He was a weasel. Face thin from lack of nutrition, eyes mean from over ambition. His role was ambivalent. He was not an agent. Didn’t have the look of a man who’d received any physical training. He was an inbetweener, a spokesman for all the Gollums cracking paradigms in the concrete balls of the Pentagon. There was once a time when our job titles gave a hint as to what the hell people did around here. Now they do the clean opposite, they disguise what a fellow really does. And this guy’s title: Analytical Advisor.
He spoke as if every word was unquestionably true and vital, opening with, ‘Gentlemen, we have developed some incredible methods of mining, storing and surveying data, or as we like to call it – Spreading Light.’ He effected a profound pause. ‘But that light has a shadow. We can read emails, we see every item bought by every man woman and child, we list shows people have watched on TV, we record mobiles, we snatch texts right out of the air. But the shadow remains.’ Another creepy pause. ‘That dark sliver between the light obscures perfect vision. The moment when the bad man meets his collaborator face-to-face. That, gentlemen, that is the shadow line. The part we can’t penetrate, where we cannot spread our light. We can’t be in every cave to record evil men discussing their next plot to destroy the free world.’
He sighed, looked around the table at 30 or so overweight agents who’d seen better days. He stopped, as if to suggest this was all he had come for, to tell us that we had a chink in our armour, that we were weak, we were a disappointment to him.
Then with a sly smile, he continued, ‘However, that’s all about to change. For, if I may be so bold, today we change surveillance forever!’ Following this enormous boast, he flipped open his laptop with a flourish, and showed us what looked like a very dull search engine. Like those god-awful engines before Google. Above the postbox search rectangle hung a single word: Eavesdropper.
He waited a while as if expecting the room of agents to gasp or marvel at this. When no reaction came he went on: ‘We christened it Eavesdropper. I suspect one day we shall call it God.’ For a split second his tight mouth twisted into a smile, but he checked himself. ‘For now let me show you how it works. Gentlemen, with your permission I would like to use one of you to run a test. Sir, would you be willing to be my guinea pig?’
And, what do you know: the creep pointed his margarine finger right at my face. I shrugged. ‘Go ahead.’ He nodded and said, ‘If you could lean in and state your name and maybe a quote, a saying, cliché, just so Eavesdropper can capture your voice.’
James across the table smirked at me as I leaned into the laptop and said, ‘Agent Paul Roland. Um … Live long and prosper.’
This got a few laughs. Weasel didn’t even smirk; just spun the laptop around and started typing. After a moment he smiled and said, ‘Agent Roland would you please give me permission to play to your colleagues the conversation you had with your friend James across the table before you came into the room for this presentation?’
I said, ‘I’ve been dusted for bugs just this morning and we were in the green room, the cleanest room in the pentagon, maybe the world. So you go right ahead, bud.’
White noise flushed out of the speakers. James smirked at me, and then, damn if I could believe my own ears, but there it was. The sound was cloudy, like a bad Skype connection, but weasel really smiled for the first time as the conversation between James and myself was played out for all to hear: our bosses, their bosses, their bosses’ bosses.
James: You seen this guy who is giving the presentation today? What a weasel. Could snap him like a toothpick.
Me: Guy looks like he’s been living in a crypt.
James: Used to beat info out of folks. Now it’s all geeks with maths.
Me: I prefer the hardware method. Gun shoved up the nose of some prick. And you can tell he loves his mama’s knickers on under that suit. Victoria’s Secrets indeed!
James: That ain’t no secret I want any part of.
Me: Come on; let’s get this joke over with so we can get on with our real jobs.
James: You mean so you can get on with the job of toppling your boss?
Me: What else is there to do around here?
James: I hear you, hombre, I hear you.