Café Ultimate A few routines from the place that's open twenty-four hours serving coffe, tea, soft drinks and a range of hot snacks in a traditional environment. All major credit cards accepted.
From A.K.C.T. issue one: Mister Jackson, Hekst Hardcore, The Cruelty-free Commando
And then there was the time when the caféwas in a rough area. Linked short stories from A.K.C.T. issue two: Staff wanted, Complimentary Coffee, Growing up, Foreign food
The caféis open all night, including when the clubs close and everyone comes out from coming out to play. From A.K.C.T. issue three: Radio KTFQ
The Last DJ Cops and drugs in a fast moving trip to the place where Semantic Data Beats comes from. From A.K.C.T. issues one and two.
See also - www.autotranscend.co.uk
Mister Jackson trades in the financial markets. He is very successful and earns a large income. He attributes his success, in part, to not paying rent for office accommodation. Instead, Mister Jackson uses various mobile telecommunication services to conduct his business.
It is necessary, for good reception, to remain in one place for a period of time. Long-term car parking is almost as expensive as office space in the areas covered by the broadcast data services which Mister Jackson uses. Hence, Mister Jackson is frequently to be found in Café Ultimate. On average two days out of every seven.
His car pulls up outside, he gets out, instructs his chauffeur "Collect me in four hours for lunch." then carries his briefcase inside. His chauffeur drives around more or less at random, but never more than a few minutes from Café Ultimate.
Mister Jackson always leaves his credit card behind the counter. The staff know his order - black decaffeinated coffee to be kept coming, and two slices of buttered crispbread every half hour. He sits at a table by the wall and takes his data display and message pager from his briefcase. When he is not working, but is in a restaurant, Mister Jackson finds mobile phones annoying and considers those employing them indoors rude in the extreme. Hence, when Mister Jackson switches on his data display he always sets low brightness, and he carries a pager which has both "bleep" and "vibrate" settings. When he wishes to make a trade he hurries to the soundproof telephone kiosk just inside the door of Café Ultimate.
Mister Jackson uses an advanced model of data display - and expensive item - and one day somebody in the café decided to steal it. He waited until Mister Jackson had hurried to the telephone kiosk, then stood up, as if to leave.
His exit route took him past Mister Jackson's table and as he passed he suddenly snatched up the unit and ran for the exit. Mister Jackson was making a deal at the time:
"No, I want to sell fourteens at seventy-five."
"I'm not interested in selling sixteens."
"No. Fourteens at seventy-five."
"Fourteens at seventy-five I said."
"Hang on a moment I've got something else. How about if I buy those XM's from you?"
"You've been sitting on them for ages. Offer them as thirties and I'll bid seventeen."
The thief was just about to pass the kiosk and make good his escape. Mister Jackson took two quick steps backwards out of the booth, still holding the handset to his ear. The cord between the handset and the phone unit stretched out and caught the thief at neck height. Mister Jackson quickly wrapped the cord around the struggling thief's neck and pushed him back into the kiosk, resuming his conversation.
"Sorry I didn't catch that."
As the thief tried to free himself from the cord Mister Jackson's left palm caught his chin and struck the back of his head against the metal casing of the phone unit.
"Sorry there's some noise here. It sounded like you offered them as thirties for twenty."
Mister Jackson hit the thief's head against the metal box a second time.
"Didn't catch that either, it sounded like you said you weren't interested."
The thief slumped from the combined strangulation and blows to the head.
"Yup, I heard you fine that time, it's a deal. Mine at seventeen." Mister Jackson completed the deal by giving authorisation codes for both trades then pulled the telephone hook down with his hand. He released it, then called his chauffeur.
Soon the car pulled up outside Café Ultimate. Mister Jackson helped put the failed thief on the back seat.
"Take him to the nearest casualty room. I'll pay the bill, but make sure it's anonymous."
"Very good sir." back to top
Meridienne looked at the men's black uniforms and the implements attached thereto. She thought "They project hate, if I don't respond with fear the can't attack." Jamis, her only companion looked like a little boy compared to the men in the café.
"We're just trying to find the road to the North" she said. "We must've passed your café four times before we thought to come in. Ask directions." Meridienne smiled. Jamis looked nervous. The men looked blank.
After a short pause their leader smiled. "All the roads kind of look the same don't they?"
"Yes they do."
Meridienne and Jamis laughed slightly, all the men smiled too and the tension seemed to be broken. Inwardly the men were smirking - their leader, Hekst, was only ever friendly to strangers when he'd thought of something really hard-core to pull on them.
"Let's see now, North you say." Meridienne and Jamis nodded and Hekst began to give directions. "OK, you go left out of here down to that star junction. Now you've got two roads going like this." He gestured with both hands. "Then there's a kind of track, going off, sort of at an angle like this." He made another gesture but became dissatisfied. "Hey I know. Why don't I draw you folks a map?"
"Thanks very much, that'd be great." said Jamis.
Hekst's left hand caught Jamis' collar, whilst his right grabbed the young man's belt. The other men moved quickly. Meridienne found her arms pinned to her sides from behind. She struggled and a second man wrapped his arms around her neck. As she tried to fight them off Meridienne caught a glimpse of Hekst picking Jamis up onto a table. Meridienne felt a piece of wood passing against her chin. Then, with a sharp twist, her head was jerked upwards. From the corner of either eye she could see the long stick the man was using. In front of her more men were holding Jamis down, one applying the same stick neck lock which held her in painful immobility.
Hekst flicked open a six inch blade and cut the buttons off Jamis' shirt in one staccato motion.
"Now then. We're here." Jamis took breath sharply through his mouth as Hekst cut a small square, millimetres across, just to the right of Jamis' solar plexus. "Don't squirm so much son, I'm trying to help." Hekst teased Jamis' left nipple with the blade and his men sniggered. "So you go left out of here", drawing the knife across to Jamis' left ribs, a little blood sprang immediately, "then there's a star junction with one, two, three, four, five, six roads coming off it. You want this one." Hekst extended one arm of the asterisk up towards Jamis' neck. "On this road you want the one, two, three, fourth turn-off. That'll take you North." Hekst wiped and closed the knife, then had an afterthought.
"I'd better", he searched for a word, "emphasise that turn off." Hekst opened the knife once more and made a second cut by the last and flicked out a narrow wedge of flesh. Jamis cried out.
As the men released Jamis and Meridienne one asked a question:
"How come you give them the right directions Hekst?"
"So they have to look at it, idiot." back to top
So long as you buy something, the staff don't mind if you sit a while. Especially at a quiet time of day. You can have a cassette recorder on your table even. Not for playing of course, but for recording. Like if you're doing an interview.
Interviewer: So how did he come to be called "The Cruelty-free Commando"?
Subject: (laughing) Not just him but the whole group of us. That came about after one time, a long time back, near the start when we were making Molotov cocktails. Anyway we'd got a load of bottles, I don't remember where from, just collected here and there I reckon, and we'd stole some cans of petrol - holding up a gas station and somebody says "What about soap". Anyway we didn't know anything back then so everyone says "What soap?" like what do you want soap for, you know with petrol bombs. So they said they'd read in a CIA manual about adding shredded soap to the petrol, and we thought well you can't argue with that, you can't argue with the CIA you know? (laughs). Well first thing we thought is how are we going to shred it and somebody says they saw a cheese grater in the kitchen. I couldn't believe that, man, like its a broken up old squat house and there's a cheese grater in the kitchen. Anyway there was one. So I said I'd go to the corner store and buy soap. It's now that your man pipes up and says "What brand of soap you getting?" I thought he was joking so I said just whatever's cheapest you know, maybe get a money off voucher for the next purchase (laughs). But he's serious, I think with him everything had to be a statement or it wasn't worth doing. We stole petrol so as not to prop up the oil companies, we lived in a squat because paying rent just helps to prop up the regime of ownership and so on. Anyway, to return to the soap, he said he didn't see why we should support vivisection and that he didn't use soap and shampoo that had been tested on animals or that contained animal ingredients. Well at first we just laughed and somebody said "What is this, the cruelty-free commando?" and because we were all laughing like that, I think, is why the name stuck. And of course we couldn't come up with any counter arguments so I had to go out shopping for cruelty-free soap.
Interviewer: You're saying that every incendiary bomb you threw contained no animal products?
Subject: Yes sir! He made sure of that. The Cruelty-free Commando.
Interviewer: The Cruelty-free Commando. back to top
"My daughter's gone off to college." Tim, the proprietor of Café Ultimate, paused to allow time for the usual response to this statement, then replied "Oh. Biology." Then he realised that the young woman with whom he was speaking had not made the usual response. Or any response at all. She just sat down looking around at the interior of his café.
"What kind of people come in during the day?" She said a few seconds later, when she had finished her inspection.
"Oh well, not many people at all really. A few more at lunch but Sue and John come in eleven till two to cover that." Tim avoided answering the question.
"You don't get kids in then? Playing truant." She asked it casually, not looking straight at him.
"Oh well a few I suppose."
"Last place I worked was full of them in the day. You telling me you don't get any?" She locked Tim's eyes and he hesitated, almost blushing. "I don't work for a liar." she added, for emphasis, still looking straight in his eyes.
"OK we get children. Who probably should be at school."
"I thought so. That's why you said come round at six in your ad isn't it?" She paused to look at the café's evening clientele. "This is the nice shift. After the little bastards have gone home, and before the big bastards have got up." She flicked her head back to Tim. "Am I right?"
"Yeah you're right. So I suppose you don't want the job then. Because of the kids."
"Oh I can deal with kids, I learnt how at my last place."
A glimmer of hope that he might regain control of the interview flashed at Tim. "Oh yes, what experience do you have?"
"Only place I've worked was Bob's."
"Oh yes, I think I've heard of it. It um closed just recently."
"Yeah it's closed. Bob couldn't really keep it open. You know, considering it was burnt down in a delinquent gang fight." Tim hadn't wanted to say it, but of course he had known.
"Listen I don't want some poor innocent girl falling for that `come by at six' thing and then getting gang-raped behind the counter. I'll work here."
Tim said nothing in reply. He just sat and blinked a few times, lost in thought.
"I'll start nine-thirty tomorrow yeah?" The young woman stood and extended her open right hand across the table.
"Oh yeah. Nine-thirty." Tim said, shaking the hand absently. "Do you want a coffee or something?"
The young woman looked at her watch quickly. "OK."
"Tony." Tim called across the room. A man behind the counter looked up from wiping a surface. "Let her have a coffee and a cake or something." Tony nodded as the young woman walked over to the counter.
Tim got up to go back to the stock room. He was thinking about an innocent girl who had worked behind a counter, and had been gang-raped. Biology. back to top
Jane, the new member of counter staff at the café, twisted the cold tap to make water dribble slowly into the empty coffee jug she had placed in the sink. She took the full jug from under the filter and put it up onto the hotplate built into the top of the coffee machine. After a quick glance at the jug in the sink, to check that it was not filling too quickly, she took out the machine's filter and, with a deft flick of her strong right wrist, discarded the steaming wet coffee grounds into the green plastic bag that lined the bin. She placed the empty filter upright on the draining board and reached up to the shelf where the filter papers and packets of grounds were kept.
At the exact moment the water in the jug in the sink passed the mark on the side of the jug, Jane was inserting the replenished filter back into the machine. She turned off the tap and poured the jug's contents into the top of the machine. Placing the jug on the hotplate below the filter caused a light on the side of the machine to flick on. The light indicated that inside the machine a process had started; the water would be heated, then passed through the filter to drip, as coffee, into the jug below.
During this routine a boy watched Jane's body. He was sitting at a table in the café with two friends. His friends were in his year at school, but only theoretically, since they never attended classes. His two friends could only see Jane by turning their heads. When Jane had started her machine refill sequence the boy had begun tapping the fingers of his right hand on the table, tap, tap, tap, tap. When Jane had reached up to put the full jug on top of the machine, then again when she had reached up to get a fresh filter paper and packet of coffee from the shelf, and finally when she had reached up to pour the water into the top of the machine the boy tapped his fingers faster, tap-tap-tap-tap. This caused his companions immense amusement which they suppressed, squirming and smirking to each other.
After she had placed the empty jug beneath the filter Jane noticed that, as was her habit, she had not put the lid on the jug. The lid, which had a small hole in its centre to allow the passage of the coffee, was on the draining board. She quickly removed the jug, put its lid on and replaced it under the filter. The light flicked off and then back on as she did this. Earlier that day, Tim had stopped by his café to see how his new employee was doing. Then, he had lightly told her off for not putting the lids on. Tim considered that, since few people came in the café at that time of day, the coffee would cool down too quickly if the jugs were left open.
As she turned back round, Jane noticed a couple leaving the café and smiled them a quick goodbye. Except for the three boys, who Jane thought were unlikely to buy anything, there was now nobody else in the room. The mid-morning lull had begun. Jane turned to where her bag lay on the floor and bent down to rummage for the book she had brought with her.
"Miss? The time on that clock is wrong." Jane turned at the voice. The tapping boy had walked around to the end of the counter. Actually coming behind the counter would have constituted a clear transgression. Jane would have been entitled to be cross had he done this, so the boy had stopped just short. He had not lost his child's instinct for the grey area. The boy's companions had stayed where they were. They sat with their elbows rested on their table, but their fore-arms held upright so that they could hide their giggling faces by hunching.
"Are you going to get it down and change it?" The boy restrained a smile as he spoke.
"Something wrong with your friends?" Jane asked, glancing across at them. "Are clocks funny now?" They hunched further and pressed their eyes shut, restraining their laughter to make it obvious that the joke was private.
"What's funny is the way your tits bounce up as you stretch." His companions hunched further and went on laughing, but Jane noticed that the boy in front of her was now staring at her in a very serious way. Suddenly it had become necessary to assess him as a physical threat. The boy was tall for his age, taller than Jane, and not built small. She remembered that Tim had shown her where there was a baseball bat kept under the counter.
The boy took a step forward, reached under the counter and took out the baseball bat. Without taking his eyes off Jane, he dropped the bat behind him. The clatter of the wood on the tiled floor stopped his friends' laughter. They unhunched and looked up.
"I want to see them bounce up and out of your bra and through your shirt. I bet those little buttons are just about ready to pop off. Especially with a bit of tearing." The boy reached towards her, edging forwards.
"Barry!" One of his friends called.
The boy turned guiltily to look at the door of the café, expecting to see somebody watching or about to come in. There was nobody and he relaxed out of the half-crouch into which he had dropped. He looked at the boy who had called. The boy's aghast face told Barry why the boy had called, even before he started stuttering.
"Fuck's sake. What is it?" Barry said angrily, hoping to shut the boy up.
The boy only continued to stutter.
"OK" Barry sighed, "Run away if you've lost your bottle. Just don't put me off. Now, where was I."
"Look out." the third boy shouted.
Barry had been turning back to face Jane. He heard the shout and flinched as she thrust her right hand out. Thus he avoided most of the boiling content of the filter Jane was flinging in his face. What he did not avoid caught him on the side of his head and ran blistering down his neck inside his shirt. "Shit shit shit. You little slag." Barry took a step back, wiping and flicking the scalding water-drenched powder with his hands. In the few moments' delay caused by Barry's friend's sudden reluctance Jane had considered her position. The counter curved round behind her to meet the wall, boxing her in, so she could not have run away. To use the coffee jug, Jane would have had to lift it off the top of the machine and take the lid off. The filter only had to be slid out. Hence she had chosen the filter.
Now that the pain had momentarily immobilised Barry, Jane had enough time to take down the jug and remove the lid. She did so and threw the entire contents at Barry's head. The coffee in the pot was hotter, more liquid, and hit Barry more squarely than her previous missile. He stopped swearing and started screaming. He turned away from Jane, blundering his way out from behind the counter. Jane pursued him, getting two ringing hits on his bowed head with the Nevva-Krak drop-proof glass jug before he stepped on the round baseball bat and tumbled to the floor. Jane put down the jug as she picked up the baseball bat. She got two double-handed overhead swings at Barry's thighs before his friends rushed over.
Barry was curled up in a ball of pain, his face and head on fire, a dull blackness in his legs. Jane stood, holding the bat menacingly and glaring at Barry's prone form and his hesitant friends. She took a step back.
"Get him out of here." she ordered them. They complied.
Jane sat at one of the tables for a minute, until her heart resumed its normal pattern. She mused that life was that little bit less stressful when you left the lid off the jug. back to top
It was early afternoon when the tall man came in. Only five customers were in the café. The man walked straight to the counter, where Jane greeted him with a smile and raised eyebrows.
"I'll have heavy tex' and tomato in a white roll please, to eat here. And a black coffee, no sugar."
Jane noticed the man leafing through notes in his wallet from the corner of her eye as she prepared the roll. This was unwise, she thought, and bound to attract undesirable attention. She finished the roll, put it on a plate and poured the coffee wondering if there was some way she could warn him. As she passed the plate and saucer across the counter, Jane noticed that attention had indeed been attracted. A seventeen year old thug, one of a pair who had been sitting at a table in the café, had walked over. He stood close to the man, who could not have failed to notice him.
Jane charged the man for his food. The thug spoke.
"No it's more than that. There's a service charge." The thug extended a hand, open to receive.
The man paused to look at the thug. His hand froze, holding a note, half way between his wallet and Jane's hand. "A service charge?" The man did not sound afraid, nor as if he did not understand that he was being robbed.
"Yeah. And you pay me instead of her." The thug twitched the fingers on his outstretched hand in a beckoning gesture.
"You've got to be a hard man to take money from people. A tough guy."
"Yeah well don't make me show you. I'll bust you up."
"OK." The man put the note he was holding into the thug's hand.
The thug looked at the note, reading it's value. Then he looked at the man again.
"Are you tougher than that?" The man asked.
"You make another joke and I'll bust you up anyway." the thug said, a mean expression on his face. "Now give me your wallet."
The man drew the remaining notes from his wallet. "Are you this tough?" he said, holding a few folded notes. The thug snatched at the money, which the man held onto by flicking his wrist away.
"Give me that fucking money or I'll put you on the floor!"
"OK OK, take it." the man said, turning his wrist back. "But if you're not this tough", he waggled the notes slightly "you're in trouble."
"You're weird." The thug took the money.
"Well, at least I know how tough I am." The man left the café.
The man returned to Café Ultimate the following day. It was seven-thirty in the evening and the place was getting busy. The post-work crowd had left the café by then and were being replaced by the usual late evening clientele: small gangs of young punks. The punks liked to show off to each other. Mostly they were content to just call insults and posture; only occasionally would things get nasty, and then the punks generally took it outside. Even so, Tim placed a couple of fairly burly male staff behind the counter at that time of day.
Jane had come in at seven-fifteen to collect her wages for her first week, and had stayed for a toasted snack. There was a shelf wide enough to take a plate and saucer around the inside of the café's seating area. Jane sat at a stool facing the shelf, taking a quick look around as she did so. Looking around at the occupants of the café just once was a sensible precaution; looking more often invited the occupants to look back. Invited, or challenged.
The two thugs Jane had last seen taking the "weird" man's money were sitting at a table. They looked different now: one wore an expensive looking jacket, the other a number of flashy neck and wrist accessories. Clearly, the boys had stayed later than usual to parade their newly purchased finery and plumage in front of a slightly older crowd. Hence, unlike Jane, they looked around more than once. When people looked back they smiled at them. And the people looking smiled back. The boys were enjoying themselves. Both of them had been a bit worried about staying late, until the twenty year olds arrived, but they had reckoned that if they were to "play it nice" they would come to no harm. It was all proceeding to plan.
As they checked everybody walking into the café, the thugs recognised the man they had robbed of all that money as soon as he entered. They were too surprised to make any kind of greeting. After looking straight at them, to show that he had noticed them too, the man diverted his attention to placing his order.
"I'll have heavy tex' and tomato in a white roll please, to eat here. And a black coffee, no sugar."
Again the fat wallet came out.
The thugs had a brief discussion whilst the man's order was prepared. They quickly explained his re-appearance as just a manifestation of the man's weirdness. They were whispering about whether to approach him, perhaps to rob him again, when the man answered the question himself by calmly sitting at an unoccupied chair at their table. They fell silent, aware of several pairs of twenty year old eyes being turned in their direction.
He looked at them briefly, his face expressionless, then made a neat diagonal cut, dividing his roll into two pieces. The boy who had actually taken the money, who now wore an expensive jacket as a result, was the one to speak.
"Are you a charity?"
The man's shoulders moved a little as he kicked the thug under the table. The boy yelped, but the man seemed unsatisfied. He kicked again, landing correctly this time, and the boy and his chair tumbled to the floor.
Given a little time by the man's need to kick twice, the other boy had drawn a knife (another flashy accessory). He now lunged across the table, the knife in his right hand. It was the move of an inexperienced fighter, and the man easily avoided by leaning back in his chair. At the same time he expertly caught the boy's knife hand at the wrist. Pulling the boy forward and off balance, the man slammed the wrist to the table. As he did so he curled the fingers of his other hand, his right, into a half fist, as though about to knock on a door. He raised his right hand then smashed it down into the back of the boy's hand. The crockery on the table jumped, spilling coffee and hot chocolate. Then again as the man repeated the strike. The man took the knife from the boys weakened hand, but did not release his wrist. He switched his grip deftly, plunged the knife all the way through the webbing between the boy's thumb and index finger, then ripped his hand back and down, slashing the flesh apart. The man released the wrist as he stood up and the screaming boy quickly gripped his hand with his other hand, pushing the severed parts together. His screaming subsided into swearing as he crouched over his hand. The man reckoned him no longer a threat and turned to the other boy.
The boy he had kicked had brought himself to a standing position by using his chair as support. Leaning forward slightly, so that he could hold his injured left knee with his left hand, the young thug held his right hand in front of him, the palm open in a stop gesture.
"All right, you win. What do you want? You want the money back? You want-"
"Call me Sarrio pip-squeak."
"Yes. You win Mr Sarrio. What do-"
"That's Sarrio, just Sarrio. And I want you to know that you weren't tough enough to take from me."
Sarrio thought the young thug was faking a little and kicked fast and low to the boy's left knee. A sharp cry escaped the boy as he crumpled forwards a little. Before he could recover Sarrio moved in and punched him a couple of times, stomach and chest. Then he grabbed the boys ears, one in each hand, dragged him round and butted his face on the edge of the table. He lifted and butted seven more times, then dropped the boy to the floor. Sarrio picked up the chair and sat where the boy had been sitting. He pulled his own plate and cup across the table and began eating.
The boy raised himself on his arms. Dimly, he could see blood dripping to the floor between his expensive sleeves. His friend, who had wrapped a handkerchief around his mutilated hand, helped him get up. They left the café, one hobbling, supporting himself with an arm across the other's shoulders.
One of the burly men from behind the counter came out with a cloth in his hand. He wiped the table, then the floor. As he was picking up the boys' crockery Sarrio spoke to him quietly.
"Sorry about the mess."
He discreetly passed a few coins to the counter-man.
The next day, Tuesday, Sarrio came to Café Ultimate at two-thirty in the afternoon. He was still there at seven-thirty when he had visitors.
There were two of them. They stopped just inside the door of the café. One of them pointed to Sarrio, after looking around briefly. As they walked across the café, towards Sarrio, heads turned and the room went quiet. This was because of the state of one of the visitors, the one who had pointed.
He was limping, and his face was severely swollen and bruised. Half way over to Sarrio, somebody whispered "It's the kid who robbed him". His companion was older, old enough to be his father, which indeed he announced himself to be with his opening sentence. It was addressed to Sarrio, in a calm but serious tone.
"This is my son. Do you recognise him?"
"Recognise him? With his face all mashed up like that? How's anybody supposed to recognise him? Maybe if you had a photo or something." This provoked a few sniggers from the other occupants of the café.
"That's pretty funny." The man stayed serious. Sarrio had hoped that the boy's father would lose his temper following his joke. He tried again.
"Sorry, I'm being insensitive aren't I. He was born that way, am I right?" he began. "Let me guess. You screwed some whore up the arse, shot your seed into her diarrhoea, and he's what came out. You should have used one of those thick condoms."
The man lost his temper. He lunged at Sarrio, fists flying. Sarrio simply stood up with his chin down and his arms up, protecting his head and chest. He took two or three blows to his guard, then checked forward, inside the range of the man's flailing arms and went to work with his elbows.
The man had been too busy hitting to worry about his own guard. Four solid blows to his ribs landed before his temper abated and he realised he was hurt. He stepped backward to disengage. Sarrio let his fists fly then, right-left right-left. The man paused, dazed by the punches to his head. Sarrio took a breath and pulled back a little. Although appearing to be withdrawing, Sarrio was actually giving himself room to kick. Sarrio's waist and shoulders turned and he put his full weight into the kick. The onlookers gasped in sympathetic pain as the point of Sarrio's left shoe sunk into the man's abdomen. The man doubled over, breathless. Sarrio held his guard for a second longer, then decided that it was enough and the fight was over.
"You'd better help your dad home." Sarrio said to the watching boy.
The swelling meant that nobody could tell what expression was on the boy's face.
"Come on dad. You did your best." He led his father, staggering, out of the café.
Sarrio watched them leave slowly. Hushed conversation began again amongst the other customers. One fragment reached his ears.
"Good kick. He brought the knee high and turned his hips right into it."
Momentarily, Sarrio felt like hitting whoever had said that. He realised he was still standing, and sat down. He looked down at his empty plate. All they could see was a good kick, but Sarrio saw the start of a career. He remembered some gangster beating up his own father and remembered how it had made him realise that he had to take care of his own life. It had made him a man. back to top
Sarrio became a regular customer at Café Ultimate. Very regular. Sunday afternoon, Tuesday afternoon and early evening, Thursday afternoon and early evening. He had a constant stream of visitors, but only ever one at a time. One day two people came in together to see him, Sarrio obviously knew them and called to them when they had just got inside the door.
"Hey! Only one person. If you both have to see me then one at a time. OK?"
One of them left.
Some of Sarrio's visitors just came to talk with him; always in quiet tones. Some came to give or receive money; always discreetly and under the table.
Sarrio ate and drank throughout the day. To drink: either a cup of black coffee with no sugar, or a small bottle of mineral water. To eat: either a piece of a particular cake or a white roll filled with heavy texture pro-meat and sliced tomato. Also, Sarrio insisted that his visitors bought something. If somebody approached his table empty-handed he would say something like: "Look, you can't just sit here, it's a café. Go and buy something. The coffee's good, so is the cake."
The staff were happy: Sarrio was always polite, always insisted on politeness in his guests, and always took a moment to calm down the more unruly and troublesome customers who might otherwise disrupt the peace and quiet. Also, he always left a generous tip at the end of his stay. Tim was happy: he had regular customers, and the place was losing its reputation as a hang-out for wild kids.
As a mark of his happiness, Tim bought a batch of stand-up plastic triangles with "reserved" printed on them, just so he could leave one on Sarrio's favourite table three days a week. Sarrio was flattered and pleased at the "reserved" notice. He tried to think of a way to repay this kindness. It came to him on his next "reserved" visit as he stared up at the blackboard fixed above the counter.
A few days later Sarrio came to Café Ultimate accompanied by another man. He was shorter than Sarrio and a little nervous looking. Sarrio bought him white coffee with two sugars and a packet of three biscuits.
A few minutes after they had sat down, Jane noticed that the man had taken out a notepad and was writing and looking up above the counter. He left after fifteen minutes, when he had finished his coffee and two of the biscuits. At the end of her shift, Jane mentioned the note-taker to her relief, who mentioned it to Tim later.
Tim was worried. Was Sarrio helping a rival by telling him Café Ultimate's prices? Did he intend to open his own café? Neither seemed to make sense, which only worried Tim more: he could see no motive in Sarrio's actions.
A week passed, during which Sarrio came and went as usual. Tim's worry did not subside. Whilst the copying of information from the menu felt like some kind of violation, it in no way overstepped the limits of acceptable customer behaviour. However, he could think of no way to raise the matter and was forced to let it lie.
Then one evening, at the time when Tim was always at the café, Jane came by unexpectedly. Tim's first thought was that, in his worried state, he had forgotten that it was her night to be paid. He checked the calendar first, then asked Jane directly. She said "Oh I'm just on my way out, fancied a coffee." She seemed evasive. Tim just said "OK". He did not get her a coffee, such was his distraction; he forgot he was behind the counter.
Then Sarrio came in, it was Monday and therefore unexpected. More unexpected was that he had three men with him, carrying a long, tall, thin, bubble-wrapped package.
"You like it?" Sarrio said to Tim, who was staring in bewilderment. Sarrio looked at the package, seeing the cause of Tim's confusion. "Turn it round. It's the wrong way up." The men turned the package over, no easy feat due to its size.
Tim blinked, trying to focus on what was beneath the bubble-wrap. Then he smiled. It was a new menu board. He started laughing, then remembered his manners.
"Thanks Sarrio. I don't know what to say. I mean, you shouldn't have."
"Don't mention it." Sarrio turned to his men. "Who's got the numbers and stuff."
One of the men pulled a plastic bag from his jacket pocket. Sarrio took it and went over to Tim, dismissing the men with "Put it against the wall over there." He gave Tim the bag and, putting his arm around Tim's shoulders, led him over to where the board was being leaned against the wall.
"These are the numbers you put on it for the prices and things. You just stick them on tonight and I'll have they boys around tomorrow morning to hang it up and take that old one down." He leaned a little closer "And you could put some of the prices up you know. You're getting different people in here now." There was one more thing:
"Oh look, I changed this bit here." Sarrio leant down and pressed a piece of the wrapping to make the letters underneath more clear. "Where it used to say Bar B Q, I changed it to Barbecue, see?"
"Bar B Q, what does that mean? What is it, pronounced Barb'k? Sounds like Iraqi food or something." back to top
Pete worked the night shift at Café Ultimate. He started at ten and left at six. Between eleven and five there were no other staff on. Sometimes people would ask him if this was dangerous: working alone in the small hours. He would reply that it was generally OK but even if it did get "a bit naughty" he could handle himself. The cornerstone of Pete's ability to handle himself was being aware and observant. "Spot trouble before it starts and it can be prevented" was Pete's watchword.
One night just before two Pete became aware of, and then observed, some potential customers standing outside the café looking in at the menu hanging above the counter. Four tall blokes, late twenties, smartly dressed, fit. Pete guessed that they had just come out of a club. He started to worry: people, especially men, often got boisterous after they had been out clubbing (if they were not too wasted). It was only a short step from boisterous to trouble.
And these were certainly boisterous. They were pointing at the menu, laughing, talking, and walking around on the pavement as they did so. Then one of the men sneaked his arm around the waist of one of the others. Having done this he took a quick glance at the other man, but the other man made no move to indicate that he had noticed, although he must have. The two men had stopped pacing and were standing facing Pete, though looking over his head. Apparently emboldened by the lack of complaint, the first man moved his hand lower so that it disappeared from Pete's view behind the second man. Pete stopped worrying. The men were gay and gays were never any trouble.
The men walked into Café Ultimate, gradually approaching the counter.
"Mineral water for me. A big bottle, please. I need to rehydrate."
"D'you know I'm starving all of a sudden. Can you do me a roll? Ta."
"Two teas, please."
They sat at a table big enough for four and started chatting about the club they had just left. The two who were having tea very soon dropped out of the conversation and got off with each other. The other two continued to talk for a while, ignoring the necking couple next to them. At a natural break in the smooching, a few whispered words were spoken between the two men. The couple separated, stood, and announced that they were leaving. Pleasantries were exchanged to the effect that it had been nice meeting the others and that it had been a nice evening. The two remaining men continued to talk on the same subjects for a while then lapsed into silence.
"Well, I want to head home." It was the one who had ordered a bottle of mineral water, half of which he had now drunk.
"Yes. Just let me finish my roll."
"No, I'm going to go back to my place."
"I'm really tired. I've got things to do tomorrow. Sorry. Maybe another time."
"Next week?" A bit eager sounding that.
"Same place? Yeah might do. Bye."
The remaining man looked unhappy, annoyed. He pushed what remained of his roll around its plate a little, tapped the table, scratched his head, then, suddenly remembering, looked at his watch. He got up and went to the counter.
"Could I have a coffee please?"
Pete took a cup and saucer and poured in coffee. As he was getting the milk the man spoke again.
"Does that radio work?"
"I think so. Shall I check?"
"Would it be all right, I mean could you tune it to 99.7?"
"Sure." Pete put the white coffee on the counter, where the man could reach it. He took the man's payment then turned to the radio.
At that time of the morning most stations seemed to have closed but as Pete approached 99.7 a crackly voice came forth.
".....the minister was not available for comment. That's all for now, more news at three."
Some powerful guitar chords, then a champagne cork being popped, then a loud splash.
"It's a little after two. That's what I call late, and this is the late show. Coming at you, over you and inside you for the next three hours this is Dick Froth on Radio KTFQ Keep This Frequency Queer."
Dick played a record. Peter noticed the man was relaxed and smiling now, he left the radio on.
"Hello to everyone who's just come out of William. In case you didn't already know ..... hang on, if you didn't know already then you are nowhere and nothing. Do such people listen to my show? Do they Jack? Jack's my producer. What's that?"
"Don't be stupid Dick." the muffled voice of the producer answered.
"OK Point taken. As you probably don't know, William is now every Tuesday at Club Venice. So, OK let's get to the phones. Anybody just got in from William get on the phone now."
A jingle voice announced the phone number then some adverts came on. Pete looked up and noticed the man rubbing his chin thinking. Evidently he rejected the idea of calling with a wrinkle of his nose.
"OK I've got twenty lines up. Who's it going to be? Who's it going to be? Well, none of you, you sad losers. You went to William, hoping you'd find someone. A bit of a dance, thought your luck was in, but you ended up with nothing, sitting on your own, at home. How do I know? If you'd got off would you listening to KTFQ Late? Would you? So now you've dialled in for a bit of compassion. Pathetic. Get off the lines, all of you. What Jack? Too harsh? Tell them the truth? All right, all right. You can stay on if you're prepared to be bitter. I want bile, now. Acid. Why? Because I just got dumped. And you know what the worst thing about it is? I keep seeing happy couples, smiling, joking, kissing. Must be because it's Pride week. What a joke that is. Let's all walk around wearing pink triangle badges, holding hands and being proud. Who's proud to be gay? Unattractive wankers who can't get a shag unless they advertise. I'll tell you when I'm proud, I'm proud when I've got my cock stuffed into a cute boy's arse and I'm pumping it full of hot, high protein, intestinal lubrication."
More adverts and another record.
"They're going to fire him this time." The man addressed his remark to the world in general, which, at that precise moment, meant Pete.
Advanced analysis concluded.
"OK. Line six. Your chance to get bitter."
"Hello? Dick? I've never called your show before. Am I on now?"
"No you're off because you were too slow. Useless. You all have got one more chance. It's line five."
"Straight people!" An explosion. Line five clearly knew how to get on Dick's show.
"What about them?"
"They're the ones making Pride week ....." The caller could think of no word and settled for a strangled cry of hatred "Uargh! They're ruining it."
"Is it the liberals, line five? Muscling in? What's it got to do with them right?"
"I'm walking down the street OK? and I see this hot guy with a Pride sticker. We get talking, we have coffee. We talk some more. So I pop the question OK? And what does he say? Oh I'm not gay. I'm wearing this for solidarity.' Can you believe it!"
"You don't want solidarity you want a shag, right?"
"Yeah. In fact if there's any straight people listening, wanting advice on how best to be supportive to lesbians and gays then pay attention. Next time you see a person wearing a gay Pride pin go right up to them and offer them your body. That's it."
"Sorry but I'm going to have to scratch that, line five. If there's any straight people listening then switch off now! I don't want you."
"Yeah Dick. Hey, why don't they have Straight Pride week. Truth is nobody's proud to be straight."
"Actually the truth is that guy you chatted up was gay but didn't want to sleep with a dork like you. G'night line five."
Another record. More adverts.
"You know something? I'm not feeling so bad now. I think I've found a cure for the single man's blues. Verbal abuse. Yeah. OK if there's any security guards out there, who want to make me feel better then call now. But be warned, you're gonna be crying."
More adverts. Another record.
Pete looked up to see the man tipping his coffee cup back to drain it.
"Another coffee? It's on the house."
"I won't be able to get to sleep if I do."
"Really? Not at all? I mean not even by four a. m.?"
"How about five a. m.?"
"I shouldn't think so."
"And now the big one: what about six a. m.?"
"What's so special about six?"
"I get off at six."
"Looks like I do too." The man took the coffee with a smile. back to top
"We were right on his tail." the policeman snarled in the interview room. "We saw you set off the charges Paul." The policeman let the words sink in.
The interviewee mumbled, but the policeman cut him off:
"What did you say?"
"You didn't say that you weren't the one then?"
"No." the interviewee sighed.
"You didn't say that you weren't the one caught destroying the evidence?"
"Do you know how big this case is?"
Words written in ..... in ..... a magazine?
"They're all called DJ _____." the manager grunts, I can't spell it.
"DJ this, DJ that, DJ the other." Actually he named two or three DJ's here, but I won't embarrass them. "Just to make it stand out, to make it different we wanted Something DJ. Turned around. Anyway at that time we were playing a set in this little club, and we were the last DJ of the morning. People must have liked it because the word got out. Everybody was telling their friends: You've got to check out the last DJ."
"Close it down."
"This is the biggest acid factory in the country. We have been satisfying the brain of the new generation, we can't jut close it. How sure are you?"
"This guy I think I saw twice or three times? Just around you know? Well I was in Upstairs Downstairs and a panda pulled up outside and he got out."
"What did you do?"
"Back entrance double quick. I don't think he followed."
Paul felt a twinge of the gravy train about to end.
"How many days ago was this?"
"Days? It was just now."
"Data Jive!" He snorts, I can't spell that either, is he trying to kill me? The most difficult DJ crew to interview, but right now the only one worth doing a double spread on, despite what other music press is doing. Yes it's a magazine. It's been work all the way, ever since the announcement that The Last DJ was breaking their media silence. maybe cracking would be better, after all making an announcement that there would be one, exactly one, interview given hardly constitutes breaking. Everybody who wanted that interview submitted a recent non-photo interview. For my sins I got it, and it's been work work work ever since.
Five minutes ago Paul had been doing the only job in which he had ever felt justified. Then the twinge. As he heard the sirens he was plunged from gravy train dream into absolute worst nightmare and was running up the metal rungs of the factory ladder. The second to top one broke. Shit. His shin hit the top rung and tripped him. He caught sight of Ray letting himself be pulled away by Danny. He got up and ran to the emergency button.
"You! Stop! Now!"
He paused and his leg gave way beneath him, his shin screaming.
Happy to be doing it? No. Interviewing The Last DJ - who think all music press is shit - in a totally dingoid squat somewhere outside London - probably illegal. Not happy at all. But I'd fucking cut off my right tit for the job. All of this your beloved interviewer goes through for you gentle reader. You should be pleased: at least this interview isn't in one of those crappy four pence photocopied fanzines. To return to the interview then, but with some appreciation of the difficulties. I feel pleased it wasn't one of this paper's writers who coined the term "Data Jive".
"Yes sir, I remember exactly what I said next."
"Would you repeat the words please."
"Don't touch that fucking button. Sir."
"Then what happened?"
"He pressed the button, sir."
"From the floor officer?" asked Paul's lawyer.
"Yes sir. The button was very close to the floor. The wires to it were attached to the gangway running above the tank, then dropped straight down to where the explosives were fixed."
Most DJ's try to look over the crowd and generally try to "feel" their mood. Not The Last DJ. His associate explains:
"Of course we still have that, but we wanted more feedback. We thought OK the state of the crowd is what we want to know about, the crowd is where we should be.' So we hit on the idea of the monitor. These days in the big clubs, we have several of course. The monitor would be dancing, with the crowd, and would use hand signals to tell the DJ how the crowd was, and where they could go. Like this for faster, like this for long attack, like this for higher pitches ....." He goes on, his hands doing "Data Jive".
"Yes we do have proof that it was a tank full of LSD, that your client knew this and that your client knew that pressing the button would detonate a charge placed to destroy the tank, therefore the main evidence. I will add that this act obviously endangered the lives of our arresting officers, and those of his accomplices."
Paul's lawyer went quiet.
Paul remembered the button, the pain in his now bandaged leg, tripping on the rung, seeing Ray and Danny. His head jerked up. Ray and Danny. "I saw him going."
The policeman suddenly took notice.
"He was with Danny. They had an escape route." At which point Paul thought of something else. "Bastards didn't tell me about it."
The policeman smiled inside. Danny had been pinched already. And if Danny knew where Ray was .....
"You've got a large crowd, you have a number of monitors. They're all waving these signals according to how their bit of the crowd is getting on you see?" I do see. The DJ of The Last DJ stands on the stage, not only feeling the crowd, but getting on-the-dancefloor second-by-second reports of how it's going down. "Yes", they say, all of them laughing as they do, "but it's more than that." Oh. They go on to explain how some of the code works. Wow. These are not just on-the-dancefloor second-by-second reports. more of a head-up display. Here's how it works:
"But that means -" Ray stopped running as the metal grille above him clanged open. Danny stopped and turned, saw what was coming and shouted "Ray!" as the deluge of concentrated LSD from the ruptured tank hit, drenched and dissolved. Danny stood, transfixed by the sudden subtraction of Ray, the sudden addition of a fast spreading, dissipating cloud in the foot deep water in which he was standing. Then running, but too slow. The stuff numbed his feet and he fell, feeling his hands graze, the skin break, on the submerged floor.
"SDB". Flyers have these letters on. "SDB". All real venues are booking DJ's who do it. Or are they? How? When they don't know what it stands for. Semantic Data Beats. If they know that, they certainly don't know what semantic means.
"What they're doing isn't SDB." So says one of The Last DJ And he ought to know, after all they invented it. "They're just playing a certain kind of music." he continues. "We ..... well what we do is different. We don't play tracks, as such, we go on with a selection, a large selection, of programs and samples. At any time up to twenty will be playing at once."
The two policemen laughed as they drove. The junior of them was driving, and chuckling, as the other, sitting in the passenger seat, spoke.
"A credit to himself and the men who trained him. What else was there? Oh yes, something about alertness and flexibility in action. Outstanding."
The driver stopped the car at traffic lights. "Of course it would've been no use without the excellent strategy and planning which has characterised this operation and indeed the latter part of your career, sir."
They both laughed again.
"Left here for the hospital."
"Right you are sir."
"The DJ can't have a lot of lights on stage. It distracts people. That's why all the disks have tactile labels." Tactile labels? She shows me one. A 3.5" floppy with four layers of gaffer tape stuck on the side. The tape has been cut - serrated along one edge. Holding it, I find that I can feel the jagged edge pretty easily. "They're set up in a rack, with enough room for a thumb between the rows. They're arranged in scales, plus he sits with us and helps us put down the programs." They record new stuff for every time? "Only about two hundred new ones. We have five hundred regulars."
"He can't be a complete wanker or he wouldn't be a superintendent I suppose. ' Course he didn't have all the info' either."
The junior policeman made no response until he had completed the left turn. "With all that praise he was heaping on my highly trained powers of observation I forgot to mention that the reason I collared Danny was that he was stumbling around in a large metal pipe screaming Acid! Acid! Get it off me! I've cut my hands and it's gone in! My feet have dissolved!'" Both policemen laughed again.
"Difficult part was keeping my face straight and convincing him we were going to help."
She shows me a mass of wires and circuit boards. "At the centre's an Atari ST. We drive MIDI from our own software. We took the floppy drive apart so the disks can be put in and removed quicker - you have to, like, hold it on and push the shutter back with your finger but we cut down the time to load. This part comes out."
She lifts out a chunk, attached by a twisted rope of cables that reminds me of nothing so much as a DNA model, which ends in a small strap and three big spongy buttons. She hooks the strap over her thumb and the buttons hang across the palm of her hand. The sponges have soaked a shit-load of sweat.
"Let's hope he's still talkative. I want that cunt Ray." Both policemen got out of the car. A uniformed constable met them and they exchanged ID card looks.
The constable led them towards a side door on the main hospital building, saying "We've got him in a private room sir. The results from the lab, and the initial examination are back. They're just inside."
The senior officer looked up suddenly. "He can't see us from his room can he?"
"No sir, he's on the other wall."
"Right, I want a good look at those results before meeting him. I want to take my time over it so don't let on we're here, OK?"
"Understood sir. I've arranged use of a junior doctors' tea room for you sir." The constable held the door open.
"What was your name again constable?"
"They're a bit grunk aren't they? We could probably charge a lot of money for a suck on these buttons. We wanted to change them, they're just cut up pieces of sponge, but he says they fit his hand now." she goes on. She loves this computer. She tells me how it frees the DJ to decide, how the DJ can queue and play programs with a minimum of attention being diverted. But she doesn't mention the hood. So I do.
"What about the hood?" I say.
"I have to see what's going on on the screen, in case something goes wrong. And we have to monitor other things, like what time it is. The screen has to be on, but we don't want lights on stage, so we put a blackout hood over it, and over my head so I can see."
The policeman bent, buckled, and tore apart a plastic cup whilst his junior colleague finished reading the reports. He heard the gentle plop of the folder landing on the table and looked up. The other policeman was frowning too.
"No trace of LSD on his clothes or skin." his colleague mused. "Plenty of the stuff in the water. Plenty splashed on the walls below. Traces in the wrecked tank even. None on our Danny boy."
The uniformed constable let a doctor into the room.
"He can be moved anytime, his sedative's worn off now."
The policeman nodded, "Five minutes".
The doctor nodded and left the room.
"Let's give him something to chew over on the way."
"After a while people realised the monitors were there and were signalling to the DJ. That's when it got interesting. Yeah, people started signing to the DJ themselves.
"Pretty difficult to tell who's a monitor and who's just one of the crowd. The whole scheme is designed to be easy for the DJ to follow. So it's difficult for anyone to follow right? Wrong. If you know what you're looking at, even the advanced codes are pretty easy to decode. We tried, like, bracelets, gloves, stuff, but ..... too difficult to spot, for the DJ. Or too easy to copy. Then we thought what the hell? Let 'em do it."
Ray looked up at the holed tank. The concentrated LSD hit him squarely in the face without even time to close his eyes. A heavy tingling sensation penetrated his skin and the muscles on his face. Some part of his brain decided there was no way to limit the effect now and opened his mouth. Another, more reflexive part, lifted his hands, which were immediately drenched. He sat back on his knees. The tingling filled him. There was a brief flash of nausea as his sense of which way was up departed and then the tingling was gone. In its wake was the familiar, to Ray, disorientated acid high feeling.
"I'm telling you. His body dissolved."
"Danny, I heard you the first time. And I'm telling you you've got a car ride to my nick to decide to tell me the truth." The policeman wasn't quite shouting.
There's a lot of The Last DJ and it is very clearly a collective effort - between monitors, manager, programmer and of course the DJ himself, who although present the whole time said nothing until I was leaving.
"Thank you for coming. It was a good interview."
There's nothing else important to the mission in this magazine article, prepare to exit. Three. Two. One. I open my eyes. The light is very dim.
"Are you alright?" A young woman is asking me. around her voice I can hear a muffled, fast, musical beat. The source of the beat is not distant. This must be the chill-out room - whatever that means. The girl looks concerned that I haven't answered.
"I'm fine. Thank you."
"Have you got any left? Can I have some?" It's a boy behind her.
"Some of what you're on." He laughs and they both get up - all three of us were sitting on the floor. They walk off, carefully picking their way through other seated people. Her concern seemed genuine.
I have a mission, but I don't have to do anything yet. Because The Last DJ isn't, or aren't, on yet. I will kill their DJ, and as many of the them as I can. I have no gun, or any other weapon but that's OK because I am an expert in unarmed combat. Neither my escape nor my survival are important. Right now I guess I should reconnoitre the club. I've never been to a club before - I never took to dancing. I've got some burn-in from my mission - like "chill-out room" - but I'll need more to complete. Or maybe not because as I stand up and walk around it starts to look familiar. I must have a burn-in map.
There're three floors - the music sounds the same to me, lucky there's a poster up saying where my target is going on. They'll be waiting in a small room behind the kitchen on the top floor. I have an image of the exterior of the building in daylight. There's a fire escape a few yards from the window of the room. I can get to it from the roof, which means sneaking past a bouncer. I'm good at that.
"There's no need for anything else sir. I've placed an agent in the club."
"When did you place him?"
"Her sir. About half an hour ago. She's got her orders."
"What kind of agent?"
The only reply was a raised eyebrow.
"You recalled, landed, programmed and launched in -"
"It's quite enough time sir."
"I do read your people's reports, you know. Heavy going as they are. The time you've allowed is -" "With respect sir, if we don't push our techniques we'll be left behind."
"You can play keeping up with the Jones's - or the Schmidts or the Patels - on less important jobs. I want insurance. I'm arranging to have a large batch of poisoned LSD available cheap at the location."
I wait in the warm summer night on the fire escape stairs, just a few yards from the open, but barred, window. I can hear their conversation.
"We need a large audience."
"How do we get them all into it? There's not many SDB'ers out there. They're likely to just do their normal dancing."
"There was the interview."
"I have a way. Drugs. We buy everything that's on sale here. Get it all in here. Link through it."
Why aren't the degenerates laughing with glee at the prospect of loadsa drugs?
"Between you and me and the monitors OK, we've tried it, but the whole floor?"
"The whole club man. This is it. He's coming tonight. He'll help I think."
"The interview fixed it. Everybody will Data Jive, thinking they're telling him to Playit Faster - when really they're speaking a whole new language. The jive is going to call him."
"It's OK. Now buy the drugs and get ready to meet the alien."
That must be why I'm here.
"Sir, the man was responsible for the manufacture and distribution of huge quantities of dangerous and illegal drugs. Frankly, if we had caught him, all that would happen is he'd get sent down."
"I wanted him. I don't believe he's dead with no trace."
"If you're so concerned about his death, sir, then how about calling it murder. I've just noticed something."
The policeman took the stapled sheets of paper from his subordinate's hand.
"He says he fell over, saw Ray and Danny, then pushed the button."
The policeman frowned. "So what?"
"What was it you said sir? About endangering the lives of his accomplices? If he knew where they were going it'd be more than endangerment. It'd be premeditated."
The frown cracked into a smile. "And he thought he was going to get off easy. He shops Ray as the kingpin, getting down on the drugs charge, but suddenly he's right up again. On the big one." He paused for thought. "If we want him to be. I mean if we make it clear that he had no idea where Ray was running to then he's down a few rungs again isn't he? But if we don't. On further questioning." He let it tail off. "What do we want from him?" Thoughts of chastising his officer for wishing a citizen dead vanished from the policeman's mind.
After some time Ray realised that he wasn't just tripping. That he was not hallucinating, since that implied some kind of distortion. He was reminded of an occasion when he had just been tripping, when the feeling had come over him that all his senses were one sense. Then, he had found that by trying, he could distinguish his senses. If he concentrated, colour was indeed an optic sensation, and this was different to pitch, which was an auricular sensation. But now he found that he could not do this, no matter how hard he tried. Which is why it was not hallucination. There was nothing to distort. No matter how hard he tried to let himself settle out and stop tripping quite so heavily, no hint of ordinary vision would return. Ray started to get The Fear.
The Fear, the normal fear, was not unfamiliar to Ray. He had felt it many times, and had seen others getting it too. Equally he knew ways to deal with it. This time there was a difference. Ray could feel the fear taking off; he perceived the vector of its growth and it was steep. He was reminded of another trip, one which had gone bad. On that occasion a friend had helped him by asking him about lots of day-to-day stuff. He reached for his most recent mundane memory.
Police sirens. Paul running up the ladder. Danny pulling him away down some great big drain. Running through water. Then stopping. Then everything stopping. Cold water in his shoes; trousers floating free of his ankles, but stuck to his shins; the sound of Danny's voice. These were the last specific sensations he could remember. After that everything was abstract. Moving towards a friend. Then feeling that his presence injured his friend and withdrawing. Then a long period of motion and diffusion, with occasional moments of lucidity.
Ray could remember thoughts and abstract sensations from earlier moments of lucidity. He put together the thoughts with those in his mind and assembled a conclusion: for him, Ray, specific sensations were a thing of the past. Somehow he had, quite literally, got off his face. In such a way that he wasn't getting back on. Ever.
Ray decided to leave lucidity alone for a while. The fear was too much.
They've bought their drugs now.
"You aren't going to believe this." There's the sound of plastic bags rustling as they are removed from pockets and put down on a table.
"Bloody Hell! There's loads."
"It was cheap too. I don't know what's happening. It just kept coming. And then I asked if he had any more and he said wait a minute and brought back another pile."
"That is a serious trip. You'd stay up for fifty years solid on that lot."
"Something's up here. Check a few pieces." More rustling and some clinking in the background now.
"Nothing's up. Don't be paranoid."
"Maybe it's fate."
There's a tense silence for a minute and a half (I have exact time sense).
"It's acid all right. Something else too, though. Like a different chemical process was used maybe."
"What kind of process?"
"I don't know. There's some other things. Residue I should think."
"Can you check further?"
"Not without my lab. But there's no need. This stuff'll work OK."
"Come on let's do it."
There's sounds of movement. It goes quiet for a bit whilst they "link". I could creep to the window and take a peek but it isn't worth the risk.
"Should we put it all back out now?"
"Leave it a bit."
"It makes me nervous looking at this much stuff all at once."
"I can't get Paul for murder without Ray's body right?" The policeman was telling his superior, angrily, having stormed into his office. "So I get the seized stuff sent to the lab for more analysis. We already know it's LSD but we don't know if it contains bits of Ray. Except it doesn't get sent. First it doesn't get sent right away, 'cause of some clerical problem. Then it doesn't get sent at all because we haven't got it." The policeman was livid. "How can we lose so much stuff at once?"
"We didn't lose it." His superior said quietly.
"Well somebody lost it. The biggest acid bust ever. Gone. Once their lawyer finds out Paul and Danny'll be on the street again. Clean."
"Nobody lost it. It was taken."
"What?" Something about his superior's tone made the policeman stop his tirade.
"In the national interest."
"Orders from higher up. Lightning." The officer paused to point a finger and make a zapping noise. "So basically we won't be setting fire to anyone in transportation or storage. Sick isn't it. Do you feel sick Jim?"
"Me too. Wanna go take some drugs?" He mimed tipping something from a glass into his mouth with his elbow bent.
"I still can't get over how it's finally going to happen. Remember how it all started?"
"Yeah. When we thought the drum machine was knackered."
"Thought you couldn't program it properly more like." They laugh.
"Then you said Hey I like this bit. Can you do some more?' and I had to admit, like, actually I didn't know the drums could do that."
"Then there was that time you wanted to work all fucking night, remember? The next day we got up and said Meddy did some good stuff last night you know' and then it turned out you'd crashed an hour after us but left the rig switched on."
"That's when it started getting weird. And we were just, like, leaving it switched on after we'd finished and then seeing what would end up on it."
"I'm just not ready to make the same conclusion sir. You must admit it's pretty fantastic."
"I don't understand why we have to go through all this again. But if that's what it takes then we will. The first reports show a loss of control of certain aspects of one of our satellites. It changed what frequencies it was listening to, OK? The next reports show more loss of control. You don't dispute that something was taking control, progressively more and more, of one of our satellites?"
"I don't dispute it sir, it's in the reports in black and white. And I agree it doesn't look like random glitches. At certain times, the satellite is being instructed by somebody other than us. But I don't see why it can't just be a hacker. Either a student having a laugh, or even an agent. We have hackers, so has everybody else."
"But this is disproved by further investigation. You've read this next report?"
"No buts. There was a total security clamp down. Passwords changed, new programs on the satellite itself, staff moved, the satellite was even put into some kind of maintenance mode so that no legitimate access could be made. Now if we had a hacker, any kind, they'd at least take a little while to find a way through the new security measures wouldn't they? But what do we find? No interruption in the pattern at all."
"It's a security leak, or the measures weren't all they were said to be."
"It's an entity. An intelligence with an electromagnetic basis, rather than a physical basis."
"With respect sir, are you listening to yourself? I don't know if I should laugh or cry. An electromagnetic space alien?"
"Well you'll find that a number of high ranking scientific men, all over the world, don't find the idea laughable at all."
"All right sir. I admit there's a possibility."
"And you admit that, given what this entity has achieved with just one of our satellites, it has a massive potential as an intelligence asset? Even a weapon?"
"Yes, of course. If it exists."
"So on that basis it'd be best if it communicated with us then."
"Well the reports show that it's main interest started out as pirate radio stations, playing tekno music. Subsequently it specialised in SDB music stations. Finally it settled on paying visits to a particular team, known as The Last DJ. By the way, I do mean visits. Whenever the entity relinquished control, it left the antenna pointed at the same place. Conclusive?"
"If you say so sir."
"I do say so. And I further say that pirate radio people and some weird band that live in a squat are not the kind of people I'd like to have in charge of an intelligence asset. Would you?"
"No sir I wouldn't. But I agree with all this, and I've placed an agent."
"I don't like the way you seem to be treating this as an exercise that's all."
"I'm treating it as a full operation sir. The agent I've placed is one of my most advanced, both in terms of conditioning features and training."
"This could be a decisive operation. We've been trying some things at the satellite. This is a new report you haven't seen yet. They think we could trap the entity in the satellite in some way. Now they're not ready to do it yet, and the entity has forced our hand rather - it's clear it's going to attempt to contact that band in some way in two days time. That's why the contact must be prevented."
"Marconi's Ghost. Nice code-name."
Ray felt music. At first it was a very faint sensation. As more people in the club took the LSD that The Last DJ had linked through the sensation became clearer. Ray was being forced back into lucidity.
This time it was good. There was no fear, just rhythmic musical beats. Unsure how he could be feeling this, Ray concentrated on the sensation.
He became aware of people. He could not talk to them, but he was somehow in touch with them. All of them. All at once. Ray guessed that they were all dancing to the music, and hence he could feel it. And he was enjoying it in the same way as he used to enjoy dancing.
As he started getting into the feeling, Ray found that he could shift his concentration. He could be closer to some dancers than to others. Where the music was clearest, he felt that the dancers enjoyed the presence of his concentration. Ray thought that they probably felt it at some subconscious level, or just thought they were getting off more than usual. In some places, however, the dancers tended to reject his presence. Ray labelled these areas as being more up-tight dancers, less ready to relax their control. Ray could feel the number of dancers in his awareness expanding. As it did so he concentrated on the new areas, finding out who was into it and who was up-tight.
Ray had been enjoying this for some time when he became aware of a network. Apart from his own presence there was something else joining the dancers together. Ray perceived links. As he looked closer, it became apparent that the links went up and not just across. This network was not flat, but had levels. There was one node at the top level, which was linked to ten or so at the middle level, half of which were linked to nothing else, but half of which were linked to all the rest of the dancers.
Ray moved his concentration to the top level. Here he felt a presence, and perhaps it felt him? The music was clearest here, and he could sense decisions about the music being made. He could sense when some rhythm was about to get softer or faster or deeper. It felt like a command post. And the presence there was trying to contact him, but in a language he could not understand.
Deciding it might be a part of his new existence he did not yet comprehend, Ray stayed listening. He could make no sense of what he heard. Also he could find no way to initiate communication himself. All he could do was remain. He tried allowing his concentration to drift away, to try to indicate that he could not understand. The top level node was aware of his withdrawal, but when he returned, all he got was more of the same incomprehensible messages. The top level had to be a single person and there seemed to be more there for Ray to see than with any of the dancers. Nevertheless he could not make himself heard. It was frustrating.
Then Ray noticed something else. Something that was spread through the dancers like a cloud. Something bad and getting worse. Something which seemed to be a part of him. He abandoned his attempts at communication. Could he lessen the effects of the cloud? Although within him, Ray felt the cloud to be foreign, and he was sure it hadn't been there in his previous lucid moments. Could he then withdraw himself, and thus the cloud? He tried but could not. He had previously been able to withdraw himself from his friend (which must have been Danny he now realised) he remembered, but this was different. Maybe because that time he had reached out, whereas this time he had been diffused in some way. There was no time to think about this, Ray realised. Although the dancers seemed oblivious, the ill effects of the cloud were growing in them.
But if he could not withdraw himself, maybe Ray could still manipulate something that was within him. Trying not to think of a bodily equivalent, Ray visualised an intention and let his subconscious do the rest. It worked! But the cloud was, well, like a cloud: impossible to grasp. Also simply moving the cloud around did no good, it was still there in the dancers doing harm. It had to be expelled. Ray picked a small area and visualised again. It worked again, partially, then Ray felt a strain and had to stop. Noting that the cloud did not return, he paused a moment to recover. The cloud had to go, and it wasn't going to be easy. Ray braced himself. Feeling all the cloud, and the limits of his presence, he pushed. He felt something inside him break, but he kept on pushing and pushing. Ray had a glimpse of the cloud half gone, then passed out, exhausted.
Something revived him. Ray felt a small injection of energy. Somebody was talking to him, in the same language as the top level node had used. But it was not the top level node. The language was still incomprehensible but Ray felt that the speaker was more fluent. He quickly found the top level node again.
There're bouncers here. The bouncer's job is security and dealing with trouble. Murdering members of the band, or whatever they call themselves, would constitute trouble.
It's easy to keep track of where the security staff are, because they're easy to spot. They're all tall and broad, and they wear black nylon jackets and headset communicators.
I wait until The Last DJ are well into their set. The crowd of druggy degenerates is dancing crazy. I push my way to the front, doing a passable imitation of somebody dancing. Unsurprisingly, nobody seems to mind a hardbody chick in tight clothes wriggling past them. My passage is lubricated by the sweat now pouring off the dancers. Some of the people nearest the stage are literally dripping - if they stopped dancing they'd look extremely ill.
I get to the front and have a last quick check around. There's only one bouncer anywhere near the stage and he's not close enough to make a difference to me, and besides, somebody else seems to have attracted his attention. The DJ is looking out over the crowd, checking his Monitors. One of the crew has her head in a hood, the other three might as well have; they are completely absorbed in their music-making. There's a no risk approach: a step up onto the low stage, two paces over some trailing cables and my primary target will be complete. Time to hit.
But just as I'm about to step on the stage, the one behind the hood whips it off and looks straight at me. She knows what I'm doing and is getting up to get in my way.
After the collapse of his biggest acid bust, Jim the policeman took three days off. Next day he came back to work to find a message on his desk to call a certain detective. As a result of the call, later that day Jim found himself in a meeting with an enthusiastic young woman.
Following brief introductions, she started the conversation.
"It all took place in a dance club and there seems to be a drug angle."
"What all took place, I mean what are we looking at?" Jim sensed excitement as the other officer spoke.
"I'm looking at two murders, and probably an accidental death. You're looking at a small crowd of very ill LSD users, complaining about some sick bastards called The Last DJ selling them poisoned acid cheap. But I think your skills can help my murder investigation too. I think there might be a drug connection, basically because I can't think of anything else."
"OK. So it's not the acid-heads at the hospital?"
"We're going to the hospital to interview the man who seems to be the only usable witness. He was on security duty at the club. He's had to have surgery because of injuries sustained at the incident." She handed Jim a file. "I was going to leave in half an hour. Is that convenient?"
The new arrival had replenished Ray's energy after he had expelled the poison. But this was nothing compared to what happened once it started talking to the top level node.
Suddenly Ray had spatial awareness. He had a three dimensional picture of where all the dancers were. Each dancer appeared as a floating tangle of lines, with strands hanging down. Ray realised that he was seeing the dancers' nervous systems: the tangle being the brain. The tangles floated at different heights, depending on how tall the person was. As he realised this he had a fleeting sensation of an entity listening to his realisation, as if it was listening to the answer to a question.
Ray looked for the network he had sensed earlier. It was visible! But now he could see that the nodes which he thought had gone nowhere actually connected to another, more complex system. The second system was made up of thicker lines, but more densely packed and covering a smaller area. The lines were not tangles, like the brains, but formed of straight segments, corners, squares, circles and other geometric shapes. Dazed by his new sense as he was, Ray recognised that he was seeing electronic circuitry. Naturally, where there was tekno music, there would be synthesizers and there would be computers. Again he felt the listening presence.
Obviously, Ray's new spatial awareness was due to the entity which had energised him. It had integrated itself with him. But Ray had experienced no loss of control or will. In fact, now that something like the sense of sight had been returned to him, he felt more in control. Could this entity be something he had experienced before his change, but now appearing to him in a different way? The entity was listening to his question. Thinking it would make things easier, Ray delved through his memories of his life. Nothing he could think of provoked any response. This entity was something new and alien. This consideration brought an affirmative. The concept of alien. And Ray sensed that he was equally alien to the entity. The integration of Ray's awareness, and knowledge, with the entity's had effected them both.
The entity started talking to the top level node again. Now Ray felt that, although he could understand the language, he could not understand the subject under discussion. He caught some of it. Something about integration between the top level node and the entity. Then the entity saying something about a third unit, which Ray realised meant him. Apparently his presence was unplanned. Then there was further discussion. Ray gained an impression of hesitation but soon lost the thread. He turned his attention elsewhere.
As Ray became accustomed to his spatial sense he noticed something. There were two holes in the crowd of dancers; two gaps in the network. The holes were person sized. The edges of the holes had a character of rejection about them. Something more than just an unwillingness to dance. Something like a positive attempt to put up armour against the current. Obviously two unusually up-tight people, Ray thought. Unusual that they should go out to a club. More unusual that they should be in the thick of the dancers, and pressing their way towards the front. Towards the person who was the top-level node.
With a jolt Ray realised that this was more than unusual: it was wrong. He'd better tell somebody. Maybe the network was in danger.
"Well, I'd been watching this bloke, off and on, since he arrived. He wasn't making trouble or anything but something wasn't right about him. I had a feeling. I mean you do get occasional people who just come in and stand around looking but he wasn't like them. He hadn't come in with anybody, he didn't really seem to know what to do in a dance club, he didn't seem to be enjoying it even." The big man in the bed was telling what had happened in his own words. Jim sat by the bed in which the man lay. Next to Jim, nearer the man's head, sat the investigating officer. She held out a Dictaphone to record the big man's voice.
"Anyway he started to push his way to the front. I thought he was up to something, so I tried to get into a position to stop him, in case he did try anything. So I'm pushing along, you know, but not being too heavy-handed, and keeping my eye on him. I didn't see the girl until she was getting on the stage, by which time he was also getting on the stage, and I'm thinking great, two of them now. So I asked for help and went to stop him first."
"When you say you asked for help, how did you ask for help?" asked the woman.
"With that fucking headset I was wearing." The man reached towards where his ear would have been, underneath the bandages covering the right side of his head. The woman nodded and the man continued his account.
"He was a bit higher than me, on stage, so it was easiest to just grab his leg and trip him. He fell over into a bunch of computer equipment." The man paused. His eyes flicked to the Dictaphone for a moment before he continued, something not lost on either police officer. "I looked over at the girl and she's hitting one of the women in the crew. I can remember her fingers, like this." The man made a weak thrusting gesture with his right hand. All four fingers were rigidly extended, and held together rather than being spread. "And she hit her right in the neck, hard." The man put his hand against his own Adam's apple, the plane of the palm horizontal. "I remember her chin snapping down and her ponytail flicking forwards before she collapsed. I knew she was dead."
Ray had some trouble telling the entity about the approaching problem. It seemed difficult to explain in terms it understood. After he had, whilst the entity conveyed the warning to the top-level node, Ray started wondered if he could not do something himself, possibly with the entity's assistance.
In answer he received a vague notion about boosting the energy in the network, or in the circuitry, or in the nervous systems that he could see (all three seemed similar to the entity). Ray thought about electrocution, and this seemed in line with what the entity was conveying.
The problem was that the threatening people were not connected to anything that Ray could see. Indeed, this was how he had deduced that they were a threat.
Just as Ray was thinking this, it suddenly wasn't true any more. One of them had slipped or something and now was connected, to some circuitry. In three places Ray had a view of that person's nerves. The nerves did not look like the dancers', though: the picture was fainter and did not extend much more than a centimetre away from the circuitry.
Ray had no time to wonder about why this might be. He turned on the juice before the person could disconnect. A tracery of nerves appeared as clear, sharp black lines. Ray could see a web founded on joining the three points, but extending in a cloud around them. He just had time to recognise that the three points had been the two hands and the face before the web blurred and then vanished.
"She didn't so much as break step. The DJ was just behind the woman she'd hit. She went straight for him. In the neck, right? But not hitting, grabbing like this." The man held out his right hand again, this time forming a pincer with his thumb versus his index and middle fingers. "She fucking tore his windpipe out. It can be done you know, you put your fingers here." Again he brought his right hand to his neck, this time pressing the ends of the pincer into the fleshy part under the chin. His trachea was encircled by his fingers. His voice was thus slightly distorted as he said "Close the hand and it comes out."
"I have seen the bodies of the victims, sir. You don't have to convince me."
"Yeah well I just wanted to say that you hear these things can be done, but seeing it is different, you know?" His right hand now waved expressively.
"OK. Please continue."
"Looking back, I should've just hit her. She's just killed two people, and I just grab her. Stupid. I don't know. Anyway I grabbed her just as she was turning round after ..... getting the DJ. She looked so small, I thought I'd restrain her. Pretty funny, right? Maybe she was small, but it was like wires: hard. As soon as I wrapped my arms around her she was twisting around. She got an arm free, or maybe I never had it in the first place. I hardly saw it then wham! Right on my ear. It was a punch I think. Then again. I couldn't hold her. The pain was just, fuck. Then she got away completely, must have hit me a few more times. Anyway I passed out."
Jim sat, impassive. Partly because it was up to the investigating officer to conduct the interview, but mostly because he had read the reports, both of the corpses and of the man's injury, already. For Jim the clinical detail of the written word had more impact than even the most articulate witness.
According to the report, the first blow had probably shattered the headset's speaker, damaged the outer ear directly, and the inner and middle ear by compression. The following blows did further damage to the outer, middle and inner ear, some damage to the temporal bone but were most destructive in that they drove the bits of metal and plastic into the middle, and perhaps inner ear, hence the surgical operation to pick them out a few hours before the interview. The autopsies' reports had been all together simpler. Two of, overwhelming damage to the superior part of the trachea, causing asphyxia and death. One of, deep electrical burns to forehead and palms of both hands, current would have been sufficient to induce cardiac spasm and do overwhelming neurological damage, either of which would cause death.
As was his job, Jim asked himself whether the attacker been on drugs. Much as the case fascinated him, the honest truth was that people on drugs absolutely did not fight in such a precise and lethal manner.
"Bit of a mess I suppose sir."
"It's a bloody awful mess. But we've avoided the worst. We can be pretty sure Marconi hasn't fallen into anybody else's hands, although we don't know where it is."
"My agent hasn't reappeared either. And the Controller who followed her in to Collect after Completion is dead."
"I'm fully aware of that and there's no need to take that tone."
"Sorry sir. It's possible she could be a bit of a problem. We haven't actually had an agent of her capacity do a partial and go rogue on us before."
"No. What will she do?"
"Her mission will remain I suppose."
Following The Last DJ's split in disgrace, amidst allegations of drug dealing, this paper has received a note. In the note, signed by five members, The Last DJ protest their innocence. It is difficult to see how they can make this claim. It is clear that they did sell bad drugs to many people at a certain club on a certain night. Some of those young ravers may never rave again they were so traumatised. It takes a certain attitude to sell poisoned acid to an entire club. No wonder they're changing their names and operating separately, a move the note says has been forced on them.
I don't read any more. They're still out there. Somewhere. They'll surface, maybe not in the mainstream world, maybe not for a while, but I can lie low just as long as they can. Longer in fact: I've been trained.
I crumple the music paper I was reading and throw it in a bin by the park bench I'm sitting on. Seven wasps are disturbed by this. I pinch them out of the air one-by-one, killing them as they fly around.
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