Codename Chameleon

Chapter 1

Don't take CDs from strangers

It's the usual grey and rainy Monday morning. I can't believe I'm on time for work, I'm even a few minutes early. I'm the first person here, for once in my life. This is bad news because it means I'll have to clean the graffiti off the shop sign. Every weekend some clever kid with a paint pen looks at our sign which says simply "A1 Track", its a record shop, and adds the word "mind". Yeah, so original.

I get a rag and some solvent and while I'm up the ladder the boss turns up. "Nice to see you're here early for once, Nate," he says. "Mike's just called me, he's sick today, he won't be in." Great, I think, Mike's skiving with a hangover, leave all the work to me, so what's new. It's Monday, with any luck people have spent their cash at the weekend, no new CDs for them. Should be quiet unless we have a delivery.

I've left my name badge at home, went home with it pinned to my shirt on Friday. Usually I leave it in the drawer under the counter, below the till. Now that the boss is pleased with me for being early, I don't want to give him a reason to moan. I look in the drawer and find Mike's badge. Boss will notice if I don't have a name badge, he's never going to notice the name. I pin Mike's badge to my shirt.

Guess what, we have a delivery. A load of new CDs and DVDs and some games. As soon as I've got it unpacked the customers start to come in. I don't even get a minute to check out the new game from Thumb Generation. It's called "Fools Rush In And Explode", it's hyped as being a step up from the standard shoot-or-dodge formula. The PC we have here in the shop has the latest, state of the art graphics card, so we can demo the games for customers. Much better than the one I've got at home, I'm looking at upgrading.

The boss has been on the phone all morning while I've been unpacking and checking off the delivery and dealing with the customers. Just as it gets quiet he comes up and asks if I'd like to take a break. "You bet," I say and he sits down at the till. What I don't say is that I was about to sneak out for a cigarette anyway. I make a cup of tea and take it out into the alley behind the shop. Boss insists on making the whole building no smoking in that evangelistic way that smokers have after they quit. It's cold in the alley but I badly need a cigarette, should have put on my jacket. The alley's not such a great place to take your break, it's just a dead end alley that runs past the backs of a couple of offices and our shop. There's a few rubbish bins that don't add anything to the atmosphere. I don't know what the people do who work in the offices, maybe they don't smoke. I've never seen anyone in here but me.

Today it's different, as soon as I walk out into the alley and light my cigarette, as if he's been waiting for me, a guy steps into the alley. I've never seen him before. He's a white guy with dark greasy hair, wearing jeans and a leather jacket. He doesn't look like the office worker type. He walks right up to me as if he owns the place. "Hey, how would you like a chance to make some extra money?" he asks, getting my attention right away. Truth is, I'm always short of money, I don't know where it all goes. Every month I'm waiting for payday.

But I'm careful. "Depends what I have to do for it," I reply. I don't know this guy and no way do I trust him. There's something about him that's fake, as if he's wearing a mask. He won't let you see what he doesn't want you to know.

"What you have to do, that's nothing. That's easy. What we pay you for, is to say nothing about it, to anyone, ever. Got that?"

"Yeah, but..."

"I'm in a hurry," he interrupts, "so listen carefully. Later today a man will come into your shop and ask for a CD called 20 Great Rock Classics. I want you to give him this." He takes a CD out of his jacket pocket. "He will give you £20. You can keep it. I'll give you £50 now, just for keeping your mouth closed. Remember, tell no-one."

I take the CD from him, it's not one I've seen before in the shop. I know it's not a good idea to ask questions. He gets out a wallet full of notes and hands me £50, in tens. Easy money. I count it and look up just in time to see his black silhouette against the sunlit brightness of the street before he disappears.

I go back inside. There are no customers. The boss has gone back to his office. Alone at last! I log on to the PC and get the new game, "Fools Rush In And Explode." While it's installing I have a look at the rock CD I got from Dodgy Guy. It's not a very professional product, the design and print quality are not what you'd expect from the labels we stock. It looks like the kind of thing you'd find at a market stall, dirt cheap, made by some guy in his room, about what you'd expect from Dodgy Guy. I open the case and take the CD out, give it a closer look, yes, definitely a home label printer has been used for this one. What have I got involved in here, some kind of practical joke? Who cares, its got to be the easiest £50 I've ever earned.

I turn the sound right down on the game so the boss can't hear, he doesn't believe I can be playing games and working at the same time. Hey, I need to tell the customers what the new games are like and how can I do that if I don't check them out myself? It's like, I'm the games man and Mike is more the music expert. He does some DJing and he loves it when a real DJ comes in and he can hang out with them. If anyone famous comes in, like some guy that's on the radio or has a night in one of the big clubs, he goes on about it for weeks.

I can hear the boss coming a mile off, luckily he is talking on his mobile. He's always on the phone, if he's not making a call from his office someone's ringing him on the mobile. I'd hate to get his bills. When I need to use mine I've always run out of calling credit. Anyway when I hear him coming I exit the game and hit the eject on the CD drive. I whiz over to the till with the game and the dodgy-looking rock CD which I would prefer he did not see. I hide them in the drawer under the counter.

Boss is checking that we've got some jazz CD in stock for the customer on the phone. Right, good, he's gone back to his office. Back to the game. No, correction, right on cue, here comes a customer. It's a podgy fortysomething suit who browses through the chart stuff for like two minutes, then he comes up to the till. Before he even gets his mouth open I know what he's going to ask for.

"Er, have you got a CD called 20 Great Rock Classics?"

I get the CD out of the drawer and give it to him and in return he gives me £20. I pocket the money. Too easy. As the Suit goes out of the door I notice a guy staring in at me through the shop window. I'm uneasy for a moment, I hope he didn't see me pocket the money. It would look like I'm ripping off the shop, and of course I wouldn't do that, Boss is paranoid and checks everything. The guy at the window doesn't come in, instead he walks off after the Suit. So that's the deal over and done and I'm £70 ahead.

But it never works out that way, does it, as I find out later when I get home. I've borrowed Fools Rush In And Explode so I can try it out at home without the boss breathing down my neck. Should be able to complete the first mission which is blowing up the Millennium Dome. I imagine it going up like a balloon, then falling slowly back to earth in jagged fragments. But the game doesn't want to install on my PC which ok is old but not that obsolete. Can't be the CDROM, it worked at the shop. I click the D drive and the details of what's on the CDROM come up on the monitor. Some audio tracks and a folder called my network database? I can't believe it. I know what I've done but I can't believe it. I eject the CD and take a look. It's only 20 stupid Rock Classics. Not that there's anything like 20 audio tracks on it, there's maybe 4 and the rest of the CD is this huge data folder. I must have put them back in the wrong case when I was in a hurry to hide them from the boss. That means the fat guy in the suit has walked off with my game. He better not come after me for his money back.

Next day Mike is back at work and I get another copy of the game and pick up where I left off. I blow up the Millennium Dome and the Houses of Parliament. I remember from History at school someone actually tried the Houses of Parliament but they caught him before he could pull it off so I've gone one better than him. I did get caught twice, they make it a bit harder than the Dome, that was easy, but in a game you can just keep trying. It was so cool to see Big Ben crumbling to dust and Westminster Bridge just breaking in two, all the cars and the big red buses sliding off into the river. You get a choice of London or Tokyo for the easy level, the higher level is the big international monuments. It's weird the way life imitates art, I see on the news the same night that the police are increasing security in exactly those two places, Parliament and the Dome. They've had information about some kind of bomb scare or terrorist threat and they're refusing to name their source or tell us anything about what's going on.

On Friday Mike comes in late and I can see at once he's really mad about something. He goes into the office to speak to the boss. I hope he's not going to chuck the job because he's not such a bad guy to work with, I mean there's lots of worse guys and he doesn't care if I play games and don't do too much actual work. But when he comes out of the office he tells me about it and it's something very different. Yesterday when he was at work burglars broke into his flat and nicked his whole CD collection. This is a lot worse for him than it would be for most people because of course he needs them for his DJing. Plus he's got thousands of them and some he says are rare ones so they're worth a lot.

"They left all the vinyl, though," he says, " they left my decks, mixers, all my DJ stuff. They just took my CDs and my laptop. "

"Probably kids, then, never seen an old vinyl record before." Then I remember. On Monday, I was wearing his name badge. "Mike, did they take your software CDs?"

"Yes, though I didn't have so many and they won't be a problem to replace. It's the music CDs I care about, I'll never be able to buy them again. They took every CD I've ever bought. I just hope the police can find them and get them back."

"Not much chance of that, they're all round at the Houses of Parliament and the Millennium Dome."

"Not any more, didn't you hear that turned out to be a hoax? So they've got nothing better to do than finding my CDs."

I hope he gets his stuff back, Mike is an ok guy, I really wish now I hadn't got the CDs mixed up. It's a good thing for me I was wearing his name badge, I'd hate to lose my PC, even if it is a bit old, and all my games. I don't even mind having to do all the work while he's phoning his mates who are DJs, telling them about the burglary, asking them to look out for his rare CDs on websites, he's convinced the burglars will try to sell them that way. When he's finished he goes on the net himself and spends the rest of the day looking at rare music sites, trying to track down his missing CDs in the second hand sales. So I don't even get a chance to play any games.

After the weekend when I get into work, Mike is already starting to clean off the usual graffiti from the shop sign. "This thick lot can't even spell!" grumbles Mike. I look up to see the word MyND written in red pen. This reminds me of something but since it's early on Monday morning I'm not likely to remember what.

In the afternoon the phone rings and Mike picks up the call. When he puts the phone down his long face is bisected by this huge multitooth grin. I'm guessing he's just had some good news and I'm right.

"Hey, you know what, they found my CDs! That was the police, they've actually FOUND MY CDS!" He's shouting it out to everyone in the shop, even Boss comes out of the office to see what the fuss is about. "They've looked at the list I gave them and they think they're all there! Lucky I kept a copy of the list on the PC here. Haven't found the laptop though, but I can live with that. It's so brilliant that they've found the CDs! I'll never say another word against the police, it's so cool that they found my CDs."

And so on. He seems set to go on like that for at least an hour and Boss has vanished back into the office, so I'm going out for a cigarette. It's cold today so I put on my jacket and go out into the alley. I mean, I'm pleased he's got his stuff back, but I don't feel I need to hear so much about it.

An icy wind blows into the alley and I decide yet again to cut down on smoking. I am hardly surprised at all when Dodgy Guy appears at the end of the alley, hands deep in the pockets of his leather jacket. "Hey, Mike," he says, not sounding too pleased to see me, "you switched CDs on me. I call that breaking our agreement."

"Yeah, I know, I'm sorry, it was kind of an accident. I just took it out of the case to look at it and then I put it back in the wrong case." This sounds like such a feeble excuse I'm not surprised Dodgy Guy is giving me a funny look. I quickly add "You said the money was for keeping my mouth closed and I honestly haven't told anyone. I've got the CD in there now if you want it back, I could get it for you in a minute. I swear nobody's seen it except me."

"Did you try putting it in a computer?" Dodgy Guy asks.

"Yes, but it only had a few music tracks on and some kind of a data folder. I didn't look in the data folder."

"I believe you, Mike. There are people who would know right away, the minute someone tried to open that folder. Unless you're very lucky at guessing passwords. Right, I'd better have it back then."

I go back in and get the CD, still in the game case, from under the till. A mate of Mike's has come into the shop and Mike is telling him the entire story of the missing CDs. I feel bad about getting him involved with all this. It's a good thing I put my jacket on just now, the last thing I need is for Dodgy Guy to know my name. I check inside the case to make sure I've got the right CD this time, now I'm getting paranoid, must have caught it like an illness from Boss. I take it back out into the alley and hand it to Dodgy Guy. He looks in the case to check I've given him the right one, hey, this paranoia really is catching.

"If you ever tell any one about this, you'll be diving into deep water and there's people whose job is to make sure you never come back up again. Don't forget that." Dodgy Guy turns away and walks to the end of the alley. Yeah, and you take care of yourself too, mate. I get out another cigarette, watching him in his leather jacket, a black shape against the cool light. Suddenly the alley is blocked by two huge men with guns in their hands, guns pointed at Dodgy Guy. I freeze. Dodgy Guy looks round in desperation but there is nowhere to run, the alley is a dead end. He holds up his hands in surrender, one hand with the CD still in it. One of the men takes the CD from his hands, they search him for a weapon and put handcuffs on him. One of the two men calls out to me, "Looks like your break's over, son. Best get back inside."

So I put the cigarette back in the pack and I go back in. Mike has calmed down and is helping a customer look for some rock CDs. She's the only customer in the shop so at last I get a chance to play Fools Rush In And Explode. It's the best game ever and I've got enough points now to use missiles.

Now Read Chapter 2