Night had just fallen as Carl Wintergreen reached the Pyramid. A Greek demi-god, a robot truck, a water-witch were escorting a lady gunslinger off of the vast structure. A frumpy looking middle aged couple were standing a little higher up, and wearing silvery uniforms that, Carl thought, should probably have been fitted a little less tightly.
"Oh," Carl said to the Water-Witch. "I was just about to report that my attempt to crack the Pyramid open failed because of a second time distortion. But it looks like you have everything in hand, so..."
"Yeah, about that," said the Water-Witch, whose name was Fiona. "Yeah, Carl, I'm not going to lie to you. I didn't really need you to do that. I just wanted you out of the way so..."
"So when you say you 'don't want to lie to me,' you mean 'any more'," Carl grumbled.
If Karl had learned nothing else during his time as a homeless fugitive, he had learned how to hide. After he slipped away from the police, he had ducked around the corner of the Pyramid and found the street beyond littered with an abundance of hiding place. There were cars, small trees and thick shrubs. On the Pyramid side, there was the remains of the lost Mega Centre's retaining wall. On the other was a motley selection of suburban fences.
Karl ignored all of these possibilities and slipped into a storm-water drain.
It was surprisingly easy. Months of living on garbage had slimmed him down so much that he didn't even need to remove his jacket. And with so many easily accessed and non-stupid hiding places, the cops were unlikely to pursue him here.
Even so, for a while he simply lay still -- waiting, observing. It was only when he was certain that the police were not coming that he took a battered flashlight from the pocket of his ragged jacket and began to look around. ...continue reading "Interlude — Underground"
The day was bright, so Fanaka had to press his face against the front window of Wintergreen's stationary shop to see inside. Nothing had changed from the last time he looked, except perhaps that the film of dust that covered the shelves had grown deeper. He shook his head. Fanaka had never been a particular friend of Karl Wintergreen, but his mind troubled him whenever he thought about the man's disappearance. And now Alfred said he'd seen Karl around…
It meant something. Fanaka was a scientist, and discrepancies and anomalies were to him like a pea beneath a mattress was to a princess. He grimaced at the empty shop and carried on his way to his destination – Stars in Their Eyes Optics next door.
The proprietor, Mildred Po, was with a customer, so Fanaka passed the time examining a reflecting telescope by the door. The fellow finished his business, turned for the door and saw Fanaka standing there. He hesitated for a second. Fanaka smiled politely, the man gave a brittle smile in return and hurried out, clutching his purchase a little tightly to his body. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 7: Help"
When the police arrived, Zorbar stopped stabbing a huge man in a gimp-mask and a DIY Barn apron, and scrambled up a Moreton Bay fig tree that had somehow survived the battle. From there he escaped along the line of plane trees in Hurley Road.
Other than that, most of the survivors surrendered fairly easily. Axel seemed barely aware when the police strapped him into a Lechter-gurney and affixed a hockey mask. Fiona was weeping in relief when she was bundled into the van, her guilt finally assuaged. Laura accepted the handcuffs with the bad grace of someone who knew she could tear the chains apart with a thought. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself — Chapter 72: Pyramid Scheme"
Marlon was the first to be called. He was alone at home. He should have been in bed, he knew, but the empty bed was cold and uninviting. He sat on the couch watching old war movies. He'd bought a bottle each of rum and of Coke to drink while he watched, but he'd grown bored of drinking before finishing the first glass.
His heart leapt when he heard his phone ring, then fell when he saw the caller ID. Not a friend or a lover calling to chat. It was Ms Shan. He answered, knowing what the message would be.
Wellsey leant against one of the pillars that held up the lofty roof of the Handy Pavilion and sighed deeply. It really was just one of those days. Marlon, leaning on the other side of the pillar, sighed even more deeply. From his jeans pocket he took a hip flask, took a swallow, and handed the bottle to Wellsey. Wellsey shook his head. Marlon shrugged, and slipped the flask away.
"You and Joyce got Valentine's Day plans?" Marlon said.
Something came hurtling over the nearest shelving unit. Part of a toilet? Something porcelain anyway. Both men ducked as it hit a nearby shelf, smashing a pile of paint cans, sending blue acrylic dripping to the floor.
They sat at a wicker table, just by the plastic jerry cans in the Outdoor Furniture section. Not that long ago, Adam would have chased them away, but even he'd stopped caring. A grim, defensive mood had settled over the Handy Pavilion and customer numbers were at an all-time low.
"It's just that sort of a bloody morning, isn't it? Norman said.
Sadie McGregor stood by a shower head display and watched Fiona from a distance. The young woman was talking to a customer, an elegant woman in her middle thirties who seemed confused about the differences between sink plungers. Sadie's assistant Donna had been talking to Fiona, talking to her about important things. Matters of guilt and honesty. Crime and punishment.
Light and dark.
The voice belonged to her sister, the severely misnamed Angela.
Norman was late to arrive at the party in Garden Furniture. Adam had spread drop-sheets over all of his beloved display tables and chairs and though he seemed happy, there was a sub-strata of worry every time someone put a drink down.
Only a month earlier, Norman thought, Ms Shan would have balked at the idea of using the Handy Pavilion as the base for Zorbar's buck's night. Now, she not only gave her blessing, but invited herself. Wellsey – who, like many old rebels was a traditionalist at heart – objected to a woman attending a buck's night. But Fiona and Belinda also ended up on the invitation list, and then Zorbar's fiancee Carol announced she was coming. With that, any chance that the evening would involve strippers vanished in a puff of smoke, so Wellsey had had to grin and bear it. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 44 — The Party"
Fiona stood behind the plumbing orders counter, organising receipts. She was increasingly finding herself in de facto charge of the plumbing section. Wellsey was away on errands for Ms Shan so often these days. Fiona covered for him, working out rosters and making orders. The other team members in the plumbing section did not dispute this new hierarchy. Most of them spend their quiet moments searching the job websites anyway. No one wanted a promotion, least of all an unofficial promotion that came without a raise.
The Handy Pavilion was quiet on a Tuesday morning, allowing Fiona to catch up with some of Wellsey's paperwork. She muttered under her breath at her nominal boss' childish handwriting, then chuckled at herself. When she'd started working, she'd been considered a hopeless employee, one of the worst the Pavilion had hired. Now here she was criticising the work of her mentor.