Authors: Charles Kennedy Scott
Charles Kennedy Scott
Text copyright ©2012
Charles Kennedy Scott
Cover photography ©2012
All Rights Reserved
10 – A Consequence of Child Abuse
1 – An
She said, ‘I’ve been mugged by a man with a tan.’
‘A man with a tan?’ asked the officer.
‘That’s right, a man with a tan.’
Speaking into his radio the officer said, ‘All
officers, alert. Man with tan on the loose. I repeat, man with tan. Apprehend
if sighted. Use necessary and unnecessary force. Apprehend man with tan.’
‘I’ve spotted him,’ replied the radio. ‘Man with tan,
I’m on him.’ The radio began to pant. The officer, the mugged woman, the sudden
crowd, stared at the radio, which the officer moved up and down with its pants.
‘You,’ it said, ‘Man with tan, stop. Halt. No! Ooph! I’m down. I’m down.’ The
radio went dead as the officer met some fate. The crowd gasped. Their own
tanless faces awaited the next thing. Tans were illegal. Tans were out. Meanwhile
the escalator launched people through the air. They landed and went about their
business in this roofed world. These were its pale population.
‘He took my Life,’ the mugged female told the officer.
‘What are you going to do about that, you stupid man? My
The officer gave a hollow sigh and with a gloved hand
slapped her quite hard. ‘You were lucky it was only your Life. He might have
killed you. You women never keep your Lifes safe. Did you have it swinging
round your waist, like a handbag of days gone by? I bet you did. You tart.’
The woman – no, she was a girl, nineteen –
she blushed. She had a name, Delilah. The officer, Officer JJ Jeffery,
continued, ‘That’s right, showing off your Life, weren’t you. The latest model
probably. That’s the kind of girl you are, I can tell by your smell.’ JJ
Jeffery sniffed Delilah, so did the crowd, still present with their eager push.
‘When did you last have sexual intercourse? I bet you do it all the time, don’t
you. Now you’re stuck. All those names lost with your Life, no more dirty-dirty
for filthy little you. You whore.’
This pale population didn’t have those kinds of
relations any more, didn’t get up to that business: now a redundancy,
intercourse. But the man with the tan, he’d do it, thought Delilah, who at this
moment even considered Officer JJ Jeffrey with a careless inhibition she’d
later shiver at. Men in uniform, there’d been four or five in her Life. A
longish list of others. All gone now, gone with her Life.
The officer said, ‘You did it this morning, didn’t
you, Miss Disgusting. Just because you’re young, you think you can get away it.
You make me sick, sick to the brim. And the noises you make, the faces, you
should be ashamed of yourself. Shouldn’t she, everyone.’ The crowd murmured,
with a collective groan, and then clapped. And the officer said, ‘It’s not
human, doing what you–‘
‘Man with tan spotted!’ A new voice on the radio now.
The radio’s pants were longer this time. The officer lifted it up and down, his
legs slightly bent, his feet wide apart, as if he might be about to lean
against a toilet. The crowd, attentive, stared again, their eyes wide.
Meanwhile a pickpocket moved smoothly through them taking their Lifes. This
pickpocket liked the look of Delilah a lot, and was her age. Actually he was
thirty-three, rather old for a pickpocket, but not too old for a
nineteen-year-old. He hoped his tanned friend wasn’t caught, but knew he
wouldn’t be. He hoped he’d have his way later with Delilah, and assumed it
would be so.
The radio said, ‘Man with tan entering Center of
Disinformation. That’s a dead-end. We’ve got him. We’ve got the man with the
tan. I’m closing in!’
The Center of Disinformation, a very chatty place, was
two maybe three miles away. Already the man with the tan had made considerable distance.
On a good sequence of moving floors you could really eat the miles, thought
‘Now where’d he go?’ asked the radio. The crowd looked
around. Some had gawpy faces. Their eyes stayed inquisitively wide. The radio
relayed the chasing officer’s voice: ‘You! Yes, you! Have you seen a man with a
tan? Pay attention to me. I am an officer. Now, this man with a tan, a
bright-faced scallywag, you couldn’t miss him. Skin as bright as my tongue.
Look, I have just popped an orange pill. Can’t you tell!’ ‘In there,’ said the
radio in a different accent, ‘the bathroom.’ Back with the chasing officer, the
radio said, ‘I’m entering the bathroom. Apprehension imminent. Ready the
System. I’m bringing him down. I’m bringing him in.’
‘Remember, necessary and unnecessary force,’ JJ
Jeffrey reminded the officer. ‘Whatever it takes, whatever it doesn’t. We’ll
strap that baddie up and have him talking in no time. The System will do it.
The System never fails. You hear that, everybody?’ JJ Jeffrey rubbed his stern
nose at the crowd, and twitched his eyes, eyes transplanted into his head after
an escalator crash he’d been involved in, eyes that contained a certain soft
kindness that didn’t match his personality.
‘Die,’ screamed the radio. ‘Die, die, die!’ JJ Jeffrey
nodded once: complete approval. The crowd stretched their faces, expressing as
best they could an emotional response, but some were not necessarily very good
at this. The radio relayed, ‘He washed it off in the sink, his tan. It was dye.
Dye! The man with a tan was a fake! He must have been that terror who gave me
directions. Yes, I remember thinking he had a dirty collar! Carrot-coloured
neck. Yellow fingertips. Long drips on his arms. Fraud!’ The radio got panting
All through this part-underground, part-roofed world
the floors flowed. You paid for water and stored everything you had in your
Life. Delilah had lost her Life and didn’t know what to do. If she could find
the man with the tan, or now it transpired the man without the tan, she could
get back her Life, perhaps. Otherwise, this was it. And
‘We’ll call you when we catch him,’ JJ Jeffrey told
her, forgetting that without her Life she’d now become uncontactable, and
shooed her away. Delilah would need to go the Authority and queue for an
Authority-issue Life. With it, her movements could be tracked. Just as with her
own Life. Without either, she risked arrest. But the queue was days long – and
you could only queue on work days. Today was a non-work day. As was tomorrow.
You really did need your Life, your Life was everything, and without it you
were nothing. And were in trouble. You couldn’t get into your home. You
couldn’t even buy anything. Delilah walked away, jumped onto a moving floor,
taking her she knew not where. A dry gutter or runnel. An air unit, if she was
lucky. Until she’d queue, in two days’ time.
‘All right, darling,’ said a breath on her neck. ‘You
wanna come back to my place for some messing around?’
‘Nah,’ said nineteen-year-old Delilah in her rough
voice. ‘Beat it, creep.’
‘Come on, babe,’ persuaded Harry the
thirty-three-year-old pickpocket. ‘You know you want it. It’s written all over
your face, I can see it in your eyes. You wanna piece of this.’ Harry grabbed
his crotch. His other hand caressed his own flash Life. Crime paid. Crime got.
‘Give over,’ said Delilah, a hairdresser, and stepped
onto a faster floor, whizzing away, breaking the law, her hair horizontal now.
She liked Harry really, but the truth was how could she enjoy what he had in
mind while all the time wondering where her Life had vanished to. Her Life was
gone for good, she knew that. She’d never see it again. She didn’t know what
she’d do. But … maybe going back to Harry’s place would offer temporary
escape from all this. Maybe she could steal some water from him, too, if he
didn’t have it locked up, frozen in a safe. She’d have trouble affording water
from now on, a tightly controlled substance. So she walked backwards and
stepped onto a slower floor, did the same again and joined Harry, and the pair moved
away together at the same speed, their knuckles brushing, bumpily.
Harry lived in a big mess in a small place. He pushed
Delilah not very kindly into a pile of rubbish and helped her tug off her
clothes. When the act began Delilah scanned Harry’s messy place for some water.
Be quick, she thought, because when he’s finished with me I’ll most likely be
out on my ear. Twenty-five seconds later she’d only had time to spot some
hidden tins of paint when Harry rolled over, zipped up, and said, ‘Off you go then,
love. You’ve had your fun. Now sling your hook. You weren’t very good, by the
way, but I’ve had worse. Now hop it. I’ve got work to do.’
Harry had a call to make. He had Lifes to shift. He
checked his own: no message from Shane. He was still out there. Unlike Delilah.
He said, ‘You still here? Do I look like a hosteller?
Get outta here, girlie. You got what you were after and no mistake. Come back
tomorrow, same time, if you want, and I’ll fit you in, if I can. Not making any
promises, though. Won’t you take a look at that face! Black as a rotted potato.
Oh all right, come here, if you want a kiss. Otherwise the door’s over –
well you can see where the door is with your own two eyes.’
Delilah dragged herself up, feeling used and
miserable. She tripped through the mess, and fell over, then got up. When she
approached Harry for her kiss she saw he had in his hands nine Lifes, a cool
‘Where did you get those!’
‘Never you mind, you nosey cow. You could do with
learning some manners.’ Harry slapped Delilah’s backside. She arched forwards,
her face sad, dark, lost. ‘You’ve got a long way to go, young lady, a lot to
learn. Still, you’re on your own now, without your Life. Mind, if you’d looked
after it better you wouldn’t be in this mess now. You can’t trust anyone these
days. But poo to you. Now, outta here!’
‘Do you have some water, Harry?’
‘Water? Water! What does she think I’m going to do?’
asked Harry, talking to the room. ‘Turn on a tap, just like that. Amazing.
Water, she says. The young! Do I have any water? No, not for you. Go find your
own water, greedy. Now, on your way. Skedaddle.’ Harry kicked Delilah’s behind.
Thus she headed for the door in a series of lunges. And then she was gone and
on her own. By lightdim, she found herself in a deserted tract of this roofed
world, exhausted on her feet: she’d had to stand upright on the moving floors
or risk a fine. Get caught lying down and you’d guarantee yourself a trip to
the System. The System was avoided at all costs. Delilah wondered if officers
had yet apprehended the man with the tan and taken him deeper, deeper down,
into the System. His was the oldest trick in the book. ‘Look!’ he’d told her
earlier. She’d looked where he pointed, feeling the glow of his tan. And when
she looked back, her Life was gone and the man with the tan was racing away up
the escalator, shooting through the air at its precipice, landing on a section
of fast cushioned floor. You could break a leg if you hit it wrong. (For this
reason you had to pass tests to travel fast lanes, fast floors, and a special
licence was uploaded to your Life. When you reached sixty-five, your license
was automatically revoked. You could reapply to the Authority. But the
over-sixty-fives’ test was so difficult that many died in its attempt.) Eight
hours till lightup. What a place Delilah found herself in now. Nothing around,
nothing anybody could steal either, which probably explained why the
surveillance detectors hung in so dejected state of disrepair. Lonely too.
Delilah snuggled up to an air unit and slipped off her heels. Sleep scooped her
away. Disorderly sleep. She dreamed. Of her home unit, tiny though it was,
that without her Life she could no longer enter. Of food, water, which without
her Life, she could no longer prove she had the funds to purchase. Of the queue
she’d have to join when the Authority Reception opened after the non-work days
were over, for her basic-issue Life, which they called a Lite Life. You got
minimal water, minimal food, and access again to your home unit – if they
programmed it right, and so often they didn’t. But until then, all you had were
… your dreams.