"The Beatles? Hasn’t that been, you know, covered before? What, wait, fuck, beetles?"
"A beetle, Charlie.” His ever-disgruntled editor sighed. “Singular. At the Natural History Museum. Look it up. We've already covered the discovery, we just need you to write a longer piece for the science section next month. I'll send you the contact details for all the people involved, all of that. I'd ask one of the science staff, but they're all busy with some fancy physics shit, so you're up. All right?"
"Fine.“ Bastards. “Email me the stuff.” Charlie hung up the phone, dug out his laptop, and started the intensive googling process. Might as well make a start now. Bastards. What gave them the fucking impression he wanted to write about fucking science in the first place, anyway? As if he knew enough to write about some exotic new plague of- oh, for fuck's sake. They found it in the museum? That's cheating, surely? That doesn’t count. No. That’s not discovering. It wasn't even, you know, crawling around on the floor. It was just in a shitting cupboard full of files nobody's bothered to look at since 1924. Or something. Jesus. That’s really not discovering, it’s just tidying the bloody place up.
Charlie makes a mental note to investigate a career in museum... stuff. Museuming? Is that a word? No, it fucking isn't. Get a grip, Charlie. Or maybe it really is, but it's been left in a cupboard at the OED's head office since before he was born. Maybe he can rediscover it and be a middle class star for twenty minutes. Like this little shit, the beetle bloke... David Mitchell. Charlie glances back over the article, looking at the picture of the man in question. Oh, yeah, he definitely looks like a man with a deep fondness for the unending thrills of the Insect World. He probably insists upon people using the proper scientific term, and everything. Whatever -ology that is. Charlie needs a dictionary. Dr Mitchell needs some new shirts.
Half an hour later he finally gets round to calling this bloke- David Mitchell, junior curator at the museum’s Department of Entomology… Charlie sends a quick mental apology in the direction of his younger self. Sorry, kid. I know you thought the journalism thing would really work out. Nobody worth talking to so far. Should maybe have chased up that idea about plumbing. Shame we never properly got into rock, really. Music journalism’s blatantly so fucking easy I could do it without ever hearing the stupid records, but apparently that’s frowned upon and I don’t want to hate myself that much more…
…He gets so caught up in hating the thought of ever having to write a Singles Club ever again (he hadn’t listened to the CDs, a friend had told him it was a piece of piss, and he’d thrown the CDs at said friend shortly thereafter) that it takes him a minute to realise he’s already been connected to Dr. David Mitchell, Bug Geek Extraordinaire, and the man is already talking. Well, fuck. Charlie jumps in.
“Hi. Right, hello. Yes. Charlie Brooker, me. Yeah. I’m doing the follow-up piece about your beetle thing for… yeah, the editor emailed you? Great, okay-” He fumbles his way through arranging a time and place to interview this guy, brain trundling along an unsteady ten paces behind everything that’s being said. “See you then, yeah, bye.” And he hangs up.
Right. Better get back to the internet.
They’d met up outside the museum, and the surprisingly amiable Dr. Mitchell (“David, really. I’m still not sure who ‘Dr Mitchell’ is, but he sounds like an evil villain and I don’t particularly relish that image… Would you like some tea?”) had brought him to his office. They’d walked through enough winding corridors, all of which seemed to be lined with what basically amounted to ‘very, very dead things’ that Charlie started to wonder whether David really was an evil villain, and whether this place was his hellish lair. And if so, whether it was a particularly good lair or not. The winding corridors were obviously in Mitchell’s favour, but the people lurking in the rooms they passed all seemed very friendly. They waved, smiled, said ‘good morning’, and otherwise generally functioned as pleasant human beings. Not very evil. But then again, if Mitchell wanted to trap Charlie in some kind of purgatory, an endless sea of terribly pleasant, intelligent people would certainly do the trick. He could take this bloke in a fight, though, if he had to. Which hopefully he wouldn’t, because Charlie isn’t sure he could actually take anyone in a fight. But Mitchell would be a good pick for a first attempt. Sort of pudgy around the edges, and far too well-bred and well-mannered to fight back. Ideal, really.
Perfectly sensible reservations cast aside (out of necessity: he really needed the money for this fucking article, Evil Beetle Overlords be damned), Charlie allowed himself to be lured deep into the staff-only area. Looking around, he decided this was probably a lot like being allowed backstage at a TV recording, or a comedy venue, except radically less interesting or exciting. Probably equally dusty, though.
When they finally reach David’s office, Charlie makes an unkind, ill-advised crack about having ‘discovered’ it, which was perhaps not the best way to make a good first impression, or put either of them at ease. But really, a particularly unkind voice adds inside his head, you didn’t discover shit, Mitchell.
It’s a very nice office, though— cosy, and not too tidy. And David seems content to let Charlie’s bastard moment go by without comment, which clearly marks him as being deserving of some sort of honorary title. The saintly bastard. David makes tea, and Charlie makes small talk. It doesn’t take long to get David talking in earnest about the beetle, and beetles in general. Or, for that matter, his job, his life, his home, his friends, his family, and all sorts of other crap he’d normally tune out. But Mitchell is surprisingly captivating. Charlie cringes as his brain supplies the word. ‘Captivating’? That’s a word that reeks of fucking Front Row. Jesus wept. Could Mitchell be persuaded to just take Charlie out back right now and shoot him in the head? Does the Natural History Museum even have anything that could be called ‘out back’? Probably not. Balls.
Eventually, Charlie tugs his brain back out of the infinite loop of self-critical bullshit, and realises David is still chattering away quite happily. He starts to pay attention again, with David burbling on about Christmas, of all the bloody things, and although it takes a privately embarrassing amount of effort on Charlie’s part to steer the other man back to the original topic, it has to be done. He really doesn’t want to stop the babbling, at all, but Charlie simply can’t submit a piece for the Science supplement that concentrates so heavily on David’s ill-fated fling with the then-Vice-president of Footlights, or the apparently infinite number of influential media types he knows “rather well considering!” as a result. And Charlie can’t help but be charmed by the fact that David just assumes Charlie must be equally friendly with all these people, despite his essentially having no contacts whatsoever. Developing contacts requires leaving the flat, and he has yet to meet a party with sufficient free booze to make such a journey worthwhile. Plenty of booze at the flat, and no cocking socialising, or networking, or whatever bullshit word people are currently using to mean ‘filling your ears with shit you don’t care about, because hey, it might help somebody get ahead. But probably not you, because you’re shit at this’. It doesn’t seem to have registered with David that Charlie is an utter nobody, newspaper job or no, and he has to admit that it makes a nice change.
Once David returns to his pet topic, after some tentative cajoling from Charlie, he doesn’t swerve away again. Charlie had no idea there were really, really people in the world who cared this much about things that, well… judging by the pictures David is ceaselessly showing him, his ex-girlfriends would’ve forced him to obliterate the ‘valuable specimens’ with a shoe. Violently, and probably at 3am. And this is surely more hand gestures than the subject of ‘small creepy crawly things you’d hate to meet in a dark bathroom’ really warrants, Charlie is certain. But Dr. Mitchell clearly has other ideas. They’re twenty minutes into the interview already, and it’s become quite clear that Charlie’s going to have to come back another day to get more useable material. David has been ranting about nothing but the underappreciation of his field— amongst both the scientific community and the general public— far more than Charlie can justifiably include in a report. This insect business really can’t be SO taxing. Charlie thinks David should try freelance ‘journalism’ for a while.
“But you see, Charlie,” David insists, “the beetle really is the crucial element of the ecosystem in many, many cases. The common man may not appreciate this fact but I don’t feel that British science should pander to public perception, you know? We have to appreciate the beetle, or we’re really risking undermining our whole natural order!- I can’t stand the thought of all or most or even just some of our terrestrial ecosystems collapsing irreparably because of some ninnies in Tunbridge Wells who can’t be bothered to think about the big picture! …Oh-“ he finally stutters to a halt, looking somewhat sheepish all of a sudden. Sheepish and increasingly flustered— it fleetingly occurs to Charlie that the combination is rather flattering. “You won’t put that in the article, will you? That last bit— Tunbridge Wells… I really didn’t mean to insult the Home Counties and the department really doesn’t need that kind of attention at the moment… oh, God, I think one of my supervisors is from Chatham, shit, please don’t put that bit in…”
It makes the man seem far more appealing, this sudden reintroduction of humans to the conversation. Charlie smiles and shakes his head, “No, it’s fine. Just make sure you say something infinitely more interesting in the next thirty seconds; I’ll forget all about it.”
David laughs. “Nothing about beetles, then?” And now it’s Charlie’s turn to look sheepish, and laugh, though he’s buggered if he knows why he suddenly feels guilty for finding all this shit so mind-numbing. It’s a fucking beetle! It IS boring! It is! Or it was, before David started to get so blatantly excited about talking about it. Charlie has a sneaking suspicion that this man could make him care about anything.
“Sorry-“ Jesus, now he’s getting all bothered about causing offence. “I’m just not usually the one covering this sort of science stuff…” he offered, feebly.
“Oh, I see.” David sips his tea, “What do you normally write about, then?”
Ah. Charlie’s sheepishness reaches new, unpleasant heights. “Oh, you know… stuff…”
“Honestly?” And fuck, David actually looks curious. “Whatever they fucking tell me to write about, at the moment. Hence the whole… Senior Beetle Correspondent… thing. They hired me to cover election stuff, and I think they just forgot to take me off the lists afterwards.”
David laughed, and Charlie found his own pathetic face being dragged into an expression a passerby might plausibly identify as ‘cheerful’. Well, that was new. And perhaps not wholly unpleasant, as emotions go.
“I do have a website of my own, though.” He doesn’t know why he feels the need to add this fact to the conversation; to justify himself, especially about this, especially to David, a guy he’s really only just met. But apparently his mouth is already self-assured of its superiority to his brain. “TV stuff. I don’t think anybody’s actually reading it, but you know. Fingers crossed. Maybe it’ll develop into something more worthwhile.” It probably won’t. These things never do.
Charlie went back to the museum later that week. Even after David admitted he was a big fan of Civilization III. He told himself he had to ignore such sins in the name of journalism. He told himself he owed it to his editor to make this piece better than usual. He told himself he owed it to David to represent him fairly. He even told himself he owed it to the beetle, which was plainly just utter bollocks.
The fact of it was, he’d found he rather liked David. And David’s face. And at least David didn’t play WOW. And David had looked at his website, and deemed it “really terribly entertaining, you know”. And David kept trying to tempt Charlie into meeting his other friends, as if they were friends. Already. Which was ridiculous.
But mostly, David’s face was the source of Charlie’s trouble.
David’s face was, in fact, becoming a mildly serious obstacle in Charlie’s quest for a finished article, fit for submission to the paper. His Dictaphone had broken a few months previous…well, Charlie had rather deliberately broken it, by throwing it forcibly at the wall of his flat, but never mind that, it had deserved it… and he was still relying on notetaking by hand for interviews. Notetaking, it turns out, is very tricky to get right if you aren’t listening at all. And when the choices are ‘look at his pretty face’ and ‘listen to him talk about dung’ Charlie finds there is no choice at all. Wait, pretty?
Ah, fuck. Too late to do anything about it now. Grin and bear it. Well, don’t grin. You’ll just look like a petrified bear if you grin.
“-So the museum has this huge backlog of old accessions – collections, donations—just collecting dust, because there’s no way we could display all these things at once, all the time. It’s just not sensible, is it? I mean it would be wonderful, but there just isn’t the space, or the money to look after it all. And honestly the public aren’t often that interested… things need to be dangerous or pretty for people to care, and that’s really not something entomology delivers on all too often— I mean, we do scary very well, but we find that doesn’t really help draw people into the museum when there’s also fucking great dinosaurs near the front door, you know? Oh, you should really talk to the Head of the Department about that though, I’m sure he’d be better at all this pull-quote stuff. He’s more used to talking to the press, well, as often as anyone ever actually asks anyone in our field to talk to the press, but nevertheless…”
Charlie’s ears caught up with the words. “Oh, no, David, this is fine. Really. I’ll probably have a quick chat with him, but it’s your stuff that they’re asking me to talk about. It’s your beetle… thing. So I should really talk to you, no?” And David couldn’t argue with that. Or if he could, he decided not to. Which was rather nice of him, really.
David couldn’t argue with that, which meant Charlie was dumped straight back into an in-depth discussion of the origins of the Special Beetle (Charlie really ought to double-check the proper name for that, somehow he suspected ‘Special Beetle’ wouldn’t fly in the Science supplement), and the reasons for its long dark teatime in the broom cupboard.
“We moved, you see. A big shift, a few years back- all the collections and everything. It was before I took the job, so my office is here, and also partly because I help out on a couple of more general projects… but all the specimens and records are at the museum’s other locations now. And obviously in the move things got muddled up, and someone had to sort it out, and that fell to me as I was bottom-rung. And possibly due to the lack of any significant social life I did my job properly, and that’s how I found that some of the records didn’t match their specimens, and I came across the beetle that way- somebody had clearly not been looking properly, and it had been lumped in with entirely the wrong classification and- are you writing this down?” his expression was amused, but also mildly accusing.
Charlie laughed softly, “Ah, some of it?” He’d drawn a picture of a beetle and written ‘oh no wrong box!’ in a speech bubble over its head. A perfectly adequate summary of events, he’s quite sure.
Sceptical, David moved away from his desk. “Right. I thought you people all had recording equipment these days, anyway?”
Charlie shrugged. “We do, but then it gets broken and we’re too cheap to replace it.”
“Couldn’t your paper loan you something?”
“They used to, but somebody left one of theirs on the train after interviewing Charles Clarke, or something like that. The theory now is that if we buy our own, we’re less likely to fuck it up.”
“But surely if you buy your own, you’re also more likely to buy a cheaper alternative and thus suffer editorial difficulties as a result of these lower quality recordings? And couldn’t that lead to tricky situations with the legal department, once somebody gets some terribly important detail terribly wrong?”
Charlie had to laugh. “Yeah, pretty much. I don’t think you’re really supposed to apply logic to the situation, though. It’s like the license fee or international finance.”
Now it was David’s turn to laugh, and he graciously obliged. “Ah, no. My mistake. Terribly sorry, I won’t let it happen again.” Charlie tried his best to look admonishing, but didn’t get the impression he was having much success. Perhaps he was losing the knack.
“Would you like another custard cream?” Or perhaps David was just too cute to glare at.
The next week, Charlie didn’t see David. As had been explained to Charlie over email after their last chat (again in David’s office, again over tea), “Ento '10 is next week, you see, and I’m going to be terribly busy because of it this time, so I’m afraid we’ll have to wait until the end of the week to meet up again— Friday morning, maybe? Perhaps we could splash out a little and actually meet up somewhere pleasant, instead of my dreadful boxy office. I don’t expect you get a lot of fresh air, what with all the writing and whatnot. We could just sod it and go for a proper drink?”
Charlie had pointedly ignored the email all weekend, telling himself he was an idiot to even try reading anything into it, and pull yourself together man, and he’s just being polite, and he isn’t interested, and be a fucking professional for once. He finally got a grip on Monday morning, and emailed David back.
“Hello- really need to get bulk of article written this week, due to early deadlines etc. possible to have quick chat on phone? need your number if so.“
Charlie told to himself, rather insistently, that this was not a transparent ploy to get David’s number.
It was, at the very least, translucent.
Well, David fell for it, so who gives a shit?
Charlie rang during the day, ignoring the fact that David would obviously still be knees-deep in the goings-on of Ento '10 (or, as Charlie had swiftly taken to calling it, The Big Daft Bug Party).
“Oh! Charlie! Ah!” There was the sound of a pile of paper hitting the floor, and then the (significantly louder) sound of David swearing “Can I call you back in a bit?”
Charlie grinned. “Sorry- are you busy?”
“No, no! I mean, well, yes, actually- but it’s lovely to hear from you! Really, Charlie! I just need to- I’m supposed to be on my way elsewhere here… I told you about this! And now you’ve made me drop my notes… you’re a beast, sir.“
“Sorry! You’re at your party, aren’t you?”
“Yes, Charlie.” David’s tone immediately plummeted down to something Charlie had begun to think of as the ‘disappointed scorn’ setting, “The Big Bug Party. With my special bug friends.”
Charlie grinned again. “I’ll ring back later.”
“Do.” Came the reply, and David hung up, leaving Charlie to guess whether the unexpected sincerity of that last word was really there, or whether he was now simply hearing things as he hoped they would sound. David’s tone was impossible to gauge at times— Charlie had already cocked up enough by laughing at his ‘jokes’ when in fact the subject at hand had been entirely serious — but that “Do” was definitely either inadvertent sincerity or the deepest, most cutting sarcasm, and sarcasm would be just as depressing as the sincerity is confusing. Confusing is more unusual, Charlie decides, and therefore preferable. Yes. Sincerity. Wait, why was he hoping for sincerity? Shit. When did that happen?
They finally caught up a few days after the Bug Party. David picked a pub near his flat, which left Charlie to battle furiously with a London A-Z. He arrived eventually, belatedly, and dropped into a chair opposite David, who was already well on his way through pint number one. He pushed a second glass over to Charlie, smiling like a man well-pleased with himself.
“You’re late, Brooker. I’d be willing to bet you haven’t even remembered to bring a pen, either.”
Charlie raises an eyebrow. “Care to make that interesting?”
“Not now you’ve offered, no,” David laughed. “Unless you’re somehow unaware of the contents of your own pockets.” There was a pen in there somewhere, Charlie knew. He’d collected enough crappy freebie pens from the piles of promo junk that filled each corner of the newspaper’s offices to last a lifetime. Most of his coat pockets had one, by now. He rummaged.
“Ha!” He slammed it down onto the table, making the pint glasses wobble for a moment. “One pen. Probably still works, and everything.”
David took another sip of his pint. “Journalism at its finest, certainly. I am suitably impressed.”
A minute of comfortably silent drinking goes by before Charlie thinks of something to talk about. Usually he’d just launch into a stock tirade, possibly about badgers and TB, but David seems too polite for that to really go over well. Probably bollocks, but Charlie isn’t taking any chances. There are enough people around who already think he’s an arsehole, especially here in London, without him fucking up perfectly functional friendships. If David and he were friends, that is. Which Charlie thinks they probably are? Well, he's not sure. But David clearly doesn’t find his company totally abhorrent, and that’s usually a decent start by Charlie's standards.
“Did you enjoy the Big Daft Bug Party, by the way? You sounded busy when I rang…” he trails off, taking another sip of his pint.
“Oh yes,” David smiled, clearly still on a bit of a post-event high. “It was fascinating, really. Lots of running around here and there to catch one speaker without missing another, you know, but I caught a great talk on new methodologies for preservation, and there’ve been some fascinating developments in specimen collection… oh, you don’t care, I know you don’t. But it was splendid, I assure you.” He smiled, and Charlie felt a little rush of inexpressible fondness run through his belly. “Terribly exciting at times, even. Have you been busy? I suppose the article must be nearing completion by now, I’m not exactly a fascinating subject…”
Oh, sure. Not fascinating at all, you devastating bastard. Charlie scrambled to think of what he’d done while David was away, knowing that the right answer must be ‘I started writing the article’. But he hasn’t, and if he lies David will just ask to see the work so far, and that’ll just be terribly and humiliating and bad. So, something else. But something still sensible and respectable. Definitely not ‘I spent the time wanking and watching old tapes of Pop Idol auditions.’ Definitely not that.
“I, uh, put some new content up on the website? Not the normal stuff, I’m trying to make it broader… hopefully stir up some more interest, I dunno.” Charlie shrugged. “I’ve got more ideas than sense.” Plumbing. Really should’ve gone into plumbing. Could’ve had your name on a fucking van by now. Would've come up with a business name and a shitty little logo. Plumbing would’ve been just fine. You don’t even really have to talk to people, just make their house less fucking soggy, take the money and leave. And they’ll even make you tea. Fuck, why didn’t you become a plumber?
When he gets back home he needs to stick something on the website. Really fucking quickly. Can it be backdated? God, what if it can’t be backdated? Tits.
After many a good hour spent listening to David’s euphoric explanations of scientific method, and a thoroughly unpleasant evening of self-reflection (never a good idea) after coming home alone from the pub, Charlie had decided he should attempt it for himself. In this case, as it applied to David. As it applied to his feelings for David, whatever those might be. Eurgh, feelings. That’d be a good TV show, actually. ‘A Bunch of Insecure Men Talking About Their Previously Unexplored Emotions’. ITV, probably daytime. Lots of lawnmowers and DIY kit in the ad breaks…
Anyway. Scientific method. He’d made a list.
Hypothesis A: David is very nice.
Hypothesis B: David would look nicer without clothes
Hypothesis C: I would like to take David’s clothes off.
Hypothesis D: David wouldn’t mind too much.
Hypothesis E: It would be… could be worth asking?
Are you allowed to have more than one hypothesis? Do you have to really be sure before you’re allowed to use it as a hypothesis? Charlie can’t remember, but fuck it. He certainly can’t ask David, and since he’s lasted this long without any use for O Level Science, thankyouverymuch, he’s not going to let it beat him now.
The next step was supposedly the collation of data through experimentation. Something told Charlie that ‘experimenting’ might prove tricky where David was concerned, even if the hypotheses were self-evident.
However, in the spirit of scientific endeavour, or some other ridiculous notion, he went back to the Natural History Museum that week. By now, everyone was used to him trundling back and forth until the corridors started to make some vague sort of sense. Once he reached a certain point, he was always able to find David’s office. Well, almost. Sometimes he ended up in the Education department and got funny looks from the mothers and teachers for lurking around looking curious. But that was only the once! And he’d explained himself fully to a member of staff!
Arriving at David’s office today, though, he found it empty and locked. Wandering further along the corridor he found the ‘kitchen’, which contained a kettle and a strong smell of cup-soup, but no David. Charlie got his phone out, scrolling through for ‘David Bug Man’ and dialling. There was no answer, so Charlie opted for the more journalistic method of asking around, pestering other members of staff in the corridors. Eventually he tracked David down- via somebody who’d seen somebody who’d mentioned speaking to him- mounting specimens in a room at the arse end of nowhere. The door was open, but he felt the compulsion to knock all the same- David was obviously concentrating hard, peering over the top of his glasses, a peek of tongue darting out at the corner of his mouth. It was bizarrely adorable, and only served to further enforce Charlie’s opinion of David as a bumbling, genteel fifty-year-old trapped in the body of a younger man. Rather than startle him, Charlie waited a couple of minutes, watching David work. When the other man set down… whatever the thing you pin a beetle to is called. Frame? Box? Card? He should probably know this sort of thing by now- it seemed safe to distract David from his work, so Charlie knocked. David still startled, of course, but he had nothing to drop or break, and he smiled when he saw who it was.
“Charlie! Come in, do. Sit down, sit down. Afraid there’s no tea in these rooms, but we can go back up to my office. How did you find me down here, did Michaela tell you? She’s usually good at spotting the lost… I didn’t know you were coming in today, did I forget an arrangement?” David looked up, screwing the cap back onto a bottle of something that smelt rather terrible.
“No, no.” Charlie answered quickly. He shouldn’t’ve come today- David was obviously busy. Of course he’s fucking busy, he’s at work. Why wouldn’t he busy? Why didn’t you realise he’d be busy? Fucking idiot. He stuttered, “I’m just, you know, nosy. Thought we could go for another drink when you knock off, maybe?” Alcohol would be good. “You know, er, for the article.”
David smiled. “All right. Do you have anywhere else to be, or are you going to watch me relaxing wings for an hour and a half?”
“Er, relaxing wings sounds good?” Looking down at the table made Charlie realise he still hadn’t accepted David’s invitation to sit. Feeling more awkward- is there a unit of measurement for awkwardness? David would know. But like everything else interesting David knows, he can’t ask without drawing even more attention to his social ineptitude- Charlie sat down.
They chat for a while, until something wriggles on a plate near Charlie’s elbow, and he shrieks like an infant. Okay, a particularly foul-mouthed infant, but the effect is the same nonetheless. “Fuck! What the fuck?”
David laughs despite himself, and pulls the offending plate across the table before a flailing Charlie can up-end it. “They’re just moth caterpillars, don’t worry.” He looks at them bemusedly. “I’m waiting for them to die.”
“Waiting for…” Charlie says, weakly, struggling to parse this. “Science is fucking disgusting, Mitchell.” He’s calmed down, now he knows the things are supposed to be alive, but still…
David laughs again, pushing his glasses back up his nose. “They’re not mine, Charlie, don’t blame me. I’m watching them for a colleague. Bugsitting, if you will. Are you alright? I’d offer you tea for the shock, but like as I mentioned- no beverages in the specimen stores, I’m afraid…”
Charlie shook his head, moving his chair in towards the table again. “No, it’s fine… So… which one is your beetle?”
“Oh,” David waves a hand, “none of these. I mounted that one a while ago, but only as a remount. It just needed a bit of a tidy-up, after being lost for so long.”
Having apparently decided to detail the preservation process to Charlie at tortuous length, David picked up something he declared to be a ‘relaxing jar’. Despite Charlie’s protestations about ‘a relaxing jar’ being something everyone else had at the pub in Summer, David proceeded to dispense small, dead, creepy things into a series of them, “for later”. Jesus wept. There may be nothing so sexy as enthusiasm, but Charlie was finding that the exact quantity of said sexiness can be considerably reduced by the presence of so much blatant nightmare fodder. He could already tell the phrase “press the pin through the thorax” was going to be staying with him for a while.
And that was to say nothing of the “spreading board”. Testing his hypotheses under these conditions was bloody laughable. And aren’t you supposed to observe and experiment through a glass screen, or something? How can he suggest taking David’s clothes off from the other side of a window? That’s more like prison visits for a married couple than any kind of legitimate scientific investigation.
After the first half an hour or so, David runs out of explanations and settles back into working silently, occasionally muttering to himself about the pliability of the smaller wings. Charlie takes his notebook out, and starts roughing out an idea for a TV show based on in-depth behind-the-scenes explorations of mind-numbing pastimes. Potting Shed… something snappy and derogatory. Not ‘Pissheads’, that’d be a bit too far. David could present it. Or… he could just watch David work. Grisly as it is to the unaccustomed observer, Charlie reckons this must be the kind of methodical task that becomes blissful in its mindlessness. The kind of thing you could do with your eyes shut, it’s so basic. Like farm work, which Charlie has never done, but heard a lot about from school friends. Farm work, or data entry. He’s done plenty of fucking data entry. Except if David doesn’t watch these fuckers closely, something will probably fly off and away out of the open window before he can stab it through the chest or stick it in a jar, giving it the opportunity it needs to find a good place to establish its empire and rear a vast colony of evil killer creepy little shits, that would return only to ruin Western civilisation through their expert use of excessive legs and eye-stalks, enslaving the human race for eternity… Yeah. Apart from that bit, it’s exactly like menial labour.
“Charlie?” He reconnects with the real world to find David, looking at him expectantly.
“Uh. Sorry… miles away.”
“I was just saying, since you’re putting up with all this drudgery, I could perhaps show you the butterflies next time you feel like dropping in?”
“Oh, yeah, okay.” Dead butterflies can’t start earthquakes. Charlie has no problem with dead butterflies.
David smiles. “Only if you’re very good, though, obviously. I don’t show the interesting things to just anybody.”
Back at home, Charlie runs through the hypotheses again.
Hypothesis A: David is very nice.
Well, obviously. He could’ve just sent me away. After all, he was at work and I just barged in like it was a party. A weird, bad party. Didn’t get impression David was so desperate for company he’d take whatever he’d get, though, so can’t just be pity. Well, it could. Hope it isn’t pity.
Hypothesis B: David would look nicer without clothes
No new information. Still definitely want to know.
Hypothesis C: I would like to take David’s clothes off.
See Hypothesis B.
Hypothesis D: David wouldn’t mind too much.
No idea. Didn’t mind me sitting around watching him for an hour, though. Good sign. Not sure I can really enquire on the matter. Might make me look creepy. (More creepy than usual.) Have still only known him a couple of months, most of that time spent being professional and journalistic and all that crap. Probably wouldn’t like it if I just shoved my tongue down his throat. Not while he still has a functioning brain, anyway.
Hypothesis E: It would be… could be worth asking?
Not yet. Maybe soon? Maybe drunk.
The next time they met, Charlie gained no new and useful insights for the article. But he did get to see what David looked like when he’d been worked up into a spitting, frothy rage. Which should have been enough, really.
“As if he understands my interests!” David was pacing up and down in his office, while Charlie made vague noises of agreement in what he hoped were the right places. “As if there was ever any chance of our working together with ANY semblance of success, Charlie! But will he give it up and leave well alone? Oh, I wish. I swear that man has made it his personal bloody mission to drag me away from my work- my valuable, sensible, scientific WORK- and back to the stupid childish shit I churned out in Footlights and it’s not USEFUL! I mean obviously Charlie I appreciate the work you do,” he waved a hand, momentarily calmer, “but that’s different because you have a purpose and it’s entirely admirable. But sketch comedy is just POINTLESS and I’m perfectly happy as I am, just keeping in touch with all the people I met at college who weren’t utter cunts, so why on Earth would I be even vaguely interested in taking all that work up again when I have a JOB that pays… moderately well, better than freelance at any rate, again Charlie no offence meant please I assure you… but I have a decent reliable job now, at a HIGHLY respected institution, doing the thing I LOVE? Why would I want to chuck that in for a life on the fucking Edinburgh Fringe? Going to parties and bearing witness to interminable performance art and pratfalling onto my fat arse for a pathetic attempt at a living? Making myself a laughing stock on purpose? I wouldn’t! I wouldn’t! I just wouldn’t! No right-thinking person would! It’s utterly aimless and shambolic and I’m done with it! Which is why fucking ROBERT thinks it’s an entirely sensible idea! Bollocks is it! I have an OFFICE!” David gestured wildly at the room surrounding them. “A NICE OFFICE!”
Charlie coughed. “I- ah, do you want to just meet again in a couple of days? That was a lot of capital letters…” He tried desperately to avoid looking directly at David, who was flushed red from the ranting, ruffled and breathing indecently hard. It wasn’t in any way fair, for fuck’s sake. At least he seemed to be cooling down, little by little.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry…” David said, running a hand through his already-messy hair, still evidently aggravated but speaking normally now— apologetically. “Old colleagues should really never be allowed to become friends; it’s a pain in the arse.” And now Charlie’s freaking out internally over the possibility of David considering them ‘colleagues’ and ruining their chances of… whatever this might be. A Thing.
David was still talking, “Rob usually knows better than to hassle me about it. Or, well, I thought he knew better but clearly that’s a lesson I’ll have to beat into him all over again. He’s really not a terrible chap I’m just tired… I’m sorry, Charlie. How about tomorrow? It’s lovely to see to you, really, really it is, but I’m clearly in no fit state and no use to you…”
“Didn’t you, er, wasn’t he the one you had the… thing… with? Robert?” Charlie wasn’t sure he meant to ask, although he didn’t regret it.
David was blushing. Charlie definitely didn’t regret it. Fuck, that flush suited him.
“Well, ah, yes- that was- yes. I forgot I’d told you about that, but I guess I was rather… carried away. Um. You won’t, er, put that in the article?”
Suddenly, inexplicably, Charlie couldn’t hold back the rush of indignant scorn that poured out. “Oh yes, David. Because that’s really what the Science supplement cares about, you know? ‘This Week, in Bumming’, it’s a regular fucking feature. Much better than this boring shit about insects and academic advances. No, what the public really cares about is the sexual history of its scientists. And I, obviously, I am perfectly happy to cater to their stupid whims and really, I’ve been interviewing everyone in your fucking department, just praying somebody here once took it up the arse. That’s why I decided on a career in the media, and applied to write for a national bloody newspaper in the first place-” he paused, clocking the other man’s expression.
David was staring at him, utterly shell-shocked. Oh, shit. Fuck. Wank. Shit. Charlie needs to say something quickly to fix this one. “Er.” FUCK.
We need something better than ‘Er’ here, you fucking moron. Jesus wept. No wonder you’re perpetually stranded up shit creek, look at you. This is fucking pathetic, Charlie. What happened to you?
While Charlie berated his inner monologue, David had clearly managed to recover the powers of speech. “Well, yes, I suppose… you make a very good point. I’m sorry… you did bring it up, though! I merely asked…! I didn’t mean to imply…!” He waved a hand in Charlie’s general direction, “you’re a journalist! You know! It’s not exactly famed for being a particularly scrupulous profession! Even if I don’t think you’d… I can’t be blamed for- for checking!”
Guilt creeps over Charlie. “I’ll… yeah. Leaving. Now. Sorry.” And he rushes out before David can even try to call him back. Not that he would. Because Charlie just completely fucked his chances in the ear, and more than that, he’s actually properly upset David. Fuck. That wasn’t supposed to happen. That wasn’t ever supposed to happen.
They don’t speak for a week. Charlie knows he should spend the time writing. If he can get the article finished, he can run away from the whole messy situation and never have to see David again. Or rather, David won’t have to see him. If the article is done, then so is their obligation to each other.
Charlie tries calling after the first couple of days, on the pretence of needing some scientific detail about the beetle’s condition when it was found, but David doesn’t answer his phone. When Charlie tries ringing the Entomology department directly, he is told that David is out, doing field research. Shaking little bugs out of trees and into canvas buckets, or something. Charlie both believes this (it sounds like something David would enjoy) and knows it must be bullshit (it sounds like something David would put off until he needed an excuse to skive office work. Plus, the weather is too shit for him to have gone outside for pleasure).
And if David were just off on a mission, he’d be answering his phone. No, Charlie is being avoided. Which means David is still sore about Charlie’s outburst. Or Charlie’s piss-poor apology. Or Charlie’s hasty getaway. Or Charlie’s pathetic answer phone attempt at a better apology. Well done, Brooker. Really handled that one beautifully from start to finish.
As the hours ticked over, Charlie tried to find the silver lining in the shitpile. At least this way he’d ruined his chances, however slim they were, before making a move on David. At least he’d shot himself down, rather than suffering through a pitying, polite, and painfully kind rejection. He hadn’t discovered if David was secretly straight, or secretly boring, secretly something else… for all Charlie knew, he was mean to old ladies and rude to people doing work experience. Didn’t seem likely, obviously, but now he’d never even have to find out.
For some reason, Charlie had assumed his crush on David would fade. That’s what crushes are supposed to do, right? And now David wasn’t even speaking to him, it made sense that the attraction would wither. People don’t like being ignored. Charlie knows this because he has an editor.
“The deadline was Thursday, Charlie. Today is Friday, and I rang you twice this week, and you said it was in hand. I spoke to Science this morning, though, and they’re pretty fucking sure you haven’t submitted yet. Great big gaping hole in their feature piece, Charlie. Great big fucking hole where your profile is supposed to be, next to your wreck of a byline. Remember when you were all excited about that fucking byline?”
“Sorry, yeah… sorry. Something came up, I had, er, access difficulties?”
There’s a resigned sigh, and some irritated clicking. “So you’ve fucked off the interviewee, I take it?”
“Well, um, no- sort of- a bit… I dunno…”
“Moron. I’m giving you until Monday, okay? Because I like the idea of seeing your stupid face in the paper, looking like you just tasted sour shit. Because I’m twisted. Okay?”
“Okay. If it goes down alright, can I have a new byline photo?”
“Only if you win the fucking Pulitzer.”
Charlie was not going to win the fucking Pulitzer.
“David…” A long silence uncurled between them, settling along the phone line for a moment before David spoke, pointed but genuinely (gently) concerned.
“Are you quite well, Charlie?”
“Oh yeah, yeah… fine… yeah…”
“Charlie.” Ah, fuck.
“I may’ve… sort of… missed the deadline for the article about you, a little bit.”
“A little bit?” Fuck, this was a bad idea. A terrible idea. Should’ve just ignored the problem, told his editor to scrap the article, told him David was a massive cunt they couldn’t run a fluff piece on in good conscience, anything.
“It’s due tomorrow morning and I have no notes.”
David spluttered. “You DO have notes! You took all those notes! I talked, and you took BLOODY notes! I saw you!” Ah. Now, should he go for honesty? Or lies? Lies, more lies, and lies upon lies? It’s a quick decision to make over something so tricky, but Charlie reckons David deserves the truth.
“I mostly just drew pictures of beetles.” He does at least have the good grace to sound embarrassed.
David is entirely quiet for an uncomfortable few seconds.
“I see,” he says, crisply.
“Where do you live, Charlie?” David asks, apparently skimming over Charlie’s apology entirely. Fair enough. Wait. What?
“It’s quite a simple question, Charlie. Where do you live? I need to know this in order to come over your house and possibly commit some kind of violent crime.”
“Ah. I thought that might be the reason.”
“Yes. And then, after the required violence, you are going to write that fucking article.”
“But I have no notes!”
“I am your notes!” David squeaked, indignant. “I’m your bloody article!”
“Give me your address. Now.”
David made it to Charlie’s flat in an astonishingly short amount of time. It made him feel rather unsteady, like he was standing on a playing field in dire need of a good levelling.
“Where do you live, Mitchell?” Charlie said, opening his door to a grumpy-looking David, wrapped up in a long-but-not-flasheresque coat and tartan scarf. He glared at Charlie, rather more sternly than you’d have thought him capable of.
“That’s for me to know, and you to never need to know.” David said, stepping inside and bustling about in the hallway, hanging his coat on a peg. He cast a look around the room. “I like your flat, by the way.”
“Er, thanks. It’s a bit of a dump…” Charlie got published enough to keep him mostly-fed and lazily-clothed, but the flat was still somewhat less des-res than his student digs had been. And that place had holes in the wall from where it had been punched. By a previous occupant, he should add. Not Charlie. Although it had definitely given him ideas.
David laughed, unwinding his scarf. “Oh, no. You don’t know the meaning of the word. Trust me, I should know. I can see your carpet, for one thing. And it’s still a little fluffy- bet it was that colour when you bought it, too.”
Charlie grinned. “Alright, Sherlock, give it a rest. Coffee?”
“Tea, please, if that’s no bother. And give me this article to mend.”
Charlie gestured at the battered computer on his desk, “That’s all I’ve got so far. Knock yourself out.”
“Are you actually a qualified journalist, in any respect?” David said, peering at the screen over his glasses, “Is your editor terribly depressed? Does he weep? Have there been meetings with mental health professionalss in which he has been consoled about the burden you place upon his well-being?”
“Fuck off, toff.” Charlie was making tea. For one. Well, okay, no, he’s not that mean. Today. And David probably doesn’t even function correctly without plenty of tea in his system, so it’s the least he can do, really. Especially when David’s here to help him with writing the article. Charlie should mount a few dead things in cupboards as a way of saying thank you, he thinks. Maybe some fashion editors, or a columnist from The Sun…
“Honestly, Charlie. I am distressed by your incompetence—ooh, tea, thank you— I used to write for Varsity, you know. Only fleetingly, but I was certainly respectable.” He taps at the keys. “I wrote all my own articles, too.”
“How come you don’t write now, then?” Charlie sips his own tea, watching as David skims down the open document on his laptop. He has rather nice hands, Charlie thinks. Precise, but still properly solid. And he types with two fingers, which is just funny.
“I write for journals, sometimes.” David continues, oblivious to Charlie’s somewhat objectifying trains of thought. “Scientific stuff, academic, you know.” Does David own a t-shirt? He sits up straight, like a gentleman (or a scholar. Heh.), which suggests not. People who wear t-shirts tend to be less upright in general. Like Charlie. “Much easier on the mind, and you don’t have to worry about public judgment because next to nobody actually reads those publications.” Surely he has shirts in more than one colour, though? Surely. Right? He must, and yet… “Anyone who gets back to me about my work is usually a colleague, or a student who wants to discuss the science— never the style. I would suggest you try it for yourself if I thought you had a cat’s chance in hell of convincing someone you have the sufficient academic grounding-”
“Half a degree in media,” Charlie acknowledges, surfacing briefly from his contemplation of the back of David’s head. David nods like that response had answered more than one question.
“They do usually teach the useful things at the end of a course.” David said, then adjusted his glasses, and started to type.
If this was anyone else, Charlie thought… if somebody was sitting in his flat and insulting his lifeskills, he’d punch them out. Except of course he wouldn’t lay a finger on anyone who might feasibly lay a fist or two on him in return… but still. If it was anyone else, he would want to.
It takes David twenty minutes to rough-draft the article, but he stalls once all the science has been explained.
“This is terribly uncomfortable- I can’t write up your interviews with me from your perspective, it’s just perverse. I can’t put what I would say into a ‘he says’ construction, Charlie. Sit here, come on. Do your actual bloody job.”
“I don’t have any notes....” Because he is an under qualified, illiterate fool, who forgot that journalism does actually require some… journalising. Journalistics. Journalisting. Shit. And if it sounds like he might be whining the tiniest little bit, that’s probably just a misconception, because he obviously isn’t whining at all.
“Yes, well.” David says, rather sharply. “You’ll have to make do.” The look David shoots him over those glasses is borderline inappropriate, surely? Perhaps Charlie is hallucinating.
He muddles through, asking David questions as they go. It’s still an incredibly dull story, but it’s also relatively uncomplicated. And he’s not actually a total hack- he can write well enough when pushed. And David is pushing, no doubt about that. He’d read every word, out loud, over Charlie’s shoulder, leaning in close to point out typos and misspellings.
“I’m sorry to be a nag, Charlie. I- er, I mean. It’s- my mum cares about the article. And I care! I do, just, you know, it’s not really the article I’m worried about… I wouldn’t’ve… you know… bothered you so much just for that…”