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I thought I was compulsive... Editor

Know When to Lie

by David Gallinger

Two men sat on opposite sides of a small room.  The table was four feet wide by six feet long, and was lined up perfectly with the floor tiles and ceiling tiles.  The ceiling tiles, however, were two feet by four feet although the floor tiles were square, and one foot across.  The room was eight feet by eight feet, and a one-way mirror was on the wall facing the short side of the table opposite the door.  The mirror was the same size as the table and the door was half the size of the table.  The floor tiles were matched up perfectly with the shape of the room but the ceiling tiles were not.  The room was sixty-four square feet in size and each tile was eight square feet in size; it should have been possible to install the ceiling so that all of them were complete tiles, with none cut down.  For some reason, they had been installed so that each wall was lined by half-tiles, with quarter-tiles in the corners, and this was really bothering Jason.  It was acceptable to him in the sense that it formed a symmetrical, repeating pattern.  The problem was the number of holes in each tile.  Complete tiles had 433 holes: that is the 64th prime integer and there were 64 floor tiles, which created a satisfying pattern.  If all the tiles were complete, there would be 3464 holes in total and that would have been awesome.  However, the half-tiles had been cut in such a way that the cut intersected some of the holes, and they were not perfectly measured; they all had a different number of holes, some of which were prime numbers and some were not, and this increased the amount of data that Jason had to memorize to satisfy his compulsion.  It was terribly inconsiderate.

Jason was here to be interrogated and he didn't appreciate the distraction.  Furthermore, he didn't like his interviewer.  The man was dressed in exactly the same suit as Jason, which could be a coincidence or it could be an attempt to unnerve him.  He hadn't shaved this morning and he probably thought that no one would notice because of his light hair color.  However, because of the lighting each whisker had a little shadow that made it very salient.  Jason tried to ignore the lights.  He hated them.  They were incandescent bulbs set in cages on the walls.

He did not know the name of the man interviewing him.  This also bothered him.  The man was not wearing his name badge.  Everyone should have a visible name badge in this building, at all times.  He didn't like it when something was inconsistent.  The other man introduced himself.

“Jason, my name is Mark,” he said.

“Thank you,” said Jason.

“Do you understand why you're here?”

“Because you suspect me of being a spy,” said Jason.

“That's one way to put it,” said Mark, “but to be more specific, it's because Mr. Harrow claims you've admitted to having helped a foreign intelligence agent to cross our border using false identification.”

“That is not what I said,” Jason replied, frustrated.  “That statement may be considered accurate in that it contains some of the same words as what I told him; I suspect that he is racist.”

Mark, perplexed, replied: “you're both white.”

“No, I believe he has something against straw men.  Every time I speak to him, he uses the occasion as an excuse to brutally assault a scarecrow.”

Mark laughed politely.  That was the most circuitous way he had ever heard someone accuse another person of putting words in his mouth.  Mark asked, “can you describe the conversation in your own words?”

“He spoke of a movie in which a secret agent owns a number of false passports, saying that in real life the CIA does not forge documents.  I insisted they do, and told him I had been involved in one such assignment.  He scoffed at that, saying that I'm a low-level paper pusher and that no one will ever send me on a field assignment.  He accused me of lying to impress Chantelle, which is offensive first of all because it amounts to a third-party accusation of sexual harassment and will likely offend her greatly considering that she does not feel attracted to me.  Secondly, he was twisting my words to make it seem that I was lying.  There is a substantial difference between saying that I was involved, and saying that I was involved in a specific role.  Given the information I provided, I could simply have been saying that the assignment was for one of our people and I filed the expense reports.”

“But that's not what really happened, is it?  Mr. Harrow is one of our brightest people...”

“He's an idiot,” said Jason, interrupting.

“No, he's not.  He acted like an idiot to get under your skin so you would reveal more details.  You underestimate people.”

“Perhaps I do,” said Jason, unconvinced.  “In any case, it was not an intelligence agent and I did not help her sneak into the country.  I did not break any laws.”

“Okay, Jason, there's no reason to be defensive.”

“I'm not.”

“That's quite fine.  I need you to tell me what happened and define your exact role in it.  I won't interrupt or paraphrase you.”

“Very well,” said Jason.  He was dubious about this.  In prior conversations with his superiors, he had grown accustomed to constant interruptions.  He had complained about this numerous times in the past.  He'd also complained of being misquoted.  He was offended by his interrogator's use of the word “paraphrase.”  The implication gave legitimacy to his superiors' behaviour.  This was a constant nuisance for him.  When he complained of being misquoted, they would acknowledge his complaint about being “paraphrased.”  To paraphrase is to change the words without changing the meaning.  So they agreed to address the problem, and went on to address a different problem than the one he complained about.  Every document said he complained of being paraphrased, and none acknowledged the real issue, yet he was prevented from re-opening the complaint on the grounds that it had already been dealt with.  Now this man was making an irrelevant promise.  Jason struggled with the urge to argue over it.  But it was pointless.  Hopeless.  He gave in and said nothing.

He related the events in question to the best of his memory:  “The first stage of the job was to meet a limo downtown.  He took me outside the city, to a location that was not disclosed to me.”

“You couldn't see where he was taking you?”

“No, the windows were darkly tinted, the cabin was brightly lit, and once we left the city it was very dark outside.  This happened during the winter.  The driver took a circuitous route and although I could have timed the turns, it was irrelevant to me.  I felt no need to gain any more information than they were willing to provide.”

“That seems out of character for you.”

“It is not.  If I am told that I am not meant to know something, I don't know it.”

“But there are times,” said Mark, “when you have indeed come across information that was not meant for you.”

“I was not told to stay away from it.  I am naturally curious.  In order to avoid knowing something, I must be told that I am not meant to know it.  Otherwise, any inconsistency will stick in my head like a piece of broken glass that must be picked out.”

“So,” said Mark, “what happened at the destination?”

“It was a private airfield on a farm.  The pilot appeared to be the farm's resident.  The plane was a 1983 Cessna Skyhawk, whose seats had been reupholstered.  Apart from the seat coverings, no aesthetic renovation had been done to the plane.  It was equipped for night VFR flight, and the only new instrument was an Apollo II Morrow GPS unit with no moving map, which had been removed from a Cessna 210.”

Mark was very annoyed by the barrage of superfluous information.  Jason was notorious for that.  In this case, however, he bit his tongue.  Any seemingly trivial detail could be useful.  He listened as Jason rambled on, describing every slight anomaly of the aircraft.  He was grateful that this conversation was being recorded; there was no need to take notes on everything.  He thought for a moment, that it would be ironic if Jason knew the aircraft's serial number and registration because that would save someone the trouble of researching so many trivial facts.  He thought it couldn't hurt to ask.

“Well, of course,” said Jason, with a slightly offended tone.  “The first thing I did was memorize the N-number.  I'll need a piece of paper.”

Mark had come well prepared.  This man was notorious for his complete inability to verbally recall alpha-numeric codes.  He could do it, but would rather not.  If you wanted him to recall a number, you had to give him a piece of paper to write it down.  Mark handed him a stack of index cards and a small golfer's pencil, and Jason wrote down not only the plane's N-number but its serial number, the serial number of the GPS unit, the serial number on both headsets, and all the information from the pilot's license.

“I told him,” Jason explained,” that I was afraid of flying and I wanted to assure myself that he was qualified.”

Mark was impressed.

Jason continued, “the plane took me to the Vancouver International Airport.  I was taken to a private office, where I was given a suit and CIA credentials.”

“What?”  Mark didn't know what conclusion to draw from this.  Jason was not allowed to work for a foreign intelligence agency.  Not under any circumstances.

“I don't really get it either,” said Jason, “I checked it over and the badge, as far as I can tell, was genuine.”

Mark had been instructed not to ask questions about who Jason was working for until later in the interview, and had to stifle his curiosity.  This was getting interesting.  As far as anyone could tell, Jason had never directly lied to anyone in his life.  When he was accused of dishonesty he was always able to argue that he'd been misquoted.  Some of his coworkers speculated whether he even knew how to lie.  He would openly volunteer information about himself that most people would rather not share, and made no effort at all to cover up his mistakes.  Honesty was, if anything, his major flaw.  Mark plied him to continue, and he did.

“I had been told in advance that a woman would be arriving from Saudi Arabia, and that the Canadian customs agent would determine that her passport was fake and detain her.  I was also told never to touch her, or allow any other man to touch her.  My role was to enter the room, introduce myself and show my credentials...”

“What was the name on the badge,” asked Mark?

“I was told there would be no interruptions,” said Jason, irritated.

“My apologies.  Continue.”

“Thank you.  I was to introduce myself using my real name, show the CIA credential, which bore my real name and inform them that this woman is a terrorist who must be remanded to my custody immediately.  I was to ask them to cooperate by documenting that they'd discovered her passport was valid, and not to leave any record of my presence.  They protested but complied.  Are there any other questions you would like to ask before I continue?”


“Good.  I was given handcuffs to be put on her.  They had to be wrapped in fabric and I was to ensure that no man touched the handcuffs before they touched her.  I had a female security guard cuff her and lead her to a car that had been left parked in front of the arrival gate.  It was an armoured limousine, and she was placed in the back behind a shield.”

Mark listened for ten minutes while Jason described every detail about the vehicle.  Every detail.  But he neglected to say where he got the keys to get into it.

Jason continued: “I drove to the American border.  Once there, I showed my credentials to the border guard, who contacted his superior.  A woman showed me a CIA badge and entered the back of the limousine.  She removed the Saudi woman's handcuffs and spoke to her in Arabic.  She apologized for our having confined her, and asked if she had been well treated.  The woman only nodded.  The female agent directed me to a hotel, where the woman and I were given separate rooms.  I was not allowed to know which room she was in.  There, I surrendered my credentials to the CIA agent.  Then things went wrong.  Later that day, she returned and announced that I was not a one of them; I was using a false badge.  She detained me and notified me that she had been assigned to keep me in her own custody during the investigation.  I was kept there for two weeks, during which time I was forbidden to leave the hotel but was given unlimited room service as well as access to the hotel's restaurant, pool, and sauna, provided I was escorted by her.

“I suppose you didn't mind that,” said Mark, with a hint of jealousy.

“What do you mean,” asked Jason?

“The pool?  The sauna?  I suppose she was wore a bathing suit on those occasions?  Was she attractive?”

“She was not required to do anything.  But yes, she chose to wear a bathing suit to the pool.”

“What about the sauna?”

Jason looked at him and smiled.

“Well,” said Mark, “I see they knew what you wanted.”

“After two weeks, someone entered the room, announced that it was all a mistake, and I was released with a rental car.”

“So who was the woman you brought across the border?”

“I don't know.  She wore a burkha with lace over the eyes, and dark glasses.  She never spoke in my presence.  She had no remarkable scent.”

“Who were you working for?  Who sent you on this assignment?”

Jason smiled.  Mark heard a voice in his hidden ear-piece, telling him that his supervisor needed to speak with him.  He excused himself and left.

He joined his boss behind the one-way glass.  She was an older woman with a military past and a severe demeanor.  She never showed a any hint of emotion when she spoke.  “That will be enough,” she said.

“I think there's more that I need to know.”

“Well,” she said, “he's right.  He didn't break any law.  And he didn't help her enter the country.  He simply removed her from it.”

“But,” protested Mark, “we need to know where she got a fake passport at the least.  Doesn't that concern you?”

“We know where she got it from.”

“And who he was working for?”

“He was working for the CIA, obviously.  It's been verified.”

“Is that allowed?”

“It's a minor breach of protocol,” she said.

“Minor,” said Mark, incredulous, “he was on the payroll of a foreign intelligence agency when he was supposed to be on an unpaid leave for missing work!”

“He wasn't paid for his efforts.”

“He got to spend two weeks in a CIA safe-house, lounging around a sauna with...don't you have a problem with that?”

“That wasn't offered as compensation.  And it's not for me to criticize the way our allies operate.”

“He still disobeyed a clear protocol.  What are you going to do about it?”

“He'll be given two months administrative leave.”

Mark was satisfied with that.  He didn't like Jason and he would just as soon see him fired, but at least there were some consequences.

She shook Mark's hand.  “You may leave now.  Thank you.”

Mark thanked her, and left to complete his report.

She entered the room and sat across from Jason.  She said, “You did rather well.  That was so close to perfect.”

“I'm sorry,” said Jason.

“You know better than to confide in Harrow.  He's an idiot.”

“I know.  Why do you keep him here?”

“I suppose sometimes we have a use for an idiot now and then.  You can't let him get under your skin.  The one thing that concerns me about you is that any fool can compromise you by, as you put it,  beating up a scarecrow in your presence.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Well,” she said, sighing, “you're fortunate that it was only an internal security breach.  And you've managed to help me make it look like we weren't involved, so there's no harm done.”

“Why did you let them put me through this interview?”

“Well,” she said, “It's been said that your only fault is your inability to lie.  We wanted to know if you could at least keep your mouth shut under pressure.”

“I feel like I didn't handle this very well.”

“Perhaps not,” she said.  “But I think you left out enough details.  He'll be satisfied with the explanation that you took an extra job because you were hoping to salvage your career by working elsewhere.  He doesn't credit you with the intellect necessary to facilitate the actual event.  So you are off the hook.  But I do have a favour to ask of you, while you're on leave.”

“As you wish,” he said smiling.

“I'll need you to pay a visit to our friends on Monday.”

“Same time and place?”

“Of course not.  You'll get a text message with the location.  They'll provide your instructions in the car.”

“I look forward to it.”

“Very well.  Goodbye for now, Jason.”  She got up to leave.  On the way out, she turned at him and said, winking, “My friends at the CIA tell me that Melissa looks forward to detaining you again!”



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