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FICTION: I dream of Past Futures By Thomas Ecclestone  

Posted by Scott Wilson


     I knew that someone important was going to walk into my life at 12:15, just after I normally drink tea and prepare for an slow day working on the horoscope. Now, maybe you might not believe me. After all, I am a professional charlatan. But I knew something was up, because for the last two weeks every prediction I have made actually worked out.

     It started when I saw Mrs Henderson. She was a fat woman, an unpleasant woman, a great client. Like most people who wanted a reading, she didn't want the truth. And normally I didn't give it to her.

     “Now, Mrs Henderson, I have a treat in store for you,”

     “What's that, dear?”

     “I've managed to get hold of some fine English tea. Instead of our normal, I thought we might enjoy some tea reading.”

     I pulled out the equipment. It was a plain set. It looked like bone china, but was made in china for a very low price. Mrs Henderson looked impressed anyway. She had a lot of money, and not a lot of sense.

     Anyway, I started reading the information contained in the tea leafs. And then the world went blank. When I returned to the world, Mrs Henderson was gone.

     I walked out of the shop I had rented, and another of the shopkeepers came up to me. He was normally an quiet, amicable chap. This time he looked like he wanted to throttle me.

     “What did you do to Mrs Henderson?” he asked.

     “Pardon?”

     “She came out of here. Howling and crying, like you'd tried to kill her.” he put his face up to mine, “You ever do it again and I'll..”

     “I don't know what you're talking about,” and I backed away from him. He stalked off.  I walked back to my shop, ready to wait for my next appointment.

     Mrs Abbot didn't come. She left a nervous message on my answer phone. At the time I didn't realise why. Because I had no other clients for the day, I went home.

     That night, I woke up by the loud knocks on the door. I stood to my feet just in time for the door to be broken down.

     “Police! Get on the floor! Get down!”

     He was aiming the gun right for my head. I dropped down, lay on the ground, and my arms were taken roughly behind my back.

     “I'm putting you under arrest,” he said, then read me my rights. He bundled me into a police car.

     “Why am I under arrest?”

     “Attempted murder,” he said.

     My mouth opened wide. It was such a shock, it seemed like I'd just been told I was about to die. And then. Then I was in my bed, looking at the ceiling. The police officers had gone. But it felt more real than a dream. It must have been a dream. Yeah, that was what it was, I convinced myself. Although I should have known better.

     In Ireland you can make a full time living as a psychic. less so in England. The English wouldn't even pay you if you could predict the lottery. So I also work as a pitchman. Which, if you think about it, is just another way to make a dishonest buck.

     I walked to the nearest boot sale, and set up. It isn't too crowded in the morning. And everyone is busy. So I crawl in through the hedge. They don't know that I'm there against the rules. I set up. My table is old fashioned. A suitcase with legs you fold out. Like the true pitchmen of the 50's.

     My pitch is the worm. They wiggle around my hand, like they are alive. The fools in the crowd gave me money. That is what they are for.

     They'll never get the thing to work on their own.

     And just as I am about to end the pitch I saw her.

     She had the longest blondest hair this side of fairyland, and her smile lights up the room like a flashlight. And I knew I am meant to talk to her. Just now.

     “Hi, miss, can I interest you in...”

     “No,” she said.

     She walked off. I had the sense she is in trouble. She was poorer than she used to be, her clothes were expensive, but last years fashion. I had a feeling I will meet her again.

     I went home.

     It was another mistake.

     When I got there, there was Mrs Henderson and her husband. Their eyes were red. They had been crying. I couldn't understand what they were there for.

     “How did you know?” Mrs Henderson asked.

     “Know what?”

     “How did you know Keith was killing himself?”

     My mouth opened wide. I felt the highest possible shock. Mr Henderson was glaring at me. Like I was responsible.

     “I'm sorry... what are you talking about?”

     And they told me. How I had made such terrible predictions. That Keith would kill himself. And that Mr Henderson and Mrs Henderson would be next.

     I managed to get them to leave. At first I thought that the gossip would help me. But the truth is, no one wants to go to a psychic that tells them the truth. Life is hard enough. You go to a psychic to hear lies.

     The phone went silent.

     I made some money as a pitchman, so it didn't affect me too much. But I kept on having bad dreams. I kept on seeing people I knew in them. Not just that, I saw how they died. Their pain. And I started to write down what I saw. In a book by my bedside cabinet.

     The extra time I had meant I was drinking more too. It was like I'd been cursed. But the worst was the Christians. They decided that these dreams were inspired by Satan. They set up the picket line in front of my office. I started to think I should simply leave.

     I waited a day too long. I bought the ticket for Thursday.

     On Wednesday, the cleaner came in. She was a nosy parker. And no mistake. Her husband had died a few years back, and she was interested in everything. While it's not the way she put it, she was very interested in the diary.

     Which she opened.

     And read.

     All the details of the different murders and deaths I'd seen. All the factual details that no one else other than the murderer could know. She took it to the police, and they read it, and they got their warrant.

     I arrived back at the normal time, and nothing was different. The book was there. I didn't notice the surveillance cameras. Not at all.

     They broke in that night. It wasn't a dream. And I looked  up to them bleary eyed, a gun pointing in my face, and swore.

     At least that made me feel better.

     They dragged me towards the back of the car, and I noticed someone had decided to give the press warning. So it was very public. Once in, they took me right there. And kitted me out in fetching jail clothing, since I was still in pyjamas.

     The waiting began.

     This was the first time I was in jail, and I can tell you it is not as bad as some people say. There is an odd vinegar smell, hiding other bodily fluids. And it is never quiet. There is always shouting going on, and doors slammed. But it was no worse than some hotels I've been in while performing.

     They took me out to the interview room.

     “Interview starting at 1:12pm”

     I looked across at my lawyer. Short, thin, balding and bored. The police officer had my diary in front of him. He picked it up.

     “So, anything you want to say? About the contents of this book?”

     “Nope.”

     I smiled at the officer. He leaned back.

     “In it, you've got the details of dozens of murders. Information the police hasn't released to the public. Information... dare I say it, in some cases that the police didn't even know themselves.”

     “So? I'm doing research for a book.”

     “How did you know these things?”

     He pulled out the diary, and started reading about a murder that had taken place yesterday. I listened without much  emotion showing. Disgusting stuff.

     “How did you know this?”

     “Since when is knowing stuff a crime?”

     “Not reporting to the police is obstruction!”

     I leaned forward. “I'm a psychic. I... can see what has happened. What will happen.”

     The police officer laughed.

     “What were you doing between 11:12 pm and 11:31 pm last night?”

     “In bed. Like all sensible citizens.”

     The police officer stood up. He was ready to terminate the interview, and to be honest, that didn't seem to be the only thing he wanted to terminate.

     “I guess we'll hold you in custody until we conclude our investigations.”

     My lawyer coughed, “What are you holding him on?”

     “Obstruction of justice.”

     And that was it. That was the full content of the interview. I was hustled off into the cell, and ended up waiting for days. In telephone conversations with friends, I knew the police were digging up my life.

     I was given a notebook, and a pen, and I continued to write down my dreams. I thought I might as well. The police would search my cell every now and again, and confiscate them.

     This went on for two weeks.

     They even moved me to solitary. Made sure no one could be feeding me this information. Or, presumably, that I wasn't ordering the killings. But the dreams continued. They were getting worse and worse. Every morning I woke up feeling like I had not slept.

     They brought me to the interview room.

     “How do you know these things? You --”

     “I'm a psychic.”

     And the police officer deflated. it was like watching some kid letting go of a balloon. I tried not to laugh at him.

     “We've done tests. it's obvious that you weren't involved in several of these cases - the killers have confessed, given evidence we've obtained from your diary.”

     “Good for you,” I said. My smile was lopsided.

     “So I guess we have to assume you were not involved in any of the murders.”

     “But?”

     “We're not going to let you go.”

     My lawyer stood up, “You've said yourself that he's not guilty.”

     “He is a material witness. To dozens of crimes.”

     “He was not even present!”

     “We've made up our mind.”

     I guess at least things looked up, because they took me from prison. They drove me along country lanes, towards a building. I can't tell you precisely where it was. It just looked like an old school to be honest. You'd never have guessed it was an intelligence headquarters. They bundled me out into an empty building.

     A hatch opened, and they took me underground.

     You've heard of the secret prisons. Well, they are true. They dressed me up in a uniform, tagged my ankle, and locked me in a cage. The only thing they gave me was some paper and a pen to write down my dreams.

     At first I got really angry. But the days passed, and it became obvious they would never let me go.

     Sometimes people came to research me. They put me in scanners, and gave me all kinds of medical tests. The results were unsurprising. I was just a normal, healthy individual.

     They also asked me to look at foreign bases. But it didn't work.

     I guess I just have a tendency to see violent crime.

     And that was how it seemed I was destined to live for the rest of my life. Until I started to hear the voices. They were low. Just like someone was talking in the next room. Distant. And I couldn't make them out.

     I told the guards, but they thought I was having a joke.

     That night I was tossing and turning, and I heard someone shout out my name. I woke up. No one was there. Then I tried to get asleep again, and managed it. But the voice was insistent.

     “What is it? What is up?” I asked.

     Nothing answered me. The guards walked past my cell. But with the dreams and the voices, I was getting no sleep. It started to affect me so badly I would not even eat food.

     Within a few days I was exhausted. Mentally and physically drained. And I guess that is what the creatures wanted. Because soon they broke through. It's hard to tell you how it felt. But if you have ever had a moment of shock, when you suddenly feel like you aren't there, you'll know.

     “Find my killer,” the voice said.

     “What? Who are you?”

     “Find my killer!”

     Over and over again. Until I finally broke down.

     “I'll find your killer... but who are you?”

     He said his name. And then the voice faded away. But I knew I had to do precisely what he told me. I'd go mad otherwise. Maybe I was already mad.

     But how could I do that when I was locked up?

     The opportunity came sooner than I expected. My handlers were getting anxious. I was producing less predictions than normal, and the federal conviction rate was plummeting through the floor.

     So they came to me to find what was wrong.

     The handlers looked like model citizens. Dark suits, a man and a woman dressed formally, like they were lawyers. They flashed their badge to me. I don't know why, the fact I was in a prison gave them away.

     “What's happening, sir? Why have the predictions stopped?”

     “I guess...”

     my voice faded off. The two police officers leaned forward. They looked like they were hanging on every word.

     “What?”

     “It's the voices.”

     The police officer fell back. You could see him working it through in his mind. Despite the success of my predictions, he settled on the conclusion I was mad. After all, psychic phenomena were impossible. He'd read that once.

     “What voices?”

     “The people who were murdered. one of them is speaking to me. He wants his killer caught.”

     “Why doesn't he tell you who the killer was, then?”

     I scratched my head, “I guess he doesn't know.”

     “Well, who was he?”

     I shook my head. But that night, I was thinking about it, and decided that I had to ask. Had to have a conversation, if only for my sanity. When the voices started up, I leaned forward in my bed.

     “Who are you?”

     “Find my killers.”

     I asked the question again. But he would say nothing of use to me. he would only repeatedly ask me to find his killers. Not very useful. Eventually, I managed to coax his name from him. Nigel. Not a very good name for a joke.

     So I got the police officers to run a search on him.

     That was the strange thing. No murder victims of that name came up. Not any time soon. But a week later, a Nigel disappeared. And I realised the truth.

     “Who killed you, Nigel?”

     I looked through the court reports. He had been killed by stabbing. They wouldn't let me out of the jail. So all I could do was read the files they brought on him. And I got the feeling that many of the details had been redacted. it was like looking for a haystack in an elephant: messy and not very satisfactory.

     What I noticed was that Nigel had been a computer consultant for a large security firm.

     The dreams were constant. Interrupted by ghostly voices. But because I was acting, they were less disturbing than they had been.

     I read through the files of the security firm.

     There were only two people I decided who could have done it. They both had a great deal to gain. At the end of the day, though, there is a limit to what you can do from inside a jail cell.

     So I did the only sensible thing I could do.

     Get a Ouija board.

     The guards looked sceptically at me when I asked for it. But I was responsible for half the murder arrests in the district for the last six months. So they eventually gave me what I wanted. Especially when I refused to furnish them with any more information.

     I don't know if you have ever been to a proper séance. Well, to be honest, most of the time the knocks are from the medium. But this time it was different. Within moments of the séance starting, I was aware that the room was colder.

     “Hello, is anyone there?”

     And the board spelt out yes.

     “Are you the voice that keeps speaking to me.”

     Yes.

     “What is your name?”

     N - I - G - E - L.

     F-I-N-D M-Y M-U-R-D-E-R-E-R

     O-R E-L-S-E.

     I drew my breath in. “Nigel, do you know who your murderer is?”

     N-O.

     Then the entire board lifted off the table, and flew towards me. It hit the wall a few inches from my face. The room warmed up again. The presence was gone. For a little while.

     The guard opened the door. I knew he must have been watching the CCTV. His face was pale.

     “How did you do that?” he asked.

     “I didn't” I replied. I knew that he didn't believe me. But he would have to show more senior people. And I knew they couldn't afford to risk me.

     I went back to bed. For the first time in weeks, I had no bad dreams. I guess Nigel knew I understood his message. I slept very soundly. Until the next morning. But my guards didn't really understand. Or they did not want to understand.

     They decided to cut me off from the outside world.

     My handler met me in the interview room the next morning. He looked tired. Besides him sat a man I hadn't seen before. He wore the cleanest, most expensive suit I had seen during my stay at the states pleasure.

     “We want you to stop going after Nigel's killer,” he said.

     “But... If I do that, I'll never have peace.”

     “Carry on like you were. Tell us your predictions. But no wild goose chase.”

     “No.”

     The man stood up. He walked out of the room. Measured, and without menace. But he didn't seem to be a man used to dealing with no. My handler shook his head.

     “I'm afraid you made a mistake.”

     He didn't need to tell me the consequences. All of a sudden, I was put on suicide watch. Woken up every thirty minutes to see if I wasn't dead yet. The heating in my cell surprisingly broke. I knew I was in their hands totally. But I never realised what it was like to displease them.

     But they had made a mistake too.

     You see, Nigel might be a ghost, but that doesn't mean he is stupid. He can see what is happening. He knows they are stopping me doing what he wants. And this gets him angry. They first times he acted, it looked like coincidence. The guards chair would tilt under him, depositing him on the floor. Or cups of coffee were not placed firmly enough on the table.

     But I could feel Nigels anger growing.

     It burst forth on the Friday evening. The guard sat down outside my cell. I could feel the room getting colder.

     “You'd better watch out,” I said.

     “Are you threatening me?” he said, pulling his tazer out.

     “Not me. Nigel. He's here. Can't you feel him?”

     The guards were spooked by me. They knew that I was able to see things they could not. But although the guards face became pale, his hand on the trigger was steady and firm.

     Then, behind him I could see his chair rising off the ground.

     “Get away!” I warned.

     It was too late. The chair slammed into the guard. He dropped to the floor. Then I saw the guards keys float from his pocket. My cell door was unlocked.

     “Thank you, Nigel.”

     I walked over to the guard, stripped his clothes off, and changed into his uniform. I thought I didn't have much of a choice. If I didn't do what Nigel wanted he would kill me.

     So, I walked towards freedom.

     Every door I came to slid open without me doing anything. It would have been creepy if I didn't know what was happening. Soon the alarms started to ring out. People would be grabbing their guns, getting ready to shoot me. I could feel my heart trying to escape from my chest.

     I soon arrived at fire exit. It opened in front of me. I climbed down some steps. Below me, I could see coppers swarming. I continued to walk down. One of the coppers recognised me.

     “Stop!” he shouted.

     I ran in the opposite direction. He took aim, and I could hear the gun explode behind me. But the bullet didn't pierce my skin  like I expected. Instead, it ended in the ground. I reached a police car, and the engine came on without anyone doing anything.

     Then I started driving.

     The police radio came on, and I could hear them putting out an all points warning. They were to capture me. Dead or alive.

     I turned into a shopping centre, and got out.

     Then I lost myself in a large crowd.

     For the moment I was free, but I needed to get into fresh clothes, that weren't so distinctive. I walked over to a cash machine.

     “Nigel, make this machine give me money.”

     And, somehow, he did.

     Then I went into a store and bought black trousers and a white shirt. Got changed. And walked out of the shopping centre, expecting to be caught at any time. In my pocket there was five hundred dollars. That was all I had in the world, except for an insane ghost.

     I decided it was time to go to the library. After chatting to the librarian for a few seconds, she walked me over to a computer which had copies of the local papers for the last twenty years. I typed a search. At first I found nothing, but as I expanded the search back I found him.

     Nigel Slater.

     According to the interview, he was found murdered in his bed. He had been asleep. His wife had been charged and convicted of his murder. But she said she was innocent.

     I opened up notepad.

     Is that you? I typed.

     I was expecting him to answer, but still shocked when he did. YES. came the response.

     Did your wife kill you? I asked.

     NO.

     Who did kill you?

     Nothing came in response. I knew that would happen. It was too much to hope for. It was getting late at night. The librarian was fussing near me. It was time to go.

     When you are a fugitive, it isn't as simple to find a place to stay as booking a room in a hotel. I walked round, looking for an empty house. It took me an hour. Occasionally a police car would go past. It made me nervous.

     Eventually I found the house.

     At one time it would have been a posh bungalow. But whoever had owned it had been taken to a care home, and it was covered in weeds and neglect. I walked up to the door, and it swings open. That is one of the advantages of your own private poltergeist.

     Inside it was a mess. But dry and water proof. There was a wood burning stove in one room. The power was off, and Nigel didn't turn it on. But the water was only off at the mains. It was easy enough to get it working again.

     I fell to sleep.

     In the morning I would have to start the process of searching for Nigel Slater. I knew roughly where he lived. I fell asleep, and woke up hungry and cramped.

     Outside, I could hear rustling. I peeked through the window, and could see a man dressed only in black. He looked like he was not very friendly. I ducked down, but he must have seen me. He edged towards the door. It was locked, but he slammed it open.

     “Where are you?” he shouted.

     I hid behind the sofa. it didn't help. He walked towards me. I noticed he had a poker in his hand. There was no way he wouldn't find me. I stood up.

     “What are you doing?” I asked.

     “I'll ask the questions. This is me Nan’s house.”

     I looked over at him. He had a long scar down his face. it seemed like he was used to trouble. And he was straining to start a fight.

     “I... am homeless. Just looking for a dry place to sleep. I haven't done any damage,”

     “You'd best get out.”

     I did what he said. He followed me. I thought he might hit me at any second. or recognise me. They must have put my picture out into the news by now.

     “And stay out!” he ordered, slamming the door behind him.

     I sighed with relief, but knew that my location might be passed onto the police. I decided it was time to get out of the town. I caught a bus, and tried to hide my face. Since I hadn't had a bath for a few days it was easier than you might think. People did not want to look me in the eyes.

     I arrived at Nigel’s house six hours latter. It was a solemn house. A plane front garden laid to grass, brick frontage, and white windows. It didn't look like anyone had ever cared for it. It looked like it was a place to sleep and not to stay.

     It took me a few minutes to settle down, and watch the street. There was nothing extraordinary about it. A few people walked past, taking little interest in the stranger. After watching for half an hour, I knew there was little information here for me.

     Talking round the local shops I found out that Nigel had been a quiet man. Few people knew him, past his saying hello. he didn't seem to have been involved in anything wrong. or indeed in anything at all.

     Who would have killed such a man?

    I decided that there could only really have been one source of trouble. He must have found out something at work. Something that made him worth more to someone dead than alive. I got some annual reports from his company and studied them. Amazing what is available on the internet these days. There was little of interest.

     It was a security IT company, did audits, checked companies could not be hacked into. While Nigel must have had some skills to work there, it was hardly the kind of company people would kill for.

     There was only one thing for it.

     I applied to work at Nigel’s company as a cleaner. it was a big risk. I supplied false references, and knew they would not check them for months. That's the thing about cleaners. No one takes any notice.

     So I got the job, and examined the work place thoroughly. It looked like an office. The computers were always on. Once or twice I looked over the shoulder of someone working but it was all gobbledygook to me.

     “How am I supposed to find your killer, here?” I asked.

     No one responded.

     To make it worse, I saw my face on the newspaper when I went for food. Sure, I looked a lot different now. I had grown longer hair, a beard, and was thinner. But it was still me. I grew suspicious of other people.

     Sooner or latter I knew I would be caught.

    Then came my big break. Several people were working in the office late. I overhead them speaking about a billion dollar deal. The company was getting bought out. I checked the internet, and there was something in the trade section.

     That night I took a great risk.

     The routine was the same every day. But one of my colleagues had not turned up to work. So I was asked to clean the main office. I did so. But I did more than that, I broke into the file cabinets, and started reading company secrets.

     I didn't find my smoking gun, but I did find out that Nigel had been working on a project for the government. A project named Sigma.

     Every moment I was in the office was I risk, so I couldn't read for long, and went back to work.

     But that didn't save me for long. The next day I arrived at work a few minutes earlier. Something told me that things were wrong. The security guard on the gate was new. He told me to go out to the bosses office.

     As I walked, I felt a tug on my arm.

     I walked into a small lab, and looked around. There was a window, and I tried to open it. In the distance I could see five police cars. The window wouldn't open.

     There was only one way out. And I knew that by now, there would be police officers between me and the door. I looked round to find a chair. Then used it to break the window. The alarm went, and I slid through the empty hole. But I caught my shoulder on a shard of glass. I was bleeding. The police gave up their pretence. Dozens of sirens started up, heading towards the building.

     I ran through a green space. I knew that there was only one way out of the compound except the front gate. A hole in the fence I had noticed a few days earlier. But over head their was a helicopter. Although I ran like the wind, it wasn't enough. I could hear the police men getting closer and closer.

     “Police! Stop!”

     I turned around and saw two police officers. They both had guns pointed at me. I raised my hands, and they soon had me on the ground.

     “You're under arrest.”

     “What for?”

     “Everything.”

     A few moments latter, they had me in the back of a police van. I knew that this time it would not be so easy for me to escape.

     In short, I thought I might never find Nigel’s killer.

     I arrived at my destination a few hours latter. This time they were taking no chances. I arrived at a super maximum prison. Surrounded by barbed wire, dogs, and armed police officers it was obvious I'd never get out.

     They locked me in my cell.

     That night, I had bad dreams, and for once they were not caused by Nigel.

     The next day the interrogation began. Again and Again. Asking me where I had gone. What I had done. I eventually broke down and told them everything. But that didn't stop them continuing. Maybe what they were doing was no crime. But it was a form of torture.

     Each night, I ended up in my cell. They checked me every day. A suicide risk. Apparently.

     Eventually, the interrogations stopped. They gave me paper. They wanted to go back to how it used to be. But by that time I had got so angry, even when I did have a dream I kept it to myself.

     It could have stayed like that for years.

     But Nigel had different plans.

     I wasn't there. So all I can do is repeat the report that was made to me. No guarantee it is what happened. Apparently the director of the FBI had been having an extramarital affair. He was in bed that normal, and engaging in exercise at the same time.

     Until, the lights went on.

     This was not expected, but what was even more unexpected was the windows opening wide. And the explosions of a gun. The director of the FBI's gun.

     No one was hurt.

     But the first cop on the scene saw the assistant director of the FBI naked, with a mistress, after he had fired his gun. And the only sign of what happened was the NIGEL written on the wall in chalk.

     No, I don't know where the chalk came from.

     But I do know that it made the national news. The assistant director of the FBI resigned. And, to be frank, most of the people in the FBI did not care much about that. But it was fair warning.

     The director of the FBI came to me once the hullabaloo had died down.

     He didn't seem to be exactly happy about what had happened. In fact, he stormed in to the visiting room, and let loose a barrage of swear words. I sat there passively, listening to him. When he calmed down sufficiently, he sat down.

     “What was that about?” I asked.

     The director of the FBI glared at me, “Congratulations, your stunt cost the FBI one of its ablest staff members. Plus causing me --”

     “Again, what are you talking about? I'm in prison. Unless you hadn't noticed. I can't do any stunts.”

     He explained what had happened. I admit, it was hard for me not to laugh.

     “Well, Director. Nigel is not in my power. And - well maybe it's not my place to say anything...”

     “Doesn't stop any other fool doing it.”

     “Nigel was right. All he wants is his murderer found. But he isn't going to stop. Not until that is done. Not even if he has to kill someone else to do it.”

     “Are you threatening me?”

     “No. I am not. Nigel is a threat to you. If you stand in the way, that is. He is a ghost. What can you do to get rid of him?”

     The director of the FBI thought for a few seconds. An hour latter, a priest turned up with bell, book and candle. it didn't work spectacularly. The power went off, the candle blew out, the bell rang, and the book was thrown across the room.

     “I guess it didn't work,” I said smugly.

      The director gestured to the mirror and two toughs walked in. They carried some rope. They tied me to the chair, and lifted a cosh over their heads.

     “You can stop Nigel. Or you can suffer.”

     Then all hell broke lose. The cosh swung back by itself. it raised into the air, and came down, laying out one of the thugs. The other caught me a glancing blow, but something unseen lifted him from the floor and threw him against the wall.

     “You have a choice. Director. Help find Nigel’s killer. Or, I think, Nigel will chase you down and gut you like a fish.”

     The directors face was pale.

     “Which one do you choose?”

     “You're threatening...”

     “I am making no threats. Just telling you how it is.”

     Eventually the Director settled down again. He sat in his chair, silently looking at me. I wasn't a pretty picture. Thin, and in prison coveralls. I must have looked like a real criminal.

     “OK. You have a deal.”

     “You're going to help us?”

     “Yes.”

     They let me go that afternoon. Put me in a suit, and told me I was seconded to the FBI. I was even given my own agent. He was tall, thin, and looked every inch the government man.

     “Sir, what are your orders?”

     “You know the case?”

     “Yes, sir.”

     “Good. Well, what do you suggest first?”

     The agent shook his head. He gave nothing away. That was when I knew he wasn't sent to help me. Just to keep an eye out on me.

      Nevertheless, I decided that I could use him. Like he wanted to use me. I looked over to him, and told him to get a warrant. We were going to search Nigel’s company. And read every damn bit of paper they had about Sigma.

     I didn't expect him to do it, but we were driving out a few hours latter.

     When we arrived at the door, they had their lawyer sorted out already. Someone must have leaked it. He looked like he had cost a lot of money.

    “I'm sorry. You can search the company. But you can't take the papers.”

     “Why not?”

     “They are classified. National security.”

     He handed over the document. I couldn't read it, but the FBI agent looked like he was eating his liver.

     “Fair enough. I'll tell my bosses. But in the meantime, I wonder if you can answer some questions?”

     “No.”

     “Pardon?”

     “I'm afraid we have the right not to incriminate ourselves. We are asserting that right. Both as a company, and as individuals. So, no, you can ask any questions but we will not answer them.”

     The search was pointless. But we went right ahead. If only to annoy them.

     I was surprised when I found the clue. It was something no one else would have noticed. A single envelope in the bin. It contained an address. I think Nigel must have been helping me. I was drawn to it. But the thing I noticed was the fact the address had a Sigma stamp.

     I didn't let on what I had found. Just stuffed it in my jacket pocket.

     Once we were out of the building, I decided to break away from the FBI agent. I knew some things would work better on my own. it was easier said than done. When I tried to go for a walk that night, he insisted on staying right by me.

     I finally decided to crawl out of the window that night.

     Getting to the address was difficult. I didn't have a car, I had to take the bus. Most of the journey there wasn't even that. And it had began to rain. I must have looked odd, walking around town that late at night, soaked. In fact, I  surprised no copper stopped me.

     But I arrived at the address just before five.

     As I looked at the building, wondering how I would get in, their was a cough right behind me. I turned round and saw the FBI agent.

     “I thought I'd got rid of you.”

     “It isn't that easy,” he said, smiling thinly.

     “It's not like you can help me here. I'm gonna break in.”

     The FBI agent shrugged, “How good are you at that?”

     “Good enough,” I said. Knowing I was lying as I said it. It wasn't like it was my strong point.      The expression on the coppers face showed he thought not either.

     So I walked towards it.

     He stood there behind me his mouth opened, as I shimmied the lock. it opened. I walked in. This was a mistake, I didn't notice the small CCTV camera, the camera that was hidden in a plug socket. But it was sending my picture right up to the security office.

     They were phoning their security company within minutes.

     I worked quickly, going up the stairs to the office. I don't know what I had expected to see. But what I did see looked just like any other office. Even down to the half drunk cup of coffee.

     It was dark in the room. Suddenly the lights went on. I looked behind me, and two armed security guards were pointing their weapons at me.

     I raised my hands.

     “I surrender” I said.  

     “A pity,” said one of the guards, as he hit me hard on the back of my head, and I fell down unconscious.

      I woke up in the boot of a car. I could feel the engine running, and smell burning petrol. It was pick black. The car started off, bumping along the ground. Hitting me from side to side.

     My hands were tied behind my back. It was lucky I knew a little magic. I got the knot loose without much effort. Then I grovelled around the car to find something, anything that could help me. There was a wrench, which I picked up.

     Soon the car stopped.

     I put the rope around my wrists, hiding the fact I was loose. And put the wrench in my pocket. The boot of the car swung open. One of the security guards lifted me out of the boot. He was covered in muscle.

     “The boss wants to speak to you.”

     “Who’s that?”

     “Slater. Nigel Slater.”

     My mouth opened wide. That was the last thing I expected to hear. They marched me along the ground and I saw him for the first time. Nigel. Alive.

     “Why are you looking into my business?” he asked,

     “Err, because you asked me to?”

    Nigel smiled, and raised his hand. The security guard gave me a wallop. So hard I could almost hear my rib cage cracking.

     “Try answering my questions without the jokes.”

     “I'll try. You see, though, my answer wasn't a joke.”

     Then the room went strange. Something turned the lights off, and opened the windows. It even raised a chair off the ground. The security guard looked worried for the first time.

     “Nigel... meet Nigel.” I said.

     “What on earth?” He asked.

     “For the last month, I have been searching for the person who killed Nigel Slater. You, sir, are Nigel Slater. But it seems your ghost hasn't got the information you are alive.”

     “This is preposterous.”

     “Indeed.”

     I looked around at the furniture. It was hovering. But Nigel had stopped moving it.

     “I guess the question is... who killed you, sir? Who would want to kill you.”

     “No one! I am just a computer hacker.”

     “Your ghost would seem to disagree.”

     Just then the FBI agent rushed into the room. He had his gun out. Pointing right at Nigel. Who looked shocked.

     “Agent, please put that down.”

     “But, you're in danger, sir!”

     “I don't think so!”

     The agent put his gun down, and Slater sat down. He pulled a half drunk glass of whiskey from his desk, and sipped it.

     “Sir, stop drinking that!”

     “What?”

     I noticed his voice had started to slur. It seemed like he was finding it more difficult to stay awake too. I did the only sensible thing.

     “Call an ambulance!”

     But it didn't work. By the time that the ambulance arrived, Nigel was in a deep coma. It took only a short time after that until the first homicide detective got there.

     “I'm sorry, Nigel, I should have realised what was going to happen.”

     But the truth is, it was fate. No ones fault. Except the murderer. After all, how can Nigel Slater’s ghost come into my dreams unless he is actually killed?

     “One good thing about this, sir,” said the FBI agent.

     “What's that?”

     “Now the murder has happened, maybe their will be some clues.”

     “Maybe. Maybe there are some clues right in this room,” I said.

     What happened next surprised me. The cops arrested me. Told me I was being held on suspicion of murder. I told them not to be idiots, but they wrote it in their notebooks and not their minds.

     I guess the only thing that saved me was the way the FBI agent had been there.

     Even so, they only released me after a day.

     By that point the clues would be getting stale, so I drove right to  the company. But they wouldn't let me in. it was a police investigation, they said. No dice.

     So I did the only thing I could think of.

     I called the FBI agent and asked him to run the full scan on Slater. By the time he had finished I would know every single family member. And all I had to do was interview them.

     He came back with a mother, and a father, both dead. And nothing else of interest.

     Bugger.

     The only clue left  to me was Sigma. The company was closed for a few hours, but the managing director wasn't. Again the FBI came to my rescue. They had the address, and I wasn't afraid to use it.

     “I guess you should come with me,” I told Mr FBI.

     “For backup?”

     “For your warrant card.”

     We walked up the garden path. It wasn't the most luxurious house that a managing director had ever lived at. But I knocked on the door anyway.

     A man opened it.

     “We've been waiting for you.”

     I walked in. Behold, the group was all there. The director of the FBI himself. The attorney general. And a four star general. I could feel the back of my assistant straightening up.

     “I won't introduce these people.” the managing director said. “But you have some questions for me.”

     I opened my mouth. To this day I still don't know why I asked it. “Who killed Nigel Slater?”

     “Why, I thought that would be obvious.”

     The Managing Director pressed a button on the TV. It switched on. Nigel Slater’s office. I saw him pick up his glass. Put the chemicals in it. The MD fast forwarded. Nigel killed himself.

     “Any more questions?”

     “Why did he do it?”

     The Managing director leaned back. He looked old at that moment. The simple question aged him a dozen years.

     “Sir... if you knew the answer to that question, you'd follow Nigel’s lead.”

     I could feel the room getting colder as he spoke. Nigel was listening. He was getting angry.

     “Sir, I have to insist. it isn't just for me. In fact, it is not about me at all.”

     “OK. What do you know about Nigel Slater?”

     I shook my head. Damned little, I realised.

     “He was a genius. A certifiable Genius. Of the insane variety. We hired him to do a job of work.”

     “What job?”

     “Oil. We got him to produce computer models. All the oil reserves. He was so great... well, he could produce a program that told us exactly where oil was, just from satellite images.”

     “Worth a fortune.”

     “Worse than that. You see... he found the mother load. Trillions of dollars of oil. All in one place.”

     “But why would that cause him to kill himself?”

     “Because the only way we can get it is global thermonuclear war,”

     He pressed a few buttons, and the map showed up. Right there. Right on Taiwan’s borders. I could feel myself about to vomit.

     “China?”

     “Yeah. If we try to get the oil rights, China will go to war. We'll back Taiwan. And then... Kaboom!”

     “But surely we can just keep it secret?”

     “That's what Nigel tried to do. From the look of it, that is what he is still trying to do.”

     “But it might be too late.” I guessed.

     “Someone may have leaked it to the Chinese,” the managing director said,

     “Who?”

     The director of the FBI smiled at me.

     “We think you must have done it,”

     Just at that moment a dozen armed guards came into the room. Their guns were pointed right at me. I raised my hands, and was soon plunged into the carpet. They searched me. Didn't find anything interesting.

     “If I were guilty, why would I warn you of Nigel Slater’s death anyway?”

     “You didn't, son. All you did was lead us on a wild goose chaise.”

     “But...”

    “Yeah. But I don’t think you did it. I don’t think you were that smart. But I don't know what this being who calls himself Nigel Slater is,”

     I didn't struggle. By now, them putting handcuffs on me was almost routine. I just wish I had been able to continue my life as a charlatan.

     “He's a ghost”

     “A ghost from the future?”

     I didn't know what to say to that. it was true. it was obvious when you think about it. Nigel had told me he was murdered when he was still alive. but no one ever said the soul was bound to the arrow of time.

     Which was in any case about to start running out.

     The phone started ringing. The director of the FBI picked it up.

     “Sir? yes, sir. I'll bring him right back with me,”

     He beckoned to the armed guards to pick me up. Soon I was in the back of the armoured limo.

     “Take me to the white house.”

     “Yes sir.”

     Within a few minutes we had picked up an escort. From what I could tell, they had closed the road down. Only we were travelling that evening.

     “What's happening?”

     “China has just issued a press release. They are starting military exercises. 100 miles from the coast of Taiwan”

     I gulped. It looked like things were just about to head for the worse. The trip to the Whitehouse was the most fraught I had experienced in my life. The director of the FBI was reading faxes and emails in the car. His face was getting more and more pale.

     “We have very little time.”

     “I guess... we need Nigel more than ever.”

     “Pardon?”

     “We need to convince the Chinese this is all a hoax.”

     It seemed obvious to me. But the mouth of the head of the FBI opened wide in shock.

     “And how do you propose to do that?”

     “I guess like the English did in WWII. With disinformation. We need to get an Chinese agent and feed him bad info. And I guess Nigel might be your best hope for that.”

     “What do you mean?”

     “He is our only invisible agent.”

     I guess the FBI director caught on quickly. Because he could go anywhere, Nigel could listen to the Chinese chatter. He could find Chinese agents. Maybe he didn't know Chinese, but he knew enough to listen in to the English language conversations.

     It wasn't a new concept. The CIA had investigated it in the sixties. But they didn't have a real life ghost, so their experiments failed.

     This time we had a real ghost. I asked them to pick out the Ouija board again. The séance room was a sight you had never seen in your life. The president and the director of the FBI holding hands, in a dark room.

     I put on dramatic music, and we began.

     “Nigel. Nigel. Are you there?”

     N - O.

     “He's always a joker. Nigel, Did you hear what we were planning?”

     Y - E - S.

     “And you'll do it?”

     Y - E - S.

     The president of the united states shook his head. You could tell he couldn't believe what he was seeing. He got up from his seat, and you could almost hear his bones cracking.

     “We don't have long.” he said, scratching his head.

     Over in the corner of the room I could see a computer with satellite images. I could watch the Chinese fleet mobilising in real time. The number of dots that represented aircraft carriers alone was scary.

     “I think we have a week. If that.” I head the director of the FBI's bass tones say.

     “It will only be a few days before we have to mobilise our own navy.”    

     The wait was excruciating. But suddenly five hours latter, the board started spelling out a name. The FBI director went to work. Within minutes they had the file out. He didn't look like what you would expect of a Chinese agent. He had long, blonde hair, was dressed in a respectable suit, and had a respectable job.

     He worked in the old navy base. His job was to work on the files, reading sensitive military information. Including information about resource allocation. Once they checked his bank account the truth became obvious.

     “He's our man. He's the one that leaked the Taiwanese oil. It was restricted to only a few dozen agents.”

     I shrugged, “How do we proceed?”

     The FBI director stood up, and paced down the long thin corridor. Then he arrived back in the meeting room with a young woman. She was dressed in military uniform.

     “I think it's time to fill you in,” he said, and then told her everything we knew. As he told her the story, her eyes got wider and wider.

     “What do you want me to do?” she asked at the end.

     “It's time for you to give a disinformation campaign”

     He explained the plan. It was simple. The Chinese agent needed to think it had all been a hoax. But for that to work, he would have to eat a pack of lies.

     The exercise started two hours latter.

     I wasn't there, so I can report only what I have been told. The female agent I had been introduced to worked in the old navy headquarters. She worked in the files there. It is a room full of top secret papers. Room might be the wrong word; it was the size of an aircraft hanger.

     She worked there, and had spent months being bored. So naturally, she had struck up a conversation with the handsome blonde military attaché. And, the conversation was reciprocated.

     It did not go unnoticed on the reports by the taciturn, tall supervisor who ruled the old navy headquarters. He had put it on the computer, like a good agent, and the computer had spurted out this report on command.

     The director of the FBI looked at her. She didn't look like much to put the freedom of the world onto. But she was eager. And after being told what to do, she didn't complain. She saluted.

     She was the best chance.

     I stood at the back of the room, watching the Director of the FBI feeling out the officer, and knew I would have to talk to Nigel alone. I didn't trust her. She looked too good to be true with her starched uniform and willing smile.

     “Nigel, Keep an eye out on her,” I whispered.

     The new agent went into a staff car, to be driven to the headquarters. She looked very lonely in the back of the car. Meanwhile, we walked to the operations room. There was a banks of monitors the length of the room. We could see satellite images of the build up of the Chinese fleet, as well as real time updates of our spies.

     The FBI director looked over at me. “Don't tell anyone what you see here,” he said.

     I nodded. Then looked back over to the screens. I could see our agent depositing the papers in her draw. She phoned up the Chinese agent, and set up dinner. It looked like a glorious feast. Roast duck, with all the trimmings.

     The doorbell went. She walked over to it, and opened it. She said something, and the Chinese agent walked into the room. After ten minutes of conversation, she walked away. To go to the toilet.

     If we still had any doubts about the agent, what he did next would have dispelled them.

     He walked over to the draws, and started rummaging. After a few minutes he found the file our agent had left. He took out the smallest camera you have ever seen, and clicked the image. After that, he put the files away.

     “We have him,” the director of the FBI said.

     After he left, the confirmation came thick and fast. The Chinese fleet disbanded. It was amazing to see, but they split up within a matter of hours. Soon the sea around Taiwan was empty except for commercial shipping.

     “I guess when they found out it was a trap, they didn't want to go to war for the sea bed.”

     I looked over at the monitor, “But what happens when you start to drill the ocean?”

     “We won't. Not for many years,”

     I guess that if this had been a story that would be it. I would have been given a party, a celebration, and been allowed to leave. After all, I had saved the day. Well, Nigel did leave. I haven't heard from him since.

     But I knew too much.

     After they had finished celebrating, a guard collected me, and drove me in a prison van to here. It is a cold concrete cell. I am allowed a TV, and to write carefully vetted letters. I'm not sure how I will post this, my story. Maybe I will write it under the postage stamp.

     I guess for an old crook like me, it is fair. But I wish I had been sent to jail for something I did. And not for some trumped up terrorist charge.

     Sometimes they come, ask me for help on their investigations.

     Maybe one day I will give it.





    










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