficult, awkward questions about our operations. Including you, Mr —-. We thought it was time we had a little chat.”
I shivered involuntarily. The menace in his voice was unmistakable. I pictured the three coffins slowly being lowered to their final resting place. Was I about to join them?
“I… I have some questions I’d like to ask.”
I coughed nervously. “Um… you said in your press release, and I quote, ‘The claims that the Waihopai station is “a United States spybase in our midst”, contributing to “torture, war, and the use of weapons of mass destruction” and other “unspeakable evil” cannot be left unchallenged’”.
“Do you have an actual question, Mr —-?”
“I do. Your release says nothing about what goes on at Waihopai, and yet you ask us to take your word that nothing unsavoury is happening.”
“And why would it be?” His cold eyes bore into me and I dropped my gaze. I noticed the floor beneath me was tiled – huge tiles. The chair I sat on rested in the centre of one of them. “It is not our role to disprove every wild scurrilous accusation levelled at us. If you have evidence of our complicity in some wrongdoing, please produce it.”
I almost mentioned the dead trio. Something about their demise just seemed wrong. The police claimed they had undertaken a thorough investigation. It was tragic accident, they concluded, how the men had been swept away by a freak wave at a time when such peaceful and placid weather conditions prevailed in the harbour that day. I had expressed my doubts about the investigation on my blogsite.
I never knew any of the three men to show an interest in boats. But then did I really know them that well?
“Do you deny providing intelligence information to the United States?” I asked.
“That is classified. But let me explain a few things, Mr —-. You are an educated man. You must surely know that we are in the midst of a great struggle, a struggle to see which ideology will prevail. On the one side we have the relentless and ruthless forces of extremism and intolerance. And on the other we have a way of life that is worth preserving and protecting.”
I felt emboldened, even angered by this man’s sneering mendacity. “And which side are you on?”
I saw a twitch – just for a second – the only sign of emotion or anxiety I detected over the entire interview. It was gone.
The cat drifted from his lap as he straightened. “Mr —-, you will have heard in your line of work of the expression ‘one question too many’. It may be time we terminated this interview.”
“But I’ve only just started.”
“Goodbye Mr —-.”
Only then did I see the control console next to him, built into his chair, and the big red button that his small hands reached for. I screamed, but it was too late. Now I understood why the tiles were so large. I was in the air, plunging downwards in utter darkness in a descent of terror. I knew that I would hit the bottom soon, whatever or wherever the bottom of this abyss might be. And that would be the end.
In that moment I understood why they had summoned me. They didn’t like people digging about, asking difficult questions. As far as they were concerned I was a nobody – utterly expendable, but still a danger. Who knows what I might stumble on if left to delve? I already knew more than they could guess about their operations, but now that knowledge would go with me to my grave.
They had won. Or so they thought.
(Will our hero survive to write another blogpost? Send me $100 and I’ll tell you.)