INDICIA does only two things in life: it absorbs the foreign press and it sleeps. “Foreign press” meaning anything from statistics on global food shipping from a Dutch newspaper, to lists of corruption suspects from every EU country (including new applicants), to books like Mukhafaha ad-Dabbabat, an Arabic reprint of an old 1970s Russian textbook antitank warfare techniques, intended for the Syrian Arab Republic. The book’s owner was a recently deceased associate of INDICIA’s. INDICIA usually waits until after breakfast to read these open source “press items” from its recently deceased co-workers, open-source ecosystems illuminated by secret crystalline ingrowths of hard-fought information. “It just seems too personal. Hard to start your morning skimming through papers with the fingerprints of the dead still fresh on them.” If INDICIA could talk it would have sounded something like that.
INDICIA is what might be described as a “non-attributable adjunct.” INDICIA is the British code name for this entity. Its Russian codename, GRYAZNOYE BYEL’YO (“Dirty Laundry”), is known only by INDICIA itself and a handful of other British speakers — outside of Russian intelligence, of course.
The wisest of the speculators, people like Yevgeni Klorofil, are fairly certain INDICIA is not a single person but an international thinktank, based all over, whose membership changes on a quarterly basis. Other Russian spies think yearly: INDICIA changes its subscriptions with a frequency and breadth that suggests to the analysts a frenzy, a Western hegemony losing its geopolitical grip. Klorofil doesn’t care about any of that; he wants to find INDICIA on a map and sing it a lullaby that will put it to sleep for a decade.
“We don’t know if Dirty Laundry is a single person or an army,” the analysts whine to Klorofil.
“Still stuck on that,” he muttered. “Laundry is a group activity, a kind of shared chore.” He says this to a man sitting in a bank of chairs in Euston Station in London. The contact had chosen a location that was optimally out of the fields of vision of the security cameras, their enfilade of surveillance. He was vaguely South East Asian and seemingly invisible. The contact had with him an issue of Time Out London with some addresses underlined, possible intake points for the Laundry.
Klorofil glanced at the addresses in the magazine after the Asian departed, memorized them then elaborately approached a newsstand in the train station and replaced the magazine behind some other poorly selling magazines where he knew it would be thrown away eventually, soon.
MI5’s eyes are somewhere in here, he thought to himself as he exited Euston Station heading south into Bloomsbury. Yevgeni had bad skin, not particularly photogenic. Pale, pimply, or at least blotchy. Not “handsome,” he hoped his face would slide right off the CCTV screens under the all-seeing eye of the British police and those holding their leashes. He had on an Adidas tracksuit and gold jewelry just like any other yob. Not at all what his father would have worn back in his Chekist days, the Andropov days of chasing West Germans around the subcontinent in a business suit. Suits and ties are for people in movies, Yevgeni thought. All those James Bond fashions are “so Nation-State,” as his Venezuelan girlfriend Carmen Anaranjado said. “Get globalized with it.” Carmen had designed three of Hugo Chavez’s suits herself, she knew clothes very well. She also had garroted a Uruguayan military attaché in a limousine in Mexico City in 2004.
Globalized? How about that “homeless” MI5 guy trailing Yevgeni down the alleys of Whitechapel. Skeletal urchin, crack addict carrying a sleeping bag. Utter filth. Walking a mangy dog. But the halo of 2006 globalization around him that Carmen would have adored? His t-shirt with the Sudoku grid on it, 9 by 9.
Klorofil either lost the Sudoku boy or the Sudoku boy allowed Klorofil to shake him off, he wasn’t sure. He wasn’t even sure the wretch was a bobby until he saw the shirt again, lurking in a mews in Bloomsbury, near the British Museum. Not that Bloomsbury was crackhead-proof. But the coincidence was unmistakable, especially since the address in Bloomsbury Klorofil was scoping out was, of all the addresses underlined by his contact in Euston Station, the one most likely to lead to INDICIA: the Political Cartoon Gallery on Store Street, off Gower Street, squeezed between a Korean grocer and a cluster of delis marked HALAL. Klorofil had seen this address before in his preliminary research. Information easily lifted from EDF Energy in London revealed a high electricity bill at this location, far above that which an empty, down-on-its-luck gallery of political cartoons throughout history would suggest. It was a front. It also subscribed to an inordinate amount of obscure publications from all over the world. The electricity bill was presumably eaten up by the perpetual ballet of photocopiers, scanners, and servers in an upstairs loft somewhere.
Sudoku watched Klorofil as Klorofil, unfazed, watched Sudoku and all the Royal Mail and DHL deliveries to the Political Cartoon Gallery on Store Street. And every other parcel on the radar. Klorofil played the seasoned tourist on his cellphone, the tourist for whom the whole city had presumably been created.
The false crackhead called Sudoku is a talented pavement artist. He mixes well with the street people on Tottenham Court Road and Goodge Street. Former knowledge boy, that’s how he had gotten hired. Sleeps on a mattress laid across the entrance of the parking garage on Chenies Mews, until he gets moved by the police, who aren’t read into his mission and don’t want to know. Makes the University of London students shudder a bit on their way to and from their apartments. Part of the atmosphere of the street that is hidden in plain sight among the 2006 scenery, the people on corners distributing fliers reading NO TO WAR WITH IRAN and OXFAM and the sleeping bags soaked with urine in the Underground station tunnels. The sleeping bags people hurry past, not bothering to check if anyone’s inside. Loud arguments with junkies and prostitutes, quieter arguments with quieter perverts. The local police, the constant sirens on Gower Street, moving the false crackhead from place to place in Camden sidewalk-land.
Sudoku arrives in the neighborhood with his mangy dog Eric long before the operation to watch Klorofil begins. He doesn’t move in a world of smiles. He is the human trash of London. A picture of him hiding in a bush fellating a crack pipe was taken by a busybody and published in a local tabloid. CAMDEN SHAME. It was cover that wasn’t necessarily arranged. No one comes to his rescue from this undercover play, not his boss at Five, Hughes, no one from the police. It’s a form of well done, lad that he feels at first proud of but then ashamed of. Sudoku wondered if his life was being corroded away by his job. He was not often allowed to resurface, the Klorofil brief was that deep. He was unknown to the civilians he was working to protect from spies, criminals, and terrorists, who looked away whenever they saw him shambling with his dog and stumbling on the concrete. And he was trying to be unknown to the spies, criminals, and terrorists he shadowed around the city. Occasionally a vicar or somebody would take a break from his daily tear-down of all the porno adverts that appeared nightly on every surface like a fungi of sin, and offer to help him; sometimes they meant well, other times they were just looking for a bit of rough trade with some London riff-raff.
Sometimes he would be choked with sobs when he was under some cardboard box by Euston Station begging for actual change, under the most miserable, soul-denying rain, when he thought about how he was dying for England. The despair on his face was an exquisite masterpiece of cover.
Only a few people like Hughes know who he truly is, that he’s disguised as a drug addict wandering the streets, but he can only exchange looks with this third class of people, or gestures. Some of them do break the surface and tell him that they know…but they could be enemies themselves, trying to flush him out and expose him. It puts your sanity in question.
His boss Hughes didn’t give him clearance to read his girlfriend Lily into the deception — Lily who would throw herself naked at him at his apartment which was plastered with new Daniel Craig posters, the new movie with the new 007 coming out that year. He was always too tired and full of self-loathing that sprang up from the homeless cover he assumed all day. She left him, coincidentally for another bloke, an actual addict smelling of real piss.
The word was that Klorofil was going to approach a receptionist from the Political Cartoon Gallery, Solveig, during her daily run in Russell Square. The bigger word, which Sudoku wasn’t supposed to know, was that the Russians had days before abducted a middle-manager at INDICIA in Copenhagen, an American, and she had disappeared, and the Russell Square operation with the receptionist Solveig was the second in a one-two punch designed to put INDICIA on its ass.
Sudoku had been in position panhandling in the gap between bobbies in Russell Square which was alive with people of every class and stripe. The kindly old woman who met Sudoku every day with some chips and a bottle of water and tried to talk to him about the risen Christ triumphant came round again where he sat on the ground beneath a tree with his dog Eric and his portable filth as he called it. He asked her for cigarettes. He considered her to be an elaboration of cover, another tributary off the trunk of his deceptive storyline. A detail perhaps not noticed by anyone but himself but as method actors (who he loved) would tell you, if it gets you into the headspace of the acting it is of value.
This got him into the wrong headspace, indeed. What Sudoku did not know was that the kindly old woman was a very specialized illegal agent trained in counter surveillance techniques, eyeball-blocking. She had locked into Sudoku weeks ago under Klorofil’s instructions, and on this particular day of the Solveig operation, the bottle of water which she generously gave him contained an odorless, tasteless concentrate of a substance nicknamed by the Russians peretaskova or “Shuffle” which is nothing more than a very powerful dissociative hallucinogen based on dextromethorphan, a common ingredient in cough medicine but if taken in a large enough dose, which this was times ten, results in a very frightening experience analogous to a large hit of angel dust (PCP).
Klorofil felt flattered that they were sending the younger generation after him, cats like Sudoku. It showed imagination, it made him feel actually at ease to be surveilled by his peripatetic peers. Even if they were as transparent as the plastic around the newsagent’s chair. Perhaps his own cohort (be they Brits or Americans) would relate with him.
Still, a pretty girl in a sundress wouldn’t hurt, he reasoned.
A sundress found in a mineshaft. A woman in a mineshaft. A mine in London. A virtual London that is being broadcast in a kind of theme park/museum. The evil ones doing it have trapped your population inside a theme park, they won, they want you to come to the museum side. Gnawing sadness, defeat confused for triumph, and then some music that frees you, it’s where the theme park becomes museum. Follow the music, into the museum. The British Museum. Remember when you made it as far as the Elgin Marbles before they threw you out. You lost your marbles. If those unlocking moments in music (those aesthetic enzymes)are the only moments the nameless emotion can be released, wouldn’t it make sense to listen to that musical passage over and over again?
Only as much sense as it makes to take the same pill over and over again, disregarding the tolerance that builds up against the pill’s effects. Somehow it doesn’t work repetitiously. The release must come at an infrequent, irregular interval — or not at all. The right time.
REGAL IU RR
Sudoku found himself laying on his back in the dirt under the tree in Russell Square. The bobbie was kicking him in the shin to get him to move and giving him a rasher of South London abuse. The bobbie was as big as an oak. The old woman was gone from the park bench, saving souls elsewhere. The chips were gone from their carton, Eric ate them all.
He was in a pilot episode of an educational series to be shown on Channel 4 and the bobbie was the director. This was his first time in the limelight. He crept off the set, having sabotaged this lecture from within. Actually Sudoku had no connection with him, it was Klorofil’s name for him. This agent’s codename was REGAL IU RR. IU = Internal Undermining. RR = Russian Radio. Originally it was just sound, radio programs. Now it encompassed all enemy propaganda in 2006 and beyond. REGAL disrupts it.
He was a British policeman with a codename REGAL IU RR. Russian Radio was itself a codename for a propaganda program MI5 called Question Space. It impacts the societies called the U.K. and America. It was not, in fact, a Russian radio station but something transmitted onto the streets of London and that a British policeman with a code name REGAL would undermine internally.
IRREGULAR? The question mark at the end of the tagline of the awful commercial designed by Russian Radio to ridicule REGAL’s digestive cycle. Don’t do commercials. Only searching for the truth. In an octopus cage with 81 squares. I do Sudoku in ink. I have more ink. “Japanese black ink?” He was staring into the front window of a sushi restaurant on Tottenham Court Road next to whole street-lengths of electronics stores run by Pakistanis each with a TV in the window hooked up to a video camera trained on the sidewalk spot outside where Sudoku passed like a ghost.
Sudoku is a weapon, a mental strengthening agent. A good agent doing battle with whoever runs the media company Question Space.
“The Sudoku answer page is your one-time pad.”
“Sounds menstrual.” (Irregular.)
“The woman lost in Copenhagen wouldn’t know, possibly drugged by her captors to forget. With ink. INDICIA. The piles of black binders she is forced to photocopy. The PRINT button on the copier is poisoned, she fears. With the shuffling drug.”
She’s a pathetic slave of Question Space now. She was abducted in Copenhagen. There was one tributary of her story where she thought she might have been pregnant. Freed from this awful memory-erasing drug.
He couldn’t go to a hospital and blow his cover. He needed to find Hughes. And explain to him that he’s lost his mind and let the Russian film director win by kidnapping the girl from the gallery and saying CUT! Eric had run off and been hit by a red lorry.
“We have to reveal Question Space to her. The museum. You are receiving this through the daily sudoku in the Financial Times. Your codename is REGAL IU RR.”
He clawed his way to the Underground station on Tottenham Court Road. He sat and watched for the man in the track suit or the receptionist. He saw floods of untraceable hurried men and women with the best boob-jobs in all of Europe that made him want to howl like a wolf. Everybody looked like a suspect as they swarmed into the Underground, and that was what scared him most of all. The fear was like nothing he ever imagined. He slept in a pile of screaming newspapers in a stairwell heading down into the sub-sub-sub-sub-lowest level of the station. A place of horrors in the summertime, he knew. The deformed man he saw, burnt or flesh-eaten. Maybe a sixteen-year-old boy with a New York Yankees baseball cap to appeal to the tourists with money, and the most disfigured silly putty blob of a burnt face Sudoku had ever seen. The burned boy was waiting at the bottom of a particularly busy staircase descending right to the Oxford Circus connection, begging for change. But as you went past him, in the crowd trying to escape from looking at him, he was frantically saying “I’m sorry” to people, he knew he was being bad, a nauseating visual nuisance. Someone put him up to it, his stingy father? Had Hughes placed the burned boy there as a diversion by MI5…
London was a mineshaft of fear, a scary amusement park where you should have stayed at home. The looks you got from the other homeless. The creatures crawling over the railings. The battle of the newspaper stands on the sidewalks. The media companies at war. The people in the bushes at Russell Square. The street people, the controlled evil he was a part of. He felt like the whole place would fall apart.
— Jesse Hilson is a newspaper reporter living in the Catskills in New York State. He is the author of two novels, Blood Trip (Close to the Bone) and The Tattletales (Prism Thread Books), and a poetry chapbook Handcuffing the Venus De Milo (Bullshit Lit). His writing has appeared in Expat Press, Bruiser, Apocalypse Confidential, Maudlin House, Rejection Letters, Don’t Submit, and elsewhere. His favorite radio show, where his writing has been featured, is “L’étranger” on Radio Panik 105.4 FM Brussels.