I woke up cold and alone and I couldn’t even get properly stuck into a bottle of scotch because sodding Blake drank half of it. I was going to pour the rest of it down the sink, because I didn’t want his leavings. But wouldn’t you know, I had a tumbler in my hand and I’d necked an ounce. And then I thought, well, Blake’s copped off with *my* leavings. So I had another drink to celebrate.
There was hardly anything in the apartment to throw, Avon said that someone said “elegance is refusal.” Which also meant that there was hardly anything to sell or pawn. He did leave me a pile of credit chips, but considering that he stole the money in the first place, and it wasn’t as much as the Big Wheel money by a long chalk, I wasn’t putting him up for sainthood yet.
It took a few days for my head to clear enough to go shopping for false passports and that. Must have been a week before I fetched up on Earth. Place didn’t half look different in just a few years. The air wasn’t quite so vicious. There weren’t just a few huts with mad folk living Outside, there were lots of buildings. I still mostly stayed inside the Domes, it’s what I was used to before B-for-bastard ever tripped me up.
I booked into a posh hotel and had a nice holiday, caught up with loads of people who thought I’d be on Cygnus Alpha forever and they’d never see me again, so seeing me with a bit less hair and new name wasn’t too hard on them.
My money was running low when I found out about OCEABB—Ordinary Citizens to Elect Anybody But Blake. Ordinary my Aunt Fanny of course, it was lots of rich blokes with their noses out of joint about paying taxes. Simple job they wanted, good pay, and by then, it was down to Burglars Can’t Be Choosers.
Blake made a point of keeping an office in just a regular building, not a government one. My new bosses told me there was nobody there but a couple of clerks and a computer boffin. It wasn’t Avon, he worked at the People’s House, where there were lots of guards to keep people from shooting at their fairly and honestly elected government. Or fairly honestly elected government.
So I was supposed to drop over well after office hours—the employees were a load of jobsworths, had their hats on ten minutes before the end of the shift. The doorman downstairs would take a twenty-credit note to look the other way when I spun him a tale about having to deliver this package or I’d get fired because I was at the hospital with my sick mum who fell down and broke her hip and how was I going to pay her hospital bill if I got fired, eh? Then just pop in, do the door of the office, photograph anything that looked interesting, and leave a little something behind in the shape of a recorder.
I didn’t have my orange coolbox, of course, but I had a very tasty set of tools in a briefcase. And a package wrapped in brown paper and addressed to a company that, according to the plans, was around a twist in the corridor so you couldn’t see from the door if there was anybody there or not.
I set to work, and was up to the third probe when I realized that the lights were still on and the door was unlocked. So I tiptoed in, and stuck up the bug underneath a desk the way we used to do with chewing gum in the classrooms in Junior Correctional Institution Number Fourteen. Well, mostly we stuck the chewing gum in Vryl Cothron’s hair, nobody liked him.
And then I felt bad, because just out of habit I turned round because I expected to see Avon getting ready to steal the insides of the computers now that I’d opened the door. And now I had an invisible Avon hanging about like the Ghost of Christmas Prats.
And after that I felt REALLY bad, because the WC flushed and a man came out and headed for one of the glass-walled little offices inside the big one. “Oi!” I said. If you sound mad, it puts them on the defensive. “Late-night express delivery! This is Muspratt and Zerhapp Import-Export innit?”
“No,” he bloke said mildly. “That’s in 319B.”
I went round the angle, waited long enough to knock on the door, get it opened, and have someone sign for the package. (Actually I tipped it down the mail chute.) Then I strolled back to the elevator, and the big bad Blake’s bloke was standing there waiting. (Not big at all, just regular size, and he looked harmless.) I craned my neck and I could see the lights were out. Probably the door was really locked this time. I could have found a way to sneak back in and open the door for real this time, but professional pride or no, I couldn’t be arsed.
He looked me up and down with the kind of frank admiration I hadn’t been getting a lot of lately (or, to be honest, at all). That cheered me up, so when he asked if I wanted a drink I didn’t say no. He was a nice chap, easy to talk to, and always stood his round. I like that in an alibi witness. And when he asked if I wanted to go home with him I didn’t say no either.
You wouldn’t think much of him if you saw him in a bathing costume, but you would if you saw him without the cozzie. Wherever he got his degree, it could have been the University of WellHangria. Which is a shallow way to think about someone but sometimes a nice deep shallowing hits the spot, dunnit? I wondered if it was something Blake insisted on for new recruits. Couldn’t be, that would let Avon right out, but there he still was, and Blake still hadn’t got kicked in his Alpha teeth.
And the cost of living near the big office towers is shocking, it only made sense to flat together and save the late-night supplement on the tram fare. I had to think twice about getting tangled up with another computer boffin but I convinced myself that being rotten isn’t built in to the job.
And it all would have been fine but one day I was in a confectionary shop. Dee keeps a little silvery dish on his desk, with boiled sweets, and I thought I’d get some for him. And who should come swanning in but Avon.
“Come up in the world, have you? Now you can ruin Alphas’ lives too.”
“Blake doesn’t seem to think I’ve ruined his life. If he did, he’d finish with me.”
“Usually I’m not mad for poetic justice, poetry’s all right but what’s justice ever done for me? But that time I’d cheer.”
“Vila, I told you over and over again that I was only out for myself.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t believe that when you said it ‘cos you were a rotten liar too. I mean, a rotten person who wasn’t any good at lying either. The only one who ever trusted you was Blake, which means either he was a right numpty or he didn’t but he was just trying to get you onside.”
“Then you’ve had a lucky escape, haven’t you? Go home, where there’s probably a nice meal waiting for you.”
“You cooked lots of times,” I said stubbornly. That’ll show Avon that he’s not the only one who can talk to someone and disagree with everything he says just on principle.
“And you always said that you were sick of tricked-up foreign messes, you wanted some real food for a change. Have a bottled ale and watch the Match of the Day and give Cur a pat on the head and be grateful for how it all turned out.”
“How could I ever be grateful to you for picking me up when I was down and then kicking me in the teeth when I was doing all right when then I could get hurt properly about you dumping me because I wasn’t being chased by pursuit ships and Mutoids or worried about starving in the street?”
The shop assistant said, “How can I help you today?” so we each got some of the dolly mixtures, only I got a hundred grams and Avon got a kilo and some chocolates. They weren’t half expensive. I was going to take a five-finger discount, but seeing Avon there put me off my stride, so I paid for them.
I grumped my way home and picked the lock just to keep my hand in. I sat down in my favorite armchair. Our dog came over and slobbered in sheer delight at seeing me after I’d been away for all those hours. He’s a smelly matted thing about the size of the chair (and orangey-beige too, but not plaid, so you couldn’t mix them up). Thinks he’s a lapdog. Not only was his mum a bitch like Servalan her romantic tastes must have been just about as discriminating.
There were potatoes in the stew but Deva made some extra mashed ones for me because I say you can never have enough spuds. And instead of the grubby Delta bottled ale Avon thought he sentenced me to, I had a glass of red wine. Although red is sort of a backwards color for drink, they’re meant to be green.
I was drying the dishes when it hit me. “Dee, how does Avon know what our dog’s name is?”
“I told him, of course. He grinned. No, not the one that makes you wonder if your insurance is paid up, he really thought it was funny.”
That got right up my nose. I told him he wasn’t the man that the man I was pretending to be took him for, and it was a rotten trick to go behind my back and report all the things I was finding out. He just shrugged and said that you can’t be a professional liar without thinking that lies are all in the day’s work.
Blake won the election, but it was pretty close. Closer than you’d think it would be with Avon throwing spanners in the works. Unless he thought that it wouldn’t be any fun to flummox the vote count without making it sound exciting, with Blake getting in by the skin of his teeth.
It’s all right, I got plenty more work digging up dirt on people who were running for other things.
So, to celebrate, we got a cat. Of course we thought of calling her something like “Bodge” or “Cake” but we went with “Bletchley” instead, ‘cos we’re such clever secret agents. You’d think she and Cur would fight like Blakes and Avons but they like each other just fine. Or they’re too fat and lazy to exert themselves. Dee feeds ‘em like kibble was going out of style. I wonder if he had to go without when he was a kiddie from a Gamma precinct, but somehow I don’t like to ask.
Sucks to be me.