The British operation of Frontiere had been set up two years earlier but the plans had actually been drawn up three years before that. It was after the 1979 election that Everard Hinchcliffe decided that Britain needed to be carefully watched. Up until then the British had posed no threat to New Zealand’s way of life (apart from when they raped, murdered and pillaged their way through the indigenous population in the 19th Century), but after they had voted Margaret Thatcher into power there was no telling what they would do next.
It was a cold day during the last week of November in 1985 when the head of operations at the Braintree Branch of Frontiere greeted Jim on his arrival with a warm handshake, a smile and a quiet, almost imperceptible, growl.
“Welcome, Jim,” he said in an unmistakeable Kiwi accent. “I’m John Smith.”
“Hi,” Jim replied cheerfully. “You’re from New Zealand.”
“That’s right, Jim. I hope everything has been to your liking. Peter was pleasant on your arrival I trust.”
“Oh yes, he was just fine.”
“He didn’t foist any of his philosophical wisdom onto you or your wife, then.”
“Because he can get carried away sometimes; isn’t that right Peter?”
“Yes, Mr Smith,” said Peter, looking faintly embarrassed.
“He was absolutely charming, Mr Smith,” confirmed Jim.
“Call me John, Jim.”
John Smith winced. “Actually, come to think of it, I’d prefer it if you called me Mr Smith after all. It’s nothing personal – it just maintains a modicum of discipline throughout the rank structure here. I mean, I wouldn’t want the cleaners calling me John, now would I Jim?”
“You’re absolutely correct, Mr Smith. In fact, from now on I’d like you to address me as Mr Friteuse.”
“There’s no need to take that attitude. We’re a big happy family here, aren’t we Peter?”
“If you say so, Mr Smith.”
“I do say so. In fact I want everyone to start calling me John from now on – and that includes the cleaners!”
“Are you sure?” asked Peter.
“Yes . . . err . . . no . . . forget what I just said. I want everyone to go back to calling me Mr Smith – especially the cleaners!”
“I doubt if any of the cleaners heard you,” said Jim.”
“I can’t take any chances. If just one of them heard – well – there’d be anarchy, wouldn’t there?”
“I don’t think it would go that far.”
“Are you certain about that, Peter?”
“Well, nobody can be absolutely certain about anything, can they?”
“No, I suppose not.”John Smith looked up into the air, as if searching for some divine guidance. “Maybe I should ask Miss Yip’s advice.”
Peter Perkins smiled. “Yes,” he said. “Maybe you should.”
“Miss Yip!” called Mr Smith.
A young Chinese woman of about twenty-five emerged from an office nearby. “Yes, Mr Smith,” she called. Jim registered from her accent that she was, like Mr Smith, another New Zealander.
“Who’s Miss Yip?” he asked Peter Perkins.
“She’s his assistant,” replied Peter, “and I think I’m in love with her.”
Miss Yip was an absolutely beautiful woman, with shoulder length jet black hair, high cheekbones and a ready smile, although the fact that she was Asian and about half Peter’s age was probably a contributing factor to his infatuation with her.
“Miss Yip,” said Mr Smith. “I’m in a bit of a quandary – a few moments ago I mentioned that everyone could call me John, but then I changed my mind and said everyone had to call me Mr Smith. Now I’m not certain whether any of the cleaners heard my first directive, but if they did and they didn’t hear my second directive, there’s every chance they may call me John at some point in the day. Now, do you think I ought to release a statement to the entire workforce, possibly in the form of an internal memo, explaining that from this moment on they should all address me as Mr Smith regardless of anything they might have heard.”
Miss Yip rolled her eyes and flattened down her Puffball skirt. “Mr Smith,” she said, “Now why don’t you go to your office and I’ll deal with Mr Friteuse.”
“But . . .”
“Stop fretting about trivial things; you know how they upset you. I’ve put this week’s copy of 2000AD on your desk – that should keep you occupied for the rest of the morning.”
“But . . .”
“No more buts, Mr Smith. Off you go. It’s my job to sort out things like this.”
Mr Smith turned around and made his way back to his office.
“Well, that was interesting,” said Jim. “If you don’t mind me asking; who is actually in charge of this place?”
“We were supposed to come over here to work as partners, but as things turned out Mr Smith was in no fit state to run anything.”
“No, I don’t think you do see. In the end he sent here for rest and recuperation after he suffered from a complete nervous breakdown. He’s harmless really, but as you’ve just seen he does need some guidance from time to time.”
“What happened to him?”
“It’s a long story,” sighed Miss Yip, “and I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until Chapter 14 to hear about it.”
“Oh, right,” said Jim, not fully understanding Miss Yip’s answer.
“Come on,” said Miss Yip cheerfully. “Let me give you a tour of the place.”
“Sounds good to me.”
As they began walking Miss Yip turned to Peter. “Thanks for meeting Mr Friteuse last night and getting him settled in, but I don’t think I’ll be needing you here anymore.
“OK,” said Peter. “I’ll get back to my desk, then."
After Peter had disappeared, Miss Yip enquired, “So you’re the famous Jim Friteuse.”
“I wouldn’t say famous.”
“There’s no need to be so coy with me, Jim – after all you’re the man who can identify over a thousand different dairy products by smell alone – even Egyptian and Australian cheeses.”
“Well, Australia’s easy – there’s only Bitey.”
“And you can also use you amazing olfactory senses to judge when a cheese is at its optimum maturity.”
“Well, erm . . .”
“Like it or not, Jim, you are regarded as something of a legend in the world of cheese. Cheese-fanciers all over the world are in awe of you. I’m just disappointed that you haven’t brought Claire along with you today.”
“Durr . . . Cooking With Cans of course. . . it’s a smash hit with Kiwis all over the world. We got the show recorded onto Betamax tapes and shipped over to us. She’s an absolute genius – I mean, the way she uses the Branbatia is like, well it’s almost balletic. I’d always used the Butterfly until Claire showed me how easy the Brabantia was. My RSI has almost disappeared as a result and there must be hundreds more women just as grateful as I am. Do you think there could be a chance of meeting her – maybe she’d be kind enough to sign my copy of Cooking From A Can. It was a godsend for busy working women like me – I use it all the time, you know. I can barely read the Gourmet Baked Beans on Toast recipe anymore because of all the rich tomato sauce stains I’ve splashed onto that page, and her Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney Pie, Tinned New Potatoes and Batchelor’s Marrowfat Peas recipe is simply orgasmic!”
“Err, yes,” mumbled Jim, thinking that he’d better change the subject, “So, Mr Smith used to be a Big Top agent before his breakdown . . .”
“Of course, yes; and a damn good one at that,” Miss Yip replied, “but you shouldn’t mention the Big Top in his presence. It’s just the sort of thing that might tip him over the edge again. The day-to-day operation of the factory here keeps his mind focussed. And his weekly copy of 2000AD, of course.”
“It’s a comic, and a very violent one at that. But the violence seems to soothe him.”
“Oh . . . right.”
“Look, just so you know – Mr Smith was assigned to infiltrate a so-called new religion movement, which turned out to contain some very manipulative and ultimately very nasty people in New Zealand. He was once one of the Big Top’s top agents, although you wouldn’t believe it by looking at him now. It was the people that he got himself mixed up with while he was in deep cover that created the man you saw earlier.”
“But who were they?”
“You don’t even want to know, but if you’ve ever heard about or tried to read the book Diuretics you’ll know who I’m talking about.”
|The book that started a cult|
Jim felt a shiver run down his spine. “I’ve never heard of them.”
Miss Yip laughed. “Very good, Jim. I like your sense of humour.”
“No,” said Jim, “that wasn’t a joke – I actually have no idea who or what you’re talking about. But for Mr Smith’s sake I promise I won’t say anything about whatever it was you were talking about.”
“Good,” said Miss Yip. “Now, shall we continue?”
They stopped at a large metal door a key pad next to it. Miss Yip typed in a four-digit code and the door opened with a ttttshhhh. “This door is airtight to eliminate the risk of any bacteria entering the room. We have to be very careful, especially when employing the locals. All the men had to be sent on a two-day course to teach them how to wash their hands after going to the toilet.”
The aroma of several different types of cheese in various stages of maturity wafted up Jim’s nostrils and he knew instinctively which room he was entering.
“Ah, bliss . . . the Cheese-Sniffing room,” he said to Miss Yip as the door clanged shut behind them.
True to her word, Miss Yip had indeed left that week’s edition of 2000AD on Mr Smith’s desk, and just to show that she still loved him there was a glass of orange squash sitting next to it.
His weekly copy of 2000AD was the only bright spot amongst all the misery that surrounded him. Almost all the workforce at the factory thought he was a basket case and it was important to let them continue believing it. Any one of them could be a Goudi spy.
Miss Yip was the only one who knew the true extent of his suffering at the hands of the Goudi’s, a sinister cult of cheese-sniffers. She was the one who had rescued him and convinced Everard Hinchcliffe that he was still a valuable asset to the Big Top.
He desperately wanted to go back to New Zealand, but he knew that would never happen – at least while Elroy Hubble was still alive.
But if the intelligence he had gathered was correct that was all about to change.