Shithole. Total shithole. Bromley loved it. Whiskey might not have been completely to his tastes, but dives like this? Right up his street. He wasn’t quite sure exactly when places like this – earthen, dilapidated, greasy and poorly-ventilated – had come back into fashion, but Jesus was he pleased they had. No blaring music, no endless repetitive drivel spewing forth from those ubiquitous Communik8® machines, no noise at all but the hum of conversation and the occasional heated argument. Nor, for that matter, were there ostentatious shiny surfaces, flash fittings, or patronising bar staff. You want elaborate eating options? Do one – a barely-edible bacon-substitute sarnie is all you’ll get, mate. This place was for two things, and two things only; booze and banter. Bromley sighed contentedly. Lovely.
Keelor Martroy waved from the bar. In the Frog & Peach, he stood out like a sore thumb: Plush, skin-tight silver velour suit with black collar and cuffs, his prominent neck tattoo displaying Rembrandt’s Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, blue spikes emerging from a tuft of black hair. Keeler was oblivious to the impossibility of his blending in however, and the wide smile on his face told of a man absolutely in his element. He might not have looked like he belonged amongst this rabble, but it was evidently where he felt most at home.
“Nobby! Ya big beautiful bastard, how the hell are ya?! Still stickin’ that nasty mohawk in all the wrong places?!” With this Keeler made a sweeping gesture over his own spikes, indicating a certain lack of appreciation for Bromley’s hairstyle. He then laughed as Bromley promptly gave him the finger.
“Better than your mingin’ barnet at least. Whoever did that to you wants a good kicking. Unless…wait…you couldn’t possibly have asked for that, could you?”
For a second they grinned at eachother. Martroy with boyish enthusiasm, Bromley with a weary acceptance of familiarity. Then they embraced as only the oldest and best of friends can. One or two of the locals who weren’t regulars at the F&P were bemused by this outlandish pair, not because they mocked one second and hugged the next, but because they were clearly such extraordinarily different people: Bromley was understated, unwavering, unhurried. Martroy was exuberant, effervescent and energetic. Yet, in spite of what would normally be a violent clash of personalities, they complemented one another.
“You’ll never guess who was in earlier, Nobster!”
Martroy sagged with disappointment for the splittest of split seconds, before recovering his bounciness.
“But you’ll never in a trillion years guess what he was saying!”
“I imagine he reckons he has some inside info that the CA are planning to expand the Dais again, an’ this time they want to encompass most of our lovely borough.”
Keeler sagged for noticeably longer this time.
“Look Keels… Do you not think that, maybe, the Dais enveloping Hounslow might just not be the brightest idea in the world? Right now, of all times?”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Bromley regretted it. The wide-eyed incomprehension on his friend’s face was almost heart-breaking.
“What are you talking about?”
Rising voice. Indignant tone. Flushed face. All-too-familiar signs.
“Never mind mate, forget I said anything. Thinkin’ out loud is all-”
“But why dya think it?! The Dais is incredible! We’re lucky enough to see it, and soon we’ll be living in it! These people will finally see what their lives mean! Why…what…how on Earth could you think such a thing?!”
Bromley forced himself to bite his tongue and look away from his friend. This was not the time nor the place for a frank discussion about the goals, actions and principles, if any, of the City Authority. As far as Keeler Martroy was concerned, the Dais was where all things were possible, and those who resided there were the Kings and Queens of mankind. The idea that they might want to clasp his hometown to their collective bosom gave him chills – at last, his people would finally rub shoulders with the elite! All the hours he had put in to supply the most destitute with the barest essentials of life, all the efforts to educate the most ignorant with the fascinating teachings of the City’s brightest minds, all the travails he had experienced trying to convince the area’s inhabitants that he was not, in fact, the enemy… Finally, he would see progress.
Suddenly Bromley wished he was at home. Escaping from the realities of this dismal world and burying himself in the joys of his BRNR-SLee™ – whether playing games, watching TV, listening to radio, viewing comics or reading, anything – would be far preferable to watching his dearest friend succumb to the utter fantasy of the Dais. This twisted, distorted illusion was what so many in the civil service bought into, this promise that things could only get better. The Dais presented itself as an oasis in the desert, but one from which only the most exalted and ‘worthy’ could drink – for only they could understand how to share its water with everyone else. ‘Give it time’, they would say. ‘We shall provide’.
Only a fool could believe it.
And there were fewer and fewer fools around these days.
Solidarity, brothers & sisters…★