Friday Flash: The Rain

The two of them swayed down the alleyway, doing the drunken two-step, Hartog fighting to keep the older man on his feet as they came around the corner of the alleyway and out into the scrutiny of the main street. Hartog got his good ole drunk voice out and they were transformed into two derby supporters who’d returned from leaving their mark on the wall of the apartment building.

“What about them girls, eh?” Hartog said to the door man who raised one eye brow, as the two of them staggered through the door.

“Can’t say I know Detective,” the doorman said, the disdainful smile playing over his ultra bright teeth. “It may be the National Sport now, but myself sir, I’m a hockey man through and through. Good thing my father’s passed on. He’d be appalled to see what’s happened to the state of hockey in this country.”

“State of hockey, yeah,” Hartog slurred and dragged Joe off to the elevator before the doorman could draw out their exchange any further. Hartog had seen the way the doorman did it with other tenants when he was investigating something he considered awry.

“Yah – go girls!” Hartog howled just to piss the doorman off, who shook his head and picked invisible flecks of lint from his immaculate coat. The power punch punctuated the frigid wheeze and the doors opened and the two of them toppled into the safety of the elevator.

With the door closed, Hartog carefully propped Joe up in the corner. The old man’s head bobbed of its own free will as though the tendons had turned to rubber bands. The elevator groaned to a halt at the fifth floor, his head shot up and bloodshot eyes on Dirk.

“I wish I ha’ a son like you, Dirk.”

“No you don’t. Don’t mistaken random acts for kindness for some kind of inherent goodness.”

“Random acts don’ happen twice, m’boy. No… no, no they don’”

Hartog dragged him out of the elevator and tried not to think what three random acts of kindness would actually mean. Joe was his secret and no one need know – no one other than Joe’s daughter. Hartog was mentally pencilling her in for a visit tomorrow, as he keyed in his security code.


Benjamin looked up, squinting into the sun. His gaze settled on the top of the building across the road and the spinning turbine of the water mining units topping it like an architectural disaster. Round and round the blades went, faux momentum, because the trajectory never changed. Stuck.

As a kid he thought the city looked like it was trying to escape. He expected that one day the buildings would gather enough lift from the massive propellers and fly away. The buildings would flee to Somewhere Else. A place where the rain would wash away the City’s sins. Where wounds would be salved. A chance to recover and move on. The building would take him and Portia away with them and they would start again. A new beginning.

Portia had loved the rain. She was always reminding him how cathartic it was to cry. Mother Nature cried and she never got it wrong Portia said. Even now, knowing the flood of good hormones which would follow, Benjamin could’t bring himself to cry. To cry was to admit Portia was gone and he was all alone. That the small light, which had raged in his life, had gone out. But the battle was just beginning.

Portia never got over the fact it would never rain again. When the water crisis threatened to end civilisation as they knew it, some bright spark invented a system to mine the moisture from the air and turn it water. Atmospheric aqua mining upset the balance of condensation and evaporation in nature. Precipitation became a thing of the past – a meteorological relic. Portia was just ten the last time it rained – old enough to remember and forever miss it.

The last time rain fell she pulled on pink gumboots and jumped in puddles. Portia had said she wished she’d stayed out playing longer. If only she had known it was the last time. Benjamin knew all about last time regrets.

But Portia had never seen it that way. There was never time nor the inclination for regrets in her life. She’d believe the City had the ability to redeem itself but the city sucked the life from Portia and then spat her out in a filthy alleyway among broken crates and bags of garbage.

She had been too good for a place like this.

A job like her’s.

Maybe if only he could cry something would move inside him. His heart might actually break and if it broke maybe it had a chance to heal. Or the lump in his throat all these years, might finally choke the life from him.

What life it was.

Benjamin turned his attention back to the street level, and the ebb and flow of pedestrians stepping around him. A taxi eased into the lay-in and Hartog stood half in and half out of the taxi haggling over the fixed fare until he finally allowed the flustered drive to scan the back of his hand for payment.

Hartog stepped away from the taxi and glanced at the digital tickertape NewsFeed above the door of the bar and then to Benjamin.

“Slow news day?”

Redemption in an Alleyway (Part 5)

Blood Derby Redux (Part 4)

Blood Derby (Part 3),

Miss Amanda (Part 2)

In the Whorehouse (Part 1).

Friday Flash: Redemption in an Alleyway

The Hartog series of stories are set in a near futuristic world as a cross genre exploration of speculative fiction and detetive noir.  A list of episodes to date can be found at the bottom.

The taxi door shut followed by cheers and booing, drifting down into the canyon of the road from the apartment buildings.

Hartog was glad to be out of the taxi. The digital air freshener dispensing an invigorating spray of pine every three blocks combined with the plastic slip covers on the seats and foot wells left him feeling as though he were transiting in an artificially, fragranced body bag.

The taxi eased down the lay-in, waiting to re-enter the flow. A space appeared, the tracks moved to connect and the taxi merged into the slow lane joining others taxis moving across magnetic repulsion rails which crisscrossed the city.

Taxi was a hangover terms related to the concept of individual public transit. While the body shape was similar to the now defunct car, the taxi Hartog had just stepped from would never shoot down a side street looking for a short cut. All taxis were fixed into a locked transport grid. Here on an arterial there were three lanes of taxis, each lane moving faster and stopping less.

Big fares were not made in the slow lane and Hartog wondered how any driver piloting there could make a living.

Home was three block away and now Hartog wished he’d continued on rather than getting out to walk and clear his head. The night air was heavy and moist after the airconditioned overkill of the taxi. Sweat ran down the back of Hartog’s neck, pooling and soaking the collar of his shirt. Even the Stadium with its 70,000 bodies crammed sardine-style was cooler.

Hartog walked beneath the halos of the solar-powered streetlights, berating himself with the same line of thought.

Over- confident. The hard work of the set up undone.

But Benjamin recognised the InfoCap.

It didn’t matter – he’d lost the upper hand. Tomorrow Benjamin, on his home turf, would be calling the shots.

Victorious roars descended through the night air, and up and down the street like an audible Mexican wave.

Hartog looked at his watch –five minutes left of the derby – or maybe longer if they went into overtime. Did derby have overtime? He didn’t really care now. He’d only learnt what he thought was necessary and now he just wanted to sleep.

Sleep deprivation put you in the path of stupid mistakes and he wasn’t going to be the roadkill of bad decisions again. Sleep then he would be able to deal with Benjamin tomorrow.

Hartog crossed two streets and was almost home. He paused at the alleyway between his building and the next. It was habit now, so on the nights when he returned home unburdened he was reminded the city was still a dark and murderous beast, even where the ‘nice white people’ lived.

For the past few months the alleyway had been empty, since they hauled the hopper at the end away.  But tonight, like that night back in April, there was a body hunched halfway along blending with the shadows. Hartog went into the alleyway slowly, trying to be quiet.

“Joe?” he called. The shadow against the wall moved slightly. “Joe?”

When he got to the end of the alleyway he recognised the coat. Hartog pressed his head against the cool concrete blocks wondering what to say.

“What are you doing here?” he said finally.

“Sleepin’ – carn a man ge’ some quiet.”

“You know you can’t sleep here.”

“I slep’ here for months ‘fore you stuck your nose in my business.”

Joe’s words were slurred and the smell of cheap scotch rose pungently from him.

“C’mon, get up Joe.”

Hartog bent to grab the man who shrugged him off.

“Thought you going to give up the grog, getting a job. What happened to hostel room I organised for you.”

“Jus’ piss off.”

Hartog bent down and dragged the man to his feet.

“Jus’ leave me. I wanna die.”

“Not in my neighbourhood you don’t.”

Vagrants were tolerated in other districts of the city, but no one in the First slept rough. If you did, you weren’t on the streets long. Hartog knew Street Patrols who took delight in beating the homeless to death. It had been the hopper at the end of the alley which had saved Joe originally.

The two men wobbled in a drunken pas-de-deux until Hartog got a strong arm around the man. They took a few faltering steps together and the old man began to cry. His sparrow shoulders shaking violently as the sobs tore through him. Hartog propped him up against the wall.

“Pull yourself together. You can sleep on my couch tonight, but the doorman won’t let you in like this.

“I don’ care.”

“Yes you do.”

“No… I wen’ to see my daughter today.” The words came out in between each sob, sounding as though they were strangling him on the way out.

“That’s good Joe. This was what you were working towards. Putting your life back together. Everyone has bad times, and then you pick yourself up.”

“No,” he shook his head and the paper-thin hair falling into his eyes. “No’ wiff my daughter.” He started to cry again and the words blurred into one another. “She tol’ me ta bugger off. Tol’ me if anyone eva foun’ out her father wa’ homeless she’d neva have a chance fo’ pro-pro-motion. She’d be bl-bl-black li-li-listed.”

The man dissolved into long weazing sobs and Hartog waited while the emotional tempest raged.

“So your daughter hates you,” Hartog pulled Joe from the wall and gave him a shake. “Never let the poison of a someone who is meant to love you get under your skin.”

Joe tried to push Hartog away and fell to the ground. “Jus’ leave me Mis-tar Har-tog,” the words were once again broken apart by sobs. “Led’em fin’ me here. It can’ be any worse than this. I’d be beta of’ dead.”

Hartog hefted him to his feet again.”

“Not on my watch you don’t. C’mon. It’ll look better in the morning. It always does.”

Other installments in the Hartog Series:

Blood Derby Redux (Part 4)

Blood Derby (Part 3), 

Miss Amanda (Part 2)

In the Whorehouse (Part 1).

Friday Flash: Blood Derby II

The Hartog series of stories are set in a near futuristic world as a cross genre exploration of speculative fiction and detetive noir. Blood Derby Redux follows on from Blood Derby (Part 3),  Miss Amanda (Part 2) and In the Whorehouse (Part 1).

Hartog turned to Benjamin who was quietly fuming at being man-handled by Mustard Fingers next to him. A small snort came out of Hartog’s nose, as he enjoyed his guest’s discomfort and his face twisted into a dysfunctional smile, one corner behaving as nature intended it and the other slack, as though the side of his face were affected by Bells Palsy.

Hartog could have chosen to have the nerve damage repaired quickly and easily, but he’d chosen not to. A quick fix society didn’t tolerate sickness or disfigurement. Only perfection would be tolerated. It meant guys like him could literally wash away the scars – on the outside. But Hartog liked to be reminded. And it made others, like Benjamin, uncomfortable.

Anything and everything could be repaired. The blood derby girls would be patched up like new after tonight’s bout, ready to skate next week. The trick was to keep the heart pumping. Sometimes the ref’s whistle ending the bout came too late and all the blood had drained away, the heart stuttering to a heroic end. Or the girls were caught out in the Danger Zone.

“Never been to the blood derby?”

Benjamin shook his head with a violent movement more emphatic than any words he could have mustered. His pale face stood out amid the red faced sea of fanatics surrounding him.

“I’m a hockey fan. This is barbaric.”

“Only if you go down in the first minute and your team mates can’t or don’t want to defend you before you make it to the Blood Zone.”

Hartog kept smiling and Benjamin looked away, unsettled by the asymmetrical smile.

“You know they can fix that,” Benjamin’s said, his eyes glancing down to the massive electronic bill boards encasing the inner fence of the rink, advertising the two major sponsors – leading biomechanical firms.

“I was going to say the same about our razorblade belles there.” Hartog’s face ached from the effort of smiling. “Just as long as you keep the heart pumping. I hear the fans show their loyalty in the number of pints of blood they donate each week.”

The injured Penetrator inched her way across the rink on her belly, one hand pressed hard against the gash in her thigh, blood leaking from between her fingers and the other fist clenched, as she used her forearm to brace and drag herself towards the inner sanctum of the rink. The Blood Zone – where she would be able to bleed free of the fear of further injury. If she could make it before the pack returned.

Hartog imagined Portia had employed the same manoeuvre, broken and cut up by her attacker, trying to escape. The finger tips on her right hand had been torn – down to the bone on one digit. Soft pink fingers scrambling to make purchase on the coarse grey concrete. Dragging herself away as she bled to a terrified death. Whoever had murdered her had meant it to be a painful and undignified end.

Benjamin shifted in his seat.

Hartog was certain Benjamin had the technology and the expertise to find out the exact manner of his sister’s death. Only select details had been gifted to the feedos… crumbs to the pigeons. Benjamin’s stared down at the rink and the wounded woman’s desperate attempt to remove herself from harm’s way.

“She’s haemorraghing.” There was an unmasked urgency in Benjamin’s voice that heartened Hartog – he could not have scripted the bout any better. And so early on in the bout too. With any luck they’d both be out of there before quarter time.

The Penetrator’s movements were slowing as the pack sped towards her, the blood slick behind her growing wider.

“Why don’t her team mates do something? Shit.”

Team mates, regardless of personality clashes and disparity in corporate sponsorships, kept each other safe in the finals series. The blood letting always happened in the opening rounds when scores were settled and sponsorships were still in flux.

Two Penetrators cut from the pack to run defensive sorties across their injured team mate’s path. There would be no sudden blood in the semi final.

“They just exposed themselves to an unwarranted attack to protect her,” Hartog said, feeling the fifteen minutes of study on the way there in the taxi a fruitful use of time. Benjamin’s eyes were fixed on the bleeding woman crossing into the blood zone. “You just don’t understand the intricacies BenJin.”

Hartog noted with satisfaction his guest flinched at the use of his name.

“It’s Benjamin. I’m not here in a professional capacity.”

“I thought this was the sort of thing you feral feedos got off on.”

Hartog put his hand into the inner sanctum of his trademark overcoat and wrapped his fingers around the InfoCap.

“That’s where you braindead coppers don’t understand the different between hype, sensationalism, voyeurism and integrity. Look at any of my news feeds and you’ll know I’m not interested in this -” waving his hands about at the rink “propaganda of the irrelevant. It’s just another fucking Coliseum.”

Without shifting his eyes from Benjamin’s Hartog lay his hand in the feedo’s crotch, so only the two of them would see, and allowed his fingers to open like a defiled lotus blossom.

“What the … Shit!” Benjamin’s voice softened. “I told her not to.”

Hartog’s fingers closed around the InfoCap.

“Will you agree to talk to me now.”

BenJin nodded getting himself to his feet.

“Meet me tomorrow at 11am at The Eucharist in the 3rd. Don’t be late. I won’t wait for you Hartog,” and Benjamin was off forcing his way through the baying crowd.

Image:  Blood Splatter by Mr Goh via Photobucket.