Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The bright lights seem colder, shining from tall glass towers, set against a sky made starless by clouds. Nearer are the lights that adorn the forest of Christmas trees on the plaza above. Closer still are the control boards that flicker above the six-lane carriageway at our backs. Closest are the lights we string while setting up against the two-metre fence that separates pedestrians from traffic.
The wash of passing vehicles provides ventilation for this informal market. It’s surprisingly fresh air, what with most of them being electric. The occasional waft of exhaust fumes marks a classic storming by, while a smell like grass after rain indicates the passage of a cold fusion power unit: a limousine or Domestic Army truck.
Speeding traffic draws the eye but gives nothing back: people watching at the speed of modern society – too fast to get details or gain anything from the experience.
“Got something for me?”
I know that voice. Tobin Dray, a coarse throwback in an expensive suit. He’s got that loathsome combination of sleight and skill: a white-collar worker from a lower-class background and hard teenage years, proud of the dishonesty that got him where he is today.
“You want it on ceedee, deevee, beedee, stick, or load?”
There’s no point in trying any jovial banter. He regards me as a lower class of being, tolerable only because of the vintage material I obtain. Ever since the internet statutes of the last decade, England’s become a place where even your vices are subject to tariffs and access checks. So, for those who have to have what others cannot, they come down here, down where the bleedfeeds don’t reach.
“Load. They’ve started scanning us in and out at lunch break.”
Which means portable storage media, possibly containing terrorist-aiding malware, will be viewed. For Tobin, that would be embarrassing. I know of others who could be fired or even arrested.
“Come on, I’ve still got to get lunch.”
I smile at him and retrieve a datawafer from under the counter. He likes that. The hint of getting something not for the average punter. Today, that’s true.
He drops a wad of scrip on the table and snatches it from my hand, eager to sample it. Placing it against his receiver, he grins in anticipation. As it engages, I see his face slacken and eyes widen in shock.
For some, Christmas is like a magnifying glass: a time to expand the little good you do with public demonstrations of largesse. I often wonder if those who need to do that believe it’ll expand far enough to cover their selfishness.
Tears start to run down his face.
Seven years ago, he drove a young prostitute out of town. She insisted he was the father of her daughter. Doubt was sown. Evidence tampering was never proven. Jeopardising his promising career became a justification. Forsaken, she fled. A troubled orphan, Isla spent a long while struggling to raise her daughter alone before finally seeking help.
Tonight is Christmas Eve, and Tobin came for a shot of Eighties porn. What he’s getting is his daughter, Isabella, singing Silent Night at the school Nativity play a couple of nights ago. I know she looks just like his mother at that age: the one grandmother she’ll likely never meet.
He’s crying. Maybe he can change. Christmas can do that: sometimes you get what you need, not what you want.
Hands shaking, he drops the wafer onto the table and stumbles away.
Supporting the family I have left, my granddaughter and her daughter, is my ‘career’.
Merry Christmas, you bastard.