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...


2. 2


When Sheraton reported in the next day, no one said anything the mission he’d been sent on the night before, nor about the state of his face.

Then the invigilator-interviewer man gave him several papers to sign, but e did not give Sheraton any copies.

A few days later Sheraton got a phone call to say he should report for duty at the start of the coming month. When he tried to ask questions, the person simply said, ‘The only information I’m authorized to give you is the starting date of your employment with the department.’ The line went dead.


The daily routine was excruciatingly boring, and, when he’d been there a few months, he heard one of his colleagues say that newcomers, who arrived from time to time, were made to feel as popular as a turd in a punchbowl. Sheraton agreed without saying anything out loud. He thought the expression hit the nail on the head when it came to describing the organization where he earned his daily crust of bread.


The department received a flood of what was considered important information from a multitude of sources every day. He and a few others with equally nondescript profiles and personalities had the job of acknowledging receipt and then categorizing and collating the details. Most of it was freely available on Wiki and a plethora of other sites that were household names, and he quickly recognized that no matter where or how he filed the data, his methodology was never queried, even when he knew he’d made a mistake and filed it incorrectly. And no one ever asked for any of the information to be retrieved. Once he’d worked this out, he never bothered with accuracy again. It obviously didn’t matter and no one cared. ‘No one ever checks or reads this stuff, so why bother? Mountains of useless facts that no one’s remotely interested in,’ he concluded.


Sheraton’s daily routine could be summed up as a tedium that would continue, it seemed, ad infinitum.

But then one day out of the blue, something out of the ordinary happened. It was the only brief interlude in his first few years of excruciating drudgery. He got a phone call to tell him to collect his new passport.

‘This is it,’ he thought. ‘Moving on at last.’

When he got to the address he was given he found himself outside what looked like a huge factory in a depressing industrial area. He was asked to sign in at a booth just inside the front door where a man in a shabby uniform which he could not tie up with any organization he’d come across or was aware of. He was directed downstairs.

A sign next to a hatch said RING AND WAIT TO BE CALLED.

He did as he was instructed.

It was a long wait.

Eventually the hatch opened and a woman asked him to sign for an envelope.

It contained a new passport. It was not in his name, but inside was a crisp, clear and obviously recent photograph.

He was not sure, but, from the background, it seemed to have been taken when he was using the urinal in the departmental men’s lavatories.


His phone rang a few days later. A woman’s voice said, ‘We need your passport back. I’m sending a safe courier.’

The document was collected the next day by a pimply young man who had a foreign accent. ‘Another HR cock up, apparently. They always seem to be doing it.’

After this brief interlude, Sheraton’s life quickly slipped back into the usual, daily, boring routine, and he never heard anything about the passport again.


The days melded together into eras and then ossified into eons, or so it seemed, as time crawled slowly by.

Even after sitting together for years he hardly knew the other people in his office. They were not encouraged to socialize. He saw this as a game not a security measure. How could anybody not know within seconds that you worked for some kind of clandestine organization if you weren’t allowed to tell anyone what you did or what your job was?

He found this isolation from co-workers a relief and he only ever knew the people in his department by their first names. They never went out socializing together and he never knew what they did in their spare time or where they lived.

Not exactly James Bond stuff, he thought. ‘I suppose there must be real spies of agents or government assassins or agents provocateurs somewhere in the organization. But he never encountered anyone remotely like that and assumed that this was the way those individuals their anonymity and hid their real personas. 


Once a year he had an assessment and his file was updated. But other than the actual date of the interview, there was never anything to change or to add. It seemed that the status quo of the workplace was cast in stone.


Looking back on his so-called clandestine career, he took stock. Fifteen years as some kind of grey eminence. Or perhaps more accurately a grey nonentity. A sort of arcane office boy or tickbird, dealing with supposedly clandestine material that’s available to anyone with a modicum of common sense, in a department that’s supposed to be secret.

‘And here I am sliding towards the end of my life, hurrying through middle age and on towards elderly-ness.’ He stopped there.

Then, in his mind he tried to make an honest assessment of what he’d achieved in life. His private life, that is. ‘But with only nine assignations under my belt, there’s not much to write home about.’

Unpleasant as it was, he forced himself to rake over old coals and the fact that he’d always been the passive partner. Never the protagonist. The hunted and never the hunter. He’d always had the ideas but never the initiative to take the lead. It has always been the other party who made the first move and made the advances. Nine sexual encounters in fifteen years. Seven female and two male. Both when he was very drunk, he hastened to remind himself.

He did the maths. ‘That works out at one sexual partner every year and a half. Give or take a few months,’ he muttered. ‘Or, to be statistically more accurate, once every six hundred and eight days. And sometimes not even a fuck. Just a hurried blowjob.’ This had happened to him twice, both times in vile lavatory cubicles, once in a bar, and the other time with a man from his the department. ‘Or a sweaty fingered touch up under the table in dark corner in a pub.’ He winced as he recalled the uncomfortable walk home in sticky-with-cum underpants.

Not exactly a score Priapus would have been proud of.


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