The year 2026.
AELOHIM, the supreme cause, the BEING of beings, the creator in principle of all the Cosmos with its infinite heavens and earths, called on his IHOAH of one of them
"IHOAH my creative deity of all manifest, have they chosen?"
"AELOHIM they have chosen Babel, ached and chalnah. They call them now vanity, selfishness and ambition and their world is dissonant."
"Soon on the scale they use."
"Eternal in the elements."
"IHOAH save our sense sons of Shem."
Bob's brow furrowed, his concentration on the metallic sheen of the V stretching along his eye line. Tense, but with as yet little anger in him, he waited for the white sport shoes to reappear round the yard entrance. So far he'd only got a glimpse of one pair. Could be more, and if there were he'd have to take his chance, just as they, if they existed, would have to with him. His hand checked the remote; his "equaliser" resting on top of the bale while his cheek nuzzled the smooth stock.
The shoes came back; now with the barest outline of the form filling them and close enough to hear the tension in its breathing. He stroked Bess's head, letting her know to stay silent and saw the form checking in all the wrong directions before rising for the final sprint. He'd loaded with birdshot, the buckshot ready in his pockets. The intruder had another thirty strides before reaching the pen; half way and he'd give it a barrel. He gave it another five yards then released a rain of red-hot needles that peppered its thighs. Pain was registered by a scream, but survival took precedence as two more blasts filled the air and Bess yelped in frenzy.
Bob shook his head, slipped the remote back into his pocket and shouted, 'Hold off men. Keep me covered while I look around.' and collected the knife he'd heard drop. The scream told him it was a woman; he wondered whether he should have let her take the sheep, and if she’d have had the mettle to slit its throat. Running his finger down the blade edge he knew it wouldn't have been fair on the sheep. A car with starting problems helped ease his conscience. It was unlikely he'd be bothered again tonight. With a soft, 'C'mon girl,' to Bess, he reloaded the pump action, mounted it back on the tractor and checked its solenoid trigger finger. He'd another seven strategically placed “allies” round the house and yard, all activated by modified car locks and individual receptors. Designed and installed by one of Dick's contractors and perhaps to be marketed. After a couple of close calls he’d got into the habit of unloading the guns during the day. The one in the house could wait until he'd poured a stiff whisky and contacted the police.
Lambing time had been bad. He’d slipped up badly by not realising just how desperate people were. Six had disappeared in one night and not a throat ripped carcass or trace of blood to focus his rage on marauding dogs or fox. Pouring three fingers of the malt he waited for the burr of the phone to be answered. There was no hurry. He didn't expect anything to be done; only he was obliged to report he'd shot somebody. He'd decide when they answered whether to say it had been a woman.
He didn't. Instead he decided to get rid of the sheep, they were vulnerable and only valuable to desperate bellies.
Dawn broke easily into Dicks sleep. Turning he smiled at the sleep puffed face of Mary and gave thanks for the last nine months of sanity. By some strange convoluted way of life that defied explanation, it could all be down to Ruth. Even his involvement with WREC would probably have been refused as an unnecessary complication if his affair with Ruth hadn’t existed.
Sliding out of bed, he pulled on a light robe and made his way through to the main bathroom. This early morning time was his; time to meditate, mediate or mitigate, he wasn't sure which. It had started as a bladder habit along with the first glimmers of conscience of what was to come and wondering why so little was said or done about it. Then came the realisation that it was perhaps the reason why their lack of children caused him so little concern.
He'd observed Adam with his grandchildren. Seen the concern behind his laughter; the confusion whether he'd the right to enjoy their innocence and felt his own pangs of guilt at the pleasure they gave. Would life be all right for them, would they adapt as generations had done before? Live for a while in hope before the inevitable slide to disillusionment ? Dick tried to raise the subject one evening in the study with the Ardbeg and found Adam reticent. He’d shrugged and admitted to not having a clue. Another evening he’d asked about Adam’s wife and got no answer, not even an acknowledgement. Adam’s prerogative, and Dick, having already been told some of the details by Ruth had wondered how far a soul could shrink within itself once it acknowledged a grief too raw to expose and too private to share.
There was something not quite right about the morning. Nothing specific like the insect-e-cute's activated light not glowing when he instructed the balcony doors to open. It continued to glow in confirmation of the silent ultrasound that would oscillate any opportunistic insect to its separate atoms should it try invading their space. According to Glen when they were developing the concept, most would hear or sense the sound waves and veer off. But there were always carcases proving even insects don’t always react correctly to their senses. Still the sun rose from the east and, as he watched it cast off the night's net from the Peckfortons before accelerating along the chequered fields of the Cheshire plain then on to relieve the Welsh hills, he tried to pinpoint the moment when it would touch the Keep. From here he could see the entire southern perimeter of the development, most of the east and about a third of the west wall. Had he any reason for the unease he could have switched on the monitor networked to the security control and been acknowledged with a "Good morning Mr Carter. Everything in order here. Anything I can do for you?" While the soft hum from the nearest camera would show it had been activated for their confirmation.
Dick suspected the architect had used puked pineapple chunks as his inspiration for the jungle of concrete inflicted on the hill. Or money had been saved by the use of plans from some long forgotten and, he hoped, frustrated Algarve timeshare project. Two hundred families lived in this homogenous redoubt with its buttress balconies flying in whatever direction they could, to at least claim partial privacy and view. Both of their condos, the rented and the one they used, had complete privacy and apart from the heli-pad above the central lifts and service core, semi-panoramic views; theirs south, the rented north. Thus was the timeless class of England's social order maintained by flat size, level and view. The pecking order of hauteur above, arse below. Two hundred and twenty families; if you included the security and admin people moled in flats within the foundations gouged from solid rock. Beneath contempt, perhaps literally, going by the attitude he'd seen some of the residents afford them. One not designed to engender community spirit.
Here they had the security of perimeters, the escape or safe return by flight. They could stroll round the acres of regimented ache-free garden. Pay lip service to its convenience and keep hustling so they wouldn't have to admit its sterility, not even to themselves. Home was a word neither of them used for the flat. Condominium was longer than it was worth and Condo too American. But the decision had been made for him between Mary and her obstinacy and the situation with Ruth. No, situation wasn’t the word, neither was complication and affair was too shallow. Mary would visit the Keep but wouldn't stay, suggesting it wasn't fair on the family. Now Adam and his family were the legal tenants, though he couldn't say if the supposed rent had ever made its way into his account. The tenancy secured by the advantage of family bodies. A richness Dick had felt privileged to enjoy and often envied, though it juxtaposed his reasoning. Perhaps his reasoning was just another word for excuse and excuses the name for failed reasons. Now he’d WREC to absorb the hours and give the illusion of involvement.
Lately Dick had some quibbling doubts about Schultz. Whether his remoteness should be taken as a sign of confidence in Dick’s ability to chair the various committees, or was it simply Schultz was similar to himself in one respect – got a buzz from setting up concepts, but lost interest in the routine grind of administration. Initially he’d been all guts and gusto but lately it seemed his priorities had changed.
There was no rush this morning, leastwise nothing that should have created any sense of unease. It would be ten before the chopper with his two security gorillas came to pick him up for the hop to Ringway, a fifteen-minute check in- the one advantage of the air travel restrictions- then on by scheduled flight to Brussels. He still didn't know why he'd been picked for the job. Knew Glen had suggested him, but didn't know why that should have short-listed him or even if there had been a list. Fact was, what he’d known about bugs was limited to the paranoia exhibited by inhabitants of the temperate belts when they became hosts to the more exotic species from the tropics; and entomology a word he'd to check in the dictionary when they’d set out on the development of insect– e-cute. A pragmatist was needed, he’d been told, or conned. Glen had just said, "For Christ's sake, take it.'
The updated company details and forecasts would spew through the link at seven. Ten minutes to digest them, then a link conference to Arrol in production and Ian Stuart in marketing should be more than covered by the rest of the hour. That would leave a couple of hours for Mary and a leisurely breakfast, maybe a call to Bob.
It was the day Pytor Brodregan’s heart gave out. The day the first production batch of the tested and approved antitoxin to Y had been dispatched.
But Dick knew nothing of that; it was just another day.
'AAaaah...' Ronila feeling the pain rack through her body, felt the sound stifled by a gag of damp cloth. Mulk buttressed his body against her straining, his left arm supporting her while his right held the cloth. Three pairs of eyes stared back in frightened alertness as his eyes scanned the bustee to confirm the preparations, while his ears told him the jet's thundering approach would drown any scream Ronila could give.
'Gita, light the stove and take your brothers to Grandmother. Tell her it's time.'
Gita lit the stove, and then looking from her mother to her father, could see he wasn't looking too sure. She had one last try. 'Can't Raj go? I'll stay with you till she comes.'
Mulk was tempted. Whether by food or favour from the gods they could look forward to a birth with something close to confidence, but this was a first for him. With the others, born living or dead, Ronila's mother had been in control while he, as always, did what he was told. This time perhaps they’d left it too late. 'No, go Gita, and make sure you're not seen.'
Ronila's body stiffened, warning of her next contraction just as Gita shepherded her brothers through the cloth that sealed their hovel. Mulk tried to get the right mixture of control and urgency into his tone. 'Go on Gita, hurry. Look after your brothers.' Gita flicked her eyes on her mother and saw her nod in confirmation before closing the door curtain and blanking them from sight.
Already the steaming water was adding to the humid dankness of the night. Mulk reached for one of the plastic bottles stashed by the bed and gently offered it to Ronila's lips before spilling water on the muffling cloth and wiping her forehead, eyes, and the sweat soaked cavity of her neck. He did it as a caress, each feature getting a light kiss while her belly strained to wash another penitent into the world. But it wasn't ready to make its entrance. Rubbery limbs straddled the invitation of the cervix, while pliant toes tried to hold to the magic of the womb. Mulk lost all sense of how much time had passed; whatever it was, it was too long.
When the curtain drew back he was relieved when the familiar 'Cluck' from her tongue told him who it was, and what to expect. God he loved and his second mother. 'Baboon turn the stove off and waft some air in here. Bloody men! All their brains in the buckets of their balls.’ He turned aside when he saw her hand go into his Ronila's private place feeling guilty for all his insertions.
The whimper came as the first of the footsteps padded past his home. Time for him to join them to the train, then on to the power station and twelve hours of tipping, thirty tons a wagon, one hundred wagons a shift. And you got to take home all the coal dust that stuck to your hair, your eyes, crusted round your mouth and nose, filled your ears and filed your crotch; formed welts in your armpits and to stone in your lungs. He was already fighting its tickle as the steam-drenched air softened the tar in his throat but rumours of the stations closure concerned him more.
'You have another daughter, goat.'
Mulk nodded and gave a tender brush to Ronila's hair. 'She's to be called Anahita.'
'You want I take her to the clinic?'
Mulk shook his head and smiled at his wife. 'No, no clinic.’
Gita had gone to the clinic. She'd been kept for the day and night then handed back with a red swelling on her arm and two tiny marks on her tummy. Given back wrapped in the new shimmery shawl gifted with compliments from the caring state, along with papers he couldn't read but had been told he must keep. Then rumours he didn't believe, till she'd almost died of diarrhoea and the clinic had been less than interested. Now he only feared the day he or Ronila had to tell her. The Mehta's had inflicted only one body on the state, and she'd been dutifully neutered. Mulk wondered if there ever would be a day when he could tell her.
Joining the trickle of silent bodies that funnelled to form a flow, he tasted the crackle from his throat and hawked the phlegm out. It was better than begging. Or was it? Thanks to Malik he'd work, yet still they had to ration the money and he wasn’t nearer to his dream: his offering of atonement to Gita. Still, he doubted if he’d the speed or the wit to live off begging now.
The Illusyion, on lease to Air India, adopted its final approach to land at the new Aeroflot manufacturing unit at Tula, south of Moscow. Only its Indian pilot and co-pilot were aboard and once they'd cleared formalities with the minimum of fuss, they were taken straight to Moscow for their flight back. Illusyion 153, call sign Romeo Hotel Niner Niner India India was to have the latest lean burn engines fitted. These would add another four hours of flying time to her present range and the modifications were scheduled for completion in fourteen days.
The cockpit seats had hardly lost the warmth from Indian bums when they were on the move again, further south to the military armament research base at Orsk, within spitting distance of the Kazakhstan border. By nightfall it would have been difficult for a casual observer to identify the purpose of the surgery it was undergoing. The fuselage was stripped of all its passenger necessities. Work was already underway on the deck and mainframes and an additional bulkhead in Air India livery was propped in a rack by its side. By contrast there seemed little interest in the engine pods nestling under the wings. They were routine, and would be seen to later by Aeroflot.
She watched the level indicator blink on to the heliport lounge before closing the entrance door to the flat. Without thinking she threw the switch to the news and started tidying the breakfast dishes; choosing to wash and dry rather than the indulgence of the dishwasher. A short fanfare told her the national and regional news had finished and she'd be listening to "What's On In The Village." 'Village shit! There's more community in a departure lounge.' But she left it to ramble on.
'Good Morning. We really have a full and very interesting itinerary for you today. First, let me tell you the food hall has taken delivery of fresh artichokes, asparagus and some very fine white truffles. These are all from our own farms and we can assure you, completely organically grown. Our usual choice range of meat and fish is to be enhanced for the week end by a delivery of cod and sea bass from the fishery at Loch Duich.'
Yes thought Mary, spawned, fed and processed bland; life in a factory net knowing neither friend nor foe.
“The Boutique 'Plumage' has an exclusive showing of Max Leinamm casual and evening wear. Champagne cocktails will be served and there will be music by the group Elysium. Rumour has it, though we have been strictly told not to promise this, that Max himself may be in attendance.'
'Tonight at seven-thirty, in the Cornwallis Hall, we have the fortnightly meeting of the Society Diogenes. Tonight's guest speaker is professor Noam Arbenze; and his subject, The Linguistic Theory and Syntactic Structures. All interested are cordially invited.'
Tomorrow it would be the mating call of the mute gull, if there were such a bird. No, that wouldn't matter if todays were anything to go by.
'Our health centre is now fully operational after its refit. Today we have yoga, abseiling and karate, mixed. Female defence classes - tiniest giggle- of course are not. And to remind you, tomorrow's aerobics classes are to be combined into one evening session due to the visit of Ms Karen Diaaco who will be demonstrating her new technique, Dyrobic. This has been evaluated by your health centre manager, Brian, as being very suitable for the less physically inclined or those convalescing amongst us.
'Now switching to the news front and speaking of convalescents, we are pleased that Mrs Heighton is back home with her three day old son, Marshal. She tells us her confinement was excellently handled by our facility and...'
Mary killed the sound when she realised her nails were piercing her palms under the soapsuds. The vice of boredom compressing the fluid round her brain and threatening to solidify. She reached for the phone before it rang to inundate her with more ebullient effluence from whoever was first to give in to talking away their day. She knew she'd been a bitch to Dick, but it had been exactly this designer sterility which, added to her own, undermined the little sense of being she had. She knew she was loved. What she didn't know, probably never would, was how much more she might have been if she'd produced the family they'd once talked of.
What if? Waiting for the call to connect she'd to wipe a tear from her eye and thought perhaps the real “What if” was being more thankful for what she had. And she was, which was the reason why she hadn’t challenged Dick. There was nothing specific. No change in his attitude or any sign of subterfuge in his routines. It was in their lovemaking, the extension of the subtler touches, the nibbling of her ears instead of the tongue probing into them. He’d never been a brutal lover or particularly intuitive but now – well he was more patient, more assured. Provided she never found out who it was, she was almost grateful. She’d had plenty of opportunities at the hotel, but bored execs weren’t her style and in hotels nothing’s secret. Perhaps its what they both needed, a discreet indiscretion, and to hell with convention. She’d thought long and hard on possible candidates. Listed the pro’s and weighed the con’s and found none had reached her benchmark. It had nothing to do with seduction or intrigue. Her criteria required whichever partner she choose should be as committed as she was to ensuring Dick was never belittled by it. Which left her with no choice.
There was the sound of an engine dying before the call was answered. 'Bob, it's Mary. Dick's over in Brussels on this committee thing. Is there a chance you could collect me if I get the twelve o'clock to Stoke?'
'Sorry girl, not a chance. The burags have scheduled another field on me for cereals, which means I can cut it for silage. It's what I'm at now and it's a slow process with only me at it.'
Mary chuckled at his slang for the bureaucrats of the ministry, but she wasn't letting him off. 'All right, I'll get a taxi from the heliport.'
'You bloody won't. Christ Dick'll have my guts if he finds out I let you do that. Look, why not leave it till tomorrow? I take it Dick will be back by then and I should have this finished, or am I being a bit slow? You're all right, aren't you?'
'Yes Bob, you're being a bit slow.' Dramatising, perhaps, but if the days were bad, the nights!
'All right, I'll pick you up. I'll ring back when I've got a clearance slot. You’re a bloody nuisance but I expect you already know that.'
The connection broken, she started humming to herself and loaded Tito Scipo into the sound system. She knew Bob wasn't truly annoyed and the chance of rain in the next week was minimal so it didn't matter for the silage and perhaps they’d make hay instead. Wiping condensation of the full length mirror she lifted her breasts slightly and studied her reflection. No sign of wrinkle in the cleavage, perhaps a slight hollowness to the thighs, then twisting to get the back, still no sign of cellulite and whatever happens, seduction wouldn’t come in to it. Bob rang back to confirm the slot time just as she was about to get into the bath. The tenor's final aria would tell her when to get ready.
As the aria's tones were melting into the bathroom walls, Dick turned into the corridor that had the room they'd been allocated at its end. A tap on his shoulder made him turn to find a slightly breathless Antony Morice, the French delegate and friend of Glen, accompanying him.
'Good morning, Dick. You look well which means no doubt you are, and Mary?'
'She's well Antony. How's France?'
'Much the same. Getting tired of the fifth and creating high hopes for the sixth republic; if they have the time. How do you think we will do today?'
Dick shrugged. 'Probably we'll make it out alive but I wouldn't like to put a time on it. I'm hoping your and Glen's efforts will herd them into some sort of consensus and urgency. We're only three weeks away from the report being finalised for publication.'
'Any pressure from Schultz?'
Dick shook his head. 'I've hardly heard from him this year. I don't think they're bothered. Whoever the they are.'
Shrugging Anthony stretching his stride to open the door said, 'Typical.'
They stepped into a dove grey tomb, the wall opposite and the end wall, stratified by deeply tinted glass. On a mezzanine over the reception area were the banks of soundproof cubicles for interpreters. A table of plastic walnut dominated, flanked by 36 delegate chairs with a second tier of 72 for advisors. Today there would only be thirteen used and no advisors or interpreters. They had a tomb to rattle in. The meeting's record would start when Dick pressed the button and called those present to order. At the close he would sign the tape and take it to central records and authorise any copies to those members who'd requested one.
Often, when the scientists got immersed in their esoteric details, he felt his keeper of the record’s role was the sum of his contribution, but he was expecting reactions from this one. It had been Antony who first raised the question: initially with Glen, then as a pair with Dick. Why were they still involved with WREC.? As scientists their work was done, the breeding locations and swarm prints of every pest known to man had been processed, tested, fed into the databanks and tested again for instant recognition and automatic response, matched to metrological and local conditions. Now it was mainly a matter for the technicians and programmers yet there were still the six committees that Dick chaired and he knew of 19 others who probably chaired around the same. While about half the academic world seemed to be funded one way or other by WREC research. As cynical as he was, Dick found it difficult to accept that a bureaucracy could establish itself so quick.
Asked by Glen to keep his eyes and ears open on his other committees Dick did the rounds and after a couple of months had nothing to report. Except a story Gogolynski had told him about rumours supposedly started in Russia of a genetically designed predator that would completely remove their dependency on chemical controls. Glen and Antony’s initial response was dismissive. Glen’s, ‘How’re they going to call them in. Radio control?’ just about summed it up, but as scientists they were obliged to consider the concept, toss it around and see if it grew wings.
They’d not found the wings but checking out some earlier research on tracking insects by radar they’d unearthed a thesis that the statistical power of WREC could either prove or consign to the dustbin of hypothesis. By the time Antony and Glen had got half way into their research they were beginning to respect the reports authors. Later, when the WREC data powered out and showed the quality of their science it grew to reverence, posthumous unfortunately.
Though not exactly within their remit Glen and Antony had written up a report on their findings blandly laying out the facts without comment or recommendations. It was Dicks job to steer it through as one of the three submitted for publication in the report.
Calling the meeting to order Dick squared his agenda as the delegates settled in their seats. Seven to his left, five right. He wondered if it prophesied the vote. Initially he’d set a heavy agenda for the meeting in the hope that Glen’s and Antony’s would sneak through as the final item when brain fatigue had settled in. But that morning he decided on a different tack and cut it down to three. The first two were purely statistical results, which would feed their committee egos and be gilded as continuing success for WREC. The third, whatever the vote, he was including anyway.
Letting the scientists meander their way to unanimous approval on the first two items, Dick glanced at his watch and noted the half hour they’d left till the meetings scheduled completion before raising its final item. ‘You have all contributed to this.' Dick riffled the report's pages. 'I take it you have read Anthony and Glen's summary. Has anyone any new objections as to its content or its submittal for inclusion in our report?' He took a quick breath before adding, 'I'll ask you to limit any discussion to the summary, since we have already agreed that all of your individual comments and concerns, for or against, will be included in the record.' Knowing he'd probably wasted breath, Dick didn't attempt to intercede in the polemics that followed. Neither did Glen or Antony try to defend the overview they'd presented.
They’d done a good job; managing to steer clear of the statistical garbage and parenthesis that stutter the layman’s brain to a dead stop, they'd captured the essence, and that essence was this.
Two scientists, Farrell, Irish, of both Cambridge and Oxford and distinguished by each. With Meany, black Brummie of St Andrews and Wolverhampton and distinguished by neither, had, in 1977, printed an article in Science Now. It was an article that hadn't advanced their careers one academic jot. Nor the career of Professor Jenkins, then head of the mathematics and physics facility at the Cranfield Institute who had scrutinised and confirmed the mathematical model they'd used. Like many other storms in the academic teacup it could have been lost to posterity, except for one act.
Farrell was a gentle man, a quiet soul who required only his integrity. Meany, apart from the obvious, was different. He was pissed off by the reception their report was receiving and, his unfortunate likeness to a comedian who was making a name for himself at the time. Meany was tired of hearing comments about sticking to his night job or had he got his scripts and notes mixed up? During what was to be their final lecture, Meany reacted to the titters of their peers. Brushing Farrell to one side he dropped his trousers, presented his arse and managed, from the depths of his being, to extract an enormous fart before, with some aplomb, dressing himself then addressing their audience.
'Right you'm lot. Here's a lesson on analytical thinking. You’m lot have just seen my arse. Fact. Did yow see my fart?' A few brave though confused heads shook. 'Now then, if yow didn't see it how d'yow know I did it? The few who answered, 'Heard it,' got a nod. The majority, scrabbling for dignity and braying, 'This is ridiculous,' were told to, 'Shut the fuck up.'
'Okay, so yow said yow heard it. Any of yow smell it?' Shaking heads. 'Sow yow didn't see it, yow didn't smell it and only some of yow think yow heard it. But yow saw my arse and heard the titters so yow’r pea brains rattled in yow'r skulls and you’m got yow'r answer. And you’m call me a bloody comedian!'
Meany started a laboratory in Wolverhampton producing skin lotions with fancy “french” names even the French couldn't pronounce, and ended up a multi millionaire. Farrell just kept his head down, except when he was downing his nightly port and pints. Jenkins retired to slippers and confusion.
They’d been ostracised for being right. Glen and Anthony, with all the advantages of computer models and statistical analysis, the flight patterns and radar logistics found Messrs Farrell, Meany and Jenkins had in fact erred slightly on the conservative side. They’d estimated 12 tons of insects to every human on the planet. Glen and Anthony's figures were showing 12.35. By itself not something to worry about. Models proved man had been living with that figure well before Jesus walked the earth. Until 1900 when 1.6 billion was mankind’s reported total; then, defying the slaughter of wars, pandemics of disease and mass starvation to grow to 6.1 billion in the hundred years to the new millennium and 25 years later reach 8.9 billion and still our insect baggage ratio was a proven constant. It beggared the anti car tweakers and buggers the tree huggers. To quote Meany in 1977, “You see,” he’d said, “we, you, they, us; it tells us, are the only plague on earth.”
Dick switched off, let the bitching round him recede to a drone. The report was balanced, understated. No five minutes to midnight or “Eureka’s” of solutions. Weeks before, Dick had asked Glen, “What would happen if there was a fall in the human population?’ The question seemed to raise Glens hackles, “How the hell would I know; population reversal’s never happened.’ Dick let the drone from the meeting tail off, reminding himself that these were the minds that told us why apples fell from trees; why E = mc squared actually had a meaning; why DNA had a double helix and why the earth's mass could be compressed to the size of a fist. And you had to accept it all because it explained the universe and ridiculed god. Yet it couldn't explain love or compassion or hope; it merely confirmed we were chance out of chaos, without divine right or purpose. They were the fashion gurus of intellectual egos. Next year they'd tell you what they knew now was right and the next, then the next. Their protests primarily designed to protect their egos from suffering the same fate as Farrell and Meany, Such integrity, such courage.
'Enough'. The look of surprise round the table told him he'd been louder than he'd meant. He toned it down. 'Enough discussion. I propose we vote and if the item is carried any dissenter will be allowed a short statement on tape as to their reasons for dissent. Four were against. Chavez and Granger thought it irrelevant. Forsiya felt it was premature and should be further studied and analysed. Schulter said the same, only he called it unscientific and arbitrary. Dick thanked them and closed the meeting.
He used the excuse of signing the tape and depositing it, to side step the usual post meeting drinks in the hospitality suite. Instead he made for a canteen used by minor officials and secretaries. Anthony was already seated, Glen collecting the coffees. Dick waited until they were settled. 'Well it's done. Schultz should have his copy tomorrow. What do you reckon's going to happen then?'
Glen shrugged. 'You tell us. What usually happens when Schultz gets the report?'
'Nothing. He only calls if there's a point he wants clarifying.'
Anthony asked, 'And how often is that?'
Dick had to think. 'Twice last year. So far this year once, and when he does it's as though he's only half interested and the questions are practically rhetorical.'
'Sorry Dick, rhetorical?'
Dick laughed, 'A question that answers itself Antony, lawyers are good at them.'
'So he is cynical, yes, but we get everything we ask for and sometimes more. So perhaps it's just the lawyer coming out in him.'
Glen, blandly ignoring the pointed look from a waitress to the no smoking sign concentrated on stoking his pipe. 'Worrying isn't it, especially when you tie it in with a word we haven't heard for five years?'
Antony looked puzzled. 'Go on?
Dick smiled. 'Well, it’s out now. If they don’t respond it's pretty certain they already knew and I can't see them not trying for a solution. And if we're not asked we can take it for granted the solutions not down to us. And by raising it we could be regarded as a liability and put out to grass. '
Antony shrugged, 'C’est selon.’
Or under it.' Glen said, handing slips of paper to Antony and Dick. ‘I think we’ve more than our skins to worry about. Meantime I'm off to the Mackenzie to sit with my feet in the snow, head in the sun trying to con a salmon that a coloured feather is a fly. While I try to con myself into believing nothing is happening and its quite normal to be fishing for salmon at this time of the year. That number is where I may be contacted, but don't panic if I'm not, just leave a message.'
'You flying Antony?'
'No, I'm booked on the sleeper to Paris for a change. Thought it might be interesting to get a ground eye view.'
'Hope springs eternal.'
Glancing at his watch, Dick swung out of his chair. 'Book us on the next ride to the airport, I'll just give Mary a ring.' Only it wasn’t Mary he called, it was Ruth who answered.
They didn't talk on the chopper to the airport. Only when they shook hands to separate for their flights did Dick ask, 'Where do you think Glen?'
He waited while Glen stuffed his hands deep into his coat's pocket. 'Who the hell knows with these guys. But there's a lot going on there at the moment. I'd say it’s Africa.'
Deek gloated on the pain as his boot studs scoured down the heel of Felton's sweeper. Collecting the ball he muffed the pass and wasn't bothered. The pain was real, proven by the watery-eyed anger of the sweeper. That, like the crap pass, didn't bother him. This thing, feeling, abstraction, he was neither sure of the word or the feeling, just that it seemed to happen a lot lately. What he thought would be adventures became boring, most times before they even started.
Life was something that took you by the balls, gave them a twitch to excite, and then ignored you. Maybe it was something to do with age, though he couldn't see why fourteen should be much different from the year before. Even the thing with Joyce Wilson had ended in self-ridicule. A nervy adventure to indenture his willy had, despite all his imagining, ended up a fumbled success, and left him with the nagging question of why he'd bothered.
Truth was he'd kinda lost interest while her snaking tongue was rumbling round his mouth. He'd put up the shutters, allowed no more questions of why the dream thrill of getting there was robbed by being there. He concentrated on boobs, where brassiere and school smelling blouse clung like cling film to pot roast. How the grungy knickers had ripped as he eased them off and her fanny salivating before he’d started finger fucking it while willy-not-yet-cock ached for control, struggled for guidance and prayed for the one miracle that by the common consensus of his peers made sense of the world.
He wasn’t sure what made him come so quick. Could have been the discomfort; his left arm pinned beneath her accommodating bulk was threatening fusion with the concrete, its hand deserting through cramp. Or the smell, their odour seemed to mix to an acidity that had affinity with the smelly belly of scabbed flats and vinegered fried fish. It was another con. Wanking was better, you could imagine that perfect. Well almost.
For days after he'd watched her, wondering if she was watching him. If she laughed and looked his way, he knew her companions were being told. The bitch was giving her mates the logistics of his anatomy, the crudity of its guidance systems and the low setting of its pressure controls. Deek floated in the spongy world of the clock-watcher. Fingers tracing the resin, gum, cum, dirt bonded edges of his desk while eyes searched for anything of interest and expected nothing. Nothing, maybe that was what it was all about. Love, law then nothing.
His sister Rosie had got married when she was pregnant. She'd had her little bit of love, satisfied the law and was living a life as another Mr and Mrs nothing. Rosie and Barry had been his sanity patch. The rebels he could have some pleasure with, while they whispered secrets and found something in their world to laugh at. Sometimes Rosie enjoyed the jokes so much that she'd remember them afterwards. Pretending sleep, he'd wait for her stifled gasps, then her legs thrashing. He'd thought she was in pain the first time and asking been told, 'Go back to sleep, it's just something I've been thinking about.' God, he’d wished he had adventures that could wake him up with excitement. He wouldn't hold it in squirming, thrashing and moaning to drown it. He'd let it out in great yelps, huge bellows of air so his belly would have to draw from every hole in his body to feed his lungs. He'd let it exterminate him, ride on its freedom, soar out of these nothings. Maybe that's why Rosie had lost out. She'd held it back and only allowed it to squeeze out. He'd grab it. Why the hell should he care where it took him? Of course he knew better now.
By morning he'd forgotten all he was going to change as he waited cross- legged for his Gran to finish in the bog, taking a deep breath as the door cracked open in preparation for the stench that would follow. Grandda no name had smelt the same, as though their waste confirmed their decay.
He stared after the quilted nylon concertina stocking'd figure and wondered if he'd ever known her. At fourteen had she ever put it about and gloated about it with her mates? It was Saturday, and something had to happen. He could nick a rod, pick up Gemma - who he really fancied - and Rab, and get a skirt for him, then pedal to the metal and away. 'Jesus fuck. MOTHER!' Deek screeched when the shower's warm envelope turned discipline cold. Stupid bitch had run the hot in the kitchen. Giving up he turned off the shower and looking like a plucked chicken towelled his skin flat.
His balls flapping against his thigh told him his body temperature was returning to normal. He'd never nicked a car and didn't suppose he would today, but for certain he'd had enough of Mangy Macgregor and his paper round and stick it up his thirty euro when-I-was-your-age-stuttering arse. Having suffered defeat of his nighttime resolution by just being there, he was determined to reverse it into victory. Instead of swinging round the corner and onto his route he headed into town. '
‘Read all about it. Newspapers; get your papers here.' He felt hammy, until the money started tumbling into his hands and the pile of papers started dropping fast. Nobody seemed bothered why this enterprise should have appeared by the traffic lights. Motorists honked and bawled for attention, sliding windows down the minimum to allow the exchange. He learnt quickly. It was money out before telling them what he had, gauging the pressures of lights changing and horns whether to give change. He'd sold the lot in the hour and was close to 180 euros richer.
It wasn't enough. He didn't suppose the takings from Sunday would be enough either. Twice as much in price and twenty more to sell. But he was sure to lose the wages he was due. He was already one hundred and fifty up, tomorrow, three times that - if he'd the bottle to go in and brazen it out with Mangy. He decided to stay in for the afternoon. He lost himself in the bedroom waiting for the phone call from Mangy, expecting to be told to kiss good-bye to Sunday, the money and the crash of another dream before it have started to flap, let alone fly.
He could picture the recriminations. His old man, struggling for words and swinging his fists while enjoying the anger that released his own frustration. This time he'd get a kick in the balls. His mother would be screaming at the bastard for hitting him and wailing at the disgrace, the infamy of her progeny. Gran's head would shake like a nodding dog's while she tut-tutted her agreement at whatever they were shouting about. All of them would be heavy on the self-praise as they extolled the virtues and values they'd lavished on the evil little shit. But the phone didn't ring and Deek fell asleep.
The shoe pressing into his buttock woke him. 'C'mon you, yer tea's out.'
Puffed with sleep he followed his father into the kitchen and tried to keep himself switched out for the evening litany. The food, just something on a plate and stuck in front of him.
'Eat your tea Mother. You need to eat.'
'Well, leave your mash, but try and eat some beans and the sausage,' His mother leaned across, cutting sausages into morsels to lessen the effort. 'Here now, eat that.' Gran looked vaguely rebellious but allowed the loaded fork into her mouth.
'Christ, what a bloody waste!'
'Shut up you. She pays for everything she gets, more'n can be said for you.'
Eyes down, Deek waited for his father to start the full house.
'Never realised she had a slate with Sangster and a standing order for sausages every day of the friggin' week. I thought you porkured them.' Deek saw his face slip into a sarcastic grin. 'Let's you slip them out after he's slipped it in does he?'
His mother's eyes danced off Deek before fixing on her other half. Gran didn't get a glance; she'd found a new game of humming through her sausage. Sangster was the butcher in the precinct where his mother was last in every evening to clean and lock up. She was also handy if any disturbance set the alarms off, a pretty regular happening. It saved the jovial, red faced, white haired Sangster from risking the fifteen miles journey from his home, which was why they had a telephone and Sangster paid the bills. But his old man didn't believe, or said he didn't, the reason for the sausages. Joints, chops, rashers, sometimes steaks, chickens or even mince, for some mystical reason she could never explain were believed by Mrs Awkright to be accountable, while sausages were untraceable. 'Oh shittin' Christ, wouldn't that put anybody off?'
Deek looked up in time to see a sucked sausage slithering out of his Gran’s mouth. He watched fascinated as it raddled the air between mouth and plate.
'C'mon now, Mother.' Solicitous words fell from his mother's lips as she wiped the offending mouth with her apron and got ready to guide her placid ally from the table. Turning she forked the second sausage. 'You want it Deek? It hasn't been touched.'
Time he got out. Rab would be out, or about to go out with Gemma. One of the reasons for the car dream being pure fantasy. He'd blown Finch and an evening zapping androids and maybe a bit of porn once his parents went to bed. Snudger would be in and might come out, but away from his keyboard he followed like a moon shadow, waiting for you to give up so he could go back. There was Gunge. There was always Gunge. His affliction made him a leper, made Deek want to puke even more than his Gran did. Gunge should have shone at rugby, cleared the pool at swimming, drowned in the high jump, slid through the breaks at snooker, worn a full face mask at squash and be banned from any gym. Nobody, but nobody, would borrow his towel, ask for a draw of his fag, share a spliff or snaffle a sweet. If Gunge had been a dealer he'd be bankrupt. He couldn’t mouth crack to a rabid dog. He lived directly above them and there had been nights when Deek had nightmares of the gluttonous, sinusitis-adenoidal mass slowly slipping round the bloated rubber lips then oozing through the gaps and crannies till it started dripping on to him. He still hesitated for a second before pressing the down button on the lift. No, that was desperation beyond boredom. He'd go down to the snooker, see if he could get a game before the heavy mob came in. He'd take enough for a couple of games, risk nothing on the fruits.
Deek never stopped to relish the fresh air as the entrance door closed behind him. Under the stilts of their vertical street any breeze became a refrigerated draught, any wind, straight from a frozen hell. Turning his collar up he took a couple of lazy kicks at a fag and pizza packet that were dancing a dervish dance to the wind's pluck. Deek watched his feet walk off the path onto the stunted grass shortcut. He rarely looked up; there was little to see except more of the same unless you racked your neck looking for the sky and risked walking into a dead stick. Some City Fatherwanker had come up with the idea of planting these ecology saving environment enhancers. There had been a great promotion last summer when Hope Court was freshly re-signed from being Ho.. ...rt.
Deek hadn't been interested in the black limo, or the medallion man with the scuffed worn heels who’d waved till he realised nobody was waving back. He’d been followed by a woman who would have kept her nose in the air, but for scouring the ground for dog shit or maybe in case any of the nuggets fell from his necklace. Deek’s interest was in the goddess who’d followed them. She was their nightly newscaster: his vision of beauty from the other world; his window-shopping, class through the glass. But he only ever saw her as a face in the close up or as a half in the long shots with sometimes a little cleavage thrown in. He’d often wondered what her whole, even what her hole was like. Was she class, complete commitment to unflawed perfection, or did she wear jeans and tatty trainers under the desk? And did she, like his old man when he'd worked for Norhams, have the company logo reflecto-lettered on her back?
There she was, queen of all she surveyed, not five feet from him. He'd watched the legs get out of the TV car, not immediately recognising who they belonged to. Then the viewed holograph became reality and he'd captured the vision forever in his brain and, though he could never be certain, because short skirts were in, the glimpse of a hued triangle. He thanked God, the planners, the builders and anybody else for allowing her to be here. Almost cowed by lust, he drank in her being, until she opened her mouth.
'What's the pricks name again, and how long 'ave we got?'
The driver of the station wagon answered, 'His name's Preece, but just address him as Mayor. We've got twenty minutes. We'll take some crowd shots while there's enough round to look like interest. Then he plants the thing followed by you interviewing him and finish off with the intro. They wanted us to hang on for a bit and show the grateful eco-oids clamouring to plant theirs, we said we didn't have time on the schedule.'
The queen had nodded once, put some more slap on and smacked her lips. 'Twats! They should know there isn't enough time in our lifetime for that to happen with this lot.'
Her voice buried his awe. It could have been Joyce Wilson's, or any tart in the next flat, street or chippy. Words pruned for minimum effort. He eyed his ex while she fussed with a face that, close up, didn't match the promise, before panning down to the childbearing hips. It was like Joyce Wilson, everything promised to look and feel right but when you got there it didn't. He almost spat at her when he took in the legs that wouldn’t have stopped a pig in an alley.
The reminiscing took him down to Jubilee Hall. Only when it's door closed behind him did he search for some involvement in any of its six tables. The first two had blokes he didn't know playing doubles. The third had one player casually potting whatever ball suited him. Deek knew him by reputation and knew the three blokes waiting at the end of the table weren't waiting for him to clear, but for any visitor to take a colour from the pocket, spot it, and be scrutinised before getting, or not, an imperceptible nod of the head. Only once had he seen anybody argue; not so much argue as plead. The punter had put the ball on the spot and waited. It was ignored. He'd wandered round beside the player and showed him his cupped hands. The player didn't move, cued his shot while his eyes checked round like a cornered gecko. The shot played and pocketed, the punter persisted, kept on persisting while the player squeezed in front and selected to play the white from behind the touching black. There seemed no reason for the shot; there were easier ones to play, until the player's elbow rose and the cue shot back into the punter's mouth. Deek had heard the teeth snap and had winced before the howls of pain reached him. He'd watched two of the spectators help the injured man to the toilets. Bloke must have had a run of bad luck. Deek saw him a couple of days later and this time his arm was in a sling, he was walking with a limp and had a surgical collar supporting a face the colour and configuration of a baboon's arse.
The fourth table was empty, while the fifth was being played by a couple of queers who, in between rubbing their balls and stroking their cues, applauded every shot with a touch, unless it was a pot, then they kissed. Deek saw the result of one pot before a Scot's burr became dominant.
'Hey! You pair a arsole faggots. Cut that oot in front a the kid or I'll leave ye we just enough cock for it to be a clit.'
The queers didn't give and didn't push it apart from a disinterested, 'Up yours mate.'
The three spectators, faces hardened, waited for their cue to respond then slowly softened when it didn't come. Pete Smith was on the sixth table along with three of his mates, but apart from leering at Deek, didn't acknowledge him. Deek wasn't bothered. He sat by the empty table fantasising on the chances of Jock on table three taking a shine to him and giving him a game while the pair on the fifth fascinated him. They didn't look like queers; every move they made was rough and tough, even the kiss looked as though they were trying to rip tongues out. He didn't fantasise for long.
'Hey kid, fuck off, this's no a place for you.' Jock had gone paternal.
Deek slouched out, knowing he was going to get ragged from Smith on Monday, not knowing what Smith on Monday would be dying to tell him.
Half an hour later the hall had filled up and table four was being played while Smith and his mates were hanging on to the pink and black till their lights went out. Two mates of the queers had come in and were watching them play. Nothing happened till table three processed a punter. He was passing table one on his way out when one of the blokes on that table tripped him. The crash and oath as he fell caused everybody to look their way, just in time to see the two queers kick Jock's legs from under him, twist the arm up his back while the cue it had been holding pinned his neck to the table. Their two mates had taken two of the spectators while the third legged it as far as the entrance only to be tripped by the expert on table one, he seemed to make an art of it. Pete Smith was disgusted, the filth were playing dirty.
Deek would have wanted to know how his hero on the third had taken it. Had he played it cool, fought them off with mad magnificent anger or, though he couldn't see it, had he started to slobber? Had Smith been more attentive he'd have heard Jock shout, 'Mind the fucking cue,' been able to report and ponder on it, but he hadn't. Jock was a man of ethics. He refused to punt to kids, even if they'd been sent by their guardians. He knew pushers who did, but they weren't in his patch. He'd a reputation to uphold. For generations his family had made their gilt in the scrap business. When that went dead they'd continued the tradition by reprocessing human scrap. He'd had a jittery time when the new deal began to show some effect. Punters had dwindled to the point where he thought he'd have to get on the plane and join them in the dark continent. Just as well he hadn't. Back on leave in batches, they arrived rich, left poor. Between leaves their wives and girlfriends were more malleable, profitable and pleasant to deal with. Tonight's little theatre had been expected. He'd handled nothing, the punter had done as he was told, and his back up had only handled soft. They'd get a caution and a fine, the fuzz a result and their boss his fee. It was only a question of cash flow and overheads.
Instead Deek was walking back by the Righy, down through its wilderness of dereliction. No stars or moon guided his path, only familiarity, until he reached the canal bank with its track. He was still smarting at his dismissal, the use of "kid". The jolt of his foot expecting earth but finding air for another inch made him grudgingly aware of his surroundings. He floated over the hump bridge and joined the cultured path on the other side. From here he could pick out the lights of the precinct. Half closing his eyes he imagined himself on a spaceship, the precinct it's bridge and control centre.
'Well folks, this is it. We will go where no man, concrete, creaking lifts, cheap glass jewellery, chip shops, sausages, pizza, fag packets or decapitated trees have gone before. Our power source is boredom refined to pure despair. Confirm Scottie.'
'Aye, Captain, all systems are go, all sources of boredom infinitely renewable. Right Mr Zulu; five-four-three-two-one.' Even with his eyes half closed he knew he was boldly going nowhere.
Rab was in the chippy when he passed, he wasn't going to go in until he saw him. 'Hi Rab, doing anything?'
Rab turned from the picture he'd been studying while waiting for the Greek to spoon out his fish then slide it with the chips through the hatch in the security grill. 'Deek. Anything doing?'
'Nah, thought you'd be out with Gemma.'
'She's with her sister in Tunisia. On holiday like.'
Deek hadn't a clue where Tunisia was. 'So you're free and clear?'
Rab gave the easy smile that Deek envied so much for its promise of control, 'Why? You got anything in mind?'
The Greek from Oldham eyed Deek, waiting for his order, then gave a shrug and rattled down a lid on the range as they walked out. Not wanting to blow his second chance of the evening, Deek tried to fill the void with words. 'Went down to the snooker. No chance, place's crawling.'
'So's this.' Rab took a hop, step and jump and aimed his supper for the waste bin on the precinct's gallery. He missed but not by much.
'I'm pissing off tomorrow.'
Rab's look gave him less than a decimal point of interest.
Deek persisted. 'No, for real.' He described the moves he'd made with the papers and his intentions to do the same with the Sundays and how much he'd make, then waited for a response.
'You're a prat, Deek. How much is that going to stake you and where you going to go? There's fuck all west of here and London must be as much of a dump, just bigger. What makes you think a couple of days paper money and a bike is going to get you out?'
Deek shrugged. 'Don't know if it will or not Rab, but there's nothing here and I can't see it changing, so what's to lose?'
Rab suddenly stopped, his eyes searching the precinct for interest or inspiration. 'Don't know Deek. Problem is I don't know if there's anything to gain.'
'C'mon Rab, you seem to do all right.'
'Maybe. Listen, you want to come up? I've got the place to myself. Old man's fishing and she's off to her sister's. They've got a new porny, that and a couple of spliffs will lighten us up.'
Deek's shrug belied his excitement. He'd dragged, but only the odd puff. He seen pornies before, at Finch's, but it'd been foreign, sub titles in black boxes that censored the juicy bits and weren't worth reading. Besides Finch had been jittery. His finger had hovered on the remote, darted on the off at every noise, real or imagined. But this was Rab.
'Is it foreign?'
'Don't know, never watched it.'
Deek was cool. 'Yeah. Okay.' Maybe something was about to happen
A minor crime, MUMBAI
Mulk waited for the chain's rattle to reach the pitch before throwing the lever that let the tipping ring extend its gripping teeth into the wagon. He ignored the juddering hiss from the nozzles of the dowsing pipes. They were only there to dupe the health inspector, so he could be told they'd just blocked and he, being a richer dupe, could accept it. Walking along the catwalk Mulk hammered the upturned wagon loosening any coal stuck to its shell. He'd told Malik of Anahita's arrival, told him of feeling her hair, still slick with the fluid of her mother womb, of the glow he felt on seeing his life take on another form. Malik had punched his shoulder and laughed as he squatted in the shade and draught of the power station's induction fans.
'You're crazy, man. She's only another mouth, another body to live with and not to know.'
'Not true, Malik. I know my family. How can I not? They are me and Ronila.'
'Clown. How can nothing know anything?'
'How can we be nothing?'
This was the third wagon since their break and he was still struggling with the question when he threw the lever back and felt the catwalk judder as the rails reconnected. Malik, working out of sight, swung the hitch chains on, and the chain donkey rattled, pulling the next wagon forward. When Malik worked he didn't, when he worked Malik didn't. He'd more to do than Malik but that was only fair; Malik had fixed him up with the job. Looking back through spores of dust he could just make out the outline of the wagon that would mean the end of their day entering the loop. The overhead lights were beginning to take-over from the sun when Mulk caught sight of the overman watching him. The man's stance and glare made the nerves in his belly flutter and his arm hesitate when he heard the chain fly into the donkey hitch. He threw his lever late and left a pile of coal beyond the drop gates. Why now? Not today, not the whole of last week, not for months had either of them lost the swing. Why now? Grabbing his shovel he shouted a warning to Malik then feverishly started clearing the overburden of coal.
'You. What's your number?'
Mulk told him, never stopping or raising his eyes beyond the hand that was using a crayon stub to write the four digits on the back of its brother. Possessed he dug into the coal knowing the overman would see how fast it was disappearing and that it would be all gone, or almost, by the time he got the kick or welt from his stick.
'Give me your tag and your hand.'
Mulk straightened, already feeling his mind gripping to its core, only his sweat telling him he wasn't a ghost. 'Only a mistake boss. First for a long time. Please.' He didn't hate himself for pleading only for the lack of wit to plead more effectively.
'Shut up.' The overman took his hand and put a mark on the back. 'Save that or you get no wages.'
'Why?' Mulk didn't recognise his voice, fear robbing it of manhood. 'Please, for my children. Please, I work harder, pay you. Please sir.'
Sheer malevolence shone from the overman’s eyes. The heady drug of power feeding the tyranny of a little mind and the greed of small conceptions. Such a mind had two hundred men working in the coal-handling yard. Collecting baksheesh from them weekly was too risky because of the supervisor. But sacking a few each week and collecting a fee from their replacements was easy, and the money all his. It was good for the station because it kept them on their toes and he didn't mind if this idiot paid the price to start again next week.
'Look squawk, if I say you're finished, you're finished.'
'Ah, our esteemed overman is a poet.' Mulk closed his eyes and wished Malik wouldn't interfere.
The overman hardly gave Malik a glance. 'Get back to your side or I'll finish you as well.'
'Your pig mother in her foolishness fucked a dog turd.'
Mulk watched the overman’s face distort, heard the mouth spit its words through froth and he knew all was lost.
'Finish. Finish now. You get no mark.'
Malik smiled. 'Who would put out their hand for dog shit?' His smile didn't vary when he brought the spare donkey chain, its links as thick as a man's finger, down on the overman’s head. It happened before Mulk knew it then slowed to a hiatus of indelible clarity. He saw the head split open then the chain curl under the armpit to slash back along the face. As the body fell free of the chain he saw the grey flash of his shovel scythe up into the exposed neck. Again and again it hacked down until the face flopped to the sky at an impossible angle. Malik grabbed the shovel mid flight and wrestled it from him.
'Mulk it's over. Dead's enough. Throw the shit in the bunker and get some coal on top of him.' Malik was already spreading the coal dust over the pool of blood. Shuddering back to the now, Mulk collected handfuls of dust and spread them over the splatter on the tipping ring. Malik gave a quick look round before grabbing Mulk's arm and leading him to the catwalk ladder.
'Get rid of his mark,' he ordered Mulk before jinking between the wagons to his station.
Mulk heard the clunk of the donkey chain lock then threw the lever to close the grave with another thirty tons before spitting on the mark and rubbing it against his leg to remove it.
Eventually the body would reappear. By then it would have been ripped by the drag chains to its component parts before being minced then mashed by the crushers. Mulk knew this. He knew that by the time the processed overman was scattered over the stock tip he would be morsels for the scavenging dogs, cats, birds and flies. He knew this because the line didn't stop if one of them fell in. Waste of time; they'd be dead and partly processed by the time it stopped. No body; no problem. He knew all this but it was reassuring to hear Malik whisper it to him when the sweat soaked his shivering body on the way home.
Malik started to chuckle. 'It's the price you pay for having your brain between your legs.'
'What do you mean?' Mulk's confusion increased Malik's mirth.
'Easy. You take one in today, you take one out. One in, one out. Back to nothing.'
Mulk smiled as though he was amused but still didn't get the point. Malik always went on about being nothing. How could he, Ronila, Gita, Raj, little Mulk and now Anahita, be and yet be nothing? He was a good friend, Malik, but maybe a little frightening, a little crazy.
They spoke little once they left the train and made their way to the forest of steel supporting the lights that shone to the sky in a pattern they'd never see. Without a word they stopped before the light's backwash gave recognition to their forms and stepping off the path, squatted side by side, each clutching their meal wrapping to wipe then cover as a warning to others. In close affinity they watched a London flight close as a winking star. Its screaming snarls smothered their strains and its toxic fumes conquered for seconds the smell of their shit. Together they straightened, belting their breeches low on the hip. Mulk wondered if Ronila's mother would still be there. It would be better if she wasn't; it would mean there were no problems and he would let Ronila rest by making Gita hold the covering sheet while he washed. Then he would take his Anahita and sing to her. He felt Malik touch his elbow before disappearing into the night.
Bob's hand automatically felt for the twelve bore wedged in the clamps as his eyes gave the once over to his horizons. Seeing nothing to trouble him he let in the clutch and put the mower in gear. Bess was over in the patch he'd finished yesterday before collecting Mary, writhing her back in the stubble and snapping the air at the insects around her. Poor bitch, Bob mused, scorning his own annoyance at having to work within a veil, making impossible the enjoyment of a pipe. Bloody hell, not so long ago the pipe itself had been enough to keep everything at bay. Come to think of it, almost everybody as well, except Sal. She used to say she liked it. As he settled into the routine of the work his mind was left to wander. Stubborn was when you refused to accept ways others had adopted and had proved to work.
He didn't have any sense of that happening now. Dick and Mary, who might have been the exceptions, had been hijacked into the conformity camp and now were struggling to keep what they had with each other. Mary's visit yesterday then her overnight stay had confirmed it, and now he wasn't in a position to refuse. Paradoxically it had probably been their move to the condo along with Dick’s trips on the WREC thing that got it started. Looking for guilt he’d asked himself why? He neither felt used or using; anymore than the pleasure it held and, as far as he could tell, Mary felt the same. Who was to tell? He knew for her Dick would always come first. It was simply an oppurtunistic bonk designed solely for pleasure never to hurt or complicate lives. He would still visit his friend in Stoke. Sometimes pub grub, other times she cooked; times he fell asleep on the sofa, others he’d wake to feel the weight of her leg thrown over him in bed. Then there was always breakfast. It was pleasant, satisfying, sanitising. Nothing wrong in that so why should this be any different?
There was other paradoxes: security and reality. If one was fences and weapons could the other be called real? Farming wasn't real any more. Its independence was long gone. The burags knew it all. The acreage to be put to crop was notified along with the specified fields; the fertiliser and seed duly delivered. You chose whether you tilled and sowed, or called their contractors in. Either way, they knew as soon as the seed was sown, and you were left to caretake. Left to husband the stock they allowed while the sans burags monitored, sprayed and gave you ten days’ warning of the harvesters arriving. They'd reduced farming to a fine fart; plenty of smell but little substance for the body to struggle with. Christ he'd woken in the night to see the choppers drilling the air above fields he'd walked only hours before and left as clean as grass.
He'd rung Jon at Betley to ask if he'd been done, then quartered the compass to get more no's. Yet, checking in the morning he'd found clean wheat, while beneath was a blanket of aphid husk like dirty snow. It was impressive, impossible to argue against, hard to identify with; it was the cybernetics of control. Ethereally the opposite of religion, all result and no soul and for him, who didn't really believe in any religion, it rang even less true. Might have been different if Sal was still around and he could talk it over with her. Could be what he was doing now, but like all the other times he'd never had an answer. If he'd only… If! Damn the word, damn the deed, damn the time it took and damn the fact he’d fucked his brothers wife.
Dick had decided to take Whisperwind back to home waters and since Bob couldn't afford time for the whole jaunt from St Lucia, had offered to take Sal and young Rab for the break, leaving Bob to join them for the leg from the Canaries home. It had seemed a great idea at the time and even better when he got there, sitting in a place that was meant for sun. Drinking everything iced and unpronounceable, and laughing at half understood jokes from the cosmos of ocean travellers gathered at a land hole. He had the feeling of escape and being one again with Sal, finding her tanned, even in the naughty bits became a gloriously dedicated affirmation of freedom, without the bugbears of schedules. A golden time of gilded bodies locked in a treasury all their own. Then time nudged them onwards to its march.
Twice he caught Dick giving a quick tap with his pencil to Whisperwind's barometer on their third day out.
'You expecting trouble?'
Dick had stuck the pencil back in his mouth as a substitute cigarette and checked the satellite weather print against the chart. 'Don't know. We're on latitude forty-four and on course so I'd expect to be out of the Azore's high. It's just the glass is dropping a bit too fast.'
Bob tried to keep it light, 'Still, nothing to worry about, probably mean a quicker thrash through Biscay,'
'Probably right. I'll keep an eye on it.'
He'd seen Dick wasn't convinced. Saw it in the way he'd started back tracking the earlier weather printouts on the chart and how the isobars were closing. Somehow, for northerners, it's hard to believe storms are brewing when the sun's shining, the sea's sliding you along in an easy rhythmic swell and the hull gets the hiss of a lazy cat from the water it's pushed aside. Hard maybe, but only a fool ignores them. Bob said nothing as he went forward to the sail locker, rooting until he'd the two smallest sail bags to hand. He still said nothing when he was back on deck, striding over recumbent flesh, circuited the boat stowing checking and lashing while Dick double-checked. Looking west over the shrink-wrapped swell it was still hard to believe.
By four in the morning, doubt had long gone. The sea was shouldering them now, lifting them high till stinging spume spread like a net over the pit they'd been dragged from; only to transform when the wave tipped and folded sending Whisperwind careening down its back. It was one wave. Didn't matter you knew it wasn't. It was one malicious, malevolent, venomous, unadulterated, piss in the sink, bastard of a wave trying to pound you into submission, grind you to pulp, before sucking you into oblivion. Sometimes it would lull by not breaking. Once, twice or a dozen times, before twisting its watery sinews to cocoon the morsel in its vortex throat, trying to spin before crashing down. It would change tack. A snide surprise sliding in from the opposite quarter, spinning you broadside, mashed and tenderised. All to the wind's whorish, shrieking accompaniment, while its salt spume semen, impregnated your eyes, nose and mouth. But it was only the one wave. To concede there were ten, or hundreds, or thousands to be fought, feinted, parried and jinked was too much. They'd only to outfox the one.
None of then knew the exact moment. Whether it was when it spun them over, turning Whisperwind into an anvil of death, or when she repented of her treachery and shouldered them back to the maelstrom. Minutes were lost disentangling themselves, orienting minds to environment, bodies to limbs, lungs gasping air while sinuses ran clear of brine.
One body but two souls were lost.
Then the months that he'd combed the beaches from Brest to Corunna. Rab, getting compassionate leave, had stayed with him for a month. Mary had stayed throughout. Dick returning every weekend to a vigil of despair that had left Jon to look after the farm for six months longer then the one to two he'd agreed to. He did nothing but comb beaches, clamber down rocks and peer down cliffs, waiting for the sea to give up its flotsam.
He never thanked the fishermen of Gaucho after visiting the morgue in Bilbao. The ocean suit with its sheared D ring still on its harness told its story, but not enough to persuade. The gold ring, a simple band washed of any significance. It was the jumper, darned, except for the hole in the right elbow that damningly convinced. The rest were the clothes of a woman, but the jumper was his. That was when his world and values had changed. Now he was a grandfather to Rab and Lyn's young Sally, fucking his brother’s wife and had a full load on the trailer at his back.
A Shaky Mover
Jim Mair didn't enjoy his ride from Camp David, it felt he was on his way to officially act out the things he and Alexei had discussed only hours before. He wasn't a gambler but now the stakes were placed and the game was truly on. Even the sight of the capitals "no go" ghettos that usually spurred him on didn't help.
It was two hundred and thirty-nine years since the most visionary constitution for the governance of secular man had been introduced; when Maryland had gladly ceded the ten square miles to allow a capital to be built and utopia formed from its octagonal order. What would Washington, Adams, Jefferson or Reynolds feel if they were accompanying him over the 2026 version of their dream? That visions don't last: or they screwed up?
Two hundred and thirty-nine years, about twelve and a half thousand weeks, made you realise a lifetime wasn't a long time. Chickenshit when you put it into perspective. Time enough to go from cabin to capital, and to degrade it with slum and ghetto. Even less for the import of the poor downtrodden masses to mutate into the home grown. God Bless America and God help anybody who tells it the truth.
© Eoin Taylor