Relax. In ten minutes I’ll have taken all your money. This is a good thing.
I assume you’re wondering who I really am, but we’ll get to that. As for the why, that’s simple. Because I can. The how is a little more complicated, but I expect you’re starting to figure that out. In all honesty it would depend on the amount I was looking for. If I was playing a long game, for example, I might use you as a pawn in a larger play. You wouldn’t see me coming; you wouldn’t understand what was really happening. You wouldn’t even know you had been robbed.
You answer your front door to find a man in a suit with a laminated name badge.
Good afternoon, I say, how are you today?
You’ll probably be asking yourself why I am standing on your doorstep.
Don’t worry, I tell you, I’m not selling anything.
Cheesy grin. This relaxes you slightly, and also arouses curiosity. Why am I here, then?
I’m from the Animal Protection Association, I continue whilst pointing at my name badge. We’re in the area and we’ve been talking to all your neighbours today.
I wave my hand in the air like a lasso to emphasise the point.
Do you have any pets? I’ll ask.
It doesn’t matter what you say, I don’t really care, but by answering you at least feel like you have some input on the conversation. Whatever your answer, it always leads to my second question.
You like animals though, yeah?
I nod, and give you an inviting smile, coupled with widened eyes. It’s more than likely that you’ll say yes without noticing that I didn’t actually ask you a question. I told you that you liked animals, then prompted you to agree, which you will.
Yes number one.
Now I’m sure you heard about animal cruelty, yeah? I say.
Yes number two.
And you want to stop things like this from happening?
I hold up the skinny dog.
Yes number three.
The skinny dog is a laminated photocopy of a newspaper article with a picture of a half-starved greyhound, all skin and bones. It’s looking up at the camera with its ears back, its eyes all wide and sad, begging you to love it. No one can resist the skinny dog. Some people even cry when they see it, such is its power.
Good, I say with a warm smile. Now to prevent animal cruelty like this we need a million pounds a week.
I hold my hands out wide, stretching my arms apart, Christ crucified.
Don’t worry, I continue, we’re not asking you for that. What we’re doing is getting everyone in the neighbourhood involved, and everyone is putting in a pound a week, which is nothing, right?
As I speak I draw the forefinger and thumb of my right hand together, creating a tiny space that I hold before my left eye and squint through.
Yes number four.
When the first air conditioning units were put into cars the salesmen struggled to get people to buy them as an eight inch hole would need to be cut into the side of their car. The salesmen started telling people that the hole would be twenty inches instead, then say they were only joking and the hole was only eight inches in diameter. The customer would think this was an acceptable size, as it was much smaller in comparison. The point is, one pound per week compared to nothing is a lot, but when you think about a million pounds a week, suddenly one is very small.
Now this is the twenty first century, I tell you, so obviously everything goes through the banks these days. I assume you have a bank account, yeah?
Yes number five.
Excellent, I say. Now it’s just a simple form to get you signed up, okay?
You’ve already said yes five times in a row, what’s one more? You say yes, perhaps you let me into your home, maybe even offer me a drink. I’ll bring out an official looking form and write my name and badge number at the top, so you know who knocked on your door. How are you supposed to know if the name is fake?
Perhaps you question me; maybe you want to validate who I am before signing up. I’ll hand you my badge, which has my photo on it. On the back is a freephone number which I tell you takes you through to the Fundraisers Alliance. Most people are happy with just knowing they can check, but a few call. If you do you get through to an official sounding person who will ask for my badge number. You read it out, and they will read back my name and describe my appearance. They will validate that I am part of their alliance and that I am raising funds for the Animal Protection Association. This will reassure even the most paranoid individual. No one questions who is on the other end of the line.
I’ll lean the form on the skinny dog, its face peering out from underneath to remind you of why you’re signing up. I’ll ask you for your name, your address, your phone number, and write them all down.
Now this part, I say pointing at a small box, is for the donation amount. As I said, most people are giving a pound a week, which works out over a year at five pounds a month. Can I put you down for that, or would you like to donate more?
Those are your only options. There is no less. Let’s say you opt for the minimum, five pounds a month. I write a five in the box.
So the last bit is your bank details, I say. Obviously everything goes through the banks nowadays, but we don’t need any personal or sensitive information like your card details or pin number. All we need is your sort code, which obviously gives us the address of your bank branch, and your account number, which just tells us which account to contact. Obviously we can’t access your account; we just send a request for five pounds a month, as it says there. Do you have your bank details to hand at all?
No one wants to appear to be stupid. If you say something is obvious, people don’t question it. If you say it enough, people do whatever you say. If you question this I can show you the back of the form, with all the small print and details about the direct debit guarantee. I can even let you write the numbers in yourself if you don’t want me to see them. I then ask you to sign the bottom of the form, and date it.
That’s great, I say with a reassuring smile. Now this will start in a month, and every time you give remember that you are helping to prevent animal cruelty.
I give you a carbon copy of the form, but the writing is so faint it’s practically illegible. I place the completed form in an official looking envelope and seal it, or you can do this if you have filled out the form yourself. I shake your hand and leave.
If ten people sign up every day that will raise fifteen hundred pounds a month, every month. All those people will see five pounds go to the Animal Protection Association on their bank statements, and all those people will feel good about what they’ve done. They will all remember the skinny dog. No one thinks to check whether it is actually a charity. They all receive a newsletter once a year, a sheet of paper with some information posted to their home. They all continue to give, not questioning where the money goes. What they are buying is me.
So what if I wanted your money more immediately? Perhaps I want more money, and I don’t want to wait for a long time. I’ll arrive like a thief in the night.
You answer your door to find a dishevelled man with a bloody nose.
Please, I say, you have to help me. I’m so sorry but I don’t know where I am and it’s my daughter. Oh god. Help, sorry, please, you have to help me.
I look around, scared, scanning the street in fear.
What happened? you ask. Shall I call the police?
No, I say, please don’t do that. It’s my daughter, they have her. Oh my god, what am I going to do? Where am I?
You tell me the name of the place, not that I don’t know or anything.
I’ll ask you if you know where a certain landmark is, somewhere nearby. You say yes. I ask how to get there, how long it will take to walk, but you tell me it’s too far.
I haven’t eaten in three days, I say. Do you have anything that I could eat?
You might ask me to wait there whilst you go and get something, or you might invite me inside. Let’s assume you’re suspicious and ask me to wait on the doorstep. You go inside to grab something, maybe some bread or biscuits, then bring them to the door with a glass of water.
I eat, I drink, I am a man possessed with a hunger you have never known.
What happened? you ask again.
I was at the park, I say between mouthfuls, with my daughter. Some men, people, came over and asked me for a light. I told them I don’t smoke. I’d seen them there before, standing around, watching the swings. I always assumed they were parents, but I’d never actually seen them with any children. The next thing I know someone’s hit me and everything went black. I could hear her screaming for me. Oh god.
If I’ve done this properly you will have made up your own mind about what the men wanted.
That was the last thing I remember, I continue. I woke up in the boot of a car with tape around my hands.
I show you my wrists; show you the marks the tape left.
How did you get here? you ask me.
They stopped and threw me out onto the street down there, I say, then drove off.
I point at the end of the road, the corner.
No one wants this in their neighbourhood.
You’re the first house that answered, I tell you. Please, I can’t call the police. They told me something when they dropped me on the street.
What? you ask.
I can’t say here, I reply. I don’t know if they’ll come back. Oh my god, my little girl. Please.
At this point you invite me inside.
If you leave tape on your wrists for an hour it leaves a residue. Moving your hands vigorously whilst taped causes marks and abrasions to form on the skin. For the nose, you can either ask someone to punch you in the face, or you can apply a little eyeshadow to the bridge and use a pin to cut a few blood vessels inside your nostrils. It will stream, and you just let the blood flow down you until it dries. Then, right before you knock on the door, you poke yourself in each eye, in the corners, close to the nose. Scratch your eyes with your fingernails and they will go bloodshot, and water for at least half an hour.
Inside your house you’ll probably tell me again that you’re going to call the police. I’ll grab your arm at this point.
Please don’t, I’ll say. They told me, oh god. They told me that if I get the police involved they’ll, they’ll rape her, and then they’ll kill her. Please, she’s only five.
You may have already thought about this, but hearing it aloud will shock you.
I, I don’t, I, oh god.
I’ll slump onto the floor at this point, crawl up into a ball.
What am I going to do? I say. I can’t, I, I don’t even know where to begin. They want, but, I don’t, why?
You’ll tell me to calm down. You’ll ask me what they want.
They said they want ten thousand pounds, I say. I’ve got a month. They said I have to get them a thousand by six o’clock tomorrow morning, or they’ll, they’ll, you know.
I’ll bury my face in my hands.
They’re organised, I continue, they’ve got people on the police. They said that if I get them the thousand they’ll let her go, but I’ll have to get them another nine thousand by the end of the month or they’ll take her again, and this time I’ll never get her back.
There’s not much you can say to me now, so I let the pause last just long enough to maximise your guilt, then start talking again.
I have the money, I say. I have a house, a car, I can raise the money easily, but they took my phone and my wallet. What’s the time?
You’ll tell me it’s late, after ten.
The banks will be shut, I’ll reply, and they won’t open until nine. Oh god, I tried to tell them this but they just threw me on the ground and said six o’clock, don’t be late.
You’ll start thinking now. Maybe you’ll ask me about my daughter. I’ll tell you her name, tell you about how she recently started school. I’ll tell you she’s beautiful. I’ll tell you about my house, where it is. I’ll tell you I’m going to sell it for a rock bottom price, how I would give anything to get her back. I’ll tell you about her mother dying last year of cancer. I’ll tell you I can’t lose her too.
Everybody has a buy line. If you imagine a graph, the side axis showing interest and the bottom showing time, and plot a line. You automatically start at zero. As time progresses in the conversation your interest level rises. There is a point at which your interest reaches the buy line, after enough time has passed and ensuring I deliver the right information and emotion to get you to that level. When you hit the buy line I can ask you to help, and you will. If I’m smart, which I am, I don’t even have to ask.
What am I going to do? I say. I can get the money, I have it in my account right now, but I can’t get to it until the banks open. I have more than that, I could pay double, triple, but I’ll miss the deadline. What do I do?
You’ve reached your decision. You offer to pay, to take out the money and I can pay you back.
I can’t let you do that, I say. You’ve been so kind already, please, I can’t ask you to do that for my daughter.
You won’t take no for an answer.
So now you’re driving me to a cash machine in the early hours of the morning so you can take out a thousand pounds for me. You’ve given me your bank details on a piece of paper and I’ve promised to pay you back, with interest. You take out the limit on each and every card, and hand me a thousand pounds. I thank you. I tell you how you’ve saved my daughter’s life.
You drive me to the landmark I mentioned earlier. It’s nearly dawn. There’s a person waiting for us, dressed in black. We can’t see his face.
I get out of the car. I tell you to wait, to keep the engine running, just in case.
I’ve got your money, I say. Where’s my daughter?
I walk over to the man. You see me hand him the money. He points around a corner. I run off, out of sight. You watch the man follow me.
After a while you get curious. You might get out of your car, or you might drive round. Either way you won’t find anything. I’m gone, as is the man, and your money. You may search for a while, or perhaps you call the police, but there will be no trace. I didn’t touch anything in your house that I didn’t wipe with my sleeve afterwards. I didn’t bleed or cry on your floor. I didn’t even give you my name.
Now you may be thinking that is a lot of hassle for a thousand pounds, but do it two or three times a month, plus a few days of charity fundraising, and the money really starts to flood in.
That’s not what I’m going to do to you, though.
We’ve known each other a while now, we’ve built up some trust. I would let you tell me I’m wrong, tell me how much of a bastard I am, but to be honest it’s too much hassle trying to put tape back on someone’s mouth once you’ve taken it off, so let’s just imagine you said all that.
Do you remember when we met? I’m sure you do, but I expect you’ve forgotten all the little details, mainly because I wanted you to.
Let me remind you.
It was a dry Saturday in early spring. You were at home, relaxing, doing whatever it was that you did at the weekend.
You answered your door to find a man in a suit, holding a book. No name badge.
Hello, I said, how are you?
You asked me what I wanted.
I’m here to bring you a gift, I said.
I handed you the book. You looked at it, bound in black leather.
Is this a bible? you asked.
Not exactly, I replied. It’s a story. Just read the first paragraph, if the story doesn’t interest you then you don’t have to keep reading. I’ll be back in a few weeks. If you didn’t enjoy the story, or you stopped reading, you can give me the book back. The gift is the story. If you did keep reading then we can talk.
I smiled and left, giving you time to think about it. I expect you put the book on a table, or perhaps on a shelf, maybe you even forgot about it for a few days. Eventually, though, you were reminded. You started reading. Do you remember the first few lines? Of course you do.
Those other games, they were small time. They were like a child whistling. This is a symphony, a masterpiece. For this I will be remembered.
A few weeks later I returned, just like I said.
This time you greeted me with a smile. You’d only met me once before, but I knew you. I’d been watching you for weeks.
Hello, I said, how are you?
You told me you were well, asked how I was.
Today is a good day, I replied. Did you enjoy the story?
You told me you did. You told me you couldn’t put it down. You told me you’ve already read it twice.
It took me nearly a year to write that book. I stopped all the other performances, locked myself away, and worked. I had enough money coming in to pay the rent, cash moving through accounts, invoices and receipts prepared in advance. I’ve got a team of people who work for me now, visiting casinos in pairs. They bet a thousand pounds each on the roulette tables; one on red, the other on black. One of them loses, the other doubles their winnings, and they bring me back a clean cheque. They make their commission, my income is untraceable.
I asked you if you’d like to talk more about the story, and you invited me in. You made me a drink. You asked me if the story is real.
Of course, I said. It’s as real as I am.
You were fascinated, captivated, obsessed with the story. Maybe you read all the time, or perhaps you haven’t read a book since you were in school. It doesn’t matter; you devoured those words like an addict, desperate for more. You had so many questions.
I’m holding a meeting, I said. A group of people, like you, are coming to discuss their thoughts. I’m going to explain where the story comes from. I’ll answer all your questions.
You asked me where I came from. I told you I was from the south, that I’d travelled the world. I told you I had knowledge to share, secrets to reveal. I told you I would help you see the truth.
I can show you the path, I said. I can point you in the right direction, but you have to take the first step. I will walk beside you, guide you, but only you can decide whether you want to go further.
You wanted to. You were so keen, so desperate to discover more. I gave you the meeting time, the date, the location. You kept asking me questions, telling me about the things you had discovered, and I smiled and listened but didn’t answer. I left you wanting more.
Those few days must have been torture for you.
When the day of the meeting arrived you must have been so excited. I doubt you slept the night before, the others didn’t. I waited for you all at the warehouse. I could hear cars pulling up outside, people talking.
This time I let you in.
There were twelve of you that first night. Twelve that I had handpicked to share the truth of the universe with. My disciples. You all had so many questions, but you entered in silence, reverent. In the middle of the warehouse were twelve chairs, sat in a circle. Do you remember? You all took your seats, and I stood in the centre. I turned as I spoke, addressing each of you in turn, and together.
Thank you for coming, I said. I am glad you have come. You can see where others cannot. You can feel what others ignore. You are the future, the ones who will inherit glory. I will teach you, all of you, and then you can spread the word. You are the foundation on which we will build.
I stepped out of the circle, walked around the outside. I asked you to look deep into the soul of the person opposite, to try not to blink, and to never break eye contact.
Listen to my voice, I said to you. Hear my words. The wisdom I am about to impart to you will change your life. I am going to count backwards, and when I reach one you will understand.
The book, that book you are all holding, that is the door. You have all opened the door, and now you will step over the threshold.
The person in your eyes is a reflection of yourself. They are you, and you them.
Your heart is heavy in your chest. It holds your soul. Let it free, let it go. Feel the weight lifting up.
There is a lump in your throat. Don’t swallow, let it grow. Let it swell into a mighty stone. This is your soul, gathering.
The lump in your throat is strong now; feel it press against your tongue. Embrace it.
Your fingers are growing strong, but apply no pressure. The book is held in place by your will.
Keep eye contact. The world around your reflection grows black, they are all you see.
Your wrists are mighty, the bones fusing into hammers ready to beat upon the door.
The pressure in your throat has reached your ears. Your whole neck feels stiff.
You are inside the circle. You are one with yourself. You are free. Swallow your soul. Become a new being, one who is in control of the universe. Become you. Swallow.
From that moment you were mine. Do you remember how you felt? You all left that night in a trance. No one asked any questions, no one even spoke. You were all one. I gave you each an invitation to return the following night, and you all accepted.
As the weeks went on we explored the darkness around your reflections, the grey halo you surround yourselves with. We discussed the spiral and realigned your sentience to ascend.
You bought in.
For the past four months you have zealously followed me, devoted yourself to my cause. We have worshipped together, we have built a church, we have saved souls. Thanks to you my congregation now numbers over a hundred. You are my apostle, and I am your messiah. We are connected, you and I.
And now, my child, you must make the ultimate sacrifice. No one can reach the unattainable heights without casting off their mortal form, and now it is your turn. As you can see I have made preparations for you. By signing these documents you transfer your home, your assets, your possessions, your everything over to the Collective. Over to me.
This is the design of the universe. This is the will of God.
I’m going to untie your hand now, and place a pen between your fingers. You know you don’t have a choice. Your suicide will be glorious. You will become a self-inflicted martyr to our cause. You will become anointed, a saint, but first you must release the things that tie you to this world.
I had hoped you would give willingly, but instead I must resort to this. I didn’t want to have to show you the gun. I don’t want to threaten your family. If only you had welcomed your transfiguration, rather than trying to fight against it. Perhaps it was too early for you. Maybe you’re not ready yet.
Do you believe?
It doesn’t really matter. It’s your time. Your donation will be gratefully received.
I will place each paper and point out where you need to sign, and then you will make your mark. Please ensure your signature is correct. When we are done, you will drink from the holy cup and ascend to the next level. You won’t feel a thing. Then I can move on to the next disciple.