Monday, 30 April 2012

All that glitters

    What kind of dirty pervert hits on a girl decades his junior by pretending to be a teenager? A dead man is what; like the one an old Desert Storm pal and I encountered on a hunting trip last year. He put up a hell of a fight - I’ll give the sparkly bastard that - but it takes a lot to stop a Desert Rat and Chuck is  semper fi down to his boots. The girl was a bit upset at first, of course, but she seemed a sensible sort and she’ll get over it. Besides, who knows what her life would’ve been like if we hadn’t stumbled upon them? We picked up a couple of nice big wolf pelts, too. Happy days.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Things we like

   “He’s waking up Mrs Grey. Jane. Jane! He’s waking up.”
    The light behind my sore eyelids faded a little and a weight struck my chest: a soft, warm weight that leaked onto my face and neck
  “Peter, oh Peter, I thought you’d never wake up.”
She was quiet for a while and I put weak arms around her before trying to open my eyes. I saw fuzzy blurs mostly but then I managed too distinguish a blob that must be the side of her cheek, and a more distant, vertical blob that had to belong to the male voice. A doctor? “Hou.. Hou-ow!” It hurt to talk because my mouth and throat were so dry. 
   “’How long’, was that Mr Grey? Four weeks. You’ve been unconscious for almost four weeks. Let me examine you, for safety’s sake.” Jane’s warmth scrunched away to my side but my hand was clamped in her. Strange: I hadn’t known she had a grip like a vice. Painfully bright light closed each of my twitching eyes in turn andthen  cold steel chilled my chest here and there – as if the beeping machines weren’t telling the doctor more than any old-fashioned stethoscope ever could. Tradition, perhaps; or just showing us all who’s boss. I respected that.
   A cup of water brought my mouth and throat back from the dead. “More,” I croaked, and listened as I gulped the sweetest drink of my life. “What hap...pened?”
   “They found you after three days, all dirty and scratched and your clothes in tatters. I’ll kill that Lee when I see him. Him and his special contracts. Why can’t the rigs do their own maintenance? And why does it have to be so often?” Jane’s beautiful face resolved into a mask of anger, despite her eyes being full of love and welcome for me. “I know work on the rigs is nasty so you have to let off steam in the pub but honestly Peter, after what you did at the wedding I worry about you sometimes.” Ignoring our Amazon list altogether, Jane’s Sister had presented us with a canteen of silver cutery. It had six of everything and was probably intended for us to host dinner parties for her interesting husband and whichever unlucky couple were her flavour of the month. I’d thrown the box right back at her.
  “We’ go’ o’ ‘o,” I mumbled around the cup, “’ecos of elf’ an’ afety.“ I swallowed and put it down. “It’s Europe, right? They insist the companies hire external inspectors no more than thirty days apart. We’ve got to go, even at Christmas.” Her expression softened. She knew how much we both loved Christmas together and we hadn’t spent a whole Christmas Day apart since we were fourteen until Lee took me on as his assistant. And even since then we’ve only missed two in ten years - but they hurt us, even so.
   “Quite some lady you’ve got there Mr Grey,” smiled the doctor making to leave us alone. “She’s spent every Visiting Time for the whole month reading to you. Childhood stories mostly, and football annuals. Even your nursery reading primers. That took me back, I must say. And they brought you back, more importantly.” He beamed.
   My stomach lurched with hunger and then fear. “How long, exactly?” I shrilled.
  Concern darkened the doctor’s expression. “Twenty five days. They found you collapsed in the park twenty-five days ago.”
   “H… Hou lon’ til night t..time?” I burbled; waving a fuzzy arm at the bright window.
  “Why, it’s night already Mister Grey. That’s not the sun you can see; it’s the full moon.”
   I am Peter. This is Jane. I like Jane. See Jane scream. Run, Jane, run. Run, Peter, run. Play with Jane.     

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Do it yourself

   The kids looked scared half to death when they entered the store.
   They were a familiar enough trio in any university town: the beanpole science or IT undergraduate towering ginger-haired and bespectacled above the others, a six-foot under muscled beanpole who was doubtless also a lord of Middle Earth; the tubby daydreamer whose comic books and two left feet had exiled him from the football field and sent him onto the darker paths of imagination; the white-haired, not-too-pretty girl whose intelligence and self-doubt had propelled her first into Goth and now beyond it into a world where darkness was no longer any fun at all.
   I didn’t pay much attention at first because they were too obviously furtive to be effective shoplifters. And seriously, what heavy, expensive items that might cost the company much could those less than mighty muscles even shift? Decorators’ supplies and hardware are scarcely the favourite loot of Rag Week dares or members-only club initiations. Besides, the store manager was hypersensitive about hassling kids and it was rumoured to be a part of her police warning that neither she nor any of her staff would ever again be over-zealous with teenage miscreants. Property rights and the shareholders could just go to hell. I tend to keep a low profile with the customers myself; not wanting to strain her limited sympathy for me nor to imperil her Board-level instructions to get along with the local police and Probation Service. Her sympathy and the company’s shallow, publicity-hungry Community Outreach policy had led her to hire me in the first place. Despite my record.
   Provided I don’t approach the customers more eagerly than the hello-can-I-help-you routine and if I don’t linger near the paint thinners or other flammables the manager and the Board stay happy. 
    I didn’t see the kids again until they neared the checkout; pushing an overloaded trolley. The three of them looked very much like a team then, but unbalanced: perhaps missing a fourth member. I recognized their selections straight away, having much the same kit myself under the floorboards and hidden by my multigym in probation-defying secrecy. There was a pair of cordless power tools - ideal for shifting rusted screws and removing neglected doors far from mains electricity and WD-40 to loosen any hinges. Next there was a crow bar for prizing out heavy brickwork or pushing off ornamental masonry, and a couple of heavy hammers: a long sledge that none of them looked able to lift (let alone wield accurately), and a hickory oak lump hammer for the main event. Then three hand torches and some headband LEDs as worn by plumbers and loft insulators with a yen for the dramatic... Oh, there were also some cool-looking tool belts and knee and elbow pads in black and charcoal for hard scrabbling in gritty, sunless places. They looked enticingly military, though someone had exercised some foresight about low stonework or joists and had picked up a brace of decidedly uncool yellow hard hats - though I also noticed some matt black spray paint. Kids, eh? Next were spray painters’ respirator masks for the dust. They'd would look o-so Darth until they got to the place where it would no longer to be anything at all like a game. A tenon saw and chisels for whittling.
   The timber was all wrong so I stopped them straight away before they could load up the checkout conveyor. “You need to take the wood back and replace it. This is pine. Soft wood’s no use, see? You need ash or oak for this job. Go back and get a couple or three stair rods. They’re on special offer this week. If you need more than one each then you three won’t be up to the job and you’d be better off just leaving town.”
   The girl glowered at me with eyes that had recently stopped being young. Her jewellery looked to be solid silver and brand new, as did the boys’. Expensive. This would be a credit card transaction then. Her hair was luminous white like mine. Hers was bleached; unlike mine which had always grown a rich and wavy chestnut until the morning after our teenage son went on a date with the new girl in town and my husband stopped speaking forever.
    “Also take plenty of rags and newspapers and perhaps some bags of wood shavings for kindling. Paint thinners to get it all started. Apart from the dust, there isn’t much flammable stuff in the sort of place you’re going. If you can’t get the roof down well before dusk then setting a fire’s the only way to be sure you’ve finished the job properly. And just you make certain it’s full daylight when you go in. Give yourselves a good hour after dawn and to hell with being reported to the police. There’re worse things in this world than being convicted of arson. You understand me?” She didn’t ask me anything. 
   Later, she left the store with her pair of beta males who I prayed might hew nuggets of courage out of their fear as their grandfathers had when they left their studies and offices and banks to face down the Luftwaffe.

   It was only later when I noticed a lingering smell like all the kebabs in England that I thought I should have explained it’s the flowers rather than the bulbs that might just keep them alive. Damn.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Equal and opposite

   The murder victim lay gutted, crumpled and bloody in the Whitechapel alleyway while the forensics team gathered evidence: evidence that in this age of science might raise the inconvenient suspicion that a body can still be walking the earth and killing after more than a century.
   The other one walked unchallenged through the crowd inside the taped area; a business-suited chameleon invisible to officialdom trained to respect uniforms. I too go uniformed to sneak in wherever power and curiosity threaten me and mine with exposure. 
   Our eyes met. “Will you write to them again this time?” I asked. “Graphologists may recognise your hand. They’ll wonder how you can still be alive after a hundred years.”
   “Did we meet before? My memory falters in these hungry days. Do you have one of these?” Engraved and ancient bronze glittered at his throat when flash photography briefly silvered the fog.
   “We didn't meet because I was elsewhere in London disguising my life as fiction and my death as fact. The life of a secret immigrant was difficult even then. And no; my immortality does not require concoctions such as -” I paused and reasoned for a moment “- alchemy and a tamed and obedient Great Plague bacillus. Never mind. I ask again: will you write to them?”
   “I will. I’ll taunt them with a keepsake from that pretty, exhausted battery over there with taunts crafted to twist their righteous anger into sinful wrath and so kindle my sorcery afresh. My letter will be larded with misspellings; it’s one’s genius one must disguise rather than one’s antiquity, don’t you think? Ah, and now I know you for who you are.”
   He nodded towards the dome of his great contemporary’s greatest monument; still standing despite the lesser fires of the Blitz. “They ignore so much. A thousand stories name you and a million trinkets carry pictures of your race: some of you are even imagined to be loveable. Believing you’re a myth blinds your prey to their plight. And so it is with me. For decades their self-proclaimed brightest minds have failed to connect the emblem on their computers with the anecdote for which the common herd knows me best. With my student gone and sainted for his tutored genius only secretive bankers and silent lawyers might guess there was another proprietor, and how else might the cattle discover me for who I am?”
   “It is not who you are that concerns me” I said, reaching for his throat. Exposure of what he was might also point to me. 
   A paramedic can go almost anywhere in London by day; even one burdened with a weighty biohazard container, but at night I’m almost invulnerable. And the Thames was not far away.