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Authors: Charles Kennedy Scott

Bang (9 page)

BOOK: Bang
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5
– A P
lumbing
Job

 

 

Moments ago as the men bickered Delilah had backed
herself towards the wall, which was colour-coded like the lift buttons for the
floor, and swaggered quietly away. This colour-coding for a building of 333
floors was an administrative nightmare. The difficulty was that there were not
enough colours. Policy therefore was to choose one colour and vary it. Floor 49
was lilac, 48 a shade lighter and 50 a shade darker, but only very slightly,
imperceptibly. This was continued throughout the 333 floors. The Authority
trained people in the art of subtle colour recognition, how to distinguish one
shade or hue of lilac from the next. A policy intended to help employees find
their way around, and not to aid non-employees, people such as Delilah, who
were trying to escape. So, to 49’s backdrop of lilac, Delilah quietly slipped
away, barefooted, crazy-haired, in overalls, with a fork sticking out of her
finger, which she hid up a cuff of the overalls.

And now she had just been challenged.

‘Stop, who goes there? I am an administrator from the
Color Coding Office and demand to know.’ The administrator shook what appeared
to be a rolled-up colour chart at her. Two whistling painters waltzed past,
thumbs hung in their pockets, talking about a friend of theirs who worked over
in the Public Body. Delilah chose once more to make use of the power of speech.
She said, though her voice felt funny, lower, gruffer, ‘I am a plumber. Let me
through. I have a job on.’

‘You’re not that missing plumber there’s a quarter of
a promotion reward for, are you?’

‘Do I look like that missing plumber?’

‘I don’t know. What does that missing plumber look
like?’

‘For a start,’ said Delilah, ‘he’s a man. He’s also
much taller than me. Now stand aside, office administrator, I have a blocked
U-bend to see to.’

‘I am sorry to have held you up. Good luck with the
U-bend. I bet it’s eggshells again.’

Delilah pushed past the administrator, grunting like
she hoped a plumber might, and headed, with the swagger her discomfort had
developed, which also suited a plumber, for a door whose sign was universally
recognised. In the bathroom, luxury, relative luxury at least, greeted her.
Before she did anything else she drank water, pure water, and lots of it. She
noticed shower units next – gently nozzled shower units, not industrial
colanders, behind frosted plastic, with shelves of unguents and tempting
cleansers. Before showering, she discovered some scissors in a cupboard above a
sink and used these to pry the fork off her finger and to trim her hair in the
mirror, giving it a radical restyle, creating a parting that she swept over the
apparent bald patch, transforming her appearance. In the shower, she allowed to
flow into her body an excitement that went someway towards dulling the numerous
pains currently resident within it. Dried, she slipped back into the overalls
and adjusted them so that they were tight against her body. Then she stole a
pair of slippers she found lying about and put them on. This, she realised, was
a crime. It was also the first crime she had ever committed in her life, other
than reading controlled literature that one time at school and getting hit on
the head with a cabbage for it. After so much punishment, she reasoned that the
Authority ‘owed’ her a crime, yet still felt a culpability. Honest Delilah next
realised, once again washing her face, that the sink was blocked: her hair. She
set about unblocking it and while doing so ran escape options through her mind.
She was getting out of here.

‘There he is,’ called the office administrator,
excitedly. ‘Not eggshells, then, plumber? What’s that – hair? It matches
yours exactly. But you couldn’t have been called to unblock a U-bend with
your
hair in it, not unless you’ve been here before. Have you? I’m confused.’

As Delilah shook her head, the man who’d accompanied
the administrator into the bathroom said, ‘Okay, let’s cut the crap and cut to the
chase. How good a plumber are you? My administrator says you’re the best, says
you’re a genius with pipes, a whiz. Because, plumber, you see, we’ve taken a
call in the Color Coding Office – soon to be renamed the Office
of
Color Coding – and, well, I don’t see that it’s our responsibility –
but the long and the short of it is that this call came through to us from
Upstairs, and, and … and what did the call say, office administrator?
Where’s that note gone? You’re useless!’

As he spoke, Delilah excited by not being rumbled,
decided that it might be possible, not wishing to believe it before, to trick
her way out of the Authority building disguised as a plumber.

‘Here, sir.’

‘Right, an instruction for us to see that a shower
unit be fixed. It’s stopped working. Floor 01, that’s the lightest lilac in the
entire Authority – nearly white, a lovely atmosphere to work in, right
there under Welcome, which is also nearly white too, but not quite, just not
quite white, but nearly, very nearly, a single hue off, yet not so the eye
would notice it, the untrained eye that is.’

Floor 01, thought Delilah. Almost definite escape.
Where previously fear had taken a grip and shaken her, now anticipation copied,
and stirred her insides. She trembled, with thrill. This terrible sequence was
nearing its end.

‘You’ve got that wrong, sir,’ said the office
administrator.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘See, says here, boss, 101, not 01, should be Floor
101. You didn’t read the first 1, you missed it out, went straight past it as if
it wasn’t there. Shower Unit 101 is on the blink, so’s 101’s launderette,
apparently. All the officers down there are filthy because they can’t wash
their clothes. The water’s been switched off – and no one knows how to get
it going again. Off you go then, plumber. Go see to it. We’ve got work to do,
two new shades of lilac to discover and catalogue.’

‘Can’t be done,’ said Delilah, and gave her head a
definitive shake.

‘Er,’ said the boss, ‘I don’t remember it being a
request. No, plumber, it’s an order. Go on, on your bike. 101.’

Delilah thought quickly and said, ‘It’s in me
contract, guvnor, floors 0 to 99 only. I’m not cleared for any lower –
security and all that. Know what I mean? Paperwork. Clearance. Shame, can’t
help. Out of the question. Right pity. But that’s the way it is.’ And she
headed for the door, wondering how she’d picked up the plumber’s lingo when
she’d been mad most of the time she spent with him.

‘Before you swagger away,’ said the boss, his Life
already to his ear, ‘let me just see about that. You’re a plumber, plumbers go
where they’re told. Clearance my arse.’ He spoke into his Life, ‘Yes? Hello?
What is your name? Is it? Mine is different … Don’t take that tone with me
… You can, yes. We’re having some trouble here on 49 with a bolshie plumber.
Says he can’t go down to 101. Isn’t cleared. What do you have to say about
that? … Really? … Oh, I did not know. … Lots of escapes. High
security. Right you are, then. Oh? How lucky. And they can escort the plumber.
With the Missing Persons Officer right now? But just beginning a questionnaire,
I understand. … If you think it’s permitted to disturb them … Fair
enough. Yes, he’s right here in the bathroom. … We’ll wait for the
officers. No, don’t worry, he’s an excellent plumber, he’ll have 101’s troubles
fixed in … What was that? … Yes I would recommend him. He’s done all
my work for me back in my housing unit. Excellent craftsmanship, outstanding.
In fact he’s a great pal of mine. We go back a long way. Eons. Often dine
together. Only last night in the restaurant on 10, that’s right the one next to
the Theater of Religion, we were discussing the intricacies of modern plumbing
and water purification – you know, that recent desalination scare at the
plant over by the Authority reactor. Fascinating. Extraordinary. One
moment … yes, goodbye. Sounds like they’ve arrived already. Come in.
Door’s open. That was quick. Hello.’

The two officers walked in. Delilah’s hopes faded and
sunk through her slippers.

‘This is the plumber, is it? He’s a bit thin for a
plumber,’ said one.

The office boss replied, ‘Nonsense, man! A plumber
should be thin. He can get in behind radiators where a fat plumber would get
stuck. A thin plumber can climb inside a boiler and weld cracks from the
inside. I’d like to see a fat plumber do that. No, no doubt about it, this
plumber here, a dear friend of mine, he’s one of the best plumbers around, if
not
the
best. And don’t just take my word for it, ask my administrator
here, he’s had the plumber work for him too. I believe they also went on
holiday together, where the plumber fixed some pipes in a half-built apartment
unit that wasn’t really ready for guests yet. This plumber is more than just a
plumber. This is a super-plumber.’

‘Stop. You’ve convinced us. Very impressive. We will have
to complete our questionnaire with the Missing Persons Officer later. He
boasted that often the missing person is discovered before the questionnaire is
finished, but on this occasion I’m afraid to say that the Missing Persons
Officer was wrong. This way, plumber.’ They opened the door and politely
ushered Delilah out, asking, ‘What is your name?’

‘Derek,’ tried Delilah. ‘Yeah, Derek. But you can call
us Del, if you like, as it goes.’

‘Follow us, Del. 101 awaits. Don’t be frightened, it’s
not so bad as you might think. It’s all the disinformation that gives 101 such
a terrible name. The same cannot be said, mind, as you head down towards 333.
By the time you’ve got down there you’re into the constructs of the most
extreme imaginations. It would be hard to make 331 sound any worse than it
actually is, because it is such a terrible place already. If you could imagine
a worse place you would probably be offered a job working for the Authority, or
indeed discover that you are already working for the Authority. It is
interesting to note that while the first scenario is not unprecedented it has
only transpired once before. This is how floors 331 thru 333 came into
existence. The original architect had not catered for them. They were designed,
and are administered even now, by a former bottle manufacturer who flipped one
day at work when he broke his favourite bottle. He went home that night, his
career in ruins, drew up the plans, presented them next day to Authority
Welcome, and, within minutes, got offered the job. Broken glass plays a theme
down there, as you might imagine. But you cannot imagine how, not a plumber, a
humble plumber like you. It is mind-boggling, Del, literally. There’s the
molten glass; the brain surgery; the ingenious use of love and hate, the
harnessing and tapping of these emotions, amazing – the Former Bottle
Manufacturer has pioneered a process that reverses their polarity; the
life-lengthening techniques to prolong indefinitely a prisoner’s suffering,
which he’s medically patented. And that is just for starters. When you meet
this Former Bottle Manufacturer, it is almost disturbing to find him to be so
utterly
normal
. It is not necessarily, we discover, a disturbed mind
that produces the utterly disturbing, but sometimes an ultra sane one. However,
let’s not go into this, this Academy talk, it is no doubt beyond your
intellectual capacity, which like any plumber’s is distinctly limited. Floor
101 awaits us, with its refined air, its easygoing coercion methods. What a
light-hearted place it is at, at heart. Goody, we’re here.’

The lift gave its ting and the doors slid open with
another mouthy hiss. Being mistaken for a plumber had gained Delilah nothing.
She grunted: she was back. Floor 101. Bad news indeed. The worst news. Her
earlier boisterous sensation of imminent escape left her now as she left the
lift. She glanced around, a plumber for the time being, until, and she knew it
was coming, she could feel it, until she was reunited with her real self the
prisoner. An innocent prisoner at that. She swaggered along in her stolen
slippers, which were very comfortable, in the company of the officers,
wondering how long she had, wondering what would happen to her this time.

‘Who’s he?’ asked the very ugly person in charge of
the launderette when the officers and Delilah walked in through the glass
doors, which had a grime years of steam had deposited on them. ‘What’s he doing
in here?’

‘He’s the plumber, superintendent. Come to fix the
launderette before going on to Shower Unit 101.’ This sent a shudder and a
chill through Delilah. So did the launderette superintendent – for being
so amazingly ugly. Not only that, but was this superintendent male or female?
Ugliness had obscured or obliterated all normal indicators and markers of
gender. Further, the very ugly launderette superintendent did not give the
impression of being particularly pleasant or amiable either. Delilah wondered
which had come first, the ugliness or the disagreeability. Then Delilah again
wondered again whether this person was male or female. And tried not to look.

‘I won’t have a plumber in here,’ said the ugly
superintendent. ‘Not after the last one came and stopped everything from
working. Get him out of here. I want to see the back of him. And I don’t like
the way he’s looking at me. If you officers are here to wash your clothes,
that’s another matter. I can convert credits in your Lifes into change for the
machines and the driers if you don’t have anything small enough. Conditioner
and powder are in the dispenser over there, spill them at your peril. Any wash
left unattended for more then 10 minutes will be held in lost property for a
while then destroyed. Last wash is an hour before closing. Which means, since
we close in 59 minutes, you’re too late. Right, I’ll be in the back room,
fiddling about, but don’t call for me unless it’s important. I don’t take
kindly to being disturbed. Is that it?’

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