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Thursday, 2017-08-24, 1:00 AM
A photograph is a time machine. It takes a fraction of a second for light from the subject to reach the film. The past, not the present, has been recorded. That past moment can be carried around in a photo album and used at any time to impose the past upon the present.
The earth is a camera. It takes a picture of how the sun looked over eight minutes ago. There will come a time when the sun has died, but for just over eight minutes we will be unaware of the fact. Our planet’s film will be showing an image of the extinct.
History is a lens. Through it, any past moment can be brought into focus.
There has been a spectacular technological breakthrough. A unique camera with a special patented film has been invented. Now, instead of simply pointing your camera at a subject and taking its picture, you have the option of pressing a timer switch and taking the picture of any event in history which occurred at that same location. Any past instant can be brought to life on film.
A man has been taking pictures with the invention. His dark room is covered with snapshots. Now he knows the identity of Jack the Ripper…he photographed him in the midst of his gruesome murders. He has taken pictures of the Holocaust…no revisionist can now deny the truth of what happened. He has taken pictures of the Mary Celeste, of the Loch Ness Monster, of the Bermuda Triangle. He has solved every mystery.
There is no further need for courts and lawyers…pictures of every crime can be taken. Proof is incontrovertible. Now, the guilty will always be caught. There will be no more miscarriages of justice. Adulterers will be found out on every occasion. Every like can be detected.
The cameraman has recorded the dinosaurs, the Missing Link, every moment in the life of Jesus Christ. Every religion, every belief, every ideology has now been recorded in minute detail. The perfect biography of every historical figure can be produced. Fact and fiction are eternally separated. The camera is unerring. The past can now be subjected to infallible scientific tests.
Back, back, ever backwards. The first moments of life on earth are photographed. The planet being formed out of interstellar gases is revealed. Further back – the moment of creation – the Big Bang itself…captured on film for eternity.
Within a year of the discovery of the Time Camera, every human being had killed himself. Every fantasy had been destroyed, every lie exposed, every horror unearthed. There were no more mysteries, no puzzles, no hiding places from unpalatable truths. Everything that had given life meaning had been stripped away. There was simply nowhere to run. Man needs secrets, and secrets are what the Time Camera had killed forever.
One of the last humans built a huge tombstone at the graveside of mankind so that the future would know the terrible fate that had befallen the earth. He inscribed a simple message on the cold, grey headstone…
‘Here lies mankind, sadly missed. Destroyed for one reason and one reason alone – the damned camera never lies. Go stranger of the future and tell all of the universe: never say, ‘Cheese!’
Little Red Riding Hood
Do you have a cigarette, detective? He’s dead, isn’t he? What he did to me…you wouldn’t believe it. I got him though, didn’t I? He won’t treat anyone else that way.
You’ve never met a female assassin before, have you, detective? They’re calling me hell’s bitch in the newspapers. Have you been reading them? I suppose you’re too busy with the investigation. One of them said I was the worst serial killer in history. It makes you think, doesn’t it? I’m worse than Calamity Jane, so they say. Actually, I don’t think she killed anyone.
You’re not taking all of this in, are you? You’re looking at me and you don’t believe I could really have done these things. You’re intimidated by my accent. You know I’m far more educated than you are. And you know who my father is, how powerful he is. When they talk about ‘pillars of the establishment’, they’re talking about him. All you can see is a posh little daddy’s girl – a silver spoon princess – in her Laura Ashley frock. You think I’m incapable of violence. Men have no idea. They’re so gullible. Always taken in by appearances. Christ, they’re so tedious, so easy to manipulate. Charles was the only one who understood me – and he was a homosexual. Just my luck, eh?
You know, I don’t feel guilty in the least about shooting all those fat old men. Bit Charles and Julian…I didn’t pull the trigger, but I might as well have done. They would have succeeded if it hadn’t been for me. Great men are only ever stopped by treachery. I always hated Judas. I never thought the day would come when the Judas Kiss would be hanging from my lips. Maybe we become what we hate most. What do you think, detective? I don’t suppose you care much for philosophy.
Charles and Julian were the two brightest men in the country. They would have changed the nation. Made it great again. They knew who our real enemies, the Fifth Column that sabotages us from the inside. I remember when Charles firs told me of the plan. I didn’t believe him when he told me that all you had to do was kill one hundred men to take the control of the country. He showed me the list of names. The more I thought about it, the more I realised it was true. These one hundred men were America. For this nation to be something different it was necessary to dispose of those men. The Roman dictators used to publish lists of their political enemies. Charles loved the Romans and Greeks. I don’t think he felt comfortable in this cheap age. He thought it vulgar. He wanted to go back to a more noble time.
We got fifty of them. No one can say we weren’t good. So many fat old men. None of them understood. They couldn’t believe that the game had changed. I suppose the game had been played their way for so long that they couldn’t imagine it being played any other way.
Charles said we were unique. The world had never had to confront intellectual killers before. We assassinated powerful men not for justice, liberty, morality or any of the usual, ludicrous, pseudo-religious reasons. We killed on behalf of intelligence. We killed newspaper proprietors and editors, the producers of soap operas, sit coms, the presenters of game shows, famous chat-show hosts. We executed big business bosses. They all made their money by selling trash to people whom they’d made incapable of appreciating anything but trash. They didn’t care a damn. They’d degraded humanity. Somebody had to do something. We were the ones with the guts to act.
You’re a detective. Tell me, do you think it’s right for you to protect the interests of enemies of the mind? Do you actually think about what you’re doing? Or is it just a job?
You think I’m mad, don’t you? Maybe I am. After all, I caused the deaths of the only two people I ever loved. Isn’t that crazy? But they hurt me so much, especially Charles. They had no right to do that to me…me of all people. You know that Charles actually arranged for me to be raped? Watched the whole thing. Laughed about it. Said I needed to be shown who was the boss. I couldn’t let him live after that. Surely you see that? He taught me how to kill. You shouldn’t mistreat people when you’ve trained them to hold a gun…to be fearless about breaking the law.
When we went on our last mission, I filmed the whole thing. I turned the film over to the police. I knew I’d lose everything, spend the rest of my life in jail. But it was the only thing way to destroy Charles. Eventually there comes a time when every experience is contaminated by memories of one person, by what he did to you. Everything turns to poison. You convince yourself that you can be cured only if you rip that man from your mind. For a moment, I thought I’d freed myself of Charles. But your best plan is always your worst in disguise. I’ll never be happy without Charles. I’ll never forgive myself for what I did. It’s true what Oscar Wilde said, ‘Yet each man kills the things he loves.’
My life is over, detective. Maybe that will give you some pleasure. What does it matter whether it does or not? I sometimes think that people nowadays have their heads filled with nothing but nursery rhymes and fairytales. But nobody lives happily ever after, detective, not even you. They didn’t tell you the real story of Little Red Riding Hood.
Two of a Kind
It was either his mirror or his mind that was deceiving him. For ten years his antique mirror had steadfastly displayed one, all-too-familiar reflection. Now it was insisting on displaying two reflections, neither of which bore the vaguest resemblance to the customary image presented to Mr Smith.
Where once had stood the reflection of a respectable accountant, there now stood the reflections of two complete strangers. One was small, feeble and rather curiously attired inasmuch he was sporting a grey bowler hat, a nondescript grey suit, sensible grey shoes and, most oddly of all, a grey mask bearing an inappropriate grin. The adjacent image was of a tall, ferocious Pictish warrior painted from head to toe in blue woad. He was wearing a garland of mistletoe, but clearly wasn’t hunting for kisses. If all of this wasn’t bad enough, a voice, unmistakably African in origin, was chanting at poor Mr Smith from the mirror.
Mr Smith was the sort of punctilious accountant who could spot a discrepancy in a set of VAT returns at a hundred paces. He didn’t require a second opinion to confirm his immediate assessment that his mirror contained a mystery that required urgent resolution. He didn’t hesitate. He picked up his telephone and dialled the number of an old university friend, now an eminent Freudian psychoanalyst working out of plush offices in Harley Street. It was in fact from this same friend that he had purchased his singular mirror.
‘Hello George…Mr Smith here. Got a bit of a puzzle for you.’
‘Go ahead, old man. I hope it’s something meaty. I’m tired of listening to the dull fantasies of the great unwashed middle classes.’
‘Oh, this one will intrigue you, all right. It’s to do with that antique mirror you sold me ten years ago. Do you remember it?’
‘I certainly do. I discovered it in the middle of the Belgian Congo jungle by some drunken Scottish explorer looking for the mythical source of Scots Porridge. I recall there was some story about the mirror having been stolen from a village shaman.’
‘A shaman? Mr Smith queried.
‘You know, a witchdoctor type – someone who takes drugs, dances more frenetically than my wife doing the lambada and then communes with spirits from the Otherworld. A lot of hocus pocus if you ask me.’
‘Well, I do ask you, George, I do. My mirror is playing up a bit. It’s giving me a bit of gyp, as my old mother used to say about her hip before she went for the replacement operation. Could you toddle over here as soon as possible? I believe your witchdoctor chappie is trying to get in touch with me through the mirror.’
‘Impossible, old boy. The witchdoctor died over thirty years ago. His tribe claimed he was over five hundred years old, you know. What a lot of old rot. But I’ll pop over if it will put your mind at rest. See you soon.’
Within half an hour, George was standing in Mr Smith’s master bedroom and carefully examining the recalcitrant mirror. He asked Mr Smith to position himself in front of the mirror and state precisely what he could see and hear. Mr Smith speedily recounted the disturbing facts of the peculiar case while George nodded his head slowly and surely as if he were practising for a job as a doorknocker.
‘So then, professor, what’s your diagnosis?’ Mr Smith asked at last.
‘Well, it’s exactly as I suspected, Mr Smith,’ said George with psychoanalytical insouciance. ‘You’re barking mad. In fact, you’re quite the maddest person I have seen all year. You’re so mad that tonight you’ll be standing in your garden stark naked howling at the full moon expecting to be turned into a werewolf. You’ll feel an overwhelming desire to sing, dance, and make love to your neighbour’s wife while stamping on the feet of your boss.
‘The plain truth is that you are suffering from a malady known as Multiple Accountant Syndrome. This condition can be best explained with reference to Stevenson’s story The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. As you know, Stevenson asserted that inside every good man is an evil man struggling to get out. This is drivel, of course. What is true is that every man consists of two natures locked in one body. One nature wishes to do whatever it likes, regardless of the wishes of others. The other nature is too timid to do anything other than what society permits, Freud called these two natures the Id and the Superego. Jung called them the Shadow and Persona. Nietzsche described them as Dionysian and Apollonian.
‘In your case, you’ve spent a lifetime denying and repressing the anti-social side of yourself. You’ve been the perfect accountant: a bland, banal, innocuous, tedious little grey man permanently wearing a socially acceptable mask with a silly smile so that you’ll never offend your fellow man. Finally, your inner self, your Mr Hyde, has forced its way out of the prison you devised for it. You’ll never be the same again. You’ll be two-faced from now on.’
‘Is there no cure? Mr Smith asked.
‘Of course there is – you can always become a politician.’
I Spy With My Little Eye
One of the three spies was a double agent. But which? The three men were pointing guns at each other. They were in a deserted car park and rain was driving into their faces. The darkness of winter is not like summer darkness. It seeps into your skin and spreads through your whole body. Then the cold comes along and it’s like sandpaper scraping raw flesh.
‘No one other than us had details of the mission,’ stated Agent Circle matter-of-factly. ‘One of us is the traitor. There’s no doubt about it.’ A pool of water was forming in the crown of his hat. Raindrops were bouncing off the sodden cloth of his trenchcoat.
Agent Triangle sneezed, causing his finger to tighten on the trigger of his pistol. Immediately, the other two tensed and steadied their grips on their firearms.
‘Maybe there’s another explanation,’ Agent Square murmured in a voice that was both unconvincing and acutely aware of that fact. ‘Spy satellites, perhaps. The other side is making big breakthroughs.’ It sounded desperate. ‘Maybe there was an elaborate surveillance operation, ‘ he went on futilely, before deciding it was wiser to shut up. He could sense he was attracting suspicion. He could actually see the guns of the other two pointing more firmly in his direction now.
‘Circle went to the toilet at the service station,’ remarked Agent Triangle abruptly. ‘That was the only time one of us left the other two.’ His voice now took on a trace of a hiss as he pointed his pistol firmly at Agent Circle.
Circle was sweating. ‘Not true,’ he whined. He looked straight at Triangle. ‘Square went for cigarettes. You yourself spent a lot of time fidgeting with a newspaper.’ His tone became more confident, more accusatory.’ You might have been concealing some sort of transmitter. Maybe you were sending a message.’
Square interrupted forcefully. ‘Yes, that’s right. There was something strange about that newspaper. I saw a man bumping into Triangle. Maybe they were doing a switch. Maybe Triangle had hidden a message inside the newspaper. ‘He sneezed again.
Agent Triangle opened fire. He got Square straight through the forehead, but he didn’t dive for safety quickly enough. Almost simultaneously, Circle opened fire. He was a marksman. Triangle slumped onto the wet concrete, a perfect hole through his heart. Blood mingled with water and streamed into a drain.
Two targets down, Circle muttered to himself as he prodded the bodies of the other two with the toe of his foot. I’ll need to request a Cleaning Service. Can’t afford to leave any trace of what happened here. I can think up some story later on. My cover hasn’t been blown.
God they were such idiots, those two. When I announced that one of us was a traitor, I immediately gained the advantage. I could see in their eyes that they trusted me. But it’s such an obvious tactic. The person who talks about traitors is always a traitor. That fool Square. How I hated him. Always sneezing. He was so weak. I nearly laughed when he came out with all that rubbish about spy satellites, big breakthroughs and elaborate surveillance operations.
Triangle was a lot sharper, I have to give him that. I can’t deny I was very worried when he mentioned my visit to the toilet at the service station. Not that I went near any toilet. I was meeting my contact to hand over details of the mission. But I recovered quickly, didn’t I? That’s why I survived. That’s why I’m special. I remembered Circle’s cigarettes and Square’s newspaper. All that fidgeting with that stupid thing. You would expect better of a seasoned spy. Square really went for him. I couldn’t believe it when he said the thing about the switch taking place with the newspaper. I knew Triangle would shoot. He didn’t have a choice.
I’m surprised one of then didn’t try to take out the other two earlier on. That was the safest way. There’s no room for sentiment in our game. So what if a good guy gets it? It’s far more important to put away the baddies. I would certainly have gone for them, but I only had that one bullet left. I couldn’t afford any mistakes. Still, it doesn’t matter any more. I’m here…and they’re gone. ‘Live and let die, ‘that’s what they say, isn’t it? It’s time I was leaving.