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Tales from the back of the eyelids


In life you never know when you are going to get your big break. In fact you may never get your big break. Take journalism as an example. Every day there are thousands of journalists scouring the face of the earth for the latest massive story. They gather in the most dangerous spots in the world, risking the most precious thing they have - their lives - for the faintest chance of a scoop. If they are fortunate they will be famous all over the world in today's news. But the odds are against it. Every journalist dreams of being the only one holding the camcorder when a world shaking event happens. He yearns to be there when a group of terrorists bursts in on the prime minister's garden party and opens fire, killing scores of people.

Few, though, will ever get such a godsend. Of course, journalists can - and do - try to create opportunities for themselves. Manufacturing the news, though, is a risky business. Occasionally the investment of time and money goes very seriously wrong, as it did for my late friend and partner Barry Orpthorpe. He paid terrorists to attack the Iztek prime minister's garden party at a specific time, but unfortunately there was a mix up - they arrived half an hour early, and in the confusion poor Barry got caught in crossfire. The bitterest irony was that his arch rival, Adie Dempsworthy, swiped the headlines from him. To add insult to injury, she also gleefully wrote a mournful piece about how she had lost a "well-loved colleague".

No one, it seems, can have complete control over their own destiny. That's why it's better to wait and take the opportunities as they come. Journalism, which is like life in so many ways, is also like it in this respect: in the end everything is a matter of luck. It is important, though, to recognise the moment and seize it firmly. Otherwise it slips through the fingers. Fortunately I am blessed in almost always having an intuitive feeling that something big is going to happen.

And such was the situation last Friday afternoon. When the telephone rang on my office desk, I sensed something was up. It was. It was my big break.

It had been a frustrating fortnight of false starts and inconclusive leads. Of raised and dashed hopes. Now hope was raised again. For more than a year rumours had been circulating in the bars around Parliament House: it was said that government scientists were creating huge numbers of human clones for research. Apparently these clones are incarcerated in state-run institutions and are relentlessly experimented on. This is not something to be taken lightly. Human cloning is illegal for a very good reason: to prevent human suffering. Because it isn't easy to tell the difference between a clone and a human, doubtlessly the government soon will be incarcerating ordinary citizens and will be relentlessly experimenting on them too. This shows the importance of journalism: it is needed to nip abuses precisely like these in the bud.

The problem was that up to now all we had was talk in the bars: no names, no places, no hard facts. Nothing concrete to hang an article on. For its part the government had dismissed the allegations as being ridiculous. If the allegations were true, naturally the government would have to dismiss them as being ridiculous. If they were true, they would be explosive. If they were true, the government had thrown a heavy security blanket over them. So far the only certainty was a barrage of allegations and denials. What we needed was a contact, a mole. Someone working for the government but disillusioned. And that is what had come my way that Friday afternoon. Opportunity had, as they say, rung.

I called out to "Tank" Dave, our cameraman, as soon as I put the phone down.

"Alleluiah, Tank! It's on." I said. "Let's go!"

I took a last swig of my coffee and a moment later we both were downstairs in the car and speeding across town. I drove. Tank, beside me, looked blankly ahead and said nothing. We were at the building in less than half an hour.

The building was big, about twelve floors high, and had been red-bricked when it was built, but since then had turned black. Now it looked like a warehouse. Somewhere at the top was where the experiments were carried out. I shuddered involuntarily at the thought.

We couldn't, of course, simply walk in the front. We parked in a back street, scurried through garbage-filled alleyways, pressed ourselves against a wall to avoid a serveillance camera, slipped into a small courtyard and ran down a flight of steps. Our mole was waiting for us at the door. "Quick, quick, quick!" he said, ushering us in. He was a tall and thin man with a white lab coat, which dangled on him.

"Horrific experiments are going on here," the mole told us. "They have developed a mutant clone - a woman, who is so ugly that anyone who looks at her instantly becomes insane. It's top secret, the place is closely guarded and it's going to be complicated and dangerous getting you there." I shuddered involuntarily at the thought. Tank looked blankly ahead and said nothing.

Mole hastened us into a small room on our right for dirty laundry. Tank and I took two white lab coats from coat hooks on the wall, put them on and scrambled into a laundry trolley. Mole then heaped the rest of the lab coats over us.

A short while later we were being trundled down the corridor by laundry staff. We were wheeled into a lift and went up. We were rolled through another corridor. We turned right into a second corridor, and then left into a third corridor. We came to another lift and went up. Next we were rolled through a another corridor. We turned left into a second corridor and then right into a third corridor.

Then we stopped. We felt the trolley tipping over. The next thing we knew we were sliding down a long chute. I landed comfortably on a soft mountain of white linen - we were in the laundry room. As I lifted my head up I saw Tank's large buttocks hurtling towards me. These knocked me to the floor and caused second degree contusion to my lower lumbar fascia. I shuddered involuntarily from the pain. Tank looked blankly and said nothing. The contusion still hurts as I sit writing now.

We clambered up an iron ladder to a door high above our heads. Opening a small crack in the door, I peered out into the corridor. No-one. Tank and I slid out of the room.

"Hey, you two! What are you doing here?" boomed a deep voice behind me. I spun round to see a gorilla-like guard in uniform half-way down the corridor. He approached us. I considered making a run for it. But it was useless: he was beside us before I could do anything. He peered at the names on our lab coats.

"Shouldn't you be with Doctor McAvery in the operating theatre?" the gorilla asked. I nodded. "Well, why are you hanging around here, then? Off you go!" I turned to go back through the door we had just come from. "You haven't got the foggiest idea where you are, have you?" I shook my head sadly. He studied our faces penetratingly for a few seconds and then said, with a sigh of tired exasperation: "Follow me. I'll take you there." He turned around and headed off down the corridor. Tank and I trotted after him.

We followed him to the end of the corridor, then went left into a bigger corridor, then took a small side corridor, and crossed a broad corridor into a narrow corridor. At the end of this corridor we turned left into a medium-sized corridor which led into a long corridor. Eventually, after a short corridor, we came to a flight of stairs. We quickly walked up five floors and entered another corridor. Tank was sweating and breathless.

"How are we going to get out of this?" Were the words that went round and round in my head. "Perhaps we could run down a side corridor? But what if he caught us?" Things looked hopeless. We were heading for big trouble.

"How about slipping into one of these rooms when he's not looking? But what would we do if someone was in the room?" That was a risk. Nothing else to be done, though.

I signalled to Tank, stopped and turned a doorhandle. Locked. The man looked over his shoulder. "Come on you two!" he said. "I haven't got all day." A little further on I tried again. This time the door opened! Just at that moment, from a side corridor, someone appeared in front of us. I quickly pulled the door to. It was Mole.

"Ah, I've been looking for you two," he said to us.

"But they said they were from Doctor McAvery's group," said the gorilla.

"Yes, that's right," said Mole. "I'll take charge of them now."

"Fine," said the other man with a confused expression. "I'll leave you to it, then." And he sauntered with his ape-like gait back down the corridor we had come from.

"Are you trying to put us all in the slammer?" Mole hissed angrily. I shrugged to indicate the absurdity of life. Mole turned around and headed off down the corridor. Tank and I trotted after him.

We followed him to the end of the corridor, then went left into a bigger corridor, then took a small side corridor, and crossed a broad corridor into a narrow corridor. At the end of this corridor we turned left into a medium-sized corridor which led to a long corridor. Eventually, after a short coridor, we came to a flight of stairs. We quickly walked up five floors. Tank was sweating and breathless. We had come to the top of the building.

Mole punched a code into the panel by the door at the top of the stairs and it opened on to another long corridor. The corridor was deserted. At a door on the left Mole stopped and turned the handle.

The three of us stepped into a neon-lit, windowless room. On the far wall there was a heavy steel door with a dial combination lock and a wheel in the middle, such as you would find on the safe in the vault of a large bank.

"You must be very careful," the mole announced. "What you are about to do is potentially extremely dangerous. If you look at the mutant behind the steel door without adequate precautions, you will inflict on yourself severe cerebral damage, which might possibly lead to death."

I shuddered involuntarily at the thought. Tank, beside me, looked blankly ahead and said nothing.

"It's a mutation which can affect only the female side," continued Mole. "It's caused by a gene on the X-chromosome. This woman has the mutant gene on both her X-chromosomes. It makes her so ugly that anyone who looks at her whole face at once is subjected to crushing mental anguish, resulting in suicidal depression or madness. The only way to look at her safely is by only looking at a portion of her face at a time. This is what these tubes are for."

He pointed to a basket by the steel door in which several long plastic tubes were standing upright. He took two and handed one to each of us.

"Only look at her down the tube. Make sure you keep the other eye firmly closed," he added.

After twisting the dial on the combination lock, the man turned the iron wheel and pulled the steel door open, but only open wide enough to allow the plastic tubes to pass through the gap. Because there was not enough room for both of us to stand up and look, I crouched down while Tank stood above me. Using the tubes we looked into the space behind the door. At first at the end of my tube I saw a single grey eye looking at me, and when I moved the tube about I saw a bit of blond hair, white skin, part of an ear and two nostrils at the end of a sharp nose. From the parts that I was seeing, though - no matter how much I looked - I could not build up a picture in my head of what the whole woman looked like. That, I suppose, is why we were looking through the tubes: to stop us from even being able to imagine the whole woman, which in itself could be very harmful. Still, after all the trouble we had been through to see this woman, it was frustrating not to be able to see her properly.

"You had better leave it now," said the mole. "Even with the tubes it is not a good idea to look at her for too long."

I got up and handed my tube back to the mole.

"What did you think?" asked Mole.

"It was interesting," I said untruthfully.

Tank was still looking through his tube into the gap.

"Come on, Tank," I said. "Let's go!"

Tank didn't move, though. He remained standing, peering down the tube, transfixed.

"Give it over, Tank" I said, now alarmed by his immobility. "Stop horsing around!" I grabbed him firmly by the arm and tried to pull him aside. At that Tank grunted angrily, turned and pushed me away with a forceful shove. Then, before the mole or I could do anything, he fiercely tossed the tube on the floor and looked with both eyes into the chink.

"You fool! What the hell are you doing?" screamed Mole.

Mole and I struggled with Tank and tried to pull him away from the gap, but Tank has an enormous bulk and we were no match for him. While Mole hung uselessly around Tank's waist in a feeble attempt at a rugby tackle, and I was clinging to his neck, trying to hold him in a half-Nelson, Tank had managed to push the steel door wide open.

"Have a look!" exclaimed Tank, gazing at the woman before us. He was sweating and breathless. "She is beautiful!" he gushed, overwhelmed with emotion.

The mole was now kneeling on the floor and covering his eyes with his hands. I, for my part, still hanging on Tank's neck, automatically turned to look - because the opportunity to look at a beautiful woman should never be missed.

Standing calmly and smiling benignly at us was a middle-aged woman. She had coiffured dyed-blond hair and was wearing a blue suit. She was an ordinary-looking woman, who was not ugly, but despite what Tank had said, was not beautiful either. I was disappointed. She was Margaret Thatcher. *1

*1. Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1979 to 1990.

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