His biggest shock was when they phoned to say they were offering him the job. But first he had to do something to prove himself...


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His biggest shock was when they phoned to say they were offering him the job. But subject to him passing a few rudimentary tests they said.


He never really thought he had a chance. He’d answered the ad on a whim. He didn’t really want to work anyway. And some of the personal information he’d supplied was… well, to put it bluntly, stretching the imagination a little. He thought they’d see through it. But they didn’t and now he was on the inside track. About to become a government employee. Some kind of bureaucrat. In some kind of organisation he’d never heard of. Perhaps even some kind of shadowy adviser. A behind the scenes eminence grise. But perhaps he was deluding himself about this last bit, he thought.




The interview took a long time. Pages and pages of forms to fill in. They certainly had a fixation about personal details, he thought. At first he did his best to be accurate, under the close scrutiny of a seedy little man who kept, well, not quite picking his nose, but fiddling around with his finger just inside his nostril as he walked round and round the interview room, surreptitiously watching Sheraton’s progress as he wrestled with the documents he was filling in.


Eventually, on the edge of a fit of pique, Sheraton decided to change tack. ‘It’s just a game,’ he said out loud, which stopped the invigilator in his tracks.


‘Yes? What is it? Do you need some help?’


‘No. Sorry, I mean no thank you. It’s just that so much information is asked for. And some of the details are hard to remember.’


The man went to a desk at the front of the room and made a note in a file.


Sheraton, with new vigour, ploughed on in cavalier fashion.


When he got to the section headed Relatives on the STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL INTERVIEW FORM he simply drew a line through the boxes provided.




At last it was over. Or so it seemed. Sheraton put the pen in his pocket and shuffled the papers together. He’d answered the last question.


But just when he’d thought he was finished, the man told him he wasn’t finished. ‘We’ve got a few hours ahead of us,’ he said. ‘You in a hurry?’


The face-to-face part of the process was about to begin. The invigilator turned interviewer and started laboriously sifting through all the information Sheraton had provided.




In a clever series of questions, the interviewer teased out of Sheraton that he’d had a spat with his mother some years ago. It was nothing of great import – trivial even perhaps, but pigheadedness on both sides resulted in them never speaking again.


But when he admitted details of the family stand off, the man seemed to take it as if it was a positive. A worthwhile detail. One that he elaborated on in the margin of Sheraton’s interview document.


Estranged mother and no other living relatives. Is that what you meant by these score marks on the interview form?’


Sheraton nodded.


‘You have to answer the question,’ the man said. Please answer audibly.


Sheraton did.


The man put his head down and wrote something more on the form. He spoke out loud as he wrote, ‘This difficult relationship with his mother means he sees her rarely. Is that right? Or can I add if ever?’


Sheraton said, ‘Yes.’


‘I see, good. The form’s probably more accurate now, I suppose.’


Sheraton had written ‘some German’, on the KNOWLEDGE OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES section, although he only knew a few words. He’d picked them up from his grandparents who’d been refugees from the Nazis.

The interviewer paused when he’d read the details. ‘German? That’s good. So much better than French. You’d be surprised how much more useful German is these days. In our business, I mean.’


While he was asking Sheraton about his computer skills, he seemed more diffident. Sheraton realised that the man was out of his depth. It was soon obvious that the man didn’t know much about computers. For some obscure reason, Sheraton made up a few phrases of nonsense. They sounded technical, but they were meaningless. The man listened carefully, apparently, nodding all the time. ‘Yes,’ he said when Sheraton stopped talking rubbish, ‘you’re certainly OK on IT. You’d be surprised. Some people in the department hardly know how to turn a computer on.’


The man seemed disappointed when Sheraton said he did not play bridge and had never been interested in chess. But he liked it when Sheraton had written that he liked crosswords. He omitted to tell them that it took him most of the morning to do the 30-minute puzzle he did most days in his mostly left wing newspaper. And he thought his interviewer’s nostrils twitched slightly when he mentioned The Guardian.


‘Not exactly Pravda or Izvestia,’ Sheraton said to himself.


The interviewer asked him questions about his religious ideas. He said he didn’t have any. This didn’t seem to perturb the man particularly, but he kept coming back to the subject to ask the same question in a slightly different form. Eventually, listening between the lines, Sheraton worked out that he was trying to find out if Sheraton had recently adopted any of the new fangled non Anglo Saxon alternative religions that seemed to be all the rage.


At last it was over. The man placed the interview papers into a box file. Then he held out his hand and said, ‘The pen please.’

‘The pen? Sorry, I don’t understand,’ said Sheraton.

‘The pen you used for the forms. It’s our pen. Departmental issue.’

Sheraton fished in his jacket pocket and meekly handed over the government property.






During his probationary period they gave Sheraton a task. They never gave him a gun, but he presumed that would come later.


He assumed it was some kind of assessment of his suitability to be taken on permanently. They told him to take a message to an address they gave him. They told him how to ring the bell. Four long rings followed by three short rings in quick succession. They told him to do this at exactly 11.27 pm. They told him to learn by heart what he was to say when the door was answered. They told him to memorise the reply he would be given.

He was instructed to commit nothing to writing. It seemed to be some kind of test of memory and initiative.


He felt sure he’d be up to it. He could not foresee any problems.


He found the dismal street in a semi-industrial area just after eleven.

He found the bell with difficulty in the poorly lit entrance alcove.

He did exactly what they’d told him. Four long followed by three quick, short rings.




He waited.



He tried again.

Still nothing.


He stepped out into the street and looked up.

There was a light on upstairs. He thought he saw someone looking down at him.


He rang the signal rings again. Long. Long. Long and long. Then short, short and short.


He heard someone approaching.

The door opened fractionally. ‘Yea? Wot you want?’


He recited his lines. ‘Three blind mice…’

He waited. The man looked at him.


‘Wot. Wadda ya mean blind mice? Wot you on about?

You know wot time it is?’


‘I…I…well, I was told to say Three blind mice. Were you not told to expect someone?’


‘Fuck off before I bash your head in.’


The man slammed the door.


Sheraton rang the bell again. ‘Wait! Didn’t they give you a message for me? Don’t you have a response?’


The door opened and the man slammed his fist into Sheraton’s face. ‘Fuck off, damn you,’ he shouted as Sheraton stumbled back into the road, blood and snot squeezing out from between the fingers he’d spread across his broken nose.




No one said anything the next day. Not about the night before nor about the state of his face. 

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