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BOFH: A white van man called Algernon

Codeword: Echelon

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Episode 22 "Is your.. uh... assistant in?" the Boss asks, ducking into Mission Control and breaking the monotonous boredom.

"The PFY? No, I've not seen him all day. Or yesterday for that matter."

"Is he sick?"

"I doubt it. When you're a contractor you don't waste good contract money being ill at home. No, I'm not sure where he is. Hang on..."

I bash the PFY's mobile number into the desk phone.

"Hmm, phone's off or outside a service area. I'll try his home phone."

I bash another number in.

"... Nope, his phone just rings. Which is strange, because I know he has an answerphone with the same message as the Lithuanian embassy."

"I.. Why?"

"I don't know, maybe they need a backup."

"Well anyway, I just popped in to see if he'd helped my mate Algy out."

"Algy," I ask, suddenly interested. "As in Algernon?"

"Yes, why?"

"It's probably nothing."

"What?"

"Do you know about the Echelon Project?"

"Oh - the one where we're putting a new plasma screen in the boardroom for company presentations?"

"No the SIGINT project run by the NSA to capture the world's communications."

"Oh yes, I have heard something about that."

"Well a couple of years ago a bloke put a post onto the web identifying Algernon - not Algy - as the first of the three words in the 'find-me' code."

"Find me?"

"Yeah. So you're a modern day James Bond and get caught. All you need to do is get to a phone, ring any non-local number - but by preference an international call to a country of particular current interest. As soon as the call is made you say the three word phrase and then hang up. Echelon will find the phrase, send up a rocket to say someone's in trouble and before you know it you're surrounded by white vans."

"White Vans?"

"Windowless white vans to be precise."

"?"

"White vans are the black helicopters of urbanity."

"?"

"They're everywhere and no-one sees them."

"Well that's not entirely true - everyone sees them. There was even one in my parking space a few days ag.."

"I see," I nod.

"But they were delivering office supplies! I saw the paper!!!"

"So when you say 'they' you mean more than one? Why would it take more than one person to deliver office supplies?"

"I... But why would they be interested in your assistant?"

"They're probably not - but they're most certainly interested in how he came by the find me codes."

"Didn't you say they were posted on the web?"

"No, the guy was going to post them one day at a time to avoid detection but he never posted the next one!"

"You mean.... they... got to him?!!!"

"Who knows. He might be at the Guantanamo 'holiday resort' or he might have just got bored."

"But you're suggesting that somehow your assistant may have inadvertently set this thing in motion by talking to my friend."

"Or by mentioning it in a phone conversation along with the other two words of the find me phrase."

"Do you know what the other two words might be?"

"I'd can only guess that they'd be uncommon words - words that wouldn't ordinarily appear in normal conversation. Like Strom Thurmond, for instance."

"Huh?"

"A joke. No, it'll be words which could be used together but ordinarily wouldn't."

"Like 'Fix Algernon's Computer'?!!!!?" the Boss gasps.

"No, that would be too common and it would need to be more obscure than his machine."

"Well it's not his computer, it's his god-daughter's."

"NOW we're getting warm! Algernon, god-daughter and I'm guessing something to do with computers."

"Yes but what?!" the Boss asks.

"Who knows, it could be anything. Why are you so keen to know?"

"Well what if I've said accidentally said it too?!!!"

"Trust me, if you'd said it you'd already be in a dark room wrapped in carpet with a hose up your bum."

"WHAT!?!"

"If you'd said it, you'd be gone already. The only thing you've got to worry about is if the PFY doesn't talk and they start running phone calls from the building back throught Echelon. You used a payphone to talk to him didn't you?"

"WHY THE BLOODY HELL WOULD I USE A PAYPHONE TO TALK TO A MATE ABOUT A DODGY COMPUTER!?!"

"Yes I think that's your best approach, because sooner or later the PFY's bound to finger you - figuratively of course."

"WHAT!?"

"Well, it's only a matter of time till he cracks. I mean you could take the chicken's way out and hide in your office and hope that they'll lose interest, but we all know you're made of stronger stu..."

>SLAM!<

. . . Two minutes later . . .

"Ey up!" the PFY says, dropping the 10 pack of lager and the takeaway curries onto a convenient desk. "No Chilli Bhajis today sorry, so I got you a chicken Phal and same Aloo Partha instead."

"Ta!" I say, cracking a lager.

"Anything happen while I was out?"

"Nah! You remembered to park the van behind the Boss' car?"

"Yeah, why?"

"No reason." ®

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