18th Jan – We would sing, and dance around, because we know, we can’t be found.

It’s been going on for a little while now, but there’s certain times of the day, when we hear the locks being opened, and one of us will say to the other, ‘Here we go. Ann Wilson’s whistle.’

Sometimes he brings an out-of-hours morsel to eat, Turkish Delight mostly, sometimes, enough for a little picnic. There we sat, on the slightly cushioned orange nylon carpet, in an otherwise empty room, made daylight by the tiny vented skylight at the top of the wall above Keith’s corner; him cross-legged, opposite us.

‘This is nice,’ he’d say.

He talked to us together most of the time; though sometimes, he’d insist on dealing with just one of us, alone. We’d find out which one it was to be by the capricious acts of cruelty that he’d inflict on the one he didn’t want. Keith had this way of rolling himself up into a ball to face the corner once he wasn’t wanted, which I could never match. And I always spent his meetings in dread fear of being too conspicuous, or accused of eavesdropping.

Mostly, they were conducted in tolerably civil way; the majority devoted to the subject of Nigel Ackerman, the man he supposed me to be. Everything we learned about Nigel, pointed to him being the younger idiot son of someone very important; someone who had been sent out into the world to learn the family business, like one of the Getty Jnrs: rich, feckless, lazy, and totally disinterested in the thing which made their despotic father so important. Much like me in many ways; I have to cough to that. I could have invented the cure for Covid had I shown any application. Everyone knows that.

Are we enjoying ourselves, daddy?

‘Did your father like to take you on picnics like this?’ he’d ask.
Oh yes, we always went to the unused room in the attic to have a picnic.
‘I can’t actually recall going on any picnic with my father.’ I replied. I couldn’t. Many with Dolly and Polk, occasionally my mum.
‘This Dolly, she was your guardian? Grandparent?’
‘No, by God, not by blood. They’d been my mum’s guardians.’ She of no fixed parentage, looking out for aunties and charity, like Eggo. Like me really.
Oh. But you seem to have spent a lot of time with them. She was like a nanny to you?’
That was an Ann Wilson line of questioning.

‘Yeah, I suppose. School days were spent at home. But most weekends, every holiday. Always when my parents went out gallivanting, which was frequent when I was young. And then for longer periods when my mum was hospitalised.’
‘I’m sorry, she was poorly, your mother?’ he asked.
‘Bad with her nerves, Marudeva. Often absent.’
‘I truly am sorry for this. Every child needs a mother. But you had your father in good health, there are some who do not have even this.’
‘Yes, what a boon,’ I say. ‘He did some sterling work for the Health Service.’
‘He did?’
‘Oh, yeah, provided it with some of its best clients.’

Marudeva frowned at my cryptic answer, so I went on:
‘Besides my mother, there was Barty, his younger sibling, who stammered like a scratched record; his own father, who died before he got going, and who he described to me, aged eight, as an irredeemable idiot; and me. It is no recommendation to tell you that I am the best of the lot,’ I added, to try and make a better answer of it.

I am reminded of that song that begins:
“God said to Abraham, Kill me a son.”
At which point, Abraham replied to God:
‘You’ve got to be putting me on?’  
To which God gave him a firm rebuttal, “No, Abe. I’m not actually.”

Abraham thought about it for ages, then said, ‘Which one?’
God also took a while to respond. She was very busy at the time, and besides, probably wasn’t used to being answered-back. Eventually, She said, ‘Well, if there isn’t one that you perceive as a threat, kill the one who most gets on your nerves, I suppose.’
Fortunately for Abraham, but not for his son and ultimately the ram, he was still on the line.

You have to hear it, really.

‘You knew his mother?’ asked Marudeva, ‘your father’s mother?’
‘Aah, the love of his life.’ I replied, ‘I hardly knew her. But once she’d gone, thereafter, whenever anything tragic happened, he would repeat one of his stock phrases like, ‘When you’ve lost someone as close to you as your own mother, nothing else matters.’
‘Many of us feel that way,’ said Marudeva.
‘Yes, but he said it to me about my mother when she died. His wife.’
‘So, he…’
…had a psychopath’s inclination to lack of empathy? You like him now, don’t you Marudeva?

‘You know,’ said Keith, when we talked afterwards, ‘you still haven’t persuaded him that you’re not the bloke they’re after. They want you to be John Paul Getty’s son, and you keep feeding the beast.’
‘I can’t think on my feet,’ I told him, ‘I only know how to answer the question that’s in front of me, without guile, or cunning. I am witless, as you know.’
‘OK. Do you know what I think’s happened?’ said Keith. ‘They’ve put in a ransom demand for this Nigel Ackerman or whoever he is and he’s now been whisked away to somewhere safe. Meanwhile, the people who’ve received the demand, are sat on it, working out how they want to play it; what they’re going to do next.’ Then he added, ‘Or perhaps they’ve already worked it out, and they’re playing out their strategy now.’

‘Watching us?’ I ask.
‘Leaving us as the only assets at risk,’ he replied, in that deadpan way he has.

Poor Howard didn’t even get a Scotch Egg.

Suddenly it all made sense. ‘Yeah, and they’ve probably looked us up and realise that we’re disposable.’ I said.
‘…and if Marudeva’s lot go looking for him, they’ll see that he isn’t where they’d expect him to be, and that will reinforce their belief that you are him.’
‘Mmh.’ I shake my head in a so-so-maybe sort of fashion, like an Indian waiter.

‘You know what it means, don’t you?’ said Keith. ‘It means that they’re going to start chopping bits of us off, and sending them to whoever it is that’s their equivalent of John Paul, or Aristotle.’
‘Or Ringo,’ I add.

‘Yours too?’ I ask him.
‘To be fair, they probably know they’ve got a dud in me,’ he replied.
It’s funny, but I had been thinking that too, but didn’t like to say. I felt obliged to ask, ‘Why do say that?’.
‘It’s because I didn’t give them any room for doubt, in the way that you do. I think the only reason I’m still here, is to stop you going mad – so that their best asset isn’t ruined.’ Then he laughs and it makes me scared, as if he’s part of them, not part of us.

Keith thinks for a while, then says, ‘Hey, I wonder whether this is a coordinated plan, you know, like 9/11, and there are loads of little cells all over the place, each with a couple of hostages like us, and they’re waiting to reveal it all at once, so that it makes a bigger impact? Imagine it on the News: There are fifty British subjects held hostage around the Globe, some of them in the UK.’

We both realise that he has accidentally described their plan in perfect detail. Probably.

Then he adds, ‘And if it is, it won’t matter if they’ve got the odd one wrong.’

‘Ultimately meaning,’ I conclude for both of us. ‘That I either tell them I’m him, and suffer the consequences, or make a better job of proving I’m not, in which case, we just get left here forever, forgotten?’

‘Yes, that’s about right,’ said Keith.