The iWatch


This story was inspired from reports of how the sound of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamil Khashoggi was recorded via transmissions from his iwatch


All the characters in this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental


Several years after I retired I began getting phone-calls from Greg, a former work colleague. At first he’d call about once a month, then after a while almost every week. Before the year was out he was calling virtually every day. This was reasonable enough considering that the half-hour or so of what usually started as idle conversation frequently evolved into a compelling discussion.

Sometimes he’d call from the landline at his flat. More often, though, it would be from his mobile while on route to a store connected with a little outfit he ran with Des, another former work colleague. Occasionally, he’d be headed somewhere else; he never revealed where; this would involve a train journey when weird gliding noises would creep in and distort his voice that would echo and attenuate as if receding down a narrow pipe, then the line would go dead.

I’d known Greg a couple of decades by then, but it was only after the calls started when we really got to know one another. We regularly swapped emails too, often developing issues we’d focused on over the phone. In those days any subject was fit for discussion: if it wasn’t topical then we might hit on cosmology, psychology, philosophy, politics, sex, booze…. nothing was beyond us… except maybe religion, on which our views concurred perfectly – ie, that it was as Clive James observed: "An advertising agency for a product that doesn't exist." In other words TOSH – so there was little to discuss; and sport likewise. But we’d launch into just about any other topic as if it was of central importance to our lives. At least, that’s what an eavesdropper might have thought.

And we’d argue too. Frequent strong disagreements would ensue and might continue for weeks. Yet, there was never the remotest hint of animosity. Indeed, the fiercer – or sometimes the more subtle and convoluted - a battle became, the more we’d relish it. Nor did we always end-up agreeing. If we failed to resolve differences and an argument began going in circles, some other issue would arise, perhaps from the news or an idea that had struck one of us, and all our attention would switch. Then at some later date we might return with renewed vigour to a subject, though it was as likely we wouldn’t. Nothing was set, nothing preordained.

Don’t get me wrong, Greg and me were never in each other’s pockets. We lived our lives quite independently. After all, he lived in London and I on the south coast. Though once our new bond was established he did start taking the train down for the day every 6 months or so. And apart from a couple of 3- or 4-day excursions, that was really all we saw of one another.

Strange as this appears now after more than a decade, I didn’t even know at the time if Greg still lived at his flat in Hersham. I’d been there a couple of times in the early days of the friendship, but for all I knew it soon became merely a base or business address while most of his time was spent in some up-market part of London in a luxury penthouse with a glamorous wife. At least, this was the kind of scenario I liked to dream-up as the destination for those mysterious train journeys.

Although he’d probably have explained everything had I asked, one reason I never did was the inherent ‘live-and-let-live’ attitude I’ve always nurtured from which I could retain the integrity of not shoving my nose in. But even without that, the enthral of imagining him leading a chaotic double life of deception and intrigue would have been reason enough.

Besides, going by how he splashed-out so readily during his visits, in restaurants for instance or just on trivia, I had the impression he was well solvent. Impressions, though, like image can be fabricated and therefore are inclined to mislead, so this was only a guess - as with most aspects of Greg’s life. So much was mystery. Yet back then I wasn’t even curious. Back then, I thought: unless he chooses to tell me, what he does and the way he conducts his life is no business of mine.

So it was a big surprise when about a year ago and entirely without warning, he vanished. The phone calls ceased. No more emails… Complete silence. Had there been an accident, a sudden disabling illness? I tried calling him, of course, and sent emails. Nothing…

Other events, as ever, were going on in my life and I kind-of placed the issue aside. After all, people’s lives change; the calls couldn’t go on for ever, they had to slow or stop at some point. And with no contact details of any mutual acquaintance, there was no one I could enquire to. But then after about a month, at last an email:

“Something’s turned up. Slight diversion. Will be in touch.”

At least he’s still alive, I thought. Then eventually, following several more mystified and mildly questioning emails from me, another uncharacteristic terse response – this time the final one:

“I’m fine. Just tied-up for a bit. Will be in touch.” 

And that was it for more than a year…

Until now!

Last week I received a postcard. It didn’t say much… eight lines of scrawl with an address. In the circumstances, I wasn’t that surprised. What did surprise me was the open invitation to visit and stay awhile at his new place.

The truth is, I’m uncertain how to respond. I can’t even decide whether to go. Considering what I’ve been up to, I’m not sure I’d be able to face him? Especially when, being a bit of a gadget freak, he’s probably wise to everything

OK… this is what happened:

At first I assumed he’d just ‘moved-on’, found new acquaintances more appropriate to his lifestyle, perhaps. As I say, I wasn’t exactly on his doorstep, and who wants their friends nearly always at the end of a phone line? The friendship was bound to drift. Then I wondered: instead of landing a fortune, might he be a victim of bankruptcy? Such is the nature of business. Either way, people can be shy to reveal those kind of developments… though not, I’d have thought, Greg.

After reflecting and ruminating like this, including on wild improbable versions of the double-life scenario with their various consequent outlandish tangents and endpoints, and with no replies to further emails, I found myself one day nostalgically browsing some old photos containing Greg. Sparse though they were, we’d shared some good times together over the years, and had been about a bit too. Then I remembered a video I’d taken during his last visit. This showed him demonstrating a new iwatch he’d been highly impressed with. He was so focused, I noticed in the video, explaining what the watch could do that he seemed unaware I was recording him. That’s when it dawned on me: he’d unwittingly revealed access codes and other crucial details. Unless he’d changed those codes, it would probably be a cinch to hack the watch.

For a day or two I wondered about the morality of it. What would he think? How might he respond if he knew? Would he even be able to tell? Then I thought: “What if he needs my help but doesn’t want to trouble me or get me involved in something risky?” That’s when I decided to test the idea.

It was a Saturday morning, and it took a bit of fiddling about. Soon, though, the PC picked-up sounds. Unsure if they originated from the iwatch, I just listened. At first there was random moving about, clicks and rustles and various weird knocking and tapping. This was soon followed by doors opening and slamming, echoes then street and traffic noises. I imagined him shopping and listened to all these trivial everyday sounds one might expect…. nothing too out of the ordinary. At one point I thought I heard his voice, but it was muffled and could have been anyone. By the time I realised how draining it was trying to fathom what was going on, a couple of hours had passed. That’s when I turned the PC off, telling myself with a sigh that I shouldn’t be listening anyway.

Besides which, I still wasn’t certain it was Greg’s watch I was hearing. But I couldn’t get it out my head. I kept thinking: I wonder if it really is him, and if so: what’s he doing now? Eventually, struggling with myself like two enemies in combat, the inquisitive side prevailed and I turned it all on again. More weird noises; he seemed to be back at his flat. Soft rustling, then a peculiar fluttering effect that went on for several minutes.

I reflected on the protagonist in Barbusse’s famous story ‘Hell’ about a guy who rents a room and discovers a small hole in the wall to the adjoining apartment. For months he witnesses through the hole all the comings and goings, all the turmoil and upheaval of each successive neighbouring tenant’s life.

The fluttering stopped, a toilet flushed then a phone chirped, and for the first time came Greg’s voice, clear and unmistakable. This was all I needed.

He sounded fine. I soon realised he was talking with his business partner Des. I’d met Des, but hadn’t seen him for years. Between them, for more than a decade, they’d been making and selling some fancy gadget that monitored and regulated several utilities at once. Primarily designed for industry, they also did a domestic version. Greg managed the outsourced production and organised deliveries, while Des did the paperwork: advertising, billing, etc. A neat little set-up.

That Saturday morning they seemed to be arranging for Greg to accompany Des’s daughter Carol that same afternoon to a show in the West End. I hadn’t met Carol, but according to Greg she’d always loved theatre and since neither Des nor his wife, Mona, were interested, they’d been glad for Greg to take her to whatever was the latest sensation. He’d told me all this more than a decade ago when he started taking her, with occasional fleeting updates since. Carol was about 12 then. She’d be in her 20s now.

I also learned from Greg shortly before he’d ‘disappeared’ that the family had moved out to somewhere near Guildford a few months earlier, which had complicated the theatre attendances. None of this was overtly discussed, merely mentioned in passing. Reading between the lines, though, I’d gleaned enough to form a rough picture. Greg had always seemed hesitant to volunteer more than snippets, and detecting resistance I was reluctant to probe; so not much detail was ever forthcoming. His response to my playful comment, however, during one of our last conversations: that I thought Carol sounded ‘ripe-for-it’, was to laugh and change the subject.

Not that he hadn’t already implied Carol’s ‘ripeness’, among other things… for instance, he’d told me that Des and especially Mona had overprotected Carol - an only child - all her life, so although bright and well educated she’d retained an infant naïveté and was still somewhat immature. As far as theatre was concerned, he’d said, she preferred productions involving pixies and fairies to any that might examine themes related to murder or debauchery, for instance, which according to Greg was definitely off limits, and most certainly not worth risking Mona’s wrath over. It might, he noted (almost inaudibly, as if an aside), mean the excursions would cease. From his diminutive tone as he said this, I got the impression that it was highly significant to him that the trips did not cease. I knew then that the theatre attendances were providing Greg with some kind of fix that had nothing to do with art or culture.

Before long, arrangements were settled and the phone call ended. A few seconds later that weird fluttering sound started again. I thought: I must be nuts listening to all this trivia, regardless of the ethical angle. Besides, I had loads of other things to be getting on with, and was about to turn the PC off when his phone chirped again. It continued several times before the fluttering stopped and he finally answered it.

“Oh.. hi Milly.”…. pause, “Sorry, am a bit tied up today and will be most of tomorrow. A batch of new orders…” another pause, “I know…. sure…  not certain if I can make tomorrow either…. I’ll try, but I’ll be there Monday, promise…. I guess about 18.00 or soon after…. “ another pause, “You do that. See you then.” Click, a few seconds of silence, then a kind-of stretched-out groaning: “G-a-w-d.”

Shortly, the fluttering began once more, at which point I shut the PC off. I didn’t want some new event to hook me again. As I say, I had things to attend to quite apart from tidying, hoovering, shopping and so on.

Later with TV, evening meal, etc., I amazingly forgot my clandestine eavesdropping until quite late. It must have been around 21.30 when I turned the PC on again. First was obvious street sounds and people walking, then after about 20-minutes of this together with muffled incoherent speech, a loud click was followed by echoes. I recognised the ambience as probably the communal entrance to Greg’s flat. Next walking on stairs, more door sounds ending in an emphatic slam then muted bumping… and Greg’s voice:

“Coffee? Or maybe a glass of vino? I’ve still got a few bottles of that excellent Beaujolais.”

“Shouldn’t I phone home first?” says a female voice, “They were expecting me about now.”

“If you like. I suppose you’d better.”

Clicks and rustles, “Hi Dad,” now in a namby-pamby voice, “we missed the first showing so are a bit late and I’m at Greg’s. He says I can stay the night in his spare room.”

Silence. Seconds later she whispers, “He doesn’t like it. I know they suspect. Says why can’t I get the next train. He can’t pick me up because he’s had a bottle of claret with his dinner. And you know Mum doesn’t drive.”

Now Greg’s voice: “Give me the phone.” rustle rustle. “Hi Des. Sorry we got delayed. It was either the late performance or nothing. Great show though. Carol really enjoyed it. She can stay here no problem. The spare room’s fine. I’ve got sheets and everything. She can get the train back in the morning. I’ll accompany her if you like.”

Long silence.

Greg again, “I understand your concerns… Mona’s. You can reassure her I’ll stay with Carol and we’ll come together in the morning so we’ll be there about midday. I’ve got some ideas for a mod you might like.”

Silence, then Greg whispering, “He still wants you to go home tonight. Says get a taxi from here, all the way to Guildford. That would cost a fortune…. just a minute…. “ now in normal voice: “Really Des, she’ll be absolutely fine. Tell Mona I won’t let her out of my sight. It would be bonkers to get a taxi…  anyhow, she’s very tired and ready for bed. Even a taxi would take an hour, and it’s nearly 10 now.”

Another long silence.

Greg’s voice again, whispering “They’re discussing it.”, then louder, sounding bright, “That’s great, Des. Well done.” Again in a whisper: “He’s managed to persuade her.”

“Amazing.” Carol whispers back, “Who’d believe it? She can’t possibly know what’s going on, however much she suspects. But I am 22 after all. She can’t keep me in cotton wool all my life. I’m tired of telling her but she never listens. ”

Greg again: “See you about midday then. We’ll get the 11.10 from Hersham.”

Silence then clicks and Carol laughs and says: “Do you know what you said?”

“What do you mean?”

“You said: ‘I’ll stay with Carol and we’ll come together in the morning’, then you said, ‘I won’t let her out of my sight.’ And then, ‘She’s ready for bed.’ Talk about ambiguous! Statements like that… even Dad might twig something.”

“Did I really say that: ‘I’ll stay with you and we’ll come together in the morning’?” He laughs.

“It’s called Freudian slips.”

“Well, it’s true anyway I hope.”

“Now it is…” a pause, several sucking sounds…. Then, “Dad’s so incredibly naïve, nothing like Mum but he always backs her. I’m really amazed at you thinking I was so innocent all that time, I mean all those trips to the theatre and you protected me like I was still a kid. All those years!

“You were innocent for most of them.”

“Until I was about 18… which is incredible in itself. But that was more than 4-years ago for Christ’s sake!”

“I’m worried about your mum. She’s distrustful of everyone. With you staying over like this she’ll be really hyped-up and vigilant.”

“You don’t have to tell me that.”

“Will you be able to handle it?”

“She must surely see I’m not still a little girl. I’ve read a few books and left them around, things like Miller’s ‘Quiet Days in Clichy’.”

“She wouldn’t know about that stuff, not with her puritanical madness. She’s probably scared to even open a book by Miller.”

“Or the opposite. People like her secretly scour the most depraved depths for clues of what they see as corrupt material. She’s always searching my room. I’ve given up leaving little clues that give her away and then challenging her. In my opinion she’s more twisted than anyone she condemns.”

“And to think.” Says Greg, “How I was always scared of doing or saying anything that might seem risqué or intimate with you because your dad trusted me and you might have reported back. That would have meant an end to the theatre trips… scarcely to think about our business relationship. We were friends way back before he even met your mum.”

“What about me?” snaps Carol, “I used to think of you as a kind uncle, cultured and decent and totally sexless…. Ha, ha, ha… but that was years ago. Didn’t you think I must have noticed and wondered about how you looked at me sometimes... in fact have always looked at me I now realise? You can’t hide the way your pupils dilate. But I was scared too. For all I could tell, if I’d responded you might have gone spouting to Dad that I was some kind of tease or a tart. Even if you hadn’t, there was always the risk of you making some accidental remark and betraying me. You wouldn’t have been alert to that, probably, not having to live with them like I do.”

“Well, luckily at last I caved-in and it’s all history now,’ says Greg with a sigh, then adds exuberantly, “Since exactly a month ago to the day. Who’d believe it? It’s really incredible.”

“I know. I’ve never felt so happy, but I’m scared too of what might happen. Why did you wait so long, though? You should have caved-in, as you put it, years ago.”

“It wasn’t easy.” says Greg, “I had to think of the business. And there’s Milly of course. Until a few months ago we were always close, but she’s gone cold on me lately. I guess that made me a bit kind-of lonely.”

“Do you think she’s found someone else too?”

“No, that’s not it. I’d definitely know if it was. We still get on otherwise. She’s the same age as me…. that’s the problem.”

“Oh, I see. The dreaded menopause?”

“She mustn’t find out about us. That would be really terrible.”

“Well, I suppose her situation has done us a favour at any rate. But I’m scared. A couple of days ago oozing with suspicion Mum asked why I was so happy. I told her I was looking forward to some boring book convention scheduled for next week. I’d come here except she’ll want to know about it.”

“It’s really hard to imagine what best to do.” Says Greg, “We just have to stay calm for the moment, play it as it goes and avoid doing anything that might cause them to suspect more than they do already.”

Glasses clinked then slurping and fumbling sounds, probably kissing and petting… or maybe my imagination was going out on a limb?

I thought: if someone blind can decipher all these sounds, then maybe it was something that with practice even I might learn to master.

“Let’s celebrate our first night together.” Says Carol, “It should be better than doing it in the afternoons.”

“Why better?”

“Because you’re tired you won’t come so soon.” they laughed. “I have a Jewish friend,” Carol goes on, “She says that’s why their women insist boys get circumcised.”

“Bloody glad I’m not Jewish.”

They both laughed again and were they kissing again? The kissing, if that’s what it was, was intermittent and frequent. I didn’t pay much attention to the next half-hour, but left the PC on. At about 11.15 when I went to turn everything off, they seemed to be just getting into bed. Some sharp noises then the rustling stopped. Obviously, he’d removed the watch. So I sat and listened a bit more. Soft noises, mumbling and moaning….and soon vigorous movement that went on for a while with gasps and other sounds, ending with fast breathing…. then silence. I hit the off switch and went to bed telling myself I really shouldn’t be doing this.

By the time I turned the PC on the next day they were on the train. I could barely hear what they were saying, just the occasional mumble. With the noise of the train almost everything they said was incoherent. The impression from what I could decipher was that they were deciding how best to conduct themselves on arrival.

If they try too hard, I reflected, they’re not going to act naturally. Considering how parents - especially these, at least Mona so it seemed – are likely to be hyper-sensitive to the most minuscule nuance of behaviour, they could be crossing a minefield. I guess they’d had a drink after the show and Greg was feeling excessively confident. I mean, to suggest going home with Carol so they’d be there together was surely asking for trouble with their relationship now so profoundly altered. The slightest hint of anything between them would be a clear giveaway. But then, after attending more than a decade of top theatre productions they might have learned a few techniques and avoid any pitfalls?

Now they were walking. I could hear birds, and wind blowing in trees. They weren’t saying much. Nervous idle fragments was all: how cold it was, all the leaves on the road…

Then crunching gravel. A door opening...

“Hello Darling.” A mature woman’s voice, I assume Mona, “Are you alright, you look a bit drained?”

“I don’t think she slept too well,” comes Greg’s voice, amidst indoor echoes, “I’d forgotten my spare bed sags a bit.”

“It was fine.” says Carol, now in her namby-pamby tone, “So am I. Can we have a coffee? Coffee Greg?”

“OK, thanks.”

Indistinct clinking and knocking…

Greg says, “I’ll see if I can find your dad.”

“He’s in the garden.” comes Mona’s distant voice, as if from another room.

Rustles and clicks, then the echo is gone. He must be outside. He calls, “Hi Des, how’ya doin’?”

A distant indistinct response. Now a soft sound like eating, which I assume is Greg walking across a lawn…. Several minutes pass, then Mona’s voice, a distant shout. “Desmond come here! Quickly!” A second later, louder, “Desmond! Desmond!”

“What’s happened?” shouts Greg, amid fast soft sounds, is he running back to the house?

“Don’t!” shrieks Carol, “Don’t. Just don’t!”

“You stay out of it.” snaps Mona, and shouts again, “Desmond!”

Heavy walking sounds getting louder, then, “What?” now it’s Des who’s voice I still recognise from nearly 3-decades ago.

“Just you stay there.” growls Mona.

“Why?” says Greg, “What’s going on?”

“Don’t talk to her.” Carol screams, hysterically.

“You keep quiet.” blasts Mona.

More footsteps then Desmond’s voice very loud, “What the hell’s the issue here? What’s happened?”

They all seem to be in the house now.

“Only that your wonderful loyal trusted business partner and friend,” bellows Mona in a wild bluster, “is seducing our daughter!”

“He’s not!” screams Carol, “He’s not!”

“Well are you?” says Des.

“Of course not.” Says Greg. “ I don’t know how Mona can think it.”

“I don’t think it,” Mona snaps, her voice rising, “I know it! Don’t you think I don’t know my own daughter? I know when she’s lying. I know every little inflexion in her voice and what it means. You think I’m stupid, but I know what’s going on. She can’t hide a thing like that!”

“You’re insane!” screams Carol.

“So there’s really nothing between you and Carol?” says Des.

“So what if there is?” says Greg, “She’s a grown woman, can’t you see?”

Is he caving-in to Mona’s incredible confidence in what she’s somehow discerned from her precious Carol? And what was Carol’s mistake that gave her away?

“What do you mean: ‘So what if there is’?” says Des, “Is there or isn’t there?”

“You’ve got it all wrong.” says Greg, “How can you come to such a ludicrous conclusion? Besides, she could have got married all of 6-years ago.”

“To someone her own age, perhaps!” barks Mona, “Not to what we thought of as a trusted companion more than twice her age. It doesn’t bear thinking about.”

“Did I say I wanted to marry her?” says Greg.

“Get out of this house.” screams Mona, “Just get out!”

Then sounds like a saucepan clattering and banging, and hurrying footsteps.

“Hey!” Des shouts, “Careful with that!”

“Leave him!” shrieks Carol with a frenzied yelp, “Leave him alone!”

Gravel crunches as if from the wild movements of multiple feet, like a whole crowd of people jostling madly.

“Look,” says Greg, in a desperate voice, “You don’t understand. It isn’t like you think, believe me.”

“You deal with this.” blurts Mona, her voice rasping, “Just deal with it.”

“OK, OK” says Des, then exasperatedly, “We trusted you, don’t you see? We trusted you and all the time you’ve been fucking my daughter!”

“You don’t have to use that language.”

“Sorry dear.”

“Just deal with it will you!”

“I am…” says Des, “I don’t want you seeing her again. And don’t come here again either. Now get out. Go!”

“What about the units, the business?” shouts Greg, his voice inflected with panic.

“You can forget all that,” roars Mona, now sounding distant, “Do as he says. GO!”

The gravel crunches wildly again.

“Watch out!” yells Des, from far away, “Not my fork. You might kill him.”

“Do I care?” cries Mona in a vicious growl.

There’s a series of scuffles and grunts, all the while with Carol’s voice screaming frantically and incoherently in the background. Then loud and close Greg shrieks as if in pain. Several people seem to be running on the gravel now. Then just one person is running, and seconds later feet striking a hard surface in a strange rhythm like fast skipping, with out-of-breath panting and occasional gasps. This continues for a few minutes, then slows to sounds of unsteady walking with loud breathing and every now and then Greg’s voice muttering, “Christ!…Oh Christ!…” A moment later there’s several clicks, followed by Greg’s voice again, “Taxi from… I think it’s Cowbeach road please…”

I listened a bit longer till I heard him get in the taxi and that was all. Then I turned the PC off.

About 3-hours later when I got back to it, I could only hear exaggerated echoes with low background mumbling of voices. Was he at one of the big London railway terminals? Then a woman said: “Mr White, you can go through now.”

Shortly Greg said, “It was a garden fork and I think it’s quite deep. You can’t see much. It looked dirty.”

I listened for 10 or so minutes, before getting out for a run. Obviously, he’d gone to an A&E with a hole in his leg, presumably from Mona wielding Des’s garden fork.  

When I returned sometime later there were only street sounds and of someone, presumably Greg with his damaged leg, walking asymmetrically. Eventually Greg’s voice, loud and inflected with astonishment, “How did you get here?”

From far away comes Carol’s response, “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been waiting ages.”

“How did you get away?” says Greg now at normal volume.

Background sounds told me they were entering Greg’s flat.

 “I just grabbed a few things and went down the garden,” Carol says, “over the fence and across fields to the road and along to where my friend Clyde lives who I know from the Steiner school. Dad drove past looking for me. I heard his car coming and ducked in a hedge.”

“He didn’t call there then, where your friend lives?”

“Yeah, but I waited till he’d gone. Then after Clyde had told his laid-back mum what had happened, she drove me to Berwick station. Dad might have been waiting for me at Polegate.”

“He’ll come looking for you here.” Says Greg, “Maybe he’s been here already?”

A door slammed and sounds became muted.

“I'd have seen him if he had,” Says Carol, “ but he could turn-up at any moment. What are we going to do?”

“You can’t stay here.”

“What do you mean: ‘I can’t stay here’? Nor can you! Whether I’m here or not, he’ll think you know where I am.”

“We’ll have to find a hotel.” Says Greg, “Maybe we don’t have much time.”

“Where else would he check?” says Carol,

“I can’t believe Des would bother.” Says Greg, amidst several clicks, “Look, he’s tried phoning here several times too.”

“He’s following orders. And Mum keeps trying to call my mobile. I’ve blocked her, but I’d talk to Dad. At least he can be reasoned with.”

“Either way, I’ll go and get stuff for overnight and we’d better get going in case. I guess you’ve got what you need in your backpack?”

“I’m not stupid.” Says Carol, distantly and hardly audible. She says something else I can’t hear. Then the phone chirps just once, again distantly, and Carol’s voice: “Hi.” She says, followed by indistinct speech.

“Don’t answer it?” shouts Greg.

“I thought it was Dad.” says Carol a few seconds later, getting louder, then in a whisper, “It’s Milly.”

“Give it to me.” Says Greg. There’s anger in his voice. “Hi Milly…” he says, now in a soft amiable tone, “No it’s no one…. It’s the girlfriend of a friend…. He’s not here….. No… Look it’s not anything…. “ long pause, Greg whispers irritably, “ You shouldn’t have answered it, she’s really distraught…. Gawd, this is fucking terrible.” Now louder, but affable again, “I said I’d be there tomorrow, well I can come earlier…. No. You can’t do that. You’ve got it all wrong. This is crazy….. OK, I’ll be there about 10 am. OK.”

There’s a click then Carol says, “I’m sorry, I really thought it was Dad trying again.”

“This is turning into a bloody nightmare.”

“Don’t be like that.” says Carol in a sulky tone.

“Sorry, but everything seems to be falling apart.” Says Greg, “And I think it would be better if you didn’t speak to your dad just yet. He’ll know you’re safe if with me.”

At that point the buzzer goes.

“Oh Christ, do you think it’s him?” says Carol.

A few seconds later Greg says quietly, “It’s him and he’s looking up here. He can’t see me, though. We’d better wait till he’s gone then go via the fire escape at the back and just hope he isn’t round there waiting for us.”

“Shouldn’t we wait till it gets dark?”

“That’s more than an hour away. He won’t hang about that long. If he does we can’t put any lights on.”

“Like I said.” Says Carol, “He’ll do what he thinks Mum would want him to do. Unless he’s sensible and tells her later he stayed when he didn’t.”

“I reckon he’ll do that.” says Greg, “He’s not stupid. My guess is he’ll kill an hour or so somewhere more comfortable than standing outside here then go home and say we never turned up.”

The buzzer went again. “I’d give him five minutes then he’ll be gone. Keep watching and see which way he goes.”

“He’s going already,” says Greg, “walking towards the town. There’s no telling if he’ll come back? But I say we leave now, get everything you want. I know a little hotel on the north of Acton Park only about a mile from Milly’s flat. I’ll give them a call.”

Then someone rang my doorbell. Bloody Jehovah Witnesses. A few minutes later I turned the PC off and decided to attend to my own affairs for a while instead of lamenting on poor old Greg’s. I couldn’t stop turning his situation over in my head, though, trying to think a way out of all the hassle he’d landed in. Not that I could do anything to influence the situation. What might happen next? It was like a gripping novel…. a forbidden one too; I felt a clear sense of guilt eavesdropping like this. Then I thought: what if he comes down here? Sure I could accommodate them. It would be a pleasure. It would bring a sparkle of intrigue and interest. Should I give him a call, I wondered? Not that I’d reveal anything about what I was doing, just ask how things were, any chance of him visiting again soon? A casual gesture of invitation might work? Then I decided he’d probably suspect something weird, especially from me; I’d make a lousy actor and would doubtless give myself away with some ineptly chosen word or suggestion. I thought, if he asks then I’ll offer, as would any friend worthy of the title, but otherwise stay out of it.

But I was already involved in a way. I didn’t wake till about 10 the next morning. I’m always late on Mondays. I remembered something was supposed to happen at 10am so went straight and turned the PC on.

There was an argument going on, amid street sounds, car engines and people walking. A woman was shouting from a distance. “Just take your stuff and go.”

And Greg’s voice, “You don’t understand. Let me in. I can’t carry all this. Lucky it isn’t raining or everything would be ruined.”

“Just go, and don’t come back till it’s over,” shouted the woman, “Then if your lucky I might think about it.” This was followed by what sounded like a window slamming, and Greg making a long slow groan of anguish and clicking sounds.

“Taxi to Acton Park, please.” Said Greg, in a dismal tone.

I made a cuppa and got something to eat, which took about 20-mins, then I heard Carol. “How did it go? What happened? You look terrible.”

“Thanks a lot.” Said Greg, “I bloody feel terrible. Who were you on the phone to?”

“I was just keeping Clyde up to date. He’s concerned about me. But aren’t you glad we’re together at last? We can start a new life.”

“Of course I’m glad we’re together. It’s everything else that’s a problem.”

“Don’t let it be a problem.” said Carol, sounding uncharacteristically mature and confident, “We can’t go back, only forward. We’ll work things out. In the meantime why not be cheerful and look at the positives?”

“It’s easy for you.” Says Greg, “What about the business, I mean with your dad?”

“Maybe you’ll have to shelve it, your side of it.”

“Then what do we do?”

“Dad seemed to be making quite a bit, so I guess you were too. How about us going on an extended holiday, travel in exotic places. We could have the time of our lives…”

“And afterwards?”

“Afterwards…” says Carol, “ can be sorted when we come to it. Maybe settle in another country, or in some other part of the UK. With your experience you can start-up a new outfit making or selling something or other. With me involved, we could really flourish. You know I have experience in creative design and art and so on, but I can do loads of things, even accounts if necessary.”

“You make it sound easy.”

“It is.” Says Carol, “If you decide to make it so.”

“What about your parents?”

“What about them? So what if I don’t see them for a few years? That would suit me fine. Of course, I’ll keep them updated, but won’t tell them where I am. Maybe in my absence they’ll start to appreciate me at last and realise I’m an adult with a mind of my own? Do you know why they called me Carol?”

“No idea.”  Says Greg, “Is it relevant?”

“You know when my birthday is.”

“December 19th. So?”

“Exactly!” snaps Carol, “ Mum told me back when I was about ten. It just shows her level of wit…. or intellect.”

“Christmas Carol… ha.. ha.” Laughs Greg, “Fucking brilliant. I like it. At least they have a sense of humour.”

“At my expense!” says Carol, crossly.

“What’s wrong with Carol anyway? I think it’s fine.”

“Why couldn’t they have called me something more elegant and cultured like Siobhan or Michelle or maybe Charlotte, which is the French for Carol?”

“Siobhan…” says Greg, “sounds like some kind of van.”

“That’s charabanc you’re thinking of,” laughs Carol, “which is French too. It means car with seats, as if there there’s cars without seats. Why don’t we start in France?”

“You’re rushing ahead.” Sighs Greg, “Less than 24-hours ago everything was OK. This time yesterday we hadn’t even arrived at your place, and all that trouble hadn’t happened.”

“Believe me, everything wasn’t OK.” Says Carol, “I’m certain Mum twigged several weeks ago, the way she began giving me cold stares. She was just waiting for when we were there together. She’s been hyper alert for years and must have noticed a subtle change in me. How could anyone not be profoundly affected by a sudden romance like ours so long delayed?”

“I suppose it was just a matter of time.”

“Besides, I can’t see how deciding what to do now is rushing ahead. What would you suggest we do then?”

“I could tell you why I was called Greg.”

“In the circumstances, I can’t believe you said that.” snaps Carol.

“Gregory Peck.”

“Wasn’t he some film star way back….?”

“Before your time.” Says Greg, “He played a lawyer who rescued an innocent black guy accused of rape from a lynching. My mum’s favourite film.”

“I know that one.” Says Carol, “We did it at school. It’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee.”

“Did you know she never gave an interview?”

“I guess she was shy or didn’t want the hassle.”

“She reputedly based the story on an actual case where her dad was the attorney. It’s said the most boring section in the book is an exact transcript of the original which her dad must have taken from the court but never returned because no researcher has ever been able to locate it.”

“You mean that’s why she kept a low profile?”

“Probably,” says Greg, “It would have been the first thing any reporter would ask about. I suppose it was a kind-of plagiarism. More serious would be the theft and illegal copying of a court document.”

There was a knock and a click and a woman said, “Sorry, I thought this room would be vacated.”

“That’s OK.” Says Carol, “Can we stay another night?”

“I don’t know.” Says Greg, “OK, we’d better stay, till tomorrow anyway.”

“I’ll inform reception before they take another booking.” Says the woman.

“Thanks.” Says Greg, “You can leave the room as it is.”

Another click, then ticking sounds and rustling…. are they snogging again?

“How wonderful it would be to go to Paris?” says Carol, “I feel excited already.”

“I hope you remembered your passport.”

“It’s the only thing I made certain to bring.” Says Carol, “I’ve been keeping it hidden for ages. I knew Mum was looking for it and would have stopped me having it if she’d found it. I told her I’d lost it. I know she didn’t believe me but what could she do? Can we go tomorrow?”

“We need to think about what to do,” says Greg, ”but I suppose there’s no harm in spending a few days in Paris. It’ll be a chance to relax and recover from all the turmoil, think things over rationally, weigh-up the options.”

It was getting on for lunchtime and as usual I had things to do so it wasn’t till about 15.00 when I got back to the PC.

A long silence with low ambience, then several minutes of clicking sounds and Greg said, “Cheap flights to Paris tomorrow are all booked up. There’s a few pricey ones. How about a couple of weeks in Tenerife? There’s a really cheap offer on for tomorrow.”

“OK. Great.” Says Carol, “We can do Paris another time.”

“I’m booking it now.” Says Greg, then a minute later, “Good, that’s settled then. It’s 14.40 from Gatwick, so we’d better leave here soon after 11.00.”

“Have you got the flight number?” says Carol, “And I really need a new pair of shoes.”

That’s when my phone rang. It was the neighbour complaining about my dustbins being blown over their side of the drive. I had to go out and sort it, so missed what happened next. When I got back to it there were street sounds and walking, then muted squeaking and those muffled echoes that I guessed was them entering a shop.

Eventually Carol says, “These look nice.” then after a delay, “And these. I’ll try some on?”

“They’re a bit expensive, but why not?” said Greg. Then all I could hear for several minutes was rustling and bumping and disjointed murmuring.

“This might take awhile,” says Carol, “getting shoes is always difficult. If you want to go off and come back later I don’t mind… I don't suppose I could borrow some money?”

“I tell you what," Greg says, "you’d better have my debit card. The number’s 3**7. I’m going to look around a bit and I’ll see you back at the hotel, OK?”

I listened a bit longer. All I could hear was general ambience interspersed with indistinct voices. I soon got bored and turned the PC off. Teatime was approaching anyway and I needed to do a bit of shopping. It was about 20.30 when I got back to the PC only to hear loads of clicking… which I imagined was Greg searching around on his smart-phone.

And I’d turned it on at just the right moment because suddenly, making me jump, Greg cries, “What the hell have you been doing with my card? It says you spent £80 on the shoes, £150 on another air ticket and withdrew £700… what the..?”

“Stop!” yelps Carol, “Stop. If you want I’ll walk out of here now and you needn’t see me again… ever!”

“OK OK.” Greg sighs, “Just calm down and tell me what’s going on for Christ’s sake.”

“Me calm down?” snaps Carol, “What about you?”

“I’m calm now, so tell me….”

There’s a gloomy silence, then Carol says, “Clyde is coming too, that’s all. He needed to buy a few things. And I know you’re loaded, so you shouldn’t complain. He’s been like a brother to me.”

“I wondered why you wanted the flight details,” says Greg, “Why didn’t you tell me then?”

“You might not have agreed is why.”

“It’s a bit sneaky doing it like that.”

“Like I say, I’ll go if you want.”

“What’s happened to make you take that attitude? It says a lot about what you feel for me right now.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” bleats Carol, with a big sob, “I’m so sorry. It’s all a huge upheaval.” She adds sobbing deeply, “I just feel so stressed. Poor Dad will be frantic with worry. I just don’t know if what we’re doing is right.”

“I’m sorry too.” Says Greg, softly, “I couldn’t care less about the money, and it’ll be great to have Clyde come along. For you at least, it’ll be a big help. I see that now. It was a bit of a shock is all. I’m sorry I reacted like that.”

Within seconds sounds of what I could only imagine was snogging. After several minutes it changed to vigorous rustling and bumping…  were they fucking again, who could say? I was still learning to interpret the plethora of weird noises and subtle inflections in ambience.

Tuesday morning I’d promised a friend a lift to a hospital outpatient appointment, so it wasn’t till around lunchtime when I put the PC on for a listen to how things were going. I assumed they’d be at Gatwick by then, and the sounds tallied fine with strong echoes and muted talking that was mostly undecipherable.

I wondered if I’d hear a new voice, presumably Clyde’s, but when I’d heard nothing coherent for more than an hour I gave up, turned the PC off and went out.

When I returned about 16.30: the sound was blank! Nothing. No ambience, no background, no sound of anything. I checked the PC. It was fine. The iwatch, so it seemed, had gone dead. Of course, I thought, they’d be in the air now for at least a couple of hours. I’ll try again after tea. When I switched it all on again, still blank nothing. I checked at around 23.00. Again total silence. Obviously, the hacking failed to extend beyond national boundaries. So that was the end of my little excursion into the subversive realms of eavesdropping; and a great source of entertainment it was too. I felt quite sad and missed it like I’d miss the company of a welcome guest… hardly to mention my ongoing curiosity about how Greg’s impromptu holiday was transpiring. I tried again a few days later and then a whole month later when I assumed they’d be back in the UK. Just more blanks. Maybe they’d taken that delayed trip to Paris? A month after that still the line was dead. And it remained dead. I even re-entered the codes several months on, again with no success. That’s when I decided to abandon the quest. Either they were still abroad, Greg had changed the codes, or maybe had broken or sold the watch? Whatever the explanation, that was decidedly the end. It was at that point when I reflected that the eavesdropping had lasted only a minuscule five days. Just five brief days of drama, then no more Greg…. That is, until last week. I’d been more than a bit astonished to see from the postmark he was still in Tenerife!

This morning at last a phone call. Finally, he’d decided to call - from Tenerife; I knew from the Spanish code on the number display. For a few minutes it was like old times, as if only a few weeks had elapsed since our previous exchange. I pressed ‘record’ on the answer-phone. Our conversation went as follows:

“Where have you been?” I said, “And thanks for the card. Are you still in Tenerife?”

“Been here about a year.” He said, tiredly, “It’s great for swimming and exotic flora.”

“I never knew you were into either.” I said, “Have you still got that iwatch?”

“Ah, so it was you hacking me then? I knew someone was. I guess you could see the codes on that video you took?”

“I didn’t think you’d noticed. After nothing for ages I was reminiscing, that’s all. When I saw the codes I thought I’d just see if it was possible. After that, well… I only dipped in for a few minutes here and there.”

“I guess I’d have done the same.” Said Greg, “I’ve no idea what you picked-up, but whatever you know from that is nothing to what happened once we got out here.”

“Go on.”

“Carol… I guess you heard some of her… she fleeced me for almost a grand the day before we flew out here. My own stupid fault, of course. Then a few days later when we moved from a hotel to a rented apartment she took me for another grand. Wheedled under the pretext of settling the deposit. I was half sozzled at the time; why I trusted her after she’d organised Clyde’s clandestine presence still baffles me. Lust, I guess, in a weak moment? You know about Clyde?”

“I heard the name.”

“That’s one of Carol’s key skills: timing…. spotting the precise moment to gain full advantage. Then three days later, would you believe, she decides to slope off with Clyde. When I protested she explained casually they were merely exercising their ‘ethical individualism’. Pablo, the landlord, called a week later for the deposit. They’re very slack in Tenerife when out of season. Luckily Pablo’s a brilliant guy, speaks good English and we’re great friends. If it weren’t for him, I’d probably have returned to the UK by now despite everything. Are you coming out here then?”

Unsure, I said, “So you’re on your own now?”

“Yes and no.” he said, “At present yes. Anyhow, you haven’t heard half of it. She was back here weeping like a lost waif a few weeks later when Clyde, who’s bisexual and very good looking, was seduced and ‘whisked away’, as Carol described it, by a Spanish guy appropriately called Salvador.”

“Where is she now then?” I said.

“She’s with some wealthy French guy, François, about ten years her senior living on his big luxury yacht out in the bay. He’s a body-builder too and competes in shows. Carol returns here now and then when he treats her badly, neglects her and suchlike as she sees it. Probably he’s just busy with other issues and doesn’t give her the undivided attention she demands and expects. She goes back soon enough when he calls her or if she gets fed-up with me. Apparently Clyde also fancied this guy, not that he’s remotely interested in Clyde, she tells me. Last week it was Clyde at my door needing consoling, almost in despair. It was pitiful! So then he was here for several days. I gave him a bit to tide him over, then he went back to his digs up the road or to Salvador’s in the next village. You wouldn’t believe how insane people can get when they have nothing to do, nothing to engage what little deranged intellect they might have!”

“How do you live? How do you survive financially?”

“Pablo is amazingly generous, we have great conversations like you and me used to have. You’d really like Pablo. He says I can pay him when I like, whatever, including utilities. But I’m OK. After Carol went off with Clyde, I called Des to apologise. He’s a very decent guy Des. For a fee he got some outfit to take over what I was doing, and each month pays me my share minus what the outfit charges. So I’m doing fine. Apparently, Des well knew what Carol was up to, what she was like. He knew Clyde was fucking her right from when she was around 16. There were others too, he said. He divulged all this in that first call. I was astonished. The Steiner school Mona had been so keen on for Carol had informed Des of what was going on. He’d told them it would mean disaster if they revealed it to Mona so she remained in ignorance.”

“Bloody hell.”

“There’s more.” Said Greg in an ominous tone, then laughed and added, “A lot more. Wait till you get here, OK. Are you coming?”

“You bet!”

“Great!” cries Greg, “You won’t regret it, believe me. It’s been and still is for me a roller-coaster but now I feel renewed, rejuvenated. Back in London with everything orderly and predictable and easy I was kind-of dying inside. Now I feel alive… hassle, uncertainty, nothing! I owe Carol. And Clyde too. Their wayward performances, unwitting though the outcomes have been, have opened my eyes. The old slogan ‘You have one life, live it’ is spot-on. When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow if I can get a flight.”

Greg gave me directions, and I’ve just been on the web and bought a ticket, going tomorrow. Never mind ‘out of season’, never mind upheavals, expense and any other inconvenience, I anticipate a week (or who knows how long?) sharing some of Greg’s anarchic bliss, listening to weird erotic tales, perhaps even partaking in them, and losing myself in a void of ecstasy and freedom!

So long folks….