To read the story from the start go to: https://the-inkling.com/catch-up-with-the-inklings/
D’arby had given himself 40 minutes to walk the 2.5 kilometres to work because it was in an area he was unfamiliar with and because Rudnika had stressed the importance of him being there on time. She’d actually instructed D’arby that there was a 6 minute window in which it was acceptable to arrive – from 8:27am to 8:33am, but because D’arby had been half asleep when he’d heard this he had only registered the message that he be there on time, and not the details about the 6 minute time window.
As D’arby walked he held the map he’d drawn on a scrap of paper and because he was feeling nervous he kept checking the map, even though he’d memorized the route. D’arby was nervous because he didn’t want to disappoint but he had no way of gauging whether he was going to be able to do the job well, and he really wanted to do it well because he could see it was going to be important.
When D’arby turned into the street of his new workplace he noticed that the back of his neck felt cold. He thought he heard someone say “Careful!” but there was nobody in the street. Then he noticed a galah sitting in a tree. The Galah looked D’arby in the eye and raised its crest. Then another galah launched itself from a tree on the other side of the road and flew past so close to D’arby’s head that he ducked.
D’arby turned around to check that there was nobody behind him and looked up at the windows of the houses in the street to see if anyone was looking out, but he didn’t see any faces. Then he looked at his watch and saw that he was 15 minutes early. He continued to walk along the street until he was outside the address Rudnika had given him. It was the second of a group of five terrace houses that were bordered on one side by a laneway and the other side by a small park. The only indication that D’arby was at the right place was a small brass plaque next to the front door saying “RenewBank”. None of the other houses in the street appeared to be businesses and D’arby wondered whether Rudnika had started the business from her house. D’arby wondered if this was why the job application process and testing had all been done online – to hide the modest nature of the business. D’arby looked at his watch again and saw that he was ten minutes early so he walked back to the little park and decided to sit down and wait until 8:29am.
As D’arby sat he looked around him. The back of the park opened onto a laneway and D’arby wondered whether the park had once been another terrace house because it looked like it was the same size as the other houses in the street. D’arby looked across the road at the houses that faced RenewBank and he thought he noticed the curtains move in one of them, but there was no other sign of anyone being home. He listened for sounds of life and could hear the faint sound of music, but couldn’t tell which house it was coming from.
At 8:29 and 45 seconds D’arby opened the front gate of RenewBank, walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. Rudnika answered the door almost immediately and shook D’arby’s hand warmly, then ushered him inside.
Rudnika took D’arby upstairs to meet Sonia, who seemed to be working at four computers at once. D’arby felt like asking lots of questions but Rudnika seemed to be in a hurry and told D’arby to come with her so she could show him his desk. She showed him to the room opposite Sonia’s and gave him a piece of paper then put her finger to her mouth, indicating that she wanted him to not say anything.
The curtains of the room were closed and so D’arby had to strain his eyes to read what was on the paper. It said “Do not say anything or ask any questions. This building has been bugged. When I say something just answer ‘Ok’ and then follow me”.
“So here is where you will be working” said Rudnika. “The computer is all set up and ready to go. Here are some reports you should read. They will probably take you a week to get through. I need to get back to my desk now because I am expecting a phone call. My office is downstairs – please come and have a chat in an hour. The bathroom and kitchen are downstairs too.”
Then Rudnika motioned for D’arby to follow her and they crept downstairs and into a room full of bookshelves. Rudnika went up to one of the shelves and slid it aside to reveal a hidden door. D’arby looked at Rudnika and raised an eyebrow. She was pleased that he seemed to think this was exciting.
Rudnika opened the door and when they had both walked through she quietly closed it. D’arby realized that they were now in the house next door. Rudnika took D’arby down the hall to the kitchen and closed the door.
“We can talk now” said Rudnika. “Would you like a quick cup of tea before we leave for the real office?”
D’arby tried to say “Yes” but his words seemed to have dried up so he nodded. There were so many questions he wanted to ask that he was having trouble getting any of them out of his brain.
“We have about ten minutes. Ask me any questions” said Rudnika as she made the tea.
“How do you know next door is bugged? Who would do that? How do you know this buiding is safe? What if there are cameras watching you too? Why would anyone believe that you are working next door if there’s nobody there to make any noise? What does Sonia do?”
Rudnika laughed and gave D’arby his cup of tea. D’arby was pleased that it was black without sugar and wondered how Rudnika knew that was what he liked. Hers had milk in it.
“Sonia is very busy all day pretending to be many people at once. She will have to pretend to be you too now. When we get to the real office I will need you to record yourself saying lots of words and phrases so Sonia can use them to make the fake D’arby have a conversation with the fake Rudnika in an hour. Sonia checks all three buildings for bugs and cameras every morning. It is difficult to pretend to be working here everyday when really we work somewhere else, but it is worth it because while they are busy listening to this building here we have control over what they think we are doing – we can throw them off track” explained Rudnika
“Who?” asked D’arby
“That’s a tougher question. The people watching us from across the road are spies for hire so are probably working for one of the big banks, or maybe for all of them. We aren’t sure who is listening to us though” said Rudnika and then she quickly drank the rest of her tea.
“Please wash the cups while I check that the coast is clear” said Rudnika. While D’arby washed the cups he watched Rudnika open one of the kitchen cupboards and turn on a set of monitors that were hidden inside. There must have been cameras watching the side and back lanes as well as the front of the house. D’arby realized that this building was next to the side lane.
Rudnika showed D’arby the monitor showing the back lane and pointed to the upstairs window of the house on the other side of the lane. D’arby could vaguely see someone moving and Rudnika explained that there was often someone there watching the back door of the official office next door and that sometimes she went out and sat in the backyard there to give the spy something to look at.
Then Rudnika carefully checked the view of the side lane. There were no windows overlooking it and nothing seemed to be happening there.
“Don’t talk until I say” said Rudnika and they walked to the back door of the house. It opened onto a covered area, and there was a screen blocking the view from the house across the back lane. Rudnika picked up two bicycle helmets that were hanging on the wall and handed D’arby one. There were two bikes leaning against the side fence and D’arby noticed that there was a gate in the side fence that led onto the side lane. Rudnika opened the gate and rode out, across the side lane and away along the back lane. D’arby followed, trying hard to steer the bike straight and hoping that they didn’t have to ride on any busy roads.
The real office of RenewBank was in the next suburb. It was above a café and had a roof garden. D’arby couldn’t stop smiling as Rudnika showed him around. Leopold was there too and there were two other new employees called Carol and Valentine.
As promised, D’arby’s first task was to record himself saying lots of different things. Rudnika took D’arby to a small sound-proof room and pointed out that he wasn’t going to have time to create a comprehensive library of recordings but it would be enough to make it sound like he was working at the official office that day. The recordings were put on a USB drive and sent by bicycle courier to the Official Office, where Sonia quickly created a convincing conversation between Rudnika and D’arby. Then D’arby had to continue recording more words and phrases, and he had to repeat many of them while pretending to feel different emotions. At the end of the day he was still not finished and realized he’d have to spend at least the next day doing the same thing.
When the working day was over Leopold and Rudnika reminded D’arby that he was not to tell anyone about what he was doing at work or where the real office was. Rudnika gave him a key to the official office and told him that tomorrow he could let himself in and then they would repeat the trip they’d made that morning but that after that he could make the trip on his own because Rudnika preferred to get to the real office a bit earlier.
“What time do Carol and Valentine arrive at the official office?” D’arby asked. He was wondering whether he’d be able to ride with them sometimes.
“Carol and Valentine aren’t official employees” explained Rudnika “So they don’t have to pretend to work at the official office. They just come straight here”
This news hurt D’arby but he didn’t say anything. As he and Rudnika rode back to the official office D’arby wondered whether his job was going to be a real one or whether he was just a decoy. He desperately wanted to know what Carol and Valentine were going to be working on. He’d wanted to talk to them that day but they hadn’t been there at lunchtime.
Rudnika and D’arby snuck back into the official office the same way they’d left and then D’arby was free to leave by the front door and walk home. As he walked he felt really sad. He’d had such a strange and exciting day but he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about it.