Saturday, 2 July 2011

Making Contact

Michael gazed idly through the window of the train as it dawdled its way across the Welsh countryside in the drizzle and deepening gloom of an October afternoon. Until he arrived at his destination there was nothing he could do, but his mind was too preoccupied to settle to read a book. This was his very first mission: to locate his contact and deliver the message he had been given, which was “It’s snowing in Venice”. What might that mean? Nobody had seen fit to tell him, and he suspected he wasn’t supposed to enquire. He didn’t even have a proper address for the contact, or a physical description: only that his name was Jones and that he lived in a certain Welsh village whose name Michael was by no means sure of pronouncing even remotely correctly, since it consisted largely of Ws and double Ls. Nor had he been given any idea of what was supposed to follow once his message had been delivered.
It had occurred to Michael that this might well turn out to be not a real assignment at all, but some kind of trial to test out his reliability and usefulness. Quite likely he was supposed to display initiative in first of all locating the contact and then in following any instructions he might be given in return - perhaps another message? perhaps a package to deliver, or some other task to fulfil? Or perhaps above all he was supposed to use his judgement as to whether the contact was a man to be trusted? Maybe even now assessors were lurking and watching, to report on how he performed? - in which case the mysterious Jones was doubtless one of the assessors.
For as long as he could remember, Michael had known this was the career he wanted. As a small boy he had been fascinated by disguises and codes and invisible writing. His school friends had noticed, and had given him nicknames like “James Blonde” and “006 ½, licensed to hurt”, and he had learnt from this not to reveal his ambition to become a spy - at least, not until he met someone who might be useful in his ambition, and even then only by making cryptic hints rather than stating it openly. To this end he had worked hard to pass his exams and had assiduously sought to make the best contacts. And it had worked: eventually he had been interviewed and presumably secretly vetted. And here he was.
The train finally arrived. It was now quite dark outside. A few lights shone in the village behind the little station. No-one else left the train. The only person about was the man at the ticket window. Michael approached him.
“I wonder if you could help me: I’m looking for Mr Jones”.
“Ooh, there’s plenty of us called Jones here! There’s Jones the milk, and there’s Jones the gas and there’s Jones the bread; and me, I’m Jones the train!”
This, thought Michael, is clearly a test I‘ve been set. I shall need to show persistence and thoroughness, and at the same time be very discreet in my enquiries, so as not to raise suspicion. I’d better start here.
“I’m sorry I can’t be more precise”, he said, “The fact is, I didn’t expect to be here at all. I was supposed to be going to Italy, but it was cancelled at the last minute. The weather’s terrible there. They say it’s snowing in Venice!”
An expression of gradually dawning comprehension crept over the railwayman’s face. “Ooh, it’s Jones the spy you’ll be wanting! D’you know, you’re the third person who’s been asking for him this week?”
Somehow, Michael had not expected intelligence work to be like this.

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