If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi
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Yesterday is a blur. I crawled out of bed this morning, and everything ached. Heck, my toenails even ached.
I staggered to the bathroom, took a good, long, bleary look in the mirror, and the guy eyeing me back is a real mess. He hasn’t shaved, his blond hair sticks up, and he has scratched that look like he had a fight with a small tiger running across the right side of his face.
I open my mouth. At least my teeth are all there, but my gums are a mass of dried blood.
I grab my toothbrush, wet it under the tap, and gradually and gently soften the caked on blood, washing it away until I no longer look like something from a cheap horror movie that lives on blood and only comes out at night.
I go to the kitchen, flick on the kettle, get a coffee. I swear the world would cease to operate if black market coffee supply lines were broken but hey, no-one wants to drink the legal shit you can still buy – brings another meaning to the old expression “morning mud”.
Neat and strong and black and hot, I gulp it down, and start to feel human again.
I start to notice how early it is. I can hear Daniel’s snoring coming through his bedroom door – the guy’s a fricking hammer drill. Outside, traffic noise creates a steady buzz in the background, and a few very keen birds are making a racket in the neighbour’s walnut tree.
I go to the bathroom and turn the shower on, setting the water temperature much lower than normal. Something tells me my body can’t cope with my normal hot-as-hell shower. I also keep the water pressure low, on the “soft” setting. Even so, stepping under the water flow is incredibly painful, and I’m reminded all over again of yesterday’s damage.
I don’t even bother with soap. The thought of actually rubbing my skin with anything is insane. Instead, I just let the soft water flow over me.
After a while, I get accustomed to the sensation, and the pain turns to soothing relaxation. I’m starting to feel just a tiny, tiny bit better.
I stand there under the water, still as a statue, for many minutes, running through yesterday’s events in my mind. Something didn’t make sense. I’d seen protests before, lots of them. These days, it seemed people were protesting about everything. It had started with the occupations back in 2011, but now, with all the shortages and the unemployment and the lack of everything, people were complaining regularly.
Not that it did any good. But I suppose it made them feel like they were doing something.
As for me, I was lucky. I’d come out of Uni a year ago with my engineering degree, only to find there were no jobs. Just like every other person around. But I’ve got a good job stacking shelves at the supermarket, and I can’t complain.
Sure, it’s not what I had in mind, and I’ve got a pretty big student debt, which sucks, but I get by. And working on the boxes and in the docks means I get access to the dumpsters, which is basically free food. Combine that with Daniel’s black market contacts, and we’re doing pretty well. We manage.
But although there have been heaps of protests, they’ve never got ugly before. I mean, this is Dunedin. We’re a small town, and we know it. People know each other. The cops know the hippies – probably went to school together, and some of them are probably relatives – and the suit guys know the supermarket guys. And the oldies know the Uni students, and so even though things are rough, we all rub along together, because we know that everyone is doing it hard.
I’ve never seen rock throwing before. It just doesn’t make sense, in a town like ours. Because chances are, you’re throwing that rock at a neighbour, or a cousin, or some guy you’ll want to buy black market weed from later on in the day.
It’s just dumb.
I thought about all this, and was feeling better, and my soreness had almost disappeared under the hussssshhhh of the water, and the steam was making the tightness in my broken skin heal up and soften, and I was generally feeling much more like myself, when the bathroom door opened.
All the warmth and steamed gushed out, and Daniel poked his head in, saying, “Are you going to stay in there all morning mate? Some of us would like some hot water left!”
“Yeah, I’ll be out in a sec.”
I turned the tap off, and stepped out. Grabbed a towel, and dabbed myself dry real tentatively. Ouch, ouch, ouch ouch ouch! Okay, maybe it would be a while until I was back to normal.
“Hey, Daniel – where’d you put those drugs that doc gave us?”
“On the sink.”
“Right-o. Thanks.” I got dressed, pulling on my loosest t-shirt and a pair of baggy trousers, figuring the less contact the material had with my raw skin, the better.
Then I grabbed the drugs I’d been scripted, gulped a couple of tablets down with some water, ran a comb through my hair, and closed the front door behind me.
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Have you ever noticed that the more you should keep away from something, the more attractive it is to you? I had a girlfriend once, couldn’t keep away from the bottle. The more she drank, and the more it screwed up our lives, the more she couldn’t keep away from that stuff.
Some people reckon its chemical addiction. I reckon it’s human nature. Because no matter what it is a person wants – grog, chocolate, smokes, weed, crack, or just another dose of junk food from the local grease outlet – the result is the same. The more they shouldn’t have it, and the more it screws up their life, the more they want it.
Which is I guess why I walked out of the front door this morning, walked to the tram stop, and headed to the Octagon.
Yeah, I’m an idiot. I should have avoided that place like the plague. I should have gone anywhere in the city but there. But hey, anyone can be dumb.
I guess I just wanted to see the place, and make sense of what had happened, because nothing clicked. The events of yesterday were surreal in my brain, like someone was playing a movie in my head and I was expected to believe it was true, and had happened, yet deep down I knew it was a con.
So I wanted to go back, nice and quiet-like, check the place out, and see if the place was even real, even though I knew in my head that it must be.
I just wanted to somehow connect the dots, and make what had happened into sense in my mind. Yeah, it was dumb in retrospect, but anyone can be dumb and at least my dumbness had a reason. Even if I can’t exactly explain the reason real well.
The walk from our apartment on Castle Street to the Octagon usually only takes me about half an hour to walk, and usually I’d walk it. Today I took the tram, wincing as I forked out a voucher. I usually don’t bother with the trams.
Sure, they’re a lot faster than walking, but I like to walk and unless its pouring I’d rather save my vouchers. Trams used to be cash, but with inflation the council did away with dollars for pretty much everything last last year, and bought in vouchers, and since then they’ve been on a winner. So has Daniel and his mates, who do a great trade in black market vouchers.
Everything that isn’t on a voucher system for payment has gone nuts with inflation. I still feel weird, thinking about howI pay four hundred bucks for some lunchtime sushi and a Coke, and think nothing of it. That used to be a lot of money.
These days, four hundred bucks buys you lunch. If you get a good deal. Of course, we’re real well off in comparison to America. My parents send money over to feed the millions of kids over there who are starving, but with the riots and civil war, we’re not sure how much aid ever gets through.
I heard the other day that Uganda had given up sending aid – it’s just too hard, and there’s too much corruption to even try getting food to the American kids. My parents say they remember when America was powerful and rich. I just can’t picture that, even though I know its true.
I guess the world really has changed. I mean, people used to drive cars everywhere too.
I got off the tram at Octagon. It was quiet, normal – nothing to give any indication that there had been a riot, apart from a few pieces of broken brick lying around that hadn’t been cleared away.
I climbed to the top of the big brick sitting steps, and stood beneath Robbie Burns’ statue, looking down over the Octagon.Everything was peaceful. Good old Robbie Burns, peering down on the world – I wonder what he’d have thought of it all?
Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned – it was a cop. I hadn’t even heard him arrive. Shit. I’ve got to stop thinking so hard, and pay more attention to what’s going on around me, I thought.
“Excuse me.” he said. “I believe you were here yesterday, during the…difficulties.”
“Who, me?” I said. “No sir. I’m just…checking out the view. Nice view, don’t you think?” (I’m not sweating, I’m not sweating, I’m not sweating…)
“We have CCTV footage of the incident. Excellent footage. We can confirm you were present, and I’d like you to come along with me, so I can take your details at the station, and ask a few questions about what happened. I’m sure you won’t be detained.”
Like hell I won’t, I thought. Shit, shit, shit… I took one look at the cop, thought about everything I’d been through over the past few years, and pushed him aside, and ran like hell across the street, and through the alleyway that runs between the town hall and the library.
The cop gave chase, and it looked like I was in deep trouble if I didn’t get away, but it also looked like this particular cop had been taking advantage just a bit too much of the Free For Cops two-for-one burger deals the force get at a few junk food outlets around New Zealand. He was a hefty guy, and wasn’t going to beat any land speed records. I might have got lucky, for once.
I ran out the other end of the alleyway, and up Moray Place, The cop was way back, and I could hear him puffing and panting, still in the alleyway, the sound of his hard breathing echoing through the concrete of the alley corridor.
I wasn’t taking any chances, and ran as fast as I could, every bone of me hurtng like hell from yesterday’s outing, up Moray Place, to the wooden gate of the Cathedral gardens.
I nipped inside, scooting to the left side of the huge stone building, past a few old memorials and a tiny, unkempt garden in spring bloom. I got almost to the main front steps and paused, looking back to see if the cop was following me.
I had a quick look over the wall of the Cathedral garden, to see the cop, way behind me, panting up the hill of Moray Place, not too far from the Cathedral gate. He hadn’t reached it yet, but it would be pretty obvious where I’d gone.
Then I noticed a green door into the Cathedral to my left, ever-so-slightly ajar. I pushed it open, and nipped inside, shutting it behind me and hoping like hell the cop hadn’t caught up enough to see me.
The building was cool and deadly silent, tomb-like, paved with tiles and the walls mouted with paintings of old dead guys and black and white photos of people from a century ago, carrying big crosses and wearing weird dresses. To my right was a glassed-ion office which was empty, and beyond that a small corridor, which looked like it might have somewhere to hide.
I ran up the small corridor, and took the first door to my left, which was marked “choir room”. At first I thought it, too, was empty, then I stopped, frozen, in shock.
Right in the centre of the room, between rows facing rows of old wooden church pews, knelt a man, as if in prayer. I caught my breath, about to apologise, then he turned to look at me, and I have never seen such a face. His hair was slicked to the side, and he wore long, busy sideburns – I think they’re called “mutton chops”.
But it was his face that caught me more than his hair, or his whiskers. His face was pale – whiter than the moon at midnight. And his eyes were cold, empty, black, like something had stolen his heart and his life, and perhaps even his soul away from him.
Whatever else might happen in my life from then on, I knew I’d never forget his face, or his expression. I’d never seen pain until right then.
His clothes were odd too. I saw he wore a long frock coat, like you’d imagine Sherlock Holmes to wear, over a waistcoat and jacket, with one of those old fob watches threaded through his buttonhole. And he wore grey flannel trousers, with polished black leather shoes. And he held a small-brimmed hat.
He turned away from me again, ignoring me. I didn’t know what to say, I just stood there, silent. Every single second of my life seemed to slow down as I watched.
Then he laid his hat down on the floor, to the right of him. And he took out a pistol. And then, quickly and deliberately, he said, “My Lord, forgive me”, and he shot himself in the chest.
Then he fell to the floor, face down in a pool of blood, and disappeared.