‘The Aarspeth Imbroglio’ by Nicholas Rombes


Procession, Irving Norman, 1957

From 3:AM:

It’s true that I worked for them during the second purge. It’s not my intention to excuse what I’ve done, though God knows my crimes, if crimes is even the proper word, are far less grievous than those committed by others, the ones now called patriots. As for those maimed by our activities, they will have to speak, if they are still capable of speaking, for themselves. I’m responsible for my actions, and my actions alone. I’ve been promised immunity. But from what? And by whom? I don’t even know who my captors are, only that they have instructed me to commit to writing a true and faithful account of my role in the second purge.

*

I suppose I should start with the Aarspeth case. Upon first glance, the file seemed typical, Aarspeth having taken certain actions which, in the eyes of the Messiah Detectives, deemed him suspect and unreliable. I was to follow him, trace his communications, and take all due and proper precautionary action should I deem him about to divulge information that would force the agency to reveal, in the process of recovering that information, its existence. For it was true that at this point the agency was still a shadow operation, whose power derived not from visible action but rather from, as they claimed in white paper after white paper, strategic abstinence.

Like I said, there was, upon first reading, nothing atypical about the Aarspeth file. As customary, it was delivered beneath my door during the night. As usual, stamped in blue ink with a time code indicating precisely when it should be opened. A little heftier than previous envelopes, perhaps, which only whetted my curiosity, even as I felt a noose tightening around my neck, invisible, its rope threading out through my window, down the street, into the sewers, and up again though the vents into the offices of the Messiah Detective Agency where, tied to a heavy iron handle emerging from the floor (much like I imagine an old train switch lever might look) it awaits the yank that will snap my neck.

But all this is speculation. About the rope, the noose. The facts are much less melodramatic. I opened the file at the time indicated by the time code, and began to read.

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