Thursday, 20 December 2012

SILHOUETTES - Fifteenth instalment

SILHOUETTES - Fifteenth instalment - Chapter thirty and thirty-one. For more information on this novel, click Here. Next instalment coming soon.

THIRTY

The alarm was disconcerting when it woke him because it was a new sound to his ears. Ben couldn't remember the last time he had actually used an alarm to wake him in the morning. He was feeling alright though, not hung-over, at least not yet, and he had a positive feeling about going out to start a new job.

He sauntered through to the living room, saw the row of keys and detected Debbie was home. He had fallen asleep before she returned so she still hadn't received his good news, and he wondered if it would be wise to pop in to her room or not.

Coffee first. He was on his second cup and was just preparing to leave when her room door opened. She came out looking dishevelled and lovely, and bruised.

'Debbie,' he cried, 'what happened?'

She rubbed at the bruising on her arm, must've happened when she fell, she thought. Then she felt the tangled knot of hair at the back of her head where dried blood had matted it together.

'I was kind of attacked,' she said, staring over, surprise on her face registering at him being apparently up and dressed and ready to go out the door at the crack of dawn almost.

'Who? where?' cried Ben. He came over and held her, and hugged her, and then he felt her shaking and her tears, and he felt miserable.

'I'm sorry,' he said quietly.

'Sorry, what for, it's not your fault.'

'For being an asshole, for not treating you nice, for drinking too much, for...'

'Look, we can talk about that later,' she interrupted. 'Jo and I witnessed a mugging and the mugger threw me to the ground making his escape, so I'm a bit bruised, but ok.'

'Did you tell the police?'

She nodded. 'One of the reasons we were late back last night.'

'Did they catch him?'

'Not sure, but his photo was on the news last night, so hopefully he'll be caught soon if not. Check the webcast of the news on the internet and you'll see.'

'Well, can't, not just now,' beamed Ben, he had been worried that the next time he spoke to Debbie would be their splitting of the ways, but confidence was growing that it may not be the case.

'I've got a job,' he said, looking at the clock, 'start in around forty minutes.'

'A job?'

'Nothing spectacular, security, in an office, but still, a start.'

She looked pleased. 'Yes, a start,' she said.

'Got to go though, can't be late on my first day. Have you made an appointment?' he asked.

'With the doctor?' she realised he meant. 'No, no need, just cuts and scratches, I'm fine.'

'Ok then, see you tonight,' he kissed her on the mouth, she felt moist and tasted of stale alcohol, probably much like himself, he thought.

'Ok,' she replied as he grabbed his bag and walked out the door.

THIRTY-ONE

After what had seemed like hours, a marathon of swimming and resting, swimming and resting, at times wondering if he was closing the gap to the shore, or if in fact he was taking nautical strides equivalent of two steps forward, three steps back, he finally began to make headway. The wind had changed in his favour now, the drag on his feet under the surface seemed more of a pushing through water rather than a wading through treacle. At last he began to make progress he could see as well as feel. Eventually he could pick an exact point on the shore to aim for, the shore was deserted, no sign of movement, or civilisation in either direction. Finally he could touch the bottom with his feet and begin to walk rather than swim to shore. He made for a small sandy scrap made secluded by some aged trees of which he thought were sycamores, but whatever they were, they were shelter, and a source of fuel for a fire to get back to warmth and normality. He only wore his vest and underpants, and one of a pair of sneakers, the other had been lost at some point on the swim to shore. He also, he nearly cried with out with joy, when he opened his clenched hand, had a Swiss army knife. He thanked God for the benevolence of the US aircrew.

Although he had been trained on survival techniques, it still took an interminably long time to get a fire going; so easy watching experts rub a few sticks or spark a piece of stone to have a raging inferno of heat going in minutes, but in reality, it must have taken him over an hour to get a whisper of a flame going, and another hour on top enticing it to something worthy of the name fire.

He made a rudimentary frame from some of the firewood he had collected from under the nearby trees and stripped off and draped his clothing, such as it was, to dry off. He sat naked as close to the flames as he could, occasionally boosting the fire with another few broken up twigs and sticks.

It was almost noon by this time, he thought. There was warmth in the air now and the chill of the water had faded as he dried himself by the fire. First thing he had to do was secure some decent clothing and find out exactly where he was. From there he could decide on the best way to his destination, and the easiest way to get the $10,000 he was required to return with.

He had no idea exactly where he was. The helicopter trip was mainly due west going by the position of the rising sun during the flight, the time of the flight was perhaps two hours, so estimating a speed of around two-hundred miles-per-hour, he could be as far west as Danville on the state border, or if he had crossed from Virginia to North Carolina, could be near Durham, or even Greensboro.

There was nothing for it though but to get dressed in what little he had and choose a direction, and walk. As his ultimate destination was Cincinnati, which was north, this was the direction he took.

1372 Ridge Street was the address given to him with the rest of his instructions on the helicopter. No doubt it was some agency safe house, but nevertheless, he had three days to get there.

After tramping through thick wood for a mile or so, he came across a track running left to right, not a road, just a dirt track, but tracks led to destinations, he decided to follow it to the left. After a few minutes of tearing the sole of his foot without the sneaker, he ripped one of the sleeves from his t-shirt and tied as best he could about the foot. Around a mile along, with his foot aching, and blood smattering the makeshift sock, the track came to a road, a small road, but one lined with tar macadam and edged with telegraph poles which meant some kind of civilisation, probably a farmhouse or hunting cabin, would not be too far away. Taking the right, he found himself heading north-east, the wood had thinned out and tended fields began to appear, and within an hour, he spied a farmhouse on the cusp of a slope.

He found some bushes at the edge of a field about a quarter of a mile from the farmhouse, it was a modest two storey building with a barn to the right, a small-holding, or perhaps a satellite lodge of the main farmhouse wherever that was situated. No dogs were apparent, and no one seemed to be around though there was the front end of a truck sticking out of the barn. He skirted around to the east, keeping a good distance away, stopping every now and then to watch and listen. When he had circumvented 180° and still hadn't seen a soul, or heard any animals that may give warning of his approach, he began to close in, bit by bit, using the long grass at the back of the house for cover. Time was crucial, and he could not afford to wait till nightfall and make an entrance, neither could he, in his present state of dress, overtly walk up and knock on the door and hope for any kind of a welcome.

There was a rickety plank fence skirting the back yard, he was just climbing over on his final approach when a door at the side of the building opened and a stout middle aged woman walked out carrying a basket full of laundry. He ducked back down and watched through the slats on the fence as she began to industriously hang the washing to dry, noting some of the clothes were men's, and may even fit himself. She busied herself till the basket was empty and went back indoors. He had heard no voices, saw no one else, but it was too incautious to presume yet that she was definitely on her own. Perhaps the man who belonged to the clothes was inside, though hopefully he was either out in the fields somewhere, or if employed elsewhere, was detained there.

A deep breath and he vaulted over the fence and sprinted for the back of the house, he reached the wall, heard no sign of being discovered, so edged to the window looking over the back yard. He chanced a peek inside, the woman had her back to him, tending over a pot on the stove, he got a scent of beef stew and remembered he had eaten nothing today. A door to her right led out to the back yard, another door to her left led to the interior of the house. There was a magnetic rail along from the stove with an array of large kitchen knives, nothing else of much interest. He decided he had to make a move, he crept round to the door to the back, gently eased the handle and the door released, he swung it inward, a gust of a draught from the outside disturbed a wind chime hanging from the ceiling just inside the door, the sound was like a riot of breaking glass, before he could do anything the woman was at the door from the kitchen, no choice now he flung the back door wide and ran in to grab her. In alarm, she began to turn but he had her, a hand around her neck he pulled her back, tightened his grip.

'Quiet,' he whispered in her ear. 'I won't hurt you if you're quiet.'

He could feel her fear, sense her indecision, he tightened his grip around her neck a bit more.

'Be sensible,' he urged, 'I don't want to hurt you.'

She tried to nod her head, he relaxed his grip a bit, he pushed her forward back into the kitchen, keeping her in the neck lock. When he got near to the rack of kitchen knives, he threw her forward and grabbed a medium sized chopping knife from the rack.

 'Sit,' he ordered, and waved the new weapon in front of her.

She complied, she was terrified, and he felt uncomfortable about doing this, but it was necessary.

'I promise, I won't hurt you,' he stated again. She said nothing, just looked at him with big fearful eyes.

She was willing to be cooperative though, and within a few minutes, he knew she was alone, her husband was a charge hand on an adjacent farm and wouldn't be back till late afternoon, she had two teenage children, both at school, not due to return till mid afternoon, the pick-up in the barn her man's, and fully operational, her husband was collected each morning though, and driven home in the evening by one of the farmhands, so it was unused for his work. There was no money in the house but $30, they didn't use much cash, most things were ordered on account and paid by the bank. He wasn't sure he believed her about this, probably a few thousand under the mattress, he thought, but money wasn't the issue, clothes, food, and transport were what was crucial at the moment.

Although she was being compliant, he never the less tied her arms behind her back before having her guide him through the house. In the matrimonial bedroom he ransacked her husband's wardrobe for some clothes and shoes, the shoes on the large side, but his feet were so sore and bruised, that he cushioned them with an extra pair of socks.

Back in the kitchen he found two plastic carriers, stuffed the clothes he had changed out of in one, filled the other with some bread and cheese, and some apples. He took the thirty dollars she had put on the table along with the pick-up keys. Sitting her down again, he retied her arms around the side of the kitchen chair, and tied her feet around the legs, this with twine he had found in a drawer. Just to be safe, he then tied the chair legs round the legs of the heavy kitchen table. Happy she would be unable to release herself, he left her alone. Outside he found the phone line into the house and cut it with the kitchen knife, then went to the barn and the pick-up truck. He had asked her for directions to South Carolina, but when he struck the highway, he headed north, keeping just below the speed limit. He reckoned he would have an hour, two at the most, to get some distance, before he would have to find a change of vehicle. Along the way he passed a road sign that informed Interstate 81 was 15 miles away. He leafed through a local map that was in the glove box of the truck, apparently the lake he had been dumped in was South Holston lake, he was driving along the Green Spring Road. He would hit the Interstate at Abingdon, and this is where he would change vehicles.

Next instalment coming soon...

Copyright © Stevie Mach 2012 All rights reserved

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

SILHOUETTES - Fourteenth instalment

SILHOUETTES - Fourteenth instalment - Chapter twenty-eight and twenty-nine. For more information on this novel, click Here. Next instalment coming soon.

TWENTY-EIGHT

The police station they walked into was the closest, and was also the Headquarters of Strathclyde Police in Pitt Street, so the building was large, extensive, ostentatious even, once they had been guided past reception after stating their reason for the visit. Expensively framed paintings of past and present senior members of the constabulary donned the corridor walls. A chirpy whistling desk sergeant led them along to a bank of elevators, tapped a foot in time to his whistling while they waited, and when the elevator arrived, bode them to enter, pressed the number four and they ascended.

Debbie felt pissed. She knew Jo was also well inebriated. But she had insisted, alone or not, after seeing the mugger on the local news, she was going to the police station to make a statement.

On leaving the elevator, a tall man in a gray suit was waiting for them. He introduced himself as Detective Sergeant Adrian Hartless, CID, and beckoned them to follow. The desk sergeant disappeared back inside the elevator.

They were led into a room barren of all but a table and four chairs, there was a camera blinking in a top corner of the room, and a panel of controls that looked to be a recording machine built into the wall adjacent to the table. The room was windowless, and Debbie began to think she was more of a suspect than a witness.

'I know,' said DS Hartless, 'it looks so formal and official, sorry.'

Debbie discreetly pinched herself in the side, hard. She suddenly felt the need to laugh aloud. It was ridiculous, an old man could be dying and she was having hysterics. Jo seemed to be already eyeing up the CID man as a replacement for Dave. She had been a bit miffed when Dave only walked them to the entrance of the police station, and left them there.

The CID man asked them to sit and he sat himself down across from them.

A female in plain clothes entered, carrying a large file, she sat down next to DS Hartless, she was the one in charge, thought Debbie.

'Ok, Deborah, Josephine,' she said with an air of authority, 'I'm Detective Inspector Oswalk,' she paused, 'Jenny Oswalk.'

Debbie pinched herself in the side again to stop herself from laughing, she had a vision of the phrase, 'Bond, James Bond,' in her head.

They were both asked in turn to relate the events leading up to, during, and after, the incident with the 'gentleman' in the photograph they had been shown. No details of his name or if he was in custody or not was offered to them. The entire process took little more than thirty minutes, including a break of a minute or two when the coffees they had been offered had been brought to the room.

When the statements were given, DS Hartless left the room and returned with two sheets of paper moments later, they were transcripts of their statements, either copy typed or printed from some word to text software. They each read their respective statements, and signed the dotted line.

The formalities complete, DS Hartless opened the door and beckoned them to follow. He led them back to the elevator where the whistling sergeant was waiting, tapping his foot in time to the tune. They were out of the station a minute later, wondering what would happen next, or if anything would.

Detective Inspector Oswalk turned to DS Hartless and said, 'Ok, we've got him. Now all we have to do is get him.'

It was after eleven when they left the Police Station, and Debbie turned to Jo.

'Y'know,' she said, 'I know we've been drinking all day, it seems, but I could use another drink.'

'We've a bit of a walk, Debbie,' said Jo, 'unless we get a taxi. Let's just go home?'

TWENTY-NINE

Stood in a doorway across the road, Dave watched them leave the Police Station. After escorting them to the entrance he had walked back to a late night fast food bar on the corner, and ate a burger with some hot dark fluid purporting to be coffee. The place was quiet, almost closing time, and he found a table by the window and watched up the street. He had been getting the come on from Jo all evening, and she was very much attractive and adorable, but he had sense enough not to just plunge in. Rules had to be followed, checks had to be made, caution had to be observed.

No one watching he rubbed a finger along his temple and touched his chip, the bar faded and a data screen appeared in front of him. He flicked back thoughts till images were captured of both Debbie and Jo, these he slid with a thought along a side marker menu that requested more info. All during his conversation with the girls, his mind was taking in and remembering everything said and done, and everything in his vision was recorded in the brain. Portions of this memory was then channelled in data form and duplicated in the chip for the purposes of transmission to the mainframe where detailed information on a picture, or a name, or both, could be collated, expanded, updated. The details held in the mainframe of both Debbie and Jo were scrolling down a screen in front of him right now.  This particular mainframe was situated at a secret location somewhere on the planet, and it was linked to and fed from a dozen or so other mainframe computers elsewhere, for whatever purpose, Dave was not privy to, but he knew these computers were huge. The largest computer known to the public at this time was the K Computer in Japan, and was the first supercomputer to achieve a performance level of 10 Petaflops, or 10 quadrillion calculations per second. In secret bunkers though, in other parts of the world, are computers that make this monstrosity of computational power a mere minnow. Combined together, these super computers held every little scrap of information a citizen in most countries of the world had ever entered into a machine, whether it was a form for a bank card, a passport, an email address, a jar of coffee bought by credit or debit card, everything was collated, time stamped, listed in an orderly easily accessible form. Very little escaped these machines, most everything people do today is recorded by one type of computer or another, these are increasingly connected in real-time to others, leading back to the big beasts. Most public places anyone may venture is covered by CCTV, most of which are also linked to computers, every phone call made, every email sent, every text message received, are all available for scrutiny. Computers can analyse voice and pick out specific key words or phrases, text in email or phone is easier still, from birth till death, there are reams of information on just about every citizen in the world, and with the right security access this is easily searchable, and due to the immense computational power, the required details requested are available almost instantly.

Information was one thing, tracking of movement was another, most every vehicle now had GPS, so not only could find its own position on the planet, this was also a means of tracking, every mobile phone bounced the nearest network masts for the strongest signal, this positioned the owner of the phone with triangulation to within a few metres. More and more CCTV systems were being upgraded with facial recognition software, if a picture of someone was used for a search and their image walked across the vision of one of these cameras, this was noted in real time, and from then on they could be tracked on their way. Increasingly, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags were used, most everything bought now contained these tags, they are almost microscopic, can be placed on packaging, under labels, or in clothing, they relay a simple numerical code to a nearby receiver, but if the code is known, that is a means of tracking someone with an RFID hidden in their person. Technology for these is increasing rapidly also, within a matter of a short time, range will increase, information relayed will become more detailed, and all the while, the data picked up from a local receiver, will in turn be relayed on to ever bigger and more powerful databases. Almost every man, woman, and child, on the planet, is now a number on a database. That number is a date stamp of a life, and as time goes on, that date stamp becomes larger, and more detailed, and more intrusive.

Avoiding technology was a method some used to deter what they saw as an encroachment in their freedom of speech, movement, and their civil liberties. This in itself did little but attract more scrutiny, for the authorities believed, rightly or wrongly, that anyone that took active measures to avoid their net, was probably up to no good, therefore more subtle and covert methods were used to collate information. No one was completely off the radar. Employee records, tax receipts, discreet enquires to neighbours and friends, other members of the family even, memberships of political parties, libraries, clubs, gyms, supermarket loyalty cards, the information was all out there in one form or another. Stepping out of the net, whether consciously or not, whether deliberately or not, was not an option anymore. No one could be truly anonymous anymore, not for long.

Despite all the observation and collation of information from the authorities, laws were still broken, crimes were still committed, and terrorist activities were still undertaken. Measure and counter-measure, the surveillance society was not yet perfect. This though, knew Dave, was only a matter of time. He also knew that the purpose of all this gathering of information was not first and foremost to stifle crime, or detect conspiracies, or thwart subversion, which was the usual reasons put forward to fool the public into accepting ever more intrusive measures, it was simply for information. Information is power, knowledge is power.

The information he was receiving about Jo was a bit disheartening. He already knew she was a staunch believer in Scottish independence, ran a few web blogs promoting this, nothing too radical or out of the mainstream, but she was tagged as an active Cybernat by the UK government, and had recent convictions for breaches of the peace, one at a rally against the imposition of student fees, which were later withdrawn in Scotland, and one at a more recent march against Fascism gig. She also had an 'incident of theft' mark against her, though she was only fourteen years old at the time and it was never actually taken to court or children's panel, though a 'one to watch' asterisk had been placed on her file because of it. This occurred when she and a friend had apparently tried to do a runner from a local cafe without paying. Charges were dropped though, and it was put down to childish misadventure, when her father intervened and offered some financial compensation to the cafe owner.

On the whole though, she seemed to be an A-grade student, a bit fiery, perhaps, main interests were Scottish independence, the environment, and saving of such, she occasionally helped out at a charity run dog and cat home. Regularly partook in alcohol, and also partial to parties where illicit drugs were normally present and in use. Her parents were unnoteworthy, therefore probably good citizens. A fifteen year old male sibling was a potential football star of the future, though also had a 'one to watch' asterisk on his file due to a defective gene discovered during a routine health check on school pupils, the gene apparently could be an indicator of future sexual deviance, though it was remarked this was based on early research and not conclusive.

She had been brought up by both parents in the affluent suburb of Bearsden in Glasgow, her father a merchant banker with one of the larger banks, her mother a known face in the upper middle class charity baking brigade, regularly holding fetes and tea parties to raise funds for whatever need was in vogue at the moment.

She seemed to have had a happy childhood, did well at school, no teenage rebellion, apart from the cafe episode, and it wasn't until she entered university life that she began to find a political voice, and express her views to any audience that would listen.

The Cybernat nomenclature was disturbing though. Cybernats were reputedly militant prone activists with tendencies to attack online the fabric of the UK government, using disruptive and antagonistic methods over the internet to promote their cause. These attacks could be personal and virulent, on both politicians and people opposed to their views. This was his whole reason for being here, to investigate the rise of the Cybernat and discover their real agenda, if they had such, or discount them as mere political ticks on the back of the mainstream UK government.

In the six months he had been in Scotland, he had discovered they were not an organised group under control of a covert and militant branch of the Scottish National Party, but were instead an uninteresting group of advocates for the independence of Scotland from the rest of the UK. Due to their lack of support and voice in the main print press and television mass media, they tended to express their views through the one outlet that was available to all, and could be used as a channel to raise their profile, and get their points across to a population seemingly content to absorb nothing but the usual Westminster UK government take on events. Events that almost always had a twist that promoted the unionist agenda while denigrating the nationalist viewpoint. The Cybernats, he had decided, were not a threat in any way to anyone at all. They were simply a label, or invention, created by some of the Westminster power brokers to denigrate a group that had views not in harmony with their own.

The people who called themselves Cybernats, were only adopting a term that was invented to disparage a community, and had now circumvented the intended derogatory meaning of the expression, and used it as a badge of ownership, to proudly put forward their views.

Most of his intelligence reports sent back home had been of the 'nothing relevant to report' variety. Occasionally he had been sent a profile of someone to investigate more fully, and even these investigations had uncovered no plots of subversion or even whispers of malcontent that would warrant further attention or deeper investigation. There was, in reality, nothing much going on in Scotland to worry the interests of the United States. The political debates, and sometimes heated discourses, about the independence referendum, which would be coming soon, may lead to shouting matches at times, but there was no indication on any level, of any kind of militancy that may escalate differences to more than heated debate. He had to view it from the angle of the Agency though. His take was what would happen to relations with the United States if Scotland voted for independence? As far as Dave could see, apart from the nuclear weapons uncertainty, nothing much would change. At least nothing much would change regarding Scotland and the United States. The relationship between England, or the rest of the UK, and the United States would change though. It was never a partnership of equals, the US said jump, and the UK jumped. Without Scotland though, the UK could not jump so high, therefore the UK could no longer expect to maintain and indulge in its chest-puffing world diplomacy to the same extent, or be afforded the same respect and prestige in the world as before. The UK always had been punching above its weight, or it had been, ever since it lost the empire. It was unfortunate for the government in Westminster that they still hadn't come to terms with the fact that the empire was long gone. Losing Scotland in a few years time may be the jolt of reality it needed.

Jo was a Cybernat, but she wasn't a criminal, or a terrorist, or even a political subversive, she was just stating her political views on a means of communication that was open to her, whereas most other ways of stating her opinions were closed to her, for the opinions she had were not given free expression in the UK mass media. The fact that her political views were not extreme, or biased against any particular section of the community, and yet were so derided in the mainstream press, worried Dave a little, but it did not surprise him. What was at stake here was not a socially fairer and just small country finding its way in the world of new statehood, it was an established all-powerful UK government losing power and face in a wider world that it felt it still had, and merited, a controlling interest in. Scotland, leaving the mix of the UK, diminished the UK government to such an extent, that raising its voice to opinionate on world affairs, on a par with the real power-brokers in the world of the twenty-first century, would render it open to ridicule. That though was something the UK government would have to deal with, and that was outside his remit, or what his remit had been, till he had been allowed to stand down.

He watched the girls as they sauntered down the street. He watched them till they faded into the distance, they were walking home, and at a distant junction, they turned and they were no longer in view.

Next instalment coming soon... 

Copyright © Stevie Mach 2012 All rights reserved 

Friday, 7 December 2012

BLAME THE POOR!

BLAME THE POOR! - Time to go our own way

So, the latest is that Osborne's policies aren't working, admitted by the chancellor himself in his autumn statement, but instead of looking at the situation again and seeing if any alternatives are possible, like a policy for creating jobs across the country, giving people wages to spend to boost the economy, he's decided that the UK can stand another four years of austerity, more cuts for the unemployed, more cuts for the working poor, and more cuts for the disabled and elderly. Meanwhile, millionaires will still be over a hundred grand better off annually, and big multi-nationals will still pay little, if any, corporation tax that could help the country out in these dire times. 
 
Thatcher's policies were bad for Scotland, Wales, and the northern regions of England - she only wanted to see us back to Victorian times, Cameron and the modern Tory party, complete with glove puppets the Lib-Dems, would prefer to see the working poor set back as far as Dickensians times in the earlier reign of Victoria in the UK. 
 
In modern Britain, it seems the only sector that is seeing an expansion, is the rise of the Food Bank, the modern day equivalent of the soup-kitchen. Staggeringly, one new Food Bank opens every week in the UK to assist the growing tide of families unable to feed their children. 
 
The Trussell Trust, one of the major food bank charities, expects to have to feed over 200,000 people in 2012-13 as both food and fuel bills rise this winter. 
 
Every day people in the UK go hungry for reasons ranging from redundancy to receiving an unexpected bill on a low income. Today, in the shameful remnant empire that is modern Britain, 13 million people live below the poverty line in the UK
 
While this decimation of society is going on, where are the opposition parties in the Westminster parliament that can put a halt to at least some of the worst excesses of the Tory agenda. They are either complicit, or incompetent, or, it appears, just plain indifferent. Why bother having a brain-storming session to get together some viable alternatives to financially raping the poor, when you can spout a few condescending platitudes when a camera and mic is near, then go and fill out your latest expenses form, fingers-crossed, you get away with it. 
 
Thatcher's modus operandi was to blame single parents for all the ills of society when she was in power, Cameron's mantra is of the curtain twitching benefit cheats living in plasma tv luxury while their neighbours struggle out the door each morning to work. He is basically slandering all of those people he made redundant through slashing the budgets of the departments they used to work for, or the businesses that had to cease trading because of the greed and mismanagement of the banks. They are unemployed through no fault of their own, and this Government, instead of helping to mould an economy ripe for the creation of employment, prefers to kick them while they are down, and with a sleight of hand, and a good sound-bite slogan, park the blame for the diabolical state of the country their way, instead of owning up to the incompetence they reign over. From their dire NHS reforms, to their train operator franchising debacle, to their infighting over the EU, and their welfare to work failure, which did more to line the pockets of tory party donors than get people back to work, this coalition government shows as much direction as a needle-less compass. 
 
The rest of the UK, the north regions of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, can do little but keep their fingers crossed and hope things will get better. In Scotland, we have a choice to escape Westminster control in 2014. What happens if next year, in his 2013 autumn statement, Osborne decides that till 2018 isn't long enough either, that austerity has to go on another four or five years beyond. Can the UK population withstand this kind of pommeling into the 2020's? 
 
In Scotland we have a choice in 2014, it would seem madness to continue along this road. In Scotland we have twice as many pandas as we do Tory MPs, the Tories have no mandate in Scotland, the mandate that dictates the right of the Tories to power came from the south-east of England. 
 
Already, some Tories are mumbling about how much easier it will be to slash any money heading north to Scotland, post the referendum, if the people of Scotland decide to vote no! This is money that Scotland has raised, is taken by the UK treasury, and some of it is reluctantly given back as pocket-money.
In a recent speech, Tory MP Priti Patel said: “Scots are basically getting a better deal than the rest of the country... These are considerable sums of money which should be reduced as part of the deficit reduction plans.” 
 
In her speech Ms Patel then went on to suggest that devolution should be used as a vehicle for the Tories to inflict brutal spending cuts. 
 
SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn, stated the truth: "Scotland more than pays its way in the UK – generating 9.6% of the UK tax revenue in return for just 9.3% of expenditure - but who can doubt that the Tories would cut Scotland's budget even further if the referendum result was No. 
 
These people are making all of the key decisions about how much money can be spent in Scotland – yet they have been overwhelmingly rejected by the Scottish electorate time and time again." 
 
Don't expect any respite should a Labour party be returned in the next UK election, Johann Lamont, leader of the Scottish Labour party has already stated she will be removing any positive beneficial measures put in place by the Scottish government. She attacked the council tax freeze, bus passes for the elderly, free personal care for the old and infirm, dropping charges for medicine and university education – all the Scottish Parliament’s most popular policies. So should a Labour party gain control of Westminster after the next UK general election, expect more misery, poverty, and an even deeper disintegration of society to be piled on top of all the Tory claw-backs from the poor, the working poor, the disabled, and the unemployed.
At least in Scotland, come the independence referendum in 2014, we will have a choice, and as Fleetwood Mac so eloquently sing, we should 'Go Our Own Way'.

Why Vote Yes


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Monday, 3 December 2012

SILHOUETTES - Thirteenth instalment

SILHOUETTES - Thirteenth instalment - Chapter twenty-seven (b). For more information on this novel, click Here. Next instalment coming soon.

TWENTY-SEVEN (b)

Simon slept soundly the rest of that night, when he woke in the morning his uncle had gone from where he had left him moaning just inside the door of the room. He was gone from the house. Later he learnt that his uncle had crawled to the living room, phoned a friend from the pub who had come at two in the morning and taken him to hospital. They patched him up and informed the police about his mugging. Shamus insisted it was a gang of strangers and happened on his way home from the pub last evening. No, he couldn't remember much of the incident or identify any of his attackers. They knew the script and didn't bother to pursue the issue.

Three days later he arrived home by taxi. He limped through the door in one crutch, one arm in plaster, and one leg the same, struggled himself into a chair, and calmly asked if Simon would please bring him a cup of tea.

After a few cautious weeks around each other, as the wounds healed and the plaster casts were removed, they began to settle into a routine of sorts. Simon sensed the balance of power had shifted and he was now the Alpha male in the house. His uncle seemed to accept this fact and perhaps even welcomed it. Still always on the alert though, Simon kept up with school, and did his share of the chores in the house. Occasionally Shamus would engage him in conversation, but even before the baseball bat incident, they had rarely conversed in any meaningful manner. Shamus still went out and got drunk most nights, but never raised his voice or threatened violence again.

One particular night, he had lain awake, heard his uncle come home with one of the many prostitutes he regularly used. He heard the headboard in the next room banging for a bit and must have fallen asleep. He woke at a tapping of the door to his room. Immediately he felt for the bat under the duvet which he always slept with now, but the tap wasn't the tap of his uncle, it was a soft tap of a female, he heard the voice.

'Simon,' it said quietly, insistent, 'are you awake?'

The door opened and she entered, she was still in a state of undress, one of the younger ones his uncle used, perhaps still under twenty, he must have had a win on the horses. She saw he was awake and came over to stand at the edge of the bed. A street lamp outside threw enough light through the curtained window to empathise her womanly curves. She reached behind her back, undid the bra clasp and let the flimsy fall to the floor, her breasts were small and delicate, in this light her face was angelic, more the beauty of innocence, than the stain of whoredom, about her aspect. He was still a virgin, but he wasn't afraid, he swung aside the duvet as an invitation and she slowly slid down her pants. She slid in beside him.

The front door had been painted over since the last time he had visited, almost a year back. The lime green shade was sickly to look at, and could've done with another coat or two to fully cover the previous charcoal grey. He was still hesitant, it was not too late to about turn and leave, but he pressed on the door buzzer and heard some commotion from inside. Perhaps Shamus had one of his whores back and was taking his time to finish off before he answered. He still had a key, but it seemed disrespectful to just let himself in unannounced, so he waited, getting more impatient and edgy by the minute.

Finally, the hall light came on and footsteps approached.

'Who's there?' called Uncle Shamus.

'It's me,' said Simon. 'Hurry up and let me in.'

The door opened a notch and Simon saw from the look on the face of his uncle that he had seen the news this evening.

'What do you want?' asked Shamus, but patience had run out, Simon shoved at the door and slid through the gap before his uncle could stop him. Once inside, he slammed the door behind him.

'You're on the telly,' said Shamus, 'the police...'

'I know,' snapped Simon. 'Got anything to drink?' he asked. 'I need a drink.'

Shamus was looking shifty. He still wasn't sure if he had disturbed him in flagrante delicto, or if it was because of his recent infamy in the media.

'You can't stay here,' Shamus said.

'I don't want to stay here, just a visit,' he said.

'I don't want any trouble.'

'There won't be, I'll be off in a bit,' he urged his uncle along the hall. 'That drink?'

Shamus moved from the hall to the living room, Simon followed. He noticed a suspicious glance to the bedroom door as he passed.

The door was slightly ajar, but the room was in darkness, he saw nothing on the way by.

'Are you alone?' he asked.

'Aye,' said Shamus, 'don't get many visitors now. Need to get up early though, can't give you long.'

What he means, thought Simon, was that the money tap of living off the allowance he got from the social to bring me up has well and truly stopped. The whores have become a luxury now. Even the diseased junkie middle-aged pros must be an extravagance. Shamus was desperate to get rid of him though, he detected that alright.

'What are you doing mugging oldies?' Shamus asked. He was pouring some whisky into a couple of glasses. He'd cleaned the glasses with the hem of his shirt, noticed Simon. Cheap own brand crap, he took the proffered glass.

'It wasn't a mugging,' said Simon, 'more of an incident that got out of hand.'

'Still, thought you were ok if you were on the meds?'

Simon resented his medication, his either taking it or not, or its effectiveness or not, being brought up as the usual excuse for any apparent aberrant behaviour by him.

'That's not the point,' he said.

'No!' Shamus snarled. 'The point is some pensioner with a dodgy ticker is in intensive care.'

'Look,' said Simon. He was now realising this was all a mistake coming here. What the fuck could Uncle Shamus offer in the way of sensible advice?

After the beating he had given his uncle with the baseball bat, a kind of mutual mistrust and respect formed between them. Simon was under no illusions though, as soon as he was sixteen years old, he would be shown the door. It was a given. Uncle Shamus knew it, and he also knew that Simon knew it, so it was how to pass the time until then as mutually beneficial to both as possible. The less friction, the better. Shamus would occasionally send in his whores for Simon after first dibs, would feed him and clothe him, even took him for a drink a few times to a quiet pub where the eighteen rule was not an issue.

Simon did his bit so everything ran smoothly, and although at times he despised his uncle so much he would quite happily take the bat to him again and finish the job this time, he knew he had to be patient, let time pass by, when he was sixteen he would be free, and this was all the more important and essential in his life because that is what Tennyson dictated.

'Look,' said Simon again, then folded in a chair, 'I'm not sure why I came...'

'Just go and own up,' said Shamus. 'You've the best excuse in the world, you're nuts.'

Simon scowled up at him. He had too much else on his plate at the moment with the job. Aliens were roaming the streets. He couldn't afford to get locked up, even for a short while.

He rued the day the school doctor had sent him for an assessment to a councillor. The councillor turned out to be a shrink. The shrink said he had issues, and he had been back several times a year ever since, given new and stronger medication he was told he must take after every visit. Simon had to agree, he was under no illusions, this psychiatrist would have him sectioned at a moments notice if he did not comply.

This only happened because Tennyson disturbed him one day at school, distracting him during an exam. It wasn't even Tennyson's poem he was analysing. He had told Tennyson to 'fuck off', and the English teacher overseeing the exam, Miss McNeil, thought this as aimed at her. First, he was sent to the Head, then the doctor, and finally to the councillor, come shrink. If only he had just omitted the bit about Tennyson, and taken the wrap for swearing at the teacher.

'Say you got confused, forgot to take your medication,' said Shamus emphatically. 'They probably won't even charge you. Case dropped. Feed the oldie some care in the community crap and get him to feel sorry for you. These are fucking officials, all they want is a 'case closed' stamp on the file and they're over the fucking moon, another target reached, pub time, let's celebrate.'

Shamus kept looking at his watch. Shamus didn't know the truth though, he thought this was just a plain old mugging.

There was a quiet cough. It came through the open living room door. The bastard did have a prosie in the bedroom. She must be charging by the minute the way he's clock watching.

Julie was the name of the first one his uncle had sent to his room, almost seven years ago now. Julie. Julie was special. He had money in his pocket.

'Is it Julie?' he asked.

'Eh?' said Shamus.

'In the room, is it Julie?' he asked again.

Despite some of the speculation in the press about the disappearance of Suzi, he wasn't a sex maniac, or a rapist. He would eventually have sex with Suzi, but not until she was fully animated and obliging. It would be mutual consent. Sex with Julie was mutual consent. He desperately wanted sex right now.

Shamus had gone quiet. He had quickly poured himself another drink, omitting the offer to him. There wasn't another sound in the house at that moment but the splashing of fluid into glass. No more quiet coughs.

'Well, is it one I know?' asked Simon.

'Look,' Shamus shrugged, 'you'd better go.'

'I'll pay,' said Simon, and got out his wallet. 'Send her in here when you're finished.'

'No chance,' Shamus cried. The venom in his voice was piercing. 'You're in enough trouble, and I don't want any trouble here.'

'Fucksake,' he said. The look on his uncle's face was uncompromising though. It was a bad idea coming here in the first place. He stood up to leave.

'Look,' said Shamus, now polite and a little subservient, but still hand on back ushering him towards the front door. 'Just call before hand, next time, you know?'

Shamus squeezed by him in the hallway to open the front door and hurry his exit. Simon heard the sound of sobbing coming from the bedroom, but it was a quiet resigned sobbing, almost inaudible, the sobbing of a child. He pushed open the door. The room was in darkness, he reached for the light switch. Surprise, shock, and horror, hit him around the same time as the crack on the back of the head from behind. He was thrown forward into the room with the force of the blow, but the baseball cap and hood had dampened it enough to lessen the injury he may have suffered if whatever cosh his uncle had used had connected with bare skull.

He turned as he fell, saw the murderous look on the face of Shamus, the hand swinging back with the baseball bat that he had bought to inflict the kind of pain on his uncle that his uncle had now decided was fit for him. He leapt to the side as the arm was swung. The bat missed and hit the leg of the girl tied to the bed. Her agony through the loose gag she wore shivered him, the fragile shin of her leg cracked like a lightening strike. Frantically he looked about for ammunition, or something to fight back with. Shamus swung again, he felt the air pushed aside as the bat swept past him. Again he darted to the side. It was only a matter of time, he was tiring he knew. He did the only thing he could think of. When the bat passed, he charged forward into his uncle. He caught him full on the chest, the bat hand was outstretched. He forced him back and battered him into the doorway. He relaxed, and battered forward again, then grappled for the hand holding the bat. He was fitter, stronger, not a young boy anymore. Shamus was older, frailer, he struggled for the bat, the defeat beginning to dawn on his uncle's eyes urged him on. He wrestled for the bat. It fell from his uncle's grasp and clattered on the wooden floor. He ignored it and turned his attention full on Shamus, grabbed at the side of his head with both hands and forced his head downwards, springing up his right knee at the same time. Through his knee he felt nose bone crush, he heard a gargled shriek of pain as Shamus tried to get upright again. He held on to the head feeling the ears flop and fold under the pressure of his hands, he dragged the head down again, right knee up again, crack of bone once more, fluid, blood and tears, through the cloth of his knee, and he felt the resistance collapse under his hands, he let go of Shamus and watched him fall to the floor, breathing irregular, moaning, crying.

His own breath was ragged, he gulped down air, checked himself over for damage. He was mostly unscathed, he had been lucky. He reached for the bat where it had fallen.

'Don't fucking move a muscle,' he ordered his uncle. Then he turned to the bed to view the girl. Lucky if she was ten, he thought. She was tied to the bed with lengths of rope. She was partially gagged with gaffer tape, hurriedly applied when he had knocked on the door, he surmised. She was dressed, but barely decent. He pulled her skirt to cover her, and peeled off the gag. She didn't say a word, just sobbed and shuddered, still terrified. He put down the bat on the edge of the bed to try and loosen the ropes, but the knots were too tightly done, he would have to get a knife.

Behind him he heard his uncle lift himself from the floor, he grabbed the bat and turned just as Shamus was about to dart through the door, he swung the bat and just caught him enough on the back to drive him into the hallway wall. Before he could recover again, he swung the bat once more, this time full on the back of the head. The skull cracked under the bat, blood splattered left and right mottling the wall. He knew the brains inside the head were a mass of pulp before Shamus slid down the wall to the floor, his eyes affirmation, when he rolled him over, that the bat had dealt a lethal blow. Shamus was dead.

He dropped the bat and listened for a minute while he got his breath back. No sound, but the gentle sobbing from the bed. No sirens, no neighbours banging the wall, the whole world seemed quiet and dead.

No need to panic, he thought, and went to the kitchen to get a knife.

Next instalment coming soon...

Copyright © Stevie Mach 2012 All rights reserved

Sunday, 2 December 2012

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For those with a specific e-reader or preference, my ebooks can now be purchased from any of the stores below. Click on the logo to get the full details.

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