Friday, June 5, 2009

[Fiction] Friday: The Rain

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for June 5th, 2009

“Don’t sit there,” she commanded. “That’s the cat’s chair.”

Benjamin stood looking up. Up to the top of the building and the turbines of the water mining units, capturing the moisture in the air, turning it into water. Water from the air running down pipes – not up pipes like it had once.

Propellers spinning round on the same trajectory. Turning, turning. Caught. Stuck.

As a kid he thought it looked as though the city was trying to escape. Somehow the buildings would gather enough lift and would fly away. Helicopter Buildings enmasse flying to Somewhere Else. Maybe somewhere it rained. A place the rain would wash away the sins of the city instead of allowing them to become ingrained. Where the wounds would be salved. A chance to heal. The building would take him and Clarice away with them and they would start again. A new beginning – in the rain.

Clarice had loved the rain. Always reminding him how cathartic it was to cry. Mother Nature cried and she never got it wrong. Even now, knowing the flood of good hormones which would follow, he could not bring himself to cry. To cry would admit it was over. And the battle was just beginning.

Clarice had never got over the fact it would never rain again. The atmospheric aqua mining had upset the balance of condensation and evaporation in nature. Precipitation became a thing of the past. A meterological relic. Clarice was 10 the last time it rained. The last time she pulled on her pink gumboots and jumped in puddles. Clarice had said she wished she’d stayed out playing longer. If only she had known it was the last time. Is she had playd on maybe it would not have stopped raining.

Benjamin knew all about last time regrets.

If only the City would cry it had a chance to redeem itself. That is what Clarice had said. But the City finally swallowed Clarice. She had been too good for a place like this. A job like her’s. Maybe if only he could cry something would move inside him. His heart might actually break so it could heap. Or the lump in his throat after years, choke the life from him. What life it was.

Benjamin turned his attention back to the street level. Hartog was haggling the fare down and finally allowed the flustered drive to scan the back of his hand for payment. Hartog stepped away from the taxi and glanced at the digital tickertape NewsFeed above the door of the bar.

“Slow news day.”
“Depends on what you call news I guess. Once it was meaningful. Now it just clogs up the brain with irrelevant details.”
“But you somehow still get stuff up there.”
“A drop in the ocean. Who cares anyway.”

Benjamin stepped into the bar, scanning the back of his hand, followed by Hartog how repeated the scanning routine.

“Hey you. You can’t come in here with that.”
The shout came from a middle aged woman behind the bar. Hartog turned to see what Benjamin was wearing which was in breach of the dress code. Looking about it didn’t seem there was any sort of dress regulation.
“No you pretty boy. You can’t come in here in that coat.”
Benjamin smiled. Two could play at Hartog’s game.

“There is a cloak room just off there.” Benjamin pointed to a tiny window with a red button beside it.

Hartog hesitated. He looked about the bar. Looking beyoond what people were wearing he saw the knives, guns, stunners and a few targeted biological weapons lying forgotten beside their owners as they argued, laughed and drank. Just another bar on the other side of town. One way to avoid a blood bath in your establishment. He was simultaneously annoyed and impressed.

Taking a deep breathe he pressed the button and divested the coat of the most important bits, stuffing his hologram badge into the back pocket of his jeans and the InfoCap into the front pocket.

The window shot up and a teenage girl snatched the coat before he could reconsider, scanned the back of his hand and slammed the barrier down.

Benjamin was surprised to see the Detective was well dressed underneath the tattered coat. A clean pressed white shirt clung with tailored perfection to his wide shoulders and narrow waist. No signs of creasing or sweat stains in the arm pits. The jeans looked new, no fraying at the pockets or hemmed and they too looked ironed. On closer inspection however Benjamin saw the shirt was perhaps just an inch longer and the jeans a shade or too darker than current fashion.

Hartog stripped naked strode to the bar and tried to park his butt on the nearest bar stool.
“Don’t sit there!”

It had been a long day and Hartog wanted to yell ‘Why the fuck not?’ On the other side of town the bar wenches knew who he was. They didn’t scream across the room to take his coat off. They came to him with smiles and his usual order.

He paused with his butt midair. If he had wanted to be ordered around he would have kept his posting in the Regular Army. As it was he wasn’t going to be pushed around by a woman with badly died orange hair and a lip stick smudge masquerading as a mouth. Fanta – Fan-fucking-tastic. He placed one cheek on the bar stool.

She lent over the bar. Her tuckshop lady arms taunted him. He tore his eyes away from the cussing mass of pale cellulite pitted fat.
“I said you can’t sit there.”
“No you said don’t sit there.”
“That is not your chair.” Come in Tokyo – the message was being received loud and clean. “That’s the cat’s.”

It was all the prompting he needed, twisting around to pull his badge. He didn’t care if there hadn’t been a single infringement of a health related nature since the Department of Civil Welfare consumed the Departments of Public Health in a hostile take merge. The by-laws were still on the codex though – a live domesticated animal on a premise where food preparation took place, including a bar, was illegal and punishable with large fines and imprisonment for repeat offences. Faded Fanta looked like a repeat offender.

Benjamin grabbed his hand before he could pull the badge and hissed into his ear, “Leave it. You want to go down as the first officer in 10 years to charge someone with a public health violation.” He got the irony and the rapid fall of grace which would accompany such an action.
Hartog made a mock display of tipping a hat. “As you wish ma’am.”

Benjamin walked off to the furthest booth.
“Are you always a prick?”
“Are you always so uptight?”

The same young girl from the cloakroom came to take their order. Mickey flashed the digital name badge pinned to her flat chest. Her mouth working hard at a lump of greenish bubble gum. She grunted something Hartog construed as “Can I get you something.” But it could have been anything. This side of town was not his side of town.

No smile. No whiff of customer service. Just enough metal pierced in every conceivable location as Hartog’s eye took in the proliferation of studs, spikes, rods, guessing the piercer’s showpiece waiting in other regions. It must hurt. Pain playing at being pleasure. Disfiguration traded as cool. Should he point out they had a way to fix her condition too? He’d be a cranky bitch too weighted down by all that hospital grade stainless steel.

“You got surly on the tap here. I reckon I could go a pint.”
Her hand moved as reflex to the old style tazer clipper to her filthy café apron.
“Excuse my friend. He doesn’t get out much. We’ll have two pints of your home brew.”

Hartog leaned back into the torn vinyl of the booth couch.
“You think drinking something brewed here, with animals on the premise is a good idea? I’m a bit of a health nut. I was thinking of an orange juice.”
“Freshly squeezed genetically modified … I’ll go with homebrew any day.”
“I’m on duty. I don’t drink on duty.”
“Then stare at the head and watch me enjoy mine.”

Hartog took the InfoCap out of his pocket.
“You know what this is don’t you. This InfoCap?”
Benajmin reached across to take it. Hartog closed his long fingers around it.
“It’s show and tell. Didn’t your mother tell you to look with your eyes and not with your fingers?”
“My mother died before I was old enough to have that sort of wisdom imparted to me. Our Aunt wasn’t big on moral education.”
“Let me connect the dots as I see them. You have a degree in neuroscience. Clarice had a degree in Engineering.” Hartog emphasised his point by drawing imaginary dots on the table top and dragging his finger between them. “I’m wondering - is this InfoCap the point where two sibling’s ideas collide – given one is now a feedo and the other is, I mean, was, a prostitute. Both in the information gathering business – one way or the other.”

The young waitress dropped the two pints on the table in front of them, grunted in the direction of Hartog who returned the social pleasantry with his characteristic disarming crooked smile. His face falling in all the wrong direction – probably in need of some of the waitress’s metal pins to hold it all in place. The waitress rolled her eyes and stalked away.

“How does it work?”
Benjamin took a long drink of the beer, licking the froth moustache away with his tongue.
“You’re the smart guy. Why don’t you keep connecting the dots. Or do you need new crayons?”

“Let me put it to you this way Benjamin. Someone likely killed your sister for something she saw, something she had, or someone she knew.”
“Well you’ve got a good grasp of the obvious there Detective.”
“And she had this. She saw something, had something and knew something.”
He took the InfoCap out and held it between this thumb and forefinger.
“And she was the favourite consort of the Minister of Defence. And into the pot you commented, “I told her not to.””
Benjamin drank on as if he was ignoring what Hartog said.
“Well it is obvious Clarice did and now she is dead.”
“And you probably will be too if you flash that thing around in public. You really have no idea Detective.”

Benjamin lent in. “See the guy at five o’clock. He just recorded everything you said and did. As I speak all of that information is being uploaded into the big NewsFeed databank, or if I was to be totally accurate, an off shoot of the databank where all types of information are stored and sold. You have just been placed with me and the InfoCap.” He paused and considered what to say next. “If someone killed Clarice for the InfoCap they would have cut it from behind her ear. I’ve seen the file and I know she was cut up badly. Whoever killed her knows there is more to it and they’re going to want to get the Cap back.”

He eased himself back and picked up the beer again.
“I don’t think I can trust you Detective. I suggest for your own good you give me the InfoCap and disappear out into the crowd in the street. Or else you might find yourself in a difficult situation. Find some thug to take the fall for Clarice’s murder and shut the file. Walk away.”
“I don’t accept bribes.”
“This isn’t a bribe Detective. I’m offering your life in exchange for the Cap.”
“Threatening an officer ..”

Benjamin slammed his fist down on the table.
“You don’t get it. This is big. This is so much bigger than you. I’m guessing someone in the Deparment of Civil Welfare purposely assigned you to this care to get rid of you. Think about that.”

Benjamin clambered out of the booth shooting a filthy look at the feedo sitting at five o’clock. Hartog pushed out and chased after him, stopping at the door, remembering his coat. He pressed at the button as he watched Benjamin cross two lanes of taxis and stopping a taxi in the fast lane. Benjamin was going to the end of the line and fast.

Hartog jabbed at the button again. As Benjamin climbed into the taxi the window slid open and Metal Mickey passed him his coat, adding “Have a nice day.” Pulling his arms through the coat, as he ran out the door, he knocked into an eldery man. He looked up to apologise and froze in recognition

“I’m s-s-so s-s-sorry Cardinal.” He hated it when we stammered.
“Detective Hartog.”
“You drink here?”
“You could say it’s my local. You looked shocked my son.”
“It’s just…”
“I’m a Catholic – not a Puritan. Nothing wrong with a cleansing ale or two. Will you join me.”
“I’m sorry Your Excellency. I’m..”
“Busy I’m sure.”

Hartog stood for a moment longer than necessary, watching Cardinal Ambrosius Tennyson exchange small talk with Fanta from the stool he’d been earlier barred from. Shaking his head, he stepped out into the fading daylight, his stomach growling, calculating the time it was going to take him to reach Dah-Jeerlings.

If you liked The Rain there is more. The first two instalments in the Hartog Series: