Andrew was feeling
pleased with himself. He had spent the afternoon in negotiations with
Chief Officers from the Better Birmingham Company, and had sealed the
contract for the next five years to patrol the Category A Zones. Those
bastards drove a hard bargain for sure, but Andrew knew the Old Bill's
top line, and therefore the minimum outlay required to remain 'protectors
of the people'.
The A Zones were
the problem neighbourhoods that, it was admitted privately by officials,
were now excluded from the main economy. You could barter your services
for sure, but it was unlikely that you would get a job even sweeping
a warehouse once your record had been read. Residence: B20, B6, whatever,
you could forget it. What warehouse or club owner would want a disease-
ridden junkie infecting their premises? What would the robots think?
The job of Andrew's
company, Stokes Security Ltd., was to patrol these zones in a firm but
fair way, ensuring the containment of residents and protecting the wider
population from crime or contamination. This involved enforcing curfew
hours, rounding up suspected disease -carriers, and clamping down on
terrorists, unauthorised clubs and drug dealers. Violence between residents
was largely ignored, as intervening often lead to accusations of impartiality
by BBC Officials. The work wasn't easy, or particularly safe, so they
had to be heavily armed and protected.
But it did pay.
The New Tory Government of the West Midlands Regional Parliament had
been elected on a manifesto of Law and Order, and had ploughed huge
amounts of money into security. The enclave residents and business people
voted for them because they wanted safe enclaves and a safe City Centre
to live, work and play in. It was good for tourism, too. More conferences
than ever before were coming to the City, as well as weekend visitors
looking for a couple of days of hedonism- sex, drugs, whatever, it was
all here, in the Twenty Four Hour City. Just as long as they stuck to
the authorised clubs. The majority of A Zone residents didn't support
New Tory, but as most of them were illiterate or apathetic, or both,
less than ten percent voted.
There had been a
slight hitch securing the initial contract though. In order to outbid
the Old Bill, it had been necessary to find out how much they were offering.
This information was duly procured by Detective Inspector Tony Doocey,
who now happened to be Stokes Security's Commanding Officer. The only
problem was that the Old Bill found out who spilt the beans, and were
now out to spill Doocey's blood. Doocey was a liability, Andrew knew
that, but without him there would be no contract, so he owed him. Andrew
knew they'd get him one day, he just hoped they didn't take anyone with
Doocey had split
straight after the press conference, but Andrew stayed to toast the
deal with a few glasses of Chardonnay. A couple of hours later, in a
state of mild euphoria, he stepped out of the BBC's offices into Victoria
Square. He liked this time of day, the lull between work and play, time
for a bit of relaxation. The blue August sky was deepening, bringing
out the intensity of the luxuriant neon around him. He walked over the
road to the tram stop, and watched the pigeons bustle and coo in the
Square. In the breeze, high above the BBC Offices fluttered the flags
of the BBC, West Midlands and Europe.
After a couple of
minutes, the tram appeared and smoothly pulled up at the stop. Andrew
flashed his card and took a seat where, on the original trams, the driver
would have sat. He liked sitting there as he could pretend to be driving.
If he was in a good mood and the tram was quiet he would sometimes even
steer an imaginary wheel. He drove the tram into the night.
Wonder what's on
tonight? Thought Andrew. He looked furtively around. No-one watching.
I'll bring up Brigitte, good excuse. He took the phone from out of his
pocket and whispered into it. Up on the screen came a curvaceous semi-naked
virtual babe, the spitting image of Bardot circa 1960. You had to be
careful in the Sharia Zones with this. He'd left her on once in a mosque
and the phone had fallen out of his pocket. A vigilante had wanted to
kill him, but the Imam talked him out of it. The price was an Asian
Brigitte, which cost him a few euros to get made up, and raised a few
eyebrows. "Is that to remind you of K2?" Doocey had jibed, when he saw
the finished product. K2 was Andrew's dog, a present from his ex-girlfriend.
Doocey always joked that Andrew loved K2 more, and that's why she'd
ditched him. This wasn't far from the truth as it happened.
"Hi Andrew" purred
Brigitte, in her sexy Franco-digital drawl. "Let me tell you what is
on tonight. At the Q Club at ten there is a band called Church of Elvis,
who you saw on the seventh of November Two Thousand and Nine. You didn't
like them. At Sputnik at nine there is a DJ..." Brigitte abruptly halted
the entertainment bulletin. "Newsflash!" She purred, still in the same
seductive tone. "There is an intruder in your flat. Male, invalid ID.
"Jesus Christ, not
again," groaned Andrew. He'd brought a gun before but not bombs. This
was getting worse. "Let's have a look, Brigitte."
In her place Andrew could see his lounge, dimly. K2 was running round
in circles, alerting Brigitte to the stranger. He switched to night
vision. There, in the corner armchair, was slumped an old man, apparently
"Right. Tell K2
to stop barking," He instructed the phone. "And cancel Security, I'll
deal with this. I'll be back home in a few minutes."
Andreas had been
paid in kind. He didn't much mind, as there was little need for cash
in the A Zones where everyone bartered. A bottle of firewater and a
dozen sausages seemed like reasonable reward for a day's house rewiring,
and he began making his way home in good enough spirits.
The Binmen were
on strike again, demanding more protection for the A Zone rounds, but
the BBC wouldn't pay. So rubbish was strewn everywhere again, and it
gathered in corners through which children scavenged. Andreas kicked
his way through it, like autumn leaves, along the crumbling kerb of
the choking dual carriageway.
His attention was
drawn to an argument at the zone control point. A car full of young
lads had been stopped from proceeding to the City Centre. Invalid ID.
They were disputing the issue, and other youths were gathering round
them. The patrol guards were getting nervous, stun guns at the ready.
This could get out of hand, thought Andreas. Best hurry on home.
At that moment,
a kid on a skateboard whizzed past and grabbed the sausages. "Thanks
for tea, mister!" He laughed, and raced off holding his trophy aloft.
While Andreas was still fuming with indignation, a rapid response chopper
roared down, blowing the litter into the fetid air like rotten confetti.
Within seconds it had landed and disgorged a dozen guards in full riot
gear and flash hoods.
"Right you lot,
hands up on the wall!" Screamed one of the faceless guards. "That includes
you, old man." He shouted at Andreas. The guard came up close, his baton
jabbing Andreas in the ribs. "Lets see, what have we got here then,
unauthorised liquor? Right, what do you want- a night in the cells or
would you like to hand that over to me now?" He smirked, no doubt. Andreas
was livid. In his younger days he would have clocked the Copper one.
They used to have respect for him, even called him in for some jobs.
But he didn't have the strength now- besides, it would have to be some
clout to damage them through all that armour. It wasn't worth the risk,
not these days. Reluctantly, he handed the bottle over. "Cheers Granddad,
me and the boys'll enjoy this later." Spat the hood, and gave Andreas
a final jab in the ribs.
with rage, his day's labours wasted, Andreas turned into his street.
Half way along he came to the door of the Victorian terraced house where
he had lived for the last thirty-seven years. The door, like all the
others in the street, was standard issue bulletproof metal, with an
embossed logo in the bottom left-hand corner reading: "Stokes Security-Working
With The Better Birmingham Company". He bashed his head on it so hard
he left a dent. "Bastards!" He screamed at the top of his voice.
the door and entered the windowless gloom of his front room, piled high
with electronic communications junk that he would fix and trade. Some
of this was state-of-the-art gear six months ago, but you could pick
it up from bins in the enclaves. You had to have contacts with the right
people to get access to this stuff though. That's why the Binmen could
afford to go on strike. There were kids who dreamed of being Binmen.
Rummaging through the street refuse was an apprenticeship. If you ever
got an interview they would want to know your ability to find things,
even amongst the most rancid filth.
He made his way
into the back room and poured himself a large drink. Hungarian, very
strong. Brought back from his last visit. He took a slug, and instantly
felt the alcohol calm his nerves and give him strength. He poured some
more and turned on the CTV.
This is the way
he had spent most of his evenings over the last thirty-six years. Andreas
drank to forget. The only problem was that he would forget that he drank
to forget and would mull over the past in his mind, trying to undo what
had long been done.
What had been done
was this. Born in a mountain village near Budapest on the last day of
the Second World War, he went to sea at the age of fifteen. He jumped
ship in Liverpool at the age of eighteen, and moved around the country
doing all sorts- hotel porter, garage mechanic, cook, dispatch rider,
police informer- until he finally ended up working in a factory making
security devices in Birmingham. There he met Maureen, a beautiful Irish
girl who he fell in love with and married. Within a year they had had
a son. But Andreas's drinking was already getting the better of him
and he didn't treat wife or son at all well. It came as no surprise
to the outside world when she left him for another man. Andreas's parting
gift was a pair of black eyes and a broken rib. Hers was a broken heart.
What did come as
a surprise was the man Maureen left Andreas for - the boss of the factory,
Gerard Stokes. She moved with the baby into a new social world and out
to the leafy suburbs of Solihull, in what was now a very desirable and
impregnable enclave. Andreas had never spoken to his wife again, but
had followed her life and that of their son from a distance. Watched
them flourish in their privileged, protected world. It still rankled
him thirty-six years later that she should have left him for the boss.
He was bitter because
he knew he was as good as anyone. He was talented, could turn his hand
to anything. But as in a dream his life had been spent trying to get
on and getting nowhere. He'd been held back by of his inability to master
written English. Even on a screen the words just scrambled. Also, he
could only speak English with a very strong Hungarian accent that hindered
his job prospects, even in the warehouses. The problem was, although
humans could just about understand him, the robots didn't recognise
his voice at all.
Now Stokes Security
were in charge of half the city. Doocey's cowboys. Hooligans, the lot
of them. They could take a man's hard- earned liquor off him just like
that. A day's wages. Bastards. And it was his son who was the organ
grinder to these monkeys. Living up there in his ivory tower while his
poor dad came home to a metal door and an empty fridge.
He poured himself
another drink. On the screen flashed the usual images of death and destruction.
The test card, muttered Andreas. He flicked over to a local channel.
Some footage of the BBC building, then a patrol of -hoodless- Stokes
Security Guards. Then it cut to some smiling suits patting each other
on the back and shaking hands. Mayor Jean-Marie Morceaux, Stokes Security
President Andrew Stokes, and C.O. Tony Doocey. Andreas turned up the
"A new contract
was signed today between the Better Birmingham Company and Stokes Security."
Announced the newscaster, cheerfully. "The new deal means that residents
Birmingham's Category A Zones will continue to enjoy the protection
of Stokes Security for the next five years."
The picture then
cut to the Mayor, who proclaimed: "This is good news for Birmingham.
I am very pleased that we have been able to continue our relationship
with Stokes Security. They have proved highly successful in ensuring
the security of our most needy residents, as the statistics over the
last five years show."
on his drink in disbelief. Then his son and Doocey were on screen, and
Doocey was saying: "I think everyone in the A Zones will sleep that
bit better tonight, knowing that the people's protectors are going to
be still with them for years to come." Andrew just stood there, smiling
The screen returned
to the newsroom. Andreas flicked back to the apocalyptic test card.
He sat staring blankly for a moment, then reached for the phone. Enough
is enough, he thought, time for action. The dialling tone rang for a
moment, then a voice said: "West Midlands Police. How can I help you?"
Andrew leapt off
the tram and ran the few yards to the pedestrian gate of his enclave.
He swiped his card through the scanner and it silently swung open. A
few steps further and he was in the lift, whizzing him up to his penthouse
flat on the seventh floor. Seventh Heaven, he called it to his lady
friends. The door opened onto a glass panelled hallway laid with lush
turf. Normally, Andrew took off his shoes here, not just to keep the
flat clean, but because he liked to feel the grass between his toes.
He didn't bother this time. He just wanted to sober up his drunken excuse
for a father and get him in a taxi back to that stinking hell hole where
he belonged as soon as possible.
The door was slightly
ajar. Inside, the only light came from the blinking neon streaming intermittently
through the windows, turning the room on then off again like a faulty
screen. K2, who usually greeted him home, was silent. Brigitte had switched
him off as instructed. He passed his hand over the light control but
nothing happened. "Right Andreas," he snarled. "If its not enough to
keep breaking your way in here, do you have to wreck the place as well?
I don't want you here, how many times do I have to tell you?"
He scanned the flashing
shadows for the old man. For the first time, he felt nervous, not in
control of the situation. When this had happened before Andreas had
been sat there with his feet on the table, ranting and swigging from
a bottle of Andrew's malt whisky. This time it was quiet. The first
eyes he made contact with were Doocey's. "Beat you to it!" Said Doocey.
"This bastard tried to kill me!" He pointed to Andreas' slumped body,
a thickening trickle of blood ebbing from the gunshot wound in his temple.
That'll ruin the carpet, thought Andrew.
"Who the hell is
he anyway?" Said Doocey. "From the Old Bill, I reckon. They sent me
an emergency call, looked like you, sounded like you- so convincing
I didn't bother checking it. Came here to find myself shot at by this
old tramp," Doocey spat. "Good job he was too pissed to point the thing
straight. Picked him off straight away. Only problem now is how are
we going to fit him into the waste disposal?
"There may be a
more pressing concern than that," Said Andrew. "According to Brigitte
there's explosives on him."
Cried Doocey, "let's get him the fuck out of here."
The last thing Andrew
saw was Doocey bending down to pick up his dead father.
How Andrew survived
was a miracle, they said. The only thing that saved him was being blasted
back straight out into the hallway, where he landed on the grass. Both
Doocey and Andreas had been blown to bits, redecorating Seventh Heaven
at the same time. Doocey was given a state funeral, his remains wrapped
in the Birmingham flag and buried in the grounds of St. Philip's Cathedral.
No-one could identify
the old man, or own up to knowing him. Certainly Andrew wasn't going
to. It was reported on the news stations that he had been a suicide
bomber, hired by enemies of the state. Andreas' house remained empty
for several months before it was looted and burnt to the ground. The
body was cremated and the ashes used for fertilizer in enclave gardens.
Some of it may possibly have helped bring on Maureen's roses.