Sunday, 8 July 2012

A modern fairy tale

This one's inspired as another of Chuck Wendig’s  Flash Fiction challenges  for a non-medieval, modern or future fairy tale.

   It’s a jungle out there.

   Or at least a temperate forest-cum-icy-wasteland this far north. And it's far from a fairy tale.

   A crossbow bolt sang past my ear as I turned the corner of New Road and South Lane: a shrieking counterpart to the flash of cameras as the police Communications Station registered my bicycle’s chip and registered Neighbourhood Pizza and Pharma for Carbon Tax (my ancient Trax 18-incher has tyres made of petroleum-derived rubber substitute) and made a Road Use Profile of  my lanky height (but skinny width) using up so many cubic centimeters of road space.  
   New Street Academy’s a tough school and since the courts ruled that searching children for weapons violated their human rights that corner’s been a shooting gallery. At least they rarely fire guns because the law assures that only the police, our tiny army and the gangs have access to firearms. Davenport Estate Killaz Crew owns the neighbourhood and they kneecap or clitoridectomize individuals in schools who arm themselves with anything more powerful than a bow. Big Jamal is something of a softie and he won’t behead a child for a first offence - except for apostasy.
   I settled the Kevlar vest a little more snugly on my chest and pulled the helmet Dad had worn in Gulf Three down over my brow.
   In the panniers behind me ancient Tupperware food boxes rattled against cardboard bottles of Approved Medicines. The government licences 28 prescription treatments as environmentally safe and cost-effective and provided by ethical businesses. Ethical businesses go to great lengths annually to show Members of Parliament and the movers and shakers in the Pharmacology Board just how ethical they are during their week-long Safety and Social Responsibility Audits at remote locations set amid tranquil surroundings far away from the everyday pressures of life in our war-zone cities and villages.
   At Moor Hill House I stopped and chained my bike in the security cage to keep it from drifting while I was inside. 
   The lobby of Moor Hill House was dark. Though it was technically illuminated by sustainable bulbs, I gave silent praise that today was breezy; some of the windmills studding the countryside were rotating lazily and so those bulbs gave off a grey, 20-Watt glow. I switched on the ‘scope and raised my mirror on its long wire handle to scan the landing one flight of stairs up. Since doctors stopped making house calls even in emergencies a generation ago and insurance rates and Road Tax for the pharmacists’ armoured cars hit the roof when I was a boy, it’s left to the voluntary sector and sub-contractors to deliver food and medicine to the sick and old who’re too scared or infirm to visit the county’s hospital. The scarlet fleece hoodies of Neighbourhood Pizza and Pharma are as much a part of English life as the blue armour of the police who arrive whenever a Beast addict has gone berserk and bitten everybody he saw, but NP&P arrive before things go chemically wrong whereas the police usually get to the scene only after a gangbanger or an unlicenced bystander has cut the Beastie down. It has to be a head shot or decapitation with a Beastie. If the axe-wielder isn’t from an approved community that’s expected to employ violence as an expression of its cultural richness (and is therefore a vigilante taking the law into his own hands), he’ll like as not be charged with murder.
   The coast seemed clear. I scuttled up squelchy-carpeted steps and knocked quietly on the second door on the left. Turning to face the hallway with a good solid width of wall behind me, I fingered a rolled-up Road Safety Manual which is a mandatory piece of equipment for all bicycle couriers who can’t afford the police bribes. A Bible makes a better shield against switchblades and is a superior gag for some attack dogs but judges pass heavy sentences on those who carry (openly or under plain covers), such divisive literature. Long minutes passed while bolts and chains were withdrawn from the flap in the door beside me. The judas opened and I passed through a box of sandwiches from the Mother’s Union kitchen in the Northallerton security compound.
 “God bless you, Deacon Willoughby,” came the man’s quavering voice.
   “And you, Mister Payne. Same time tomorrow. And I’ll have your prescription if the convoy gets through from York.”

  The last call is always my happiest, being family. We often reuse a teabag or two while she wolfs down the thin bread, cabbage and watery cheese that are the chief products of an agricultural system long ago rendered ecologically sustainable by law. North Riding Neighbourhood Pizza and Pharma prides itself in adding variety to its food deliveries; some spring onions or green beans in season.
    Today her front door was ajar and I pushed cautiously into the shabby little room I’ve known since childhood. When I saw the powdery packet on the table I reached for the iron poker used when her annual coal ration arrives for Winterval. I pulled down my hood for a better field of vision. She was nowhere to be seen but there’s a stage in a Beast high when they hide; silently enjoying the hallucinations before the Rage comes upon them. There was a noise behind me and I turned around very, very slowly. I said “My, Grandma, what big eyes you have.”

Monday, 2 July 2012

Heart beat

  “Vampires, for crissake, Sarge! Now I’ve seen it all. I can’t believe it. Bloody vampires. And joinin’ the Met, too. Now I’ve seen it all.”
   I braked to miss a large dog that ran out in front of our unmarked patrol car.
   “Dave, your grandfather couldn’t stick walking the beat with people with German surnames for years after the War and we’ve got a couple of Irish plods I’d trust my life with who won’t be blowing up anything any time soon in revenge for Cromwell’s merry pranks. And you can’t even say you don’t trust Big Mo in a fight as he’s never pushed anything onto us - least of all you - and he always volunteers to be the designated driver on quiz nights when I’m on leave. We’ll get used to just about anything in the Met and get on with The Job. You know we will.”
   “But how will we manage policing people – things – that are five times as strong as us and three times as fast and twenty times as resistant to damage? Tell me that, Detective Sergeant Einstein.”
   “We’ll do it the time-honoured way as always, and to Hell with what the touchy-feely Brass say. We’ll use the Peelian principles of citizen policing: commonsense, patience, our senses of humour and proportion and, if that fails, we’ll serve up the occasional good old-fashioned kicking to bring a happy conclusion to the evening’s work.”  
   Dave looked away from me and remarked “You’re right Ned.” We’re first-name pals whenever Dave isn’t too stressed. “We’ll get used to anything. We’ll even police them, somehow. Despite not even being allowed to take the piss out of anyone any more, as long as you do the job right you’re accepted. Kind of. I mean, we get on alright don’t we?”
   “What d’you mean by that?” I asked.
   “Ned, I’m a detective too aren’t I? We’ve worked Serious Crime and vice together for the whole seven years since I made detective and I’ve never even suspected you of taking a freebie off the girls; not even after you was shot at an’ it got all tense on the street. And you go to most of the stag nights but none of the weddings. Plus you’re always very smartly turned out. My Ma thinks you’re just lovely. That’s got to mean something, yeah? Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind.” He paused. “It’s just not my cup of tea, is all I’m saying. Just so you know.” 
   We were both very quiet all the way to the station after that little gem.

  Some muppet with a degree and probably all of two years’ street policing experience stood at the front of the training room; his uniform cap (that had never got dirty and would never be knocked off by a scrote in full baseball hat, trainers and hoodie) was all a-glitter with brass and those cute little checks that just shouted Accelerated Promotion at you. “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen… and others?... Thank you all for coming here tonight.”
   As if we had a choice. Some of those attending were clearly civilian volunteers for the new combined organisation but from the expressions on their faces a lot of them were experienced coppers and they were in agreement with my own pessimistic expectations. I’d almost rather be dead than attend a briefing that looked set to be a weapons-grade embarrassment in its earnest wish not to upset anyone according to their, let’s see now : gender; class (a tricky one if you’re a real toff amongst the mostly proletarian and petit bourgeois Metropolitan Police Service: there’s an actual hereditary peer in Tower Hamlets but he’s been there for ages); race or ethnicity (or?); faith or absence thereof; disability; orientation (both sorts of orientation, Inshallah)… or Heart Beat Status. Or whatever the Common Purpose numpties at command level were going to call it. Since when had policing stopped being a job where you occasionally needed to upset some people in the course of your duties? Ah, yes: 1981.
   He waffled on. “These are exciting days and nights and it’s a great challenge and I believe a privilege to be here at the founding of an entirely new branch of the Metropolitan Police Service; the Combined Support Unit.
   You’ll see that we’ve arranged the seating into three files from the front to the back of the room with gaps in between. In a short while we’ll split you up into mixed groups for self-introduction and team building but at first (forgive me for this), we’re going to, ah, segregate you by types.” He looked as embarrassed about this as if he’d been caught in possession of a Sjambok and The Collected Speeches of Enoch Powell. Rivers of blood, my arse. “Um, ever since the unpulsed community-” So that’s what they were calling it! “- came out of the, er…came out, it’s been widely known that though some vampires are in fact slayers and while some police officers are vampires, most slayers were in fact human - if I can use that word in its old-fashioned sense. Now, while the Metropolitan Police Service takes a very firm position” –“Oh God, please make him stop! “- against slaying or any other kind of illegal violence against the unpulsed we also have a solemn duty to the broader community. This includes managing offenders” – whatever happened to just plain old nicking villains? “- or potential offenders who are (not to put too fine a point on it… Um.) more physically able than the normally able-bodied amongst us. I mean the naturally able-bodied. Er.”
    Just swallow me up, I prayed. Just let the ground swallow me up and take me far, far away from this horrible place.
   “And since some of the former slayers are entirely quote human unquote and they aren’t yet equipped with strategies for dealing lawfully with the unpulsed, and while on the other hand some of the unpulsed are not yet reconciled to centuries of persecution by slayers of all sorts -” Dear Lord, will this never end?  “- we’re asking all the vampires: slayers or not; police officers or not, to sit in the right hand file for now. Similarly we want all the purely human slayers (whether they’re officers or not) to sit in the left-hand section. The ordinary, non-slayer coppers should be in the middle.”
   Typical. As usual, honest coppers were going to be stuck between two hostile camps and tasked to keep order, the poor bastards. So we danced the dance of the politically correct like an Aesop’s Fable made flesh until we settled into the three unequally populated oblongs and perched our backsides on cheap-looking (but actually very expensive and quite uncomfortable) Metropolitan Police Service issue tacky plastic chairs. The police-only slayers glared over the heads of their sandwich-filling ordinary Plod colleagues at a very much smaller groups of vampires; uniformed and otherwise. This was going to be such fun. Hollow laughter.
    “Ned, Ned! What are you doing?” Dave asked: white-faced and jumping up from his chair across the aisle from me. He really was an old-fashioned copper and right now he looked like an outraged Robert Peel - or he would have if Robert Peel had been the great-grandson of a Jewish grocer from Hackney. Also, Dave was a lot taller and didn’t have the bad breath and peppermint smell old Bobby had.
   I tried my famous charming smile. “Seven years together on Serious Crime and Vice, mate, and we got into all kinds of scraps and even a shooting and I never got a scratch on me. At least; not one that lasted for more than a few seconds. And stag nights are just that: nights. They hold weddings in the daylight Dave. Join the dots. Just give me a chance, yeah?”

   He sulked through the whole of the inaugural briefing and we weren’t in the same group for the team building. I’d give him as much time as he needed to come around but I doubted he’d need as much as his grandfather had with the Germans. Dave was basically a proper old-fashioned copper serving in this new, crap, politically correct police ‘service,’ so his sense of duty and fair play would win through eventually. And his legendary heavy-handed sense of humour, of course.
   I couldn’t wait till he remembered what Ned is short for.
   Oh, joy.