Fusion

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Port In a Land Bottle

The Miller Genuine Draft sign was in its death throws; it flashed wildly and then winked out with a hissing electric gasp. It left the bar devoid of its habitual yellow light. The place had calmed down a bit from earlier and resumed its usual rhythm.

In the holoroom, a virtual meeting place, a man was drinking up with old college friends, from all over country. They’d agreed to a virtual meet for someone's stag night. The best man had created a holoroom like a Dutch strip joint. They all gazed at a man, with a disproportionately pendulous penis as he started to wave his wand around at a disinterested woman. Her face changed to practised, feigned horror.

These two actors were actually in a stained room in New York. They had been asked to act this little number live and had no idea who the audience were. Both of them had fallen on hard times but they still thought of themselves as actors. They were considering how many times the actress had seen this man's penis before.

The club was a dark, heady mixture of marijuana smoke and red light. The ‘audience’ suffered from a mixture of salaciousness and guilt. Most of them fell into the former category but nearly all of them felt emasculated by the sheer size of the man's penis, as he performed before them.

At the other end of the bar Tony and Al were trying to determine, less and less subtly, what had happened on Jack's date with Elsee. Jack's usual equanimity was evaporating fast.

"So Jack we have got you the beers, you said you would tell all. So Jack, did you fuck her or not?" asked Tony with a glint in his eye.

"Goddam it that's none of your business! " retorted Jack firmly.

"So, I'll take that as a no then, 'cos if you had then you’d be telling us all about it, right?"

"Wrong," replied Jack evenly, “I might well be telling you even less."

"So that's a yes then is it?" continued Tony impertinently.

"It's neither yes or no, it's none of your business."

There was a pause. Jack was a hard nut to crack, even for Tony who was a master at winding people up until they gave away their secrets.

"Well did you have a good time at least?" asked Al in a more sombre tone.

"Yep."

"Will you be seeing her again?"

"Yep."

"So you did fuck her Jack?"

"Tell me Tony how often exactly do you get fucked?" Jack demanded.

"Depends on the season, fucking's a bit like fishing, depends on the time of year as to how many fish are in the stream."

"Listen to this Al,” Jack paused, “actually that's probably a good comparison 'cos there aren’t any fish in the streams now."

"Depends where you go fishing." Tony replied.

"Can you believe this shit?" Jack heckled Al.

Al shrugged his shoulders noncommittally.

"I had a good time, I took her to Poseidon

"Best place to go fishing," quipped Tony. "If I had the money I would go fishing there all the time, always pretty, rich, plucky, sassy women at Poseidon.

“You serious, you took her to Poseidon? I thought you were joking. Jeeeeees, she must be something. How much did that cost you, half the money we were given?"

"No but it did cost, it doesn't matter. One thing my Mom's Mom always said was that you never forget the few big luxuries that you have in life."

"No shit. Your Mom's Mom was a philosopher then. Did she also say that if you took a woman to Poseidon then you might as well damn near marry her?"

"Funny thing is Tony, she didn't say that."

"So you took her to Poseidon," continued Tony "and then what happened? "

"We ate, Tony, that's what you do at Poseidon, you eat and look at the big and little fish swimming around."

"And? Was the food good, were the fish big, was it as good as everyone makes out it is?"

"Yep."

"And did you play with your food?" said Tony with a cheeky grin.

"Nop"

"Not even a tiny tickle?"

"The fish is dead on your plate Tony, at least if you’re American. I watched some of the Japanese eating fish that was still jumping about on their plate."

"Oh, man" Al interjected.

"Yep. And some of the folks like to have the fish cooked from living so that they can see its fresh, so the poor thing is wrigglin' and writhin' on the griddle trying to get away."

"Oh man that's sick." Al said.

"The food tastes better though." Jack ventured.

"What?" said Tony, "You didn't, did you, have it cooked alive? You sick twisted bastard, I can't believe you did that, I think I’m going to be sick. You sure you're a friend of mine? "

"Nope, " said Jack smiling.

"You serious? You had the fish cooked alive in front of you?"

"Yep! I might have done." said Jack, relishing his little peccadillo.

"Not one for a straight answer tonight, are you Jack?" Tony persisted.

"Yep!"

"Get out of here Jack, you are ruining my beer. What's the point of drinking with the guys if you don't talk about the women you screw?" said Tony trying a new and rather pathetic tack.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Tony, so you want to know my little secret? You want to know my little secret eh? Well just chill a little and I might just tell you. "

"Jees Jack, what's the point in going out with a beautiful girl if you don't have a story to tell about it? You may as well wire up to MTV."

"I do have a story to tell, if you are quiet and stop asking dumb questions. I will tell you about it, or at least most of it. She isn't just some piece of arse, Tony she's a woman or maybe you haven't met any of them before," said Jack with lofty levity.

Tony looked perplexed; then understanding swept across his face, like someone who has finally understood a complex chess move.

"Jeeees Jack, I didn't realise man, I'm sorry.... You're in love aren't you?"

Tony rarely said the ‘l’ word and he sounded uncomfortable with it.

"That's none of your business," retorted Jack with asperity.

There was silence for a moment. An old farmer walked in, he was a regular at Ronnie's and a habitual liver hammerer, and Ronnie had described him as “an intemperate old sod”.

"Three shots please Ronnie, I haven't got all day."

Ronnie wasn't too keen on doing this but sometimes people wanted to get drunk very fast and there was profit in it. He started to heat the pure alcohol so that Dan could inhale it deep into the depths of his alveoli.

Jack sat uncomfortably, "I reckon she's the girl alright," he said after a pause, “she makes me laugh."

Tony and Al sat and pondered. They had been buddies for a long time and the advent of Jack falling into a serious relationship, (Tom had been bad enough), created a melting pot of jealousy and insecurity about their own ageing.

"That's great Jack," said Al unenthusiastically, "great."

"Reckon she feels the same way?"

"Dunno," said Jack, "I reckon but I hardly know her. I don't want to scare her off. Jees, I’m scared myself, never felt... well, like this before, you know."

"You mean you didn't get any vibes or nothin’? Jack you must have got some sort of vibes as to how she felt. Didn't you ask or something?"

"And what was I supposed to say,’ Hey honey, do you feel all serious about me like I do about you?’ “

"No, Jack. Subtle! “

"What, subtle like you, you mean? “ Jack teased. “I'm pretty sure she likes me."

"How are you sure?" Tony asked testily.

Jack stroked his chin.

"I just reckon that's all. You know when you know 'cos you don't have to ask silly questions all the time and I just felt okay with her. Comfortable."

"Did she say anything in a physical kind of way?"

Jack shot him a glance that would have silenced an approaching tank. Tony shut up, flushed and turned rubicund.

"Well guess this calls for a celebration. Jack choose your drink. It's not every day you see the big man fall in love." said Al finally.

"Ronnie, something special for Jack and us, please. You choose."

"Special eh? What's to celebrate?"

"Maturity I guess," said Tony desultorily.

"Is that celebrate with a small c or a big C?"

"CELEBRATE RONNIE, CELEBRATE!"

Ronnie looked at Tony who was looking slightly lost and yet strangely happy.

"Man, sounds serious. I'd better get you a seriously mature drink, hope I'm not gonna' waste this on you. "

Ronnie disappeared under the counter and retrieved a vintage bottle of port, which gave a resounding pop as the cork was cleaved reluctantly from its home of fifteen years.

"What's that Ronnie?"

"Port, you heathen Al. Port. You know drink of sailors and kings, you better start feeling appreciative."

"Ain't drunk port before."

"Here smell it."

"Ummm, sweet as honey, smells like, kinda roses or something."

"One of the sweetest drinks around," said Ronnie caressing the bottle lovingly, " this bottle is the real stuff from Portugal, been saving it up. "

Ronnie disappeared beneath the bar again and reappeared with four antique crystal glasses and an old port decanter.

"No shit, Ronnie. No disrespect but I didn't think you stood on ceremony in this joint."

"Ceremony when ceremony is required." Ronnie raised his eyebrow knowingly.

"Oi! Where’s my drink?" shouted the impatient and wanna- be- drunk- quick-farmer.

“Fucking Trotter,” Tony whispered.

"Coming," shouted Ronnie," Guys, hang on for a moment," Ronnie shouted at Al, Tony and Jack.

Ronnie poured the warm alcohol into a glass with a heated ring underneath it. Over the top of the glass he placed a glass cap with a rubber tube poking out of it and gave it to Dan. He inhaled deeply, urgently, his eyes reddening.

"Thanks Ronnie," he gasped.

Ronnie shrugged. "It’s what you want." Ronnie wandered back down to where the three had moved back to the bar stools.

"Personally I feel sorry for him. I've told him to go and see someone but he won't have any of it."

Ronnie leant over the bar conspiratorially: "His wife left him and took the kid with her. Can't say I blame her really, they say he used to beat her and the kid up, but it could just be a rumour. Anyway, let’s celebrate. Jack, Tony, Al. Smell this.

Ronnie passed the open top of the bottle around to them both, with the reverence of a priest in mufti administering Eucharist. They all sniffed at the open bottle again and uttered varying degrees of approval.

Ronnie poured a measure into each of the special glasses; the bottle made satisfying glugging noises as the rosy liquid poured like streaming velvet ribbons. Ronnie held his glass up to the light and twisted it like an archaeologist inspecting some rare, precious, mysterious relic.

"Good colour," Al said.

"To, maturity then," Ronnie saluted.

"To, maturity."

There was a solemn silence as they let the port slip down their throats.

"Jees that stuff is good Ronnie. Never had it before, it’s great," Tony said warmly.

"Told you so."

"Tastes kind of like - musty and fruity. Bit like that warm wine you can buy when you go skiing but nicer."

"I should hope it’s a lot nicer. Hey, where's Tom? I haven't seen him around this week?"

The trio looked at each other.

"Well," said Al leaning over the bar," he's been in hospital since we got laid off."

"No, why?"

"Well, he got beaten up. We think he got beaten up by the police," Al continued.

"What you serious?"

"Yeah. You know Goldentooth?"

"No I don't think I do."

"Yes, you do! You know the burly guy who thinks he's a big deal. Got a golden tooth at the front, hangs out with Bill. You know him."

"Oh wait, yeah think I do, went to school with me, yeah I know the one you mean. Always thinks he's the toughest cop in town and all that stuff.”

"Yep, that'd be the guy."

"Yeah, well, we figure Goldentooth beat Tom up."

"No shit! Why? “

"Well the night we finished we all went bowling, sort of like to see the whole thing off. Well we were drunk and rowdy. We got thrown out of the bowling hall."

"No kiddin, what were you doin'?"

"Oh, just shoutin' and stuff. Teasin' a barmaid. Think she took it the wrong way when we were only foolin about. Well, anyway, the police picked up Tom later on that evening. They found him drunk, slumped in the gutter down by the bible shop. Goldentooth has always had a Senax for Tom."

"Why?"

"Dunno', you know Goldentooth, he dislikes people for no good reason. Just wants an excuse for a fight. He's a mother. "

Ronnie shook his head.

"Can't believe they made the guy a cop."

"Yeah well Ronnie, they did. Anyhow, we reckon that Golden tooth beat him up while he was in the station."

"What?" said Ronnie indignantly.

"Yeah, we reckon; 'cos he was taken to the hospital from the police station. They said he slipped and banged his head while he was drunk."

"So what's he going to do about it?"

"We don't know. When we saw him in hospital he wasn’t in too good a way to think about it."

Ronnie took a slug at the port and cast an eye around the bar to check that all was in order. Apart from a vituperative farmer lambasting another man for no discernable reason, all was quiet.

"Shit, that's bad, he ought to do something about it."

"You had best keep it quiet though. We don't want everyone to know, we don't want him to get into more trouble. Especially if it isn’t true."

The four men sat pensively for a moment. Ronnie was shaking his head.

"Can't believe it. I mean you know the cops are crooked in the cities but they are much better here usually. That sort of thing would never have happened when I was a kid. Everyone knew everyone, everyone would have known. If a guy did that, no one would have talked to him or they would have taken him out."

"You're getting older Ronnie," said Tony.

"I know, guess I am. Not sure all this maturity stuff is that much to celebrate really; speaking personally I'm getting long in the tooth. "

Ronnie idly picked up a cloth and wiped down the bar where some beer had been spilled. The dark wood of the bar top wore the scars and medals of long service, scratched and marked but overall still intact.

"Town's changed since I was a kid. Bigger now, people don't all know each other, kind of changes the feel of the place. When I was raised here it was all bumbling farmers and a few storekeepers. Things are changing," said Ronnie becoming aware that he ought to be a little careful what he should say, since the three guys were relative newcomers.

"You sayin' the town's not as good as it was?"

Ronnie stopped wiping the counter and looked up.

"Yeah, in some ways, it’s less friendly now, you know 'cos it's bigger I guess."

"That always happens when places get bigger you know," said Tony.

"Yep," said Ronnie.

"You must get more customers from it now, 'cos there are loads more people in town now Carlton is here."

"Yeah, sure, I do, and in some ways the town’s better. There's more people and there's more work. But it just doesn't have the same feel anymore. I don't mean to sound old-fashioned but I know I probably am! You guys have always known it this way, so I guess you think it is okay."

"It's a place to live, there are worse," Al said defensively. Al's apothegm annoyed Ronnie but he tried not to show it.

"There are worse places to live, Ronnie, you know much worse places to live.

This port is real good, thanks, this place is still a quietish town you know, compared to where I was brought up in LA, this place is dead, which is quite nice but also quite annoying you know. At least you're pretty sure you won't get shot here," said Tony.

"Not so sure now Tony. Ralph got it didn't he? Even if you don't like the guy, I think that says something," Ronnie challenged.

Jack was watching television, it was an interactive station and he was hammering out a reply to one of the questions posed on the quiz programme as fast as he could.

There were always consoles in bars; some bars specialised in having fancy holographic consoles (especially for music stations where people put in requests for live bands and if they were lucky they got to meet the band members in the holoroom.)

Different entertainment enclaves had developed in cities, with different themed bars: sports, extreme sports, arts etc. and in the red light districts they specialised in interactive blue holorooms and porn channels. Ronnie's was an all-round bar but they did have interactive farming programmes particularly ‘The Wrestling Farmer’ on Wednesdays and sometimes the weekends.

‘The Wrestling Farmer’ interactive quiz pulled in loads of Trotters who argued about: pest resistant seeds, the best bio pesticides (usually gargantuan large ladybirds which ate flies by the thousand.), the inevitable weather and other farming matters.

Jack hit send. He knew the answer was Paris; it was just a question of getting his answer in first.

"Sorry guys, couldn't resist it, it's just they were offering this great vacation. Four days in a luxury cabin on the original orbiting station. I just had to try it. "

Jack was glued to the screen as the game show host started gibbering with excitement.

"We've received over half a million replies, which one will be chosen? You'll have to find out next week on ’Dream Vacation’.”

Last week’s winners were paraded on and beamed. ‘They probably had had a chop stick poked across their mouth to keep them looking that way,’ Jack thought.

"Shit I hate it when you do that. I will never remember to watch the goddam programme," Jack exclaimed.

"Hey Ronnie," shouted Dan, "give us another shot would you?"

Ronnie put down his port and scuttled off to sort out another inhaler. Dan inhaled the second one with more urgency than the first and sat on his stool becoming increasingly belligerent. Red-eyed Dan turned to face the screen:

“And now for local county news...the headlines. Hertferd seems to be at the centre of the news.

Unconfirmed rumours have been circulating that Mr Ellephanie, the owner of Carlton motors, may challenge Duncan Anderton to be Mayor of Hertferd.

Ellephanie is also rumoured to be trying to force through the purchase of twenty farms adjacent to his current factory in Hertferd to allow for expansion of Carlton motors. Ellephanie was not available for statement.

On-going investigations into the death of Ralph McManan have led to the police uncovering a new lead, although they would not comment any further at this stage.

There is still has been no official explanation for the massive blaze on the edge Hertferd but we can bring you a special report which may explain the mystery it.

And in other news, a massive pile up has occurred on interstate 44; two people were killed when a truck jackknifed spilling its load across two lanes.

In sport Iowa has won the Superbowl for the first time in years, we bring you live post match interviews with the scorers and commentary.

And now onto the detailed news.

Mr. Ellephanie, head of Carlton motors in Hertferd is rumoured to want to challenge the current Mayor, Mr. Duncan Anderton, in a contest to take over as Mayor of Hertferd.

Our sources indicate that Mr. Anderton does not support or endorse any further expansion of the Carlton motors plant and will try and stop any further expansion plans. Anderton has been tipped for nomination to run for senator.

Ellephanie's fusion engine factory has been expanding rapidly and the company has ambitious plans to expand by some 200% within the next three years if a deal with the Korean company Daewoo comes off. Our science editor Bob Fitzpatrick explains the significance of Carlton motors and the fusion engine.”

“The fusion engine is a genuine innovation in the way engines operate and could revolutionise not only the motor industry but the generation of power across the world.”

Some experts have said it has the potential to be the biggest revolution in power generation since the invention of the industrial revolution. It has the potential to create massive amounts of sustainable, clean energy for an indefinite time.

Most environmental groups and academics have hailed fusion as a potential planet saviour as it produces harmless by products helium, which float out of the atmosphere and doesn’t further exacerbate our greenhouse. Its fuel is a special type of hydrogen, which is plentiful in seawater.

Politicians and economists in Washington are divided. Some say it will never be economically viable since the engines are currently so expensive to produce. Others say that as the technology improves costs will lower to allow for genuine mass-market production.

So what has the Mayor of Hertferd got against Carlton motors? Our reporters Matt Woolacott and Jane Willerby have been in Hertferd to find out and ask the question: ' Is Anderton's stand political suicide or genius?’

We are going over live now to join T7's Matthew Hertferd at the town hall in Hertferd. Matthew, why is Duncan Anderton taking this stand? “

”Well Mellanie, his office have not issued a statement as yet but we know that most of the support for Anderton in the past has come from farmers and farming communities, most of whom are opposed to Carlton’s expansion. It seems the big sticking point for farmers has been Ellephanie's brutish method of buying up farmers land and the impact on the traditional farming town of Hertferd.

On the face of it, it may seem like Anderton is being an idealist and trying to protect rural Iowan life. But the bottom line is political self-interest. Anderton, I suspect, wants farmers in Iowa to regard him as their champion who will defend their rights in Washington should he become nominated as a senator in this primarily rural state.”

“But won't Washington regard his stand as ridiculous given that Carlton’s potential expansion, if the Daewoo deal comes off, will generate lots of jobs for Hertferd?”

”Well, Melanie, Anderton had quite a lot of support in Washington previously but it remains to be seen how they will react to this.

What is clear at this stage is that if the challenge does go ahead the battle will be a bitter one. Ellephanie will have to use an ancient piece of legislation to challenge the Mayor, which has only been used three times in the history of the US. This may leave many in Washington feeling slightly nervous as it may set a precedent for others to challenge Mayors across the country. So a lot more maybe at stake than is apparent immediately and Washington will no doubt be keeping a keen eye on developments. This is the kind of instability in local politics that Washington doesn't like.”

”What’s the local feeling on this issue at the moment?”

”Most of the local people we’ve spoken to were quite surprised as they didn’t know anything about it. I suspect this will inflame what is, beneath the surface a two-town community. In Hertferd people either work for Carlton or they’re farmers. We’ll see how this unfolds.

This is Matt Woolacott for T7 news, handing over to Jane Willerby who will be talking to some of the local people in Hertferd to get feedback.”

”With comments like that it will inflame and divide the community asshole,” Ronnie sibilated.

At the bottom of the screen an interactive hologram number flashed up, which allowed you to talk to the reporters after the news. The number carried a warning, premium rates apply, anyone showing abusive or indecent behaviour will have their line terminated.

“Jane what have people been saying so far?”

“Well, as Matt was saying, most people are quite shocked by this and are unsure what to think at this stage but there does seem to be quite a split of opinion.

I'm standing here outside a bar on the old high street called Ronnie's bar and I’m going in to ask people for their opinions. They don't know we are coming...”

“Oh my God,” said Ronnie.

The door opened to reveal the Jane Willerby they had seen on TV. Strange, she looked a lot smaller than she did on TV; she had more wrinkles around her eyes but her legs were just as long.

She looked around the bar with a news-hungry expression and with a swift glance she assessed the punters. There was a bustle of excitement as most of Ronnie's customers shuffled, ran and walked over to the new focus of attention. Dan just stood on his chair; Tony, Al and Jack had a good view from where they were sitting.

“Hi, I'm Jane Willerby from T7, we’re live at the moment,” she announced.

“Have any of you heard the rumour that Duncan Anderton may be challenged as Mayor by Mr. Chuck Ellephanie of Carlton motors?”

“Yes, honey,” Ronnie shouted. ”I'm the owner we've just been watching you on TV.”

“And what's your view? Mr.? ” Jane shouted.

“Ronnie. Well, I'm real surprised you know. Don't know what to make of it at this stage.”

“And what do you think?” Willerby asked.

A farmer straightened his baseball cap and his forehead wrinkled in response to the question. After a few moments he spoke.

“Well, Miss. Willerby I'm sure glad we won the baseball! But I'm know if it comes to a vote Mr. Anderton be gettin' mine. Like you was sayin' he's always done his best for the community an' all, an' I don't agree with what was being said by that boy Matt 'bout Anderton bein' all bad. His father was a farmer, he understands the way of life and the kind of problems we face. So if it comes to it he'll sure be getting my vote.”

“And how about you what do you think?”

The camera zoomed in on the old man who had been dancing to Elvis Presley, which had been playing on the jukebox.

“You know, I've lived here a fair old few years, eighty seven to be precise and I've seen this place change more in the past ten years than I have in the rest of my life. The mid-west is one of the friendliest and safest places to live in the whole of the United States of America and I wouldn't like to see that go.

See, no offence missie, it’s the folks in the cities what have messed up the whole place for the rest of us. I'd like this place to stay the way it was; I don't want no more factory or no more new people from out of state. I want to keep Hertferd the way it was and way it will be.”

Yelps and cheers went up from various members of the crowd.

“Hey!”

“Yes sir and what's your view on all this?”

“I don't mean no disrespect to this guy here but Carlton has brought a lot of prosperity to this town, shops, employment. No disrespect but I've got just as much right to live here as he has! This is my home too! I've been livin' here for a while and so does my family. Can I just ask this guy, do you have a family?”

“Yep,” said the older man.

“And what does your family do?”

“Well my son has taken over the farm and my daughter works out in the shops on the edge of town.”

“That's my point exactly. The shops on the edge of town would not be there if Carlton had not come in.”

“Son, I don't agree with that. My daughter would have got a job elsewhere if those shops hadn’t been there.”

“That's my point see. You talk about community but the fact your daughter works here in Hertferd and hasn’t had to go elsewhere is in part what holds Hertferd together. Would you have liked her to move out to get a job?”

“Hey, that's all wrong... ” the older man protested.

“Okay,” said Miss. Willerby taking control,” Let's get the view of a few others.”

“What about you sir, yes you, standing on the chair?”

Ronnie's cupped his head in his hands. He had been thinking, ‘Whatever you do don't ask Dan. Whatever you do...’

“I think that there's a load of people in town now who ought not to be here, that's what I think?”

Ronnie felt the air in the bar palpably stiffen with tension.

“That's quite an extreme view to hold there sir,” Jane replied evenly.

“Well, it's quite an extreme thing what's been goin' on here in this town and you don't know nothin' about it, you never been reportin' about it here before...”

“Well sir, we listen...”

“No missie, you listen!”

More murmurs of affirmation from the crowd.

Tony watched the hazy and bitter figure of Dan on the screen waving his fist and fingers around at the dimly lit crowd before him. The red light within the bar looked on TV like Dan was the head of some subversive, collusionary plot. Tony couldn’t help wondering how other people would view this.

“You listen here, missie. I've been quiet for a long time and now you've asked my opinion. Well, I'm going to tell you. These new folks what have come to live here don't treat this town with respect. They just live here, like, don't get involved with the community; they're like parasites, that’s right, goddam parasites like little ticks on blades of corn. They suck out all the juice in the stem and don't give any back. They don't care for the place, they just temporary. If Carlton closed they would go and I say roll on Anderton I'm gonna' do everything I can to make sure you stay where you are. It's people like them,” he started pointing at Al, Tony and Jack, “yes, I'm talking to you. People who go bowlin', get drunk and abusive when folks is out with their families, good honest decent folks.”

“Okay...and what...” Willerby tried to interject.

“I tell you what,” said Tony standing up on his chair waving his empty glass of port. “This is a free country mister. You sittin' there gettin' drunk in the corner on inhalers, we didn't bother you; we just left you to it. You goddam drunken hypocrite. Fine example of the community you are, it's people like you who we don't goddam need here...”

Ronnie felt the bristles on the back of his neck stiffen. He looked around. He’d been a barman for far too long to be unfamiliar with the feeling present in the air. Once drunken euphoric guys were coming out the other side.

“Hey, who the hell are you to go talkin' to him like that?” someone shouted at Tony.

This is Jane Willerby reporting for T7 now back to the studio.

“Well he's got no right to go talkin' like that, ” continued Tony, ” Not here.”

“Now listen one goddam minute, you son of a bitch. This shit with Ralph McManan would never have happened before folks like you came to this town,” Dan shouted.

Jack stood up.

“Guys just calm down!” pleaded Ronnie. He reached for the viewcom underneath the bar.

“Are you going to let him stay in here Ronnie? Hey Ronnie, I’m talkin' to you. Are you gonna' let him stay in here? ” a Carlton guy said pointing at Dan.

“Now listen I don't want any trouble in here, just calm down,” Ronnie bawled beseechingly.

Dan got down off his stool and approached Tony.

“You son of a bitch,” Tony shouted at him.

Dan was holding a bottle out of sight in his right arm.

The TV group by the door stood motionless. Outside Jane Willerby's cameras were rolling through the front glass of the bar.

Tony spotted the bottle.” Back off Dan,” said Tony. ”I've got a right to be here.” Dan stood two yards away from Tony eyeballing him.

“Put that bottle down Dan, come on,” Ronnie pleaded.

Dan slowly lifted up the bottle and smashed it on the edge of the bar, shards of glass falling onto the wooden floor like tired sparrows.

“You gutless son of a bitch. Get the fuck out of my bar! ” Ronnie shouted.

The tap dripped at the bar breaking the cloak of silence.

Tony tapped Al's arm using a move they’d used in the past.

“Now!”

Tony picked up the bar stool and threw it at Dan. Dan threw his arms up and the bottle smashed to the floor. The three men launched at Dan grabbing his arms and pushing his face to the floor. Shards of glass ripped at his clothes but didn’t penetrate.

“Hey, Ronnie it's okay...”

Tony's voice was drowned out as the group of farmers by the door moved menacingly forwards. Ronnie dialled emergency. The scene in front of him went into slow motion; it acquired a surreal feeling as if he were involved in a live holographic Western movie interactive.

A tall farmer, Hank, lead the group approaching Tony, Al and Jack. His veins stood proud at the base of his neck above the collar of his thick hued shirt. The man's greying hair was parted carefully and swept over the top of his head.

Ronnie saw the man's hand clasp into a tightly balled fist. He was clutching a bottle. Some people were lunging towards the door. One of the farmers picked up another bar stool, swung it twice over his head like a child throwing a teddy bear and hurled it towards the front glass door, its legs poking forward. The missile travelled towards one of Ronnie's regulars, nice guy, Vince, who ran a small garage on the edge of town.

Ronnie watched Vince register the approaching stool as he raised his arms.

Hank threw a table out of the way as he approached Tony, glasses smashing in its wake.

Ronnie looked up. He watched as the stool struck Vince's arm, bounced and then hit Vince's eye. Vince's face crumpled with pain. He screamed out in pain.

The stool fell innocently to the ground, bouncing on its seat end before coming to a standstill. Vince fell to the floor, his eyeball oozing blood. Other people had started trampling on him in their haste to get out.

Ronnie turned to the viewcom under the bar top. A woman finally came into view on the emergency number.

"Help!" said Ronnie, "its Ronnie."

Carlton reinforcements were making their way towards Tony, Al and Jack. They weren’t regulars in Ronnie's.

"My fucking eye man, my fucking eye, get some help," Vince wailed, "can't see my fucking eye..."

Hank was still moving towards Tony. His face had taken on a lifeless quality. Still and distantly focused. Strange, it was like he had never seen Tony before in his life.

The screen showing T7 above Ronnie's head panned in on Vince who was being dragged out of the door like a lifeless doll.

"What is the nature of your emergency?" The woman asked.

"Don't give me that fuckin' crap, turn your screen on people are getting fuckin' hurt down here, get some medics and the police down at Ronnie’s place, " Ronnie bellowed above the din.

"We are already on our way sir."

Jane Willerby appeared on the screen in the bar.

“This is Jane Willerby here reporting live from Ronnie's bar, where a serious fight appears to be breaking out. There already appears to be one man hurt, the police are on their way, I can hear the sirens coming...and a small crowd of people is gathering outside on the street here...”

At the other end of the street people were coming out of the cinema. Tom and Annie looked down the high street at the growing crowd outside Ronnie's. Tom tugged at Annie's arm and they wondered down the street towards the scene of the commotion.

Hank bore down on Tony raising his right foot as he approached.

Ronnie watched George running the full length along the top of the bar. George used to work for Carlton. He picked up a full bottle of Bud and arched his hand back in readiness to throw it.

Tony, Al and Jack ducked low as Hank approached them. Tony caught Hank's feet and bound them together and Al, using Hank's momentum picked him up and he thundered over the top of the bar. He flew over Ronnie's cowering head. Hank hit the glass mirror and shelves behind the bar with all the fancy spirits on.

The TV had shown Hank’s progress. Ronnie flinched as the breaking mirror deafened him; Hank fell unconscious behind the bar.

He watched as a vintage Moet and Chandon was dislodged by the chaos at the other end behind the bar. It tittered on the edge and smashed. The cork flew towards the window.

George released the bottle of Bud, and to Ronnie, still seeing it all in slow motion, it flew across the room above them all, dripping condensation on the way.

Ronnie raised his head hesitantly above the parapet of the bar top and then ducked.

“Jeees, shit! “ Ronnie screamed at the top of his voice as a stool just missed him.

The rest of Hank's group bore down on Tony, Al and Jack. They were going to get there before the Carlton lot.

Ronnie suddenly stood up from behind the bar.

"Fucking stop it!" he shouted. No one noticed.

Fighting everywhere he looked. He watched as a man's lip split open and blood surged forth like an excited and flooded stream.

The bottle of Bud hit the window of the bar at the same time as a body was hurled against it. The window had ' Ronnie's bar ' (Come in and relax) painted on it in large curly gold writing edged in black. It caved in like a tired damn, the glass shattering noisily, showering the reporters outside. The cameraman ducked like a frightened rabbit.

The monitor above Ronnie's head became a blur of red for a moment as the cameraman ducked.

"Shit, at least we've got a better view now," hissed the cameraman as bits of glass fell harmlessly on his snowy white hair. He poked his camera into the windowless scene in front of him; it was now framed just like it was on TV. ` Hank's posse had reached Tony, Al and Jack. Al's knees gave way as someone kicked his legs from behind. A young man was gritting his teeth and kicking Al as he lay on the floor of the bar. He curled up in a ball.

"Take that you son of a fucking bitch and that and that!" he kept shouting again and again.

The sirens wailed outside. No-one noticed. Eight men emerged from the back of a truck, clad in riot gear, helmets, shields etc., looking like fighter pilots without planes. They were excited. This was the first time they’d needed full riot gear in Hertferd.

Jack was trying to wrench the guy away who was kicking Al. He couldn’t though as he was being held by two men, who were pummelling at his kidneys. Tony had disappeared onto the floor beneath a melee of whipping arms and legs. The Carlton men were about to wade in. They had a look of grim determination on their faces.

Two shots were fired.

Everyone looked up. It was the police.

Some people were trying to run away, tussling and wriggling from the arms of police officers while others were standing still, others were continuing to fight.

The police reeled off two more shots. A tall cop was holding a small nonophone to his mouth.

"Please stop fighting now or we will be forced to use tear gas. I shall give you three seconds... three, two, one."

It was as if they had been collectively slapped. Everyone stopped fighting, like naughty children who suddenly become aware of what they were doing.

People stood still where they were as if creating a living statue of a bar brawl: fists tight, legs swung back ready to kick, bottles held ready to smash on skulls, arms twisted, men tugging on other peoples’ faces, cuts bleeding and men wailing. Everyone became aware of the Elvis number playing in the background, “Love me Tender...”

The cameras still rolled. The police had tried to move them but they had been determined to stay. For local TV, this was scoop time.

Ronnie slowly raised himself a few inches higher above the bar. His nose twitched nervously. His heart sank. His bar looked like a scene from a civil war; not a table upright, not a glass unbroken, not a picture straight. The wooden floor was covered in an oily and dangerous layer of whiskey, beer and other spirits. It stank.

Ronnie looked at his customers, their faces belied a huge array of feelings; guilt, aggression, incomprehension, astonishment, relief, frustration, confusion, pent up hostility and shame.

'How had this happened?' thought Ronnie. 'What the hell has really happened here?’

Three or four ambulances were outside Ronnie’s, their red lights casting pulses of light into the interior of the bar, making the shards of glass on the floor twinkle like red Christmas lights.

Vince had been given some painkilling drugs and was rushed to hospital. Several people had broken arms, ribs, and cuts to various degrees of severity, which needed tending. Medics circled around talking urgently.

Those that didn’t need medical attention of some sort were herded into the back of police vans, the police prodding them with their long batons. They didn’t resist, like weak lambs to the slaughter they coerced without conversation. Many looked tired, dazed and confused.

A tall cop, nearly as big as Jack, came over to where Al, Tony and Jack were standing. They could not see his eyes through the tinted glass, just a dim green light.

Without ceremony the police man herded Tony and Al towards the back of an ambulance. Tony had several cuts about his face, arms and back, as did Al.

"Not you,” boomed the faceless voice to Jack.

"You are coming separately with me."

The man produced a pair of electric cuffs.

"Why? Why me?" Jack protested.

"You are under arrest, you have the right to remain silent..."

"What for?"

"You will see"

"Why him and not us?" called Al in disbelief as he was herded off by another cop. “He's done nothing more wrong than we have. Why him? What's he done wrong?”

A policeman carrying a baton nudged Al stiffly in the back. Jack's heart was pounding.

"Why me?" he repeated, "Why me for God's sake?"

The man leaned over and took off the black mask that covered his face and whispered into Jack's ear.

"Quiet, you'll make it worse for yourself if I explain in here, just come quietly with me, do yourself a favour, okay."

Elsee sat at home with a hot chocolate watching the news in shock. Then she saw Jack being arrested and she watched in disbelief as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Jane Willerby and her crew bustled into the bar.

"Press, what's this man being arrested for?"

Jack looked at the ground and turned away from the camera.

"I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say, there’ll be an official police statement. This man will be helping us with our investigations."

Jack felt a prod in his back as he was moved on.

"Come on, sir, what's this man being taken in for? Which enquiry? "

The police officer took no notice and bundled Jack into the back of a car. Suddenly Jack twisted his neck around to the TV camera.

"Elsee!" he shouted, "If you are watching this I love you!"

The policeman whispered in his ear, "Shut the fuck up if you know what's good for you." The policeman put his hand on top of Jack's head and pushed him firmly into the van.

Tom and Annie were amongst the small crowd of on lookers.

"Jack, Jack!" Annie was shouting.

Tom wore no expression on his face. He stood fidgeting with his hand in his pocket.

"This is Jane Willerby reporting live from Ronnie's bar for T7 news. As you can see the police seem to have the situation under control now although there were at least thirty casualties, two of them serious.

We will be bringing you follow up reports and commentary. Stay with T7, where we bring you news live."

The door closed on the two rows of men in the back of the policevan leaving them in silence. The bars on the windows let in chinks of light and the gentle swaying motion of the van was soporific.

Two rows of men looked at each other. Down the left hand side the baseball caps of the farmers bobbed and swayed as they went over little bumps and humps in the road.

"You shits," said Dan as he spat into the face of the man opposite. The man wore a plain little T-shirt with a small 'C' in a box on the right hand corner, Carlton’s logo.

"You have spoiled my T-shirt," replied George and smirked.

The van rumbled, trembled and jolted its way to the police station.

Ronnie had cleared a small space in the middle of his bar and turned a table upright, brushed off the glass from three of the chairs and sat them around in a circle.

The police officers took off their helmets. A woman with long blonde hair looked at Ronnie and an elderly looking officer of about fifty, whose face visibly relaxed when he removed his helmet.

"Do you want a drink?" said Ronnie, "while I make my statement?"

The two police officers looked at each other, obviously relieved they had not been hurt.

"We ought not to, but do you mind if we do?"

"No,” said Ronnie, “it can be our little secret."

Ronnie went behind the bar to see if anything was left. For the first time in a while Ronnie smiled. A man emerged from the holoroom with a look of stunned confusion on his face.

"I've got some port left," he said, "provided you don't mind plastic glasses."

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