The Chief was sitting behind his desk, looking perturbed. Things were not going well. To his right, at an adjacent chair, sat Kearney, with the same look of displeasure that he always sported. And in front of the Chief's desk sat two women, their faces suggesting that they shared in the general sense of bad fortune.
But at this point one of the women interrupted him. Her name was Lexa Hackett, and this is what she said: "Chief, sorry to interrupt, but I went to a Protestant school, and I don't want to sound anti-national or anything, but it would aid my understanding a lot if we were to conduct this conversation in the one of our official languages that everyone here can understand".
The Chief looked somewhat pained, but this did not stop him acceding to her request, albeit without acknowledging it.
"Unfortunate occurrences have unfortunately occurred", he continued. "Ones about which I think we will all be most concerned. You will of course be aware through office gossip that our colleague Barry Ryan is away conducting some fieldwork. You may also have noticed that he has been away for some time now, perhaps thinking that his mission was a long one. Well, I can reveal to you that it was nothing of the short. We expected him back long before now, but he has not returned".
"I see", said the other woman, whose name was Claire Maguire.
"Have we heard anything from him?"
"No, we have not", the Chief answered. "Not a peep. It is most disturbing".
"Mr Ryan seems to have vanished", said Kearney. "We sent him to London, to execute a task arising from a previous mission there. But he has not returned and he has not sent us any message".
"Well, could he just be taking his time?" asked Hackett. She had the impression that Ryan was something of a slow worker.
"I said that he seems to have vanished", said Kearney, glacially. "We made inquiries through the usual consular channels. He checked into the hotel we had booked for him, but he did not show up for breakfast and was not seen there again".
"It is most untoward", said the Chief.
"Again, through consular channels we contacted the British authorities to see if they knew anything of the Ryan's whereabouts. Though of course we gave them the name he was travelling under. They knew nothing, beyond his seeming to have vanished from the hotel. Or nothing they were letting on".
"I think they know more than they are telling us", said the Chief. "That's the way the Brits like to play it".
"And has London Station been of any assistance here?" asked Maguire.
"No", answered Kearney. "We do not want to risk compromising them in this matter".
"So where do we fit into this?" asked Hackett, though she already knew the answer.
"You're two clever girls" answered Kearney, permitting himself a slight smile. "I'm sure you can work it out".
"In a nutshell", continued the Chief, "We want you to go to London and find out what has happened to Ryan. And we are giving you full discretion to sort it out. I know some people here like to moan about the Organisation, but one thing that we have always prided ourselves on since long before I rose to this position, it is this – we never leave one of our own behind. So if you can extract Ryan, do it. If you find where he is, but can't get him out, let us know and we will ransom or exchange him".
"And there's another thing, of course", said Kearney. "The Organisation does not tolerate turncoats".
"Yes, I think that is something we can all agree on", agreed the Chief. "If you find that Ryan has gone over to the Opposition, well, I think you will know what to do".
Hackett and Maguire looked at each other.
"You know what I mean, girls?" said the Chief, trying to sound as ominous as possible. "Make sure he tells no more of our secrets, one way or another".
"I hope it won't come to that", said Maguire. Hackett nodded her head in agreement.
"It won't come to that", said the Chief, trying to lift the mood. "I know Barry Ryan, I know the kind of lad he is – he's an Organisation man through and through. He won't let us down. Just concentrate on finding him and bringing him home".
"But", said Kearney, now definitely smiling, "if he has turned, you will have to sort him out".
"Now girls", said the Chief, smiling and trying to sound as cheerful as possible when you have just asked someone to be ready to kill one of their colleagues should the situation warrant it, "I have some important matters to attend to, but Mr Kearney here will be able to fill you in on everything you need to know before you head off on your mission. But I'm sure I can count on you. I think I can safely say that you are the two best girls we have working here".
"Thanks Chief", said Hackett, trying to sound only partially sarcastic. "You can rely on us".
"And Miss Maguire", the Chief continued, "I believe you are the most senior girl here, so I am appointing you commander of the mission".
"I'll do my best", said Maguire.
"Aye aye skipper", agreed Hackett. The Chief looked quizzically at her.
Kearney stood up and moved towards the door out of the Chief's office. "Come this way, please", he said. Hackett and Maguire followed him to his office. Once they had left the room the Chief took the newspaper back out from his briefcase and went back to the crossword.
Kearney briefed Hackett and Maguire on Ryan's first trip to London – why they had sent him over and what he had done there. He described the salient points in Ryan's report of his trip and his encounter with Agaskayon, and then he gave them a copy of the report to read at their leisure; likewise with his own report on his debriefing session with Ryan. He outlined to the two women the practicalities of their trip to London – how they would travel over, what names would be on their travel documents, how much money they would be able to bring, and so forth. He also flagged to them that Ryan had been working on another matter for the Chief before the passport issue had come to light.
"I don't think it's relevant to the matter in hand", he said. "In fact, I think it's little more than a wild goose chase. I mean, an enemy spy ring using a music publication to transmit intelligence, how likely is that. But you know how the Chief is on things that take his fancy. And you should still look into it. Just in case". He gave them a passkey to Ryan's lockers and said that he had arranged their access to his computer files.
Kearney also made clear that his opinion of Ryan differed somewhat from that of the Chief. "You will have heard the Chief sing Barry Ryan's praises", he said. "You will not hear anything of the kind from me. It is quite possible that Ryan's cover was blown and he was taken out by the Opposition. Or maybe he has indeed gone over and is even now selling us out to the Brits. But I think it is far far more likely that he just made a stupid mistake and fell into a hole he couldn't climb out of. But keep your minds open to all possibilities".
On leaving Kearney the two went and poked around Ryan's computer and in his desk locker. "Here's that music thing", said Maguire, pulling out the dog-eared sheaf of stapled papers from under a stash of used envelopes. She held it by the spine to see where it flopped open.
"Let's have a look at it", said Hackett. They started to read.
"The real daddy of the funny vocal music was one Dylan Nyoukis. He just stands on stage and makes funny noises, without any obvious sign of electronic treatment or sampling. He had already started when I came into the Dock he had already started, and for the first few minutes I did find myself wondering whether this really was the kind of nonsense that gives avant-garde music a bad name. But then I noticed that some of the small children present were laughing their heads off at him (in a good way), so started appreciating what he was doing on a less poncily cerebral level. What he does is both very impressive and very entertaining, though one might argue that he sails a bit close to the ethnically stereotyping wind.
"When Mr Nyoukis finished his performance, some people suggested that he had not played for long enough, with the small children being particularly vehement on this point. So he invited anyone who wanted to have a go up on stage, and they (children and adults) all shouted away for a couple of minutes. It was a bizarre moment.
"What I think was striking about all the voice stuff in general was how high quality it was. One could easily imagine some chancer being inspired by this kind of thing to get up onstage and start making ugly grunting noises in the hope of finding themselves added to the bill of some weirdo music festival, but all the voice performers had an air of polished technique that buried any "Sure anyone could do that" scepticism. This was especially true of Jennifer Walshe, for all my ambivalence about how her work fitted with that of Tony Conrad.
"Another big element in the festival's line-up was what might broadly be called psych-rock. Or just rock. Dublin band Seadog did their twin-guitar thing, managing to sound like a post-rock Thin Lizzy with occasional nods towards the motorik sounds of Neu!. I liked them a lot… must establish whether I did actually buy one of their albums which I then never got around to listening to.
"GNOD were also entertaining with their tunes calling to mind the likes of Hawkwind and other purveyors of weirdo space rock. Their line-up was rather large, and it was noticeable that it included quite a few of the odd festival characters who had been wandering around at Hunters Moon beforehand. Their drummer swigged from a flagon of cider while playing, and looked momentarily non-plussed when it seemed to have been moved beyond his reach by one of the other members of the band… fortunately he was then able to access his backup drink source, a bottle of Jägermeister.
"GNOD also saluted the passing of the great Jimmy Saville by incorporating the Jim'll Fix It theme into their set".
"Do you think there might be anything to this?" asked Maguire.
This question will be answered in the amazing part 2 of chapter 10, which is coming your way real soon.
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