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Authors: Charles Kennedy Scott

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BOOK: Bang
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‘You forget to mention one thing, superintendent.’

‘Oh yes? And what is that,’ the superintendent
snapped.

‘That the machines are not working. Because the water
is no longer running.’

‘And you think that
he’
 – the
superintendent pointed and snorted a hideous nose at Delilah, who winced and
was surprised that this immensely ugly superintendent wasn’t incorporated into
some terrible purpose in the System – ‘can fix that, do you?’

The superintendent walked towards the backroom,
walking neither like a man nor a woman, stil void of gender clues.

‘Come on, Del. Do your stuff. You’ll have this sorted
in to time, I’m sure. Then we can go see to Shower Unit 101. You’ll be
impressed when you see Shower Unit 101. You won’t believe your eyes. What a
piece of work.’

Delilah hadn’t come up with a plan yet so she said,
‘Take a butchers at the grunge round here. Blimey. Never seen nothing like it.
Now where’s the stopcock got to. Come on, me old mucker, give us a hand. Don’t
just stand there like a lemon, do something. Help us find it, like, the
stopcock. Christ alive.’

‘It might be in there, Del. Have a look.’ The officer
pulled the latch and swung the great round glass door open – and Delilah
poked her head inside the drier. The other officer poked his head in too and
said, ‘Ignore what he’ – and flicked his head back at the other
officer – ‘told you in the lift about the lowest floors. A former bottle
manufacturer presides down there, it is true, but the fact is that no one knows
what goes on. My officer friend’ – he flicked his head back again –
‘did little more than relate his own amateurish and anguished ideas of what
constitutes the truest terrors known to man. You glimpse the workings of
his
mind, not of a former bottle manufacturer’s, nothing more. He has not met the
Former Bottle Manufacturer. No one has. What is interesting, though, is that
many people possess a deep desire to see the truth of those deepest floors
revealed, more than they would openly admit. We even queasily wish, I believe,
to experience them firsthand, to be subjected to their horrors. I know I do.’
He rubbed his hands and clapped them, another JJ Jeffrey clone. ‘But all this
again, no doubt, goes way over your simple plumber’s head. Far too
psychological
for a young man whose living takes him in and out of pipes, behind radiators,
and sees him do a spot of welding inside boilers. You stick to plumbing, Del.’
He slapped Delilah on the back and withdrew from the drier. ‘You’ll do all
right.’

Delilah pretended to look around for the stopcock,
wondering what she should do. She knew where the stopcock was, downstairs, and
hoped her eyes didn’t tell everybody. She knocked a wrench, which the real
plumber had left lying around, on a pipe, and listened to the noises it
registered, doing so in the experimental manner she’d developed in conjunction
with her escape attempt.

‘Look at Del work,’ said one of the officers – in
a hushed awe.

Delilah the plumber pursed her lips and pondered,
interpreting the sound, intent this time on giving nothing away.

‘He’s an artist,’ said the other.

‘Language,’ admonished the first. But whispered, ‘You’re
right, Del is a craftsman, a maestro,’ as Delilah on hands and knees tapped a
ventilation shaft and brought the wrench to her temple in professional
puzzlement.

‘It is a privilege to watch.’

‘Oh it is.’

‘Found it yet?’ demanded the ugly and unsexable
superintendent, back on the scene, folding a towel that Delilah recognised with
a nasty shock. She shook her head, carefully, still not sure how to get out of
this one, still not sure how to make impossible the resumption of the water
supply to Shower Unit 101 – where she assumed she’d be heading after she
was sprung, which she assumed wasn’t far away, and could still feel it, or
something like it, closing in on her.

The superintendent said, ‘Why doesn’t one of you
officers ask me where the previous plumber went after leaving here. Save all
this tapping.’

‘Where did the previous plumber go after he came in to
check the leak, superintendent?’

‘I’ll mind you to remember who I am, officer! You’ll
give me more respect. And you’ll look at me, directly, when you address me.’

‘Yes, superintendent, quite so. I was forgetting
myself. May I ask where the plumber proceeded to after coming here?’

‘I won’t tell you.’

Delilah quietly raised her eyes: not just ugly, then.

The superintendent said, ‘Not unless you book a service
wash. Look at you. Call yourselves officers? You’re filthy, filthy. I have seen
cleaner Sweepers on their way home from work, even when they’re on strike, like
now – the blessed Public Body. Your filth is quite disgraceful. I am
reminded of the time I first got into the launderette business, during law
school, how customers would come into my launderette – not here, up there,
beyond the Authority – all dirty and soiled, and take off their clothes,
hand them to me as if they expected me to do something magical with them, and
leave. They seemed not to realise that the dirt on their clothes projected
their sullied characters. You officers are the same. You have no pride. You
insult the Authority, embarrass the System, with your grimy garb. I should send
you down.’

The two officers had taken on a tremble each, as if in
a rapidly cooling place.

‘Downstairs,’ shouted the superintendent in a fully
powerful version of a voice that had taken over from its prior nasal snapping.
‘To Wet Room 102. He went to the wet room. That’s where the plumber went.
Downstairs to the wet room!’

‘Oh thank you, superintendent,’ said one officer,
‘Thank you ever so much. Golly.’

‘Come on Del, said the other one, cheerfully now,
that’s probably where we’ll find this elusive stopcock. Look sharp. Here, your
wrench, you’ll be needing your wrench.’ He slipped the wrench in her pocket.

Delilah faltered – at least her slippers did. They
didn’t want to go down a floor. But she was ushered out by a hand cupping her
elbow.

‘This way, Del, it’s a lovely place, Wet Room 102.
Come see for yourself, very quiet, you can’t hear a thing in there, nice and
cut off from the rest of the System. My, this is quite a tour your getting,
isn’t it – all these exciting new places. You must be having the time of
your life. Now there’s a thought, where’s your Life, Del? Life me so I can
contact you after this job’s done. We’ll go out dancing. Here–’ and the officer
produced his Life, touching it to his chin, awaiting Delilah’s.

‘Lost it, dint I,’ said Delilah. ‘Tragic.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that, Del. But you’ve got a
replacement, surely?’

‘Not as yet. As it goes. Insurance lapsed. Disaster,
unmitigated.’

‘Oh Del. This is bad news. Bad news indeed. You are
breaking the law. I am going to have to arrest you and send you to the System.
Upon losing your Life you know you must go immediately to Authority Welcome and
await a state-issued Life. So the queue is two maybe five days long? That is
just the way it is. How can your whereabouts be tracked at all times by the Authority
if you do not carry a Life, Authority-issued or otherwise, it is mandatory, you
know that. What is five or ten days queuing in Authority Welcome against a
spell one hundred or more floors below it in the System, which could be
indefinite, if not infinite?’

Right, thought Delilah, what is such a spell indeed,
regretting she hadn’t heeded more charily the disinformation – especially
since it was true disinformation. But this was the problem with disinformation,
and why the Authority had to rely on the System’s huge deterrent value –
to back up the disinformation, whatever credibility that disinformation might
have.

‘Up against the wall, Del, you’re under arrest. This
is the end of the line for you. Spread’m!’

‘Whoa,’ said Delilah, thinking fast, ‘I had a job on
earlier, yeah? I put me Life down, as you do, like, and next thing I know it’s
gone and gone. Where do you think I was headed when I was waylaid up there in
the bathroom and near forced to come down here and see to your plumbing? Hey,
clever? You answer me that, if you can. I was on my way to Welcome, weren’t I,
for the blinking queue. You’re gonna have to arrest yourself for impeding me,
cos if it weren’t for the likes of you tugging me down here I’d be up there
right now, this very instant, minding me own business, queuing, like.’ And she
wished she was. But she wasn’t.

‘We’ll get demoted again, if Upstairs finds out about
this,’ said the other officer, worried.

‘To the wet room, then.’

‘Yes, to Wet Room 102.’

‘This way, Del, dear Del. Let’s find the stopcock and
you can be on your way. We’ll even help by escorting you all the way up there
to Welcome. We’ll push you in, right at the front of the queue, no one will
mess with us, not officers. Our privilege. You’re a good chap, Del. We like
you. The sooner we get this done, the sooner you can be on your way and out of
this building. Quick smart then, Del, do your stuff.’

They both slapped her on the back, which sent her
sprawling into a trip, but a trip that her comfortable slippers saved from
developing into a headlong tumble, though the wrench in her top pocket did
knock quite hard against her chest. ‘You first,’ they said, and in Delilah
went, stalling again, this time as she met head-on the invisible wall of her
memories.

The choice was give the stopcock a twist and be free
in ten minutes up there on the moving floors, with the populous, free. Or save
a prisoner from a circuit in the shower unit by not twisting it.

 

 

6
– Ano
ther
Murder

 

 

She stopped for breath, or brought her swagger to
halt, and rested on the whipping post, treading on something that squelched,
daring not look lest it be the dormitory warden's eye. Then she got ready to
twist that stopcock on. It was an easy choice, freedom.

Behind her the door opened.

Delilah didn’t turn round: she knew.

The two similar-looking-to-each-other officers
scrabbled about, looking vaguely incompetent, not registering.

From behind a voice approached and spoke nastily in
her ear. ‘Look,’ Gentle pointed at his bleeding cheek, ‘I’ve just been awarded
a quarter promotion for apprehending a missing plumber, whom I found on the
loose. It is said he aided and abetted the prisoner’s escape, but seeing as the
prisoner is here where I left it, I cannot see how this is possible.
Nonetheless, the plumber is to be punished. It is imperative, therefore, that
we get the water flowing again, for this plumber is to experience for himself
the very shower unit he seemed so keen to sabotage. I forced him into telling
me where the stopcock is. Fortunately I was on my way here anyway to inform the
prisoner that we cannot find it a defence lawyer, but the prisoner will be
pleased to hear that Lawyer Poy Yack will be prosecuting it. The prisoner can
launch its own defence – but the prisoner is a stupid
nineteen-year-old-girl and I would feel such an action is pointless. Yet it is
the prisoner’s right, for some reason.’ Gentle lifted his head, and directed,
in a more confident, though still very high, version of his previously
unconfident voice the two officers to: ‘Take the plumber to Shower Unit 101 and
ready him for treatment.’ They made a move for Delilah. ‘No, he is outside, you
asinine men. When will you learn! You will recognise him easily enough, he is
tied up in what is left of his skin-tight underwear. With his welding equipment
strapped to his back. He is top heavy and must lie on his front. Go see for
yourself.’ The two officers left.

‘So, is the prisoner pleased to see me? Probably the
prisoner is very pleased. Almost as pleased as when those two officers came in
here, who knows when, and released
without my consent
the prisoner from
its floor bindings and gave it this tight outfit to wear, and those slippers to
go with it, which look very much like the administrator’s from the Color Coding
Office. I mean, the soon-to-be-renamed Office
of
Color Coding. For
interfering with the prisoner I will recommend to Officer JJ Jeffrey that the
officers lose half a promotion. Which is the same as recommending half a
demotion. It simply depends which way you look at it and what kind of person
you are. I am a very confident person these days and my optimism means I talk
in terms of promotion. The prisoner will take off its outfit!’

So this was it then, it was back. The application of
the System. To be inflicted again on Delilah, and again by this person whom she
most detested: Gentle. If she felt like she’d experienced a mildly comic
interlude, which wasn’t quite what she felt, then she thought now, knew, that
it was over, now that she’d gone back from plumber to prisoner. Now that she
was once more at this fundamentally unconfident officer’s mercy, despite what
he might believe his own confidence levels to be.

‘It is all very well that the prisoner go round in
clean clothes, while the rest of us must suffer along in filthy garments we
cannot wash!’ As Gentle spoke he again went fervently at his fur thighs with
the brush, the label of which had frayed since Delilah had last seen it, due to
much use, and gave the impression of great age, and in addition to saying
Happy
Birthday, my dearest Gentle
was signed, Delilah now saw,
Your young
admirer
. ‘There is only so much one can do with a brush,’ the officer
complained. ‘Look, for instance, at the state of my hat.’ He removed his yellow
synthetic fur hat, thrust it at Delilah and ran a hand through his hair –
which no longer was cut square on top. But nor was Delilah’s – as Gentle
now noticed, to his fury: ‘The prisoner! The prisoner! The prisoner has done it
again. Once more the prisoner mocks me with its matching hairstyle. This is bad
news for the prisoner. I heard from my friend the administrator who works in
the Office of Color Coding, which is why I recognised, but misidentified, the
prisoner’s slippers as his, about a fantastic new hairstyle he had come across.
He was too busy – I should say, too
excited
 – to finish the
conversation, because he had just discovered yet another new hue of lilac,
leaving only one to go. He is a fastidious worker and dedicated to lilac. It
means everything to him, his job, and lilac. So I got onto the man at the boot
and hat shop who wanted us to knock heads together, though we had not yet got
round to doing so, in fact he had forgotten my name, calling me Mr Molly, and I
described this new hairstyle and asked if it would help my upcoming modelling
career. You know what he said? “It couldn’t hurt it, Mr Molly.” So I went for a
trim. Only to discover … only to discover that the prisoner once again
mocks me with its hairstyle. The prisoner remembers what happened last time? Perhaps
the prisoner has forgotten. Maybe to help it remember, the prisoner would like
to jump in front of the plumber and be showered first. Or maybe, now that the
prisoner knows what it has to look forward to, the prisoner will relish the
wait. Shower Unit 101: you’re next on the list.’ Gentle did the hand rub, the
clap, and stamped on a slipper, and looked for the fork to twist, and finding
it gone twisted Delilah’s finger instead, spiralling pain up her arm. Still
angry, he stamped on the warden’s eye, which though slightly squashed by
Delilah earlier had since popped back to shape and had been considering Gentle
in an ill light, but now exploded.

BOOK: Bang
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