Plus Ça Change
Dear Diary, I have the sensation of being somewhat displaced in time and/or space on a permanent basis. The only explanation which comes close to fitting the facts is that I am shifting through alternate universes. In an attempt to confirm or refute this theory, I have been trying to spot things that remain the same and things that appear to change from day to day.
Although this notion seems quite fantastical, I am troubled by vague memories of the Feck being quite a nice, inoffensive sort of bloke in another incarnation of this frame of existence. I know that it sounds totally impossible - but I do have a persistent memory to that effect.
My main problem is that I have to be something of a consummate actor. My reactions have to be controlled and disciplined at all times to avoid revealing that I have had both good and bad experiences with my colleagues.
My memories of Jackie Sydenham, she of the archive, are uniformly favourable. Jackie and I seem able to get on under any circumstances. Strangely, my relations with Sally Lee, according to my frankly unreliable memory, can become almost dangerously hostile at times.
I also have scraps of memory floating around of people called Chloe, Dave [several of them], Steph, Mikey, Ann, Paula and Min. And a Reg. But nobody with these names - apart from a different Dave and another Ann - are work colleagues.
I am quite unable to explain how I became detached in space and/or time but it appears plain that something has happened to me. And, perhaps, defining the something will help me on the road to a remedy.
The writer dumped his jacket in the file drawer of the desk that supported his work station and headed straight for the coffee machine. He was feeling in need of a stimulant.
"Someone been up half the night enjoying himself?" Sally Lee asked from the adjacent work station when the writer returned.
"Someone went to bed at the usual time but he couldn't get to sleep," the writer complained. "It was almost like being on the night shift again. Wide awake and ready to do some work, even though I'd put in a full day."
"They say having your sleep pattern disrupted can have knock-on effects sometime later," Sally remarked.
"Or maybe I just need my bedroom feng shoowyed so it's all harmonious for sleep."
"Yeah, right," laughed Sally. "Do that and you'll stay awake worrying how much you spent on the whole daft idea."
"You're not volunteering to do the job for him, Sal?" asked crime correspondent Trevor Mercur, a mutual neighbour.
"Just because I'm ethnically Chinese doesn't mean I know bugger all about feng shoowy," scoffed Sally.
"Yeah, and just because she's the feng shoowy correspondent," added the writer, "that doesn't mean she knows anything about it, either."
Trevor Mercur frowned at Sally. "If you don't know bugger all about it, does that mean you know bugger something about it?"
"The secret of effective communications is knowing what people mean rather than what they say," remarked assistant interiors correspondent Andras Ektors, the fourth mutual neighbour of their work station cluster.
"And the secret of success in life is looking like you might know something about feng shoowy and not letting anyone find out you're just bluffing," the writer added.
"Here's a good one." Trevor Mercur had been 'doing his messages' through the conversation. "An e-message from the editor-in-chief. 'The internal worst headline of the week competition is becoming counter-productive.'"
"Too many people spending too much time on it," Andras Ektors interpreted.
"There's a lot of that going on," the writer remarked. "People circulating cute ideas to their mates on the messaging system."
"I suppose all your copies of WHOTW messages end up in your 'file and forget' box?" laughed Trevor Mercur.
"I think what triggered his 'all-punters' message," said Andras Ektors, "was the headline that went The Man Who Proved There Is A God. As if the Almighty would favour one tennis player over another."
"Most people wanted to say that in their own way," said Trevor Mercur.
"And so they did." sighed Sally Lee. "At great and tedious length."
"In that case," said the writer, "I'm glad I filed and forgot all the copies they sent to me."
"The feck are you lot up to," demanded a familiar voice.
"Workin' on gettin' the day started, boss," said the writer.
"Working on exercising your jaws, more like," said Pierson Day. "Sally, if Jill Day comes round with a job for you, you're busy here all day. Okay?"
Sally Lee shrugged. "Fine by me."
"The rest of you, get stuck in." Pierson Day stalked off to bring joy into the lives of other Sentinel & Advertiser employees.
"What's Jilly been doing to the Feck?" laughed Trevor Mercur.
"Riding roughshod over the Feck's authority," said Sally. "Something no bloke can stomach for long when a woman's doing it."
"The Feck," the writer remarked thoughtfully. "That sounds like a good name for a TV wrestler. Like The Rock or the Undertaker."
"Yeah, right!" laughed Andras Ektors. "I can just see them getting away with that."
The writer's work station had finished booting up. He sighed heavily and took his £2 coin from his pocket. It came down 'tails' for the first time in living memory. He zapped the message box.
"How do you know that wasn't something important?" said Trevor Mercur.
"Important?" the writer repeated with a heavy frown. "Applied to a message? Has anyone ever explained to you what an oxymoron is?"
"An oxygen-breathing creature with a low IQ?" Andras Ektors suggested.
"Talking about low IQs," Sally Lee remarked, "I think the Feck is heading back in this direction."
The quartet all turned to their monitor screens and pretended to be remotely interested in doing some work.
Thursday mornings rarely provided much cause for celebration but this one was different. Pierson Day was having a day off!
The writer settled himself at his work station and let his start-the-day messages appear while experiencing a strong feeling of uncertainty. He remained half convinced that the Feck-Monster would drop in on his charges to prove to them that he could appear among them even on a day off.
"Marin, you've probably noticed that Trev isn't here," a female voice told him from his right.
The writer had already noticed the arrival of Jill Day's exotic brand of perfume. He looked over the top of his monitor screen automatically. Trevor Mercur was, indeed, absent from the work station at the front end of their cluster.
"So you're filling in for him as crime correspondent," Jill Day added.
"Someone got a bad hangover?" remarked Andras Ektors from behind the writer.
"Trevor's in hospital," Jill Day told him severely. "Or he was last night."
"Anything serious?" Sally Lee was unable to keep deep foreboding out of her voice.
"He has a broken ankle," said Jill Day. "He was mugged in an all-night supermarket last night."
"Someone's mugged the crime correspondent?" Andras Ektors was unable to keep a giggle out of his voice.
"It's not funny," Jill Day told him sharply.
"No, right," Ektors agreed. "But it is a bit weird."
"They're letting him out this morning," Jill Day added to the writer, "so I want you to interview him as your first job as crime correspondent pro-tem."
"As long as Trev doesn't start telling me it's only his ankle that's been broken and he can still type," the writer mentioned.
"I also need you to talk to the mugger, if possible. He's also in the hospital. But in another ward, of course."
"Why, what's wrong with him?" Andras Ektors asked.
"Concussion. Trevor can fill in the details. Right now would be a good time to get on with this, Marin. And I'll need you for a couple of hours this afternoon, Sally," Jill Day added before she swanned off to administer others of the absent Feck-Monster's charges.
"Well, bloody hell!" Andras Ektors remarked, which seemed to sum everything up nicely.
The writer arrived at the hospital to find that Trevor Mercur was waiting to hear from a consultant. At issue was whether he needed an operation to pin his broken bones or whether he could be discharged with his ankle in plaster. Leaving the official crime correspondent writing a contribution to the story on a pocket PC, the writer went walkabout. He returned after half an hour with more information.
"I'm getting plastered," Trevor Mercur announced as the writer perched on the chair beside his bed.
"Long live the NHS," the writer remarked. "When?"
"As soon as they can round up a porter to take me to where they do it. So what did you find out?"
"The attitude of the copper watching your mugger suggests that he's a regular customer."
"That comes as no surprise. The bastard just walked up to me and showed me a knife. Quite small, it was. And told me to hand over my wallet. So I swung this bag of fresh soup I was holding at him. It must have caught the knife. Next thing you know, he was covered in carrot and coriander."
"Cool!" laughed the writer.
"Then he turned and ran. So I grabbed a can off a shelf and chucked it at him. Hit him on the back of the head. And he tripped and went head first into a pillar. Knocked himself out."
"And got himself admitted here with concussion? So when did you break your ankle?"
"Some stupid bloody woman with a trolly. She tripped me up in all the confusion after this guy smacked into the pillar. And the next thing you know, I couldn't put any weight on my foot. And when they got me to the hospital, the X-ray showed a fracture."
"And they admitted you?"
"I think there was a bit of politics in that. They had an empty bed and they wanted to be able to prove that they're full up every night. So they grabbed me on the pretext of needing to get an opinion from the consultant this morning."
The writer retrieved the pocket PC and scanned through Trevor Mercur's account of the mugging. He asked a couple of questions and logged the replies. "Okay, that should do it. How are you getting home?"
Trevor Mercur looked embarrassed. "My mother's on her way down here. She insisted on coming to make sure I'm okay. And it gives her an unexpected break from her routine at home."
"And reminds everyone else how much easier life is when she's there?" said the writer.
"That too," laughed Trevor Mercur. "Life, eh? I get stuck in hospital on the Feck's day off."
"It's the way the world works," the writer agreed. "I'd better get off and write this up. Hey, watch out they don't do you for assault on your mugger. He's liable to bung in a claim for compensation, given a midgeon of encouragement from some orbiting ambulance-chasing lawyer."
"I wonder if I can sue the supermarket?" Trevor Mercur said thoughtfully.
"It's always worth a try," laughed the writer.
Dear Diary, one of the consequences of being adrift in time and space is never being quite sure which people I can expect to have around me. I have fuzzy recollections of a whole range of combinations of the people in my current alternate universe with vaguely remembered others.
One of the ways of knowing that I am not in the 'correct' alternate for me is to do a head count of what I feel to be the 'regular' or 'correct' cast members. There is no Pierson Day in this universe - and who can say that this state of affairs is a bad thing?. His office is occupied by someone called Alison, who seems very like the Feck-Meister's personal assistant in my 'correct' time frame.
Another absentee is the guy who normally sits in front of myself and Sally Lee. He has not been replaced by someone else in this alternate universe. There is just an empty space, as if central casting could not be bothered to cover his absence.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of my predicament is that if I manage to adjust to today's changes, I have no guarantee that I will be in the same time frame tomorrow. Keeping up with things can be quite exhausting at time. In fact,
The writer's early warning system detected Jill Day's perfume and let him be working on an official file when she reached his work station.
"Marin, don't forget you're meeting that detective this afternoon," she told the writer.
"Yes, I know." He showed a print-out of the crime correspondent's assignments to the chief executive assistant to the editor-in-chief. Everything above the appointment with Detective Sergeant Fred Crossten was red-lined - i.e. the writer had driven a red line through the item to indicate that he had addressed the task.
"And we need a shorter version of Trevor's story in case we need the space for something else."
"Yes, I know, I've done one." The writer had to struggle to keep a note of patience out of his voice. Getting obviously pissed off with someone as bossy as Jill Day handed her an easy victory.
"And don't forget you have other assignments as well as Trevor's."
"Right," the writer said brightly to Jill Day's elegantly clad back.
"The feck!" Andras Ektors murmured behind the writer.
"If I ever doubted you when you told me that bloody woman doesn't listen, I offer humble and grovelling apologies," the writer said to Sally Lee.
"I think you need some spicy pasta for lunch," Sally laughed.
"I think I need lunch right now," the writer decided.
The writer zapped the pop-up box. "Right now as in immediately," he added.
Dear Diary, what this particular alternative universe lacks in Pierson Days is more than made up for by the Jill Days.
Detective Sergeant Fred Crossten turned out to be what the writer just knew Trevor Mercur would have called 'a crusty old curmudgeon'. He was in his fifties and in the age bracket where he could retire – but he had not done so because he needed something to do during the day and he wanted to retain his usual drinking buddies.
The writer met Sergeant Crossten in the back bar of a pub in the city's unreconstructed area. It was a place where working men came to buy a pint of real beer and lager was frowned upon. There was no jukebox but loud conversation provided more than enough noise pollution. And the smokers provided abundant air-pollution.
The detective settled for a half pint of rough cider when the writer asked him what he was having. Crosston patted his overflowing waistline as an explanation. They retired to a table which gave them a view of the entire room. The writer began to feel like a gunslinger in a Western, who needed to protect his back from assassins. Then he realized that the natural air currents though doors and open windows made the region relatively smoke-free.
"So anyway, this case you're working on," the writer prompted. "What d'you reckon to it?"
"What did they tell you about it, lad?" the detective countered as he moved the overflowing ashtray to an adjacent table – possibly as a hint to the journalist that if he felt like lighting up, then he could forget it.
The writer glanced at his notes. "Retired judge digs up old compost heap. Human interest angle - his wife wanted an eyesore removed. Judge finds some old bones - a femur and most of a jaw. He deduces that the jaw must be human because there are fillings in the teeth."
"Those bloody fillings," the detective remarked.
"He phoned the police ..."
"Who shifted his bloody compost heap for him," Sergeant Crosston said sourly.
"... and delivered; the judge, that is; the bones to a pathologist, who lives just down the road from our judge. The pathologist said the bones belong to a man of about 40, who died 15-25 years ago. A search of the rest of the garden yielded no trace of any other human bones or other useful remains."
"So we tried to question the previous owners of the house. The judge and his missus had only been there for four years. No luck there." Sergeant Crosston shrugged heavily. "We traced two previous owners. Who were no help. After thrashing about for quite a long time, we ended up with no useful information."
"Nothing on the owner of the teeth from dental records?" the writer said.
"Not a dicky bird."
"And nothing from missing person reports?"
"When I checked, I found over a thousand men have left this area without explanation in the last 30 years."
"And the police don't follow up missing person reports unless there's evidence of foul play?"
Sergeant Crosston shrugged again. "People are entitled to disappear, lad. So here I am, stuck with this ‘case' because some dotty old judge found the bones and he wants to have a murder. And he keeps ringing my D.I. up every Friday morning for a progress report."
"And seeing he's a judge, your bosses won't let you bust him for wasting police time?"
"Chance would be a fine thing," laughed Sergeant Crosston. "All we've got is a couple of bones, no idea who they belonged to and no evidence of foul play."
"The possible legitimate source being medical specimens?"
Sergeant Crosston repeated his shrug. "Could be. But my guv'nor doesn't want to waste the time and resources proving that."
"He thinks you've gone as far as you can go on the evidence?"
"About that, yes."
"Sounds like a cue for a dotty old judge story. And some strong hints that we can embarrass the hell out of him if he doesn't leave it alone."
"I think my gov'nors would be eternally grateful if you can make him keep his head down a bit. My regards to Pierson, by the way. That stuff you've got going in your paper's letters page is getting quite useful."
"You're getting some useful stuff floating to the surface of the muddy waters?" The writer had no idea what the detective was cooking up with Pierson Day but he wasn't about to admit it.
"Pat Howell seems to be the most pissed off of the bunch." The writer tossed one of Jeff Boon's conclusions into the pot.
Sergeant Crosston held his left index finger and thumb about 2 millimetres apart. "We're that close to proving the Ottrals are in league with the Corrigans now she's decided to spill some beans. I thought Pierson was being paranoid but ..." The detective put on a satisfied smile.
"I hope we're going to get a lead on the opposition when you make the arrests," the writer mentioned.
"Don't worry lad, I'll look after your lot. The meeja are a pain in the arse most of the time but, fair dos, you're good at spotting wrong 'uns."
The writer checked through his notes, then nodded. "Okay, I'll head back and assassinate your judge."
"I just wish I could feed him to the Ottral bloody Convenience," sighed Detective Sergeant Crosston.