Roger leans back in his computer chair and half of his pastry disappears in one convulsive mouthful. He stares at me as he chews and swallows, then with the remaining half poised to follow the first, says: ‘I suppose you just believe everything you’re told, do you?’ He hangs for a second more before snapping it down, crumpling up the greasy bag and tossing it in a perfect arc across the room into the bin. He sucks his fingers clean. ‘Do you?’
Roger loves an argument as much as a fruit Danish.
He turns back to the computer.
‘Me?’ he says. ‘I like to make my own mind up.’
I can’t help being drawn in. I’m like that Danish, helplessly poised over the abyss.
‘Based on what? The internet?’
He swivels round to look at me again.
‘Based on facts, fella. Facts that are out there, if you know where to look. Straight from the coal face, people like you and me. Who live this shit, day in, day out. Come on! You’re not scared of the internet are you? Because there’s nothing they’d like more. They’d love you to think it’s the bogeyman and stay quietly in your corner. But you know it’s just another way for people to talk to each other. And at the end of the day, what’s more dangerous than that? It’s what governments spend billions trying to stamp out. The thing about the internet is it doesn’t have anything to sell. Well, the heart of it doesn’t. The soul of it. The soul that’s still intact despite all their best efforts to rein it in. Basically it’s a window out onto the world, Spence. Where you can find stuff out. From real people, working people who couldn’t give a shit about the bottom line or the mission statement or any of the rest of that poisonous stuff the management like to shovel out. Open your eyes, Spence. Look around. It’s all there for you, if you’d only let yourself see it. You’ve just got to read with a bit more of a question in your heart. And I don’t mean all the official bullshit they put out, the newspapers, the TV – all that sterile, boneless crap. What do you think they’re going to say? Do you think they want you to know the real reason they do stuff? All they want is that you keep doing what you’re doing, pulling on the oars and looking out the window whilst they bang the drum and keep their eye on the real destination.’
There’s a smoothly pulsating rhythm to Roger’s speech that’s completely sedating. I am Mowgli, caught in Kaa’s coils, staring into the concentric circles of his eyes.
I try to snap myself out of it.
‘At least with the stuff you read in books and newspapers you get to see who wrote the thing,’ I say, squirming. ‘At least there’s a chance you could hold them to account.’ As soon as I say it I realise what a fraud I am. Who writes a blog? Who uses a pseudonym? But Roger doesn’t know about any of that. I’m a worm in the apple of his tree.
‘Yeah? So how long has it taken a big fancy paper like The Guardian to bring News International to account? How easy was that for them, with all their money? How easy would it be for you, do you think?’
He turns back to his computer again.
‘I can’t believe you’re so naïve, fella,’ he says, perfectly pleasantly. I don’t reply, and after a while I become conscious of the hum and drone of the servers. Roger surfs a few sites, then logs off and folds his arms.
‘I don’t suppose you’ve heard about the ambulance X files, then?’
‘The ambulance X files. All those jobs that are so devastating they’d blow your little world apart if you heard about them.’
‘And where did you hear about them? On the internet, I suppose?’
‘No. This was even better. I got this from a friend of a friend who knows one of the crew. Over East way.’
‘So what happened?’
‘Apparently, they got sent to a possession. A young girl, possessed by the devil. That’s how it came over on the notes. So of course they rang Control straight back but didn’t get anything different. You know, assess and advise. And they were giving it all the usual chat on the way over. Yeah, right. Possession, blah, blah. The usual lines from The Exorcist. But when they pulled up outside the house they felt terrible, like some dread hand had been lain across their soul. And when they went into the house it was dark, and completely trashed, and colder than a fridge. And there was the girl, standing in the middle of the room smiling at them. And then suddenly the door slammed shut and a sofa – a sofa – flew across the room and flattened them both. They screamed their heads off and got out as fast as they could, even though one of them had a broken leg. Months off work. Months. Therapy, the works. And they were forbidden to tell anyone anything on pain of their jobs.’
‘That’s a good story, Roger. I like that one. How did you hear of it?’
‘Frank told me.’
And just at that moment he walks in the computer room.
‘What?’ he says.