I’ve no idea how far I’ll go with this, but here’s the beginning of a creative writing piece that randomly took shape in my head one day and, in a fit of boredom, I tried to set out in words. I have a pretty good idea of what I want to say, but right now the format that’s intended to get that across seems a bit vague. It’s an experiment really. Hope you find it interesting, anyhow.
The second thing I noticed was the small tabby cat sprawled across the small of my back.
The first thing I noticed was that I was still aching and sore all over.
Trying not to pay too much attention to the mutely outraged creature that slid reluctantly off to one side, I gingerly raised myself to a sitting position and did the usual waking-up checklist that’s standard routine when finding oneself somewhere other than his or her own bed. Rubbing my eyes I blinked stupidly around the room and slumped back on the sofa that had been my resting place for the night.
“Feeling okay?” the nonchalant voice near the window asked. “Hope you didn’t notice, but she decided to throw up onto the, uh, throw night before last. I changed it before you used it, though.” My recently-awoken brain failed to grasp the pun and I mumbled dumbly.
“I need the three S’s and a good coffee…”
“The coffee I can help you with,” she continued, trying to sound oblivious to what she believed was a show of comic genius. “As for the other three, you’re on your own.” She didn’t pause to point towards the bathroom but I knew where it was anyway. I glanced at my watch, which I hadn’t even bothered to take off before crashing out.
“What’s with the early start?” It was around half past eight on a Saturday morning but generally she was whatever you call the polar opposite of a morning person. If anything she was currently showing more intent concentration than I normally saw her show, whatever the time of day. She was hammering away at her keyboard and barely glanced in my direction at all.
“You’re not the only one…on both counts that is. A lot of this crap really doesn’t add up. Get a shower; you look like shit.” She scratched her elbow and stretched lazily, cat-like, with half a dozen joints cracking audibly. “Hey Starla, leave him alone.” The cat gave up sniffing at my hand and followed its mistress in casually padding into the kitchen. I picked up my overnight bag (which, surprisingly, I remembered had been left next to the sofa) and shuffled into the bathroom.
There was a large steaming mug of freshly-brewed coffee waiting for me when I emerged from the bathroom, now feeling a couple of degrees more human. One mouthful of the proffered mug’s contents made me a couple of crucial degrees further still. Her expression was even more serious.
“’seems like a few people have been through the same mill as you in the past few days. Not that it’s any consolation for you or anything,” she added almost, but not quite, as an afterthought. She leaned on the back of her chair, demurely took a sip and scratched her shin.
“Sure. Getting jumped on by a bunch of yobs in an alleyway is one thing but a break-in a matter of a couple of days later is bloody ridiculous.”
“Well, yeah. That’s bad luck, even by your standards. What’s weird is how many round here have had the same thing happen to them.” She paused as if to go further, and then thought better of it. “First things first though. I’ll get some breakfast rustled up. The others have been wondering where you’ve been.”
She stood up out of her chair and ambled back towards the kitchen while the cat, now fuller and happier, flopped down onto the sofa next to me. The old adage of pets resembling their owners drifted into my mind and I inwardly waved it away.
Glancing around her living room it was clear how the general look of the place was a partial result of the current burglary rate, among other things. As in my (now ransacked) flat, the array of electronic gadgets was less than what would’ve been usual even less than a decade ago. Where a bulky, humming desktop PC rig would’ve stood there was now a simple terminal: a monitor with a couple of connecting wires for power and data to the screen. An electric violin was propped lazily against the wall nearby, plugged straight into a smaller box roughly the size of a cigarette packet…not that cigarettes, in packets or otherwise, were an everyday sight these days. Items such as clocks, the toaster and microwave were practically bolted down.
“So much for suggesting you move into my spare room and save yourself a bit of hassle,” I observed morosely. “We even get along well enough to not rip each other’s heads off, but housebreaking’s a bit much to put up with, right?” Not that her place was any less at risk, in theory anyway.
“True enough,” she agreed. “But you wouldn’t be able to sit in your undies and crack one off in your living room whenever you felt like it if I was around, would you?” Pointing out that I bloody didn’t, and she wouldn’t know even if had, sounded like a lame retort so I settled for giving her wisecrack the contempt it deserved and gave a mere sigh of disapproval instead.
“Catherine can be a pain in the arse sometimes, mind. When she’s not barfing on the furniture she friggin’ microwaves bacon, for crying out loud. Bloody philistine.” We simultaneously looked at the grilled bacon as if in affirmation.
“She isn’t that bad, surely?” It didn’t seem like the wrong thing to say but she seemed to find issue with it all the same.
“Don’t tell me you fancy her or something, do you?” she accused with more than a hint of incredulity.
I could take one uncalled-for jibe in the space of five minutes but decided to take the bait this time. I kept my voice even, just in case. “What the hell do you mean? We’re not high school kids, you know. It doesn’t mean I fancy the pants off her just ‘cause I don’t dislike her. I’m not the one who lives with her, I guess.” It was almost enough to calm her down. Almost. “Besides, she’s not my type, if there is such a thing. I didn’t get that bad a concussion.” I pointed at the largest of several bruises. She gazed cynically back at me, as if physically weighing it all up.
She casually let the matter slide while somehow still being vaguely amiable about it. Meeting her gaze somehow nervously, I figured normal service had somehow resumed and relaxed slightly.
Although she’d managed to be up and about at such an early time of day she was still in ‘casual’ mode with an ill-fitting flannel shirt, in all probability a self-declared hand-me-down from her elder brother, and wasn’t quite ready for leaving the flat. Although most of our social group were in that vague respectable-yuppies-in-training category, she managed to somehow carry herself as a well-off professional while only making the minimal effort to separate herself from ‘shabby chic’ undergraduates who were often seen in this part of town. Even though the headband of a clunky pair of retro-style headphones kept her bangs out of her eyes a dragonfly hairpin was keeping the longer strands firmly in place and she’d already donned her incongruous combo of knee-high stockings, cycling shorts and faded black denim skirt.
I found it strange that she had any misconceptions over my opinion of her wayward flatmate, since I thought it was obvious as to which one of them I usually found easier to get along with. Unfortunately, she didn’t seem to appreciate the supposedly obvious reasons why I was more comfortable hanging out with her instead of the one who was currently in her bad books. Eager to get out of this rare moment of tension and take in some fresh air I stood up to leave, in the hope it would prompt her to power down her terminal and tell me whatever it was she’d planned for the rest of the day.
Several minutes later, after she’d finished explaining what it was about my recent escapades that didn’t sit right with her and going to her bedroom to change into her infinitely more stylish white shirt/black cardigan get-up we were ready to go. Someday the whole world would find out that, in the comfort of her own home at least, she looked like the illegitimate daughter of a Jpop idol and a member of a 90s Seattle rock band, rather than the kind of respectable taxpaying professional who kept high street department stores in business.
“They said something about meeting at Synapse to, uh, congratulate you on your miraculous return to the land of the living but quite frankly I can’t be bothered with standing at the door while some bald chimp in a suit IDs anyone under the age of thirty-five…” she began, clearly indicating I was supposed to come up with a better alternative. Cheers for that.
“Head over to Indigo Blue and sort out the next live night while we’re there?” I ventured. She wrinkled her nose in an exaggerated statement of distaste.
“I know that’s gotta be organised, but Stu’s been acting a bit weird lately and I’ll only get annoyed about it. Plus, the area around the bar has this sticky floor…”
“It stops the students falling over during happy hour.”
“…and the guy who runs the place is sleazy bastard…”
“You were wearing a T-shirt that read ‘Stop staring at my tits’ last time, and he’s too dense to ‘get’ irony.”
A gust of wind tugged at the sidelocks around her fringe. In a show of what must’ve been feigned resignation she replied, “As long as you don’t keel over or whimper like a girl…” and started cursing herself for not bringing a hat. It had already started to rain quite heavily and the wind was getting up a bit too so I suggested taking a short cut through the main shopping arcade.
The weather was supposed to be pretty bad for the rest of the day, but I wanted to visit my own place first and double-check what had been taken. The combination of wind and rain had already claimed its first victim here: a broken umbrella lay crumpled and discarded in the gutter, like some multi-legged insect invader from outer space.
My flat had been well and truly ‘fucked over’, to quote the attending police officer when he thought he was out of earshot (thanks to a cutting edge – and somewhat experimental – medical procedure I’d undergone a few years ago, he wasn’t). Because of the local policy with the appliances, what little of value I owned was still there but even so I noticed that my terminal was missing and, less worryingly yet no less irritating, the amplifier I’d jerry-rigged with both preamp and output valve stages was also gone. Not much surprise there.
In private residences at least, that sort of electronic luxury wasn’t frowned upon but wasn’t particularly commonplace either; such things inhabited a legal grey area, the ownership of which relying on police apathy and/or having bigger legal fish to fry. I was going to miss that. I almost grinned inwardly at the fact that my second guitar had been pinched though: if the past three years’ worth of modifications and DIY repairs didn’t make its ownership obvious to whoever sold it on (I was on first-name terms with one or two shopkeepers in the local area) they’d make it nigh-on worthless in terms of resale value. These days, residents made a conscious effort to ensure we had little in our homes that was worth stealing…with that one exception, someone clearly knew what of mine was. Arseholes.
“It’s kinda weird that they’d take your terminal though, right?” True enough, it didn’t have quite the same level of password encryption hers did, but owing to what I’d been using it for my terminal had ample security provided by my employer. The system we were using – basically the same setup as netbooks of the late 2000s, only with a high-resolution monitor like the deskop PCs of the old days – meant that physically taking a terminal was virtually pointless.
Most functionality, such as the ‘homework’ I’d been provided with a week before my unfortunate accident in that alleyway, was simply done through accessing the main ‘cloud’ remotely. No hard drives, no document storage; it was all done by retrieval through a web browser/desktop OS via a secure connection. What little on-board content the terminal had was this OS, some additional software for rendering graphics and sound, and of course user-side encryption (which, needless to say didn’t allow much scope for workarounds). Unless you had the hacking power of a multinational behind you, there literally wasn’t anything in it for the average housebreaker…who was usually a junkie who knew a lot less about computing than we did.
“I really don’t get it. It’s like the shitheads that roughed me up and away threw my mobile a few yards away.” I found this weird as hell but she seemed even keener to point out that something was profoundly amiss here.
“The usual stuff was taken, but why your terminal? Who the hell would be able to make use of it, let alone want it in the first place?”
I sat down on my own sofa – shredded by someone with a Swiss army knife and too much time on their hands, presumably – and thought over what I’d been working on. “It was a simple additional task a client had asked for. Toss in a couple of parameters every few hours to nudge the programme…not strictly part of the contract, but no hassle to do. It was all running in the main cloud we’d set up for them, so it was just a side-job I was doing for them.”
I wasn’t a programmer by trade; I was more on the database side but in small corporations we had to be multi-skilled to some degree or other. This bit of the job was a small one and even with my terminal gone it wasn’t that big a deal in terms of honouring our contract. Even so, a stolen (and possibly breached) terminal was going to cause issues, however remote the chances of hacking were. Monday would suck.
“Monday’s going to bloody suck, isn’t it?” She picked up a broken CD case with a noticeable show of care, which coughed up a scattering of plastic teeth from the tray, their charge now safely stolen…no, wait. I nodded mutely at our simultaneous observation of the week ahead and dug a broken disc out of the foam padding of my office chair. Anyone else would’ve asked “oh well…who collects CDs anymore anyway?” but our group shared a number of common quirks and indulgences. For all our swapping of digital downloads, in her case and mine packaged media was one of them. She mumbled a sympathetic “…oh, for fuck’s sake…” as I reunited broken disc and case, dropped it into a wastepaper basket, closed the door with its ruined lock and followed her down along the balcony to the stairwell.