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Gilbert's Brass Drawing Machine

Tom Manx had taken a small place in the block next door to Tom Busey.

He looked around his new home. Old wiring, no com just a decrepit phone, sofa, vintage flat screen TV, no access to the wire and no holoroom. Great apartment.

The phone was an ancient piece of equipment, the pad of digits had the nine the seven and the two missing and it had a cord running to the unit that controlled it.

He slumped his bag down on the sofa, if you could call it that; it was bleeding stuffing all over the brown carpet. As it went down the dust came up, thick and pluming with mites, bugs and other little microscopic skin itches.

The tap was dripping and he could hear someone shouting at a viewcom downstairs. Someone Dysoned noisily upstairs. No dust binding carpets here.

There was wire mesh over the windows so the light streaming in fell onto the sofa in funny patterns. Outside in the graffiti filled corridor kids were playing with remote control gizmos up and down the hall.

Tom Manx went over to his new kitchen. There was a cooler, massive thing like something out of an old movie, it had a chrome door handle and it was white. When he opened the door it had a smell of faintly rotting eggs. He turned on the tap; it worked, amazing.

He put the kettle on. It was bright yellow and upright. He looked inside it. There was a filament with years of build up around it, great for gallstones. It was astonishing there was still a kettle with a filament in existence.

The whole place was like the set of some retro movie where all the bad objects had been put together in one place.

It was Friday the 28th of March and he was due to start at Carlton at eight thirty in the morning, the latest start he was going to have for a while. He was going to be filling in a lot of forms, looking around the factory and meeting the Union guy Rod Bremmer. He knew all about Rod Bremmer. He knew more about Rod Bremmer than Rod Bremmer knew about himself. He knew he didn't like poached eggs. He knew he still wet shaved. He knew his wife was having an affair. Not even Rod Bremmer knew his wife was having an affair. He knew about his kids. He knew enough about the bastard to blackmail him out of the town, out of the state and out of the country. He knew he took kickbacks from all sorts of people. He knew he organised funds to go to Chicago to the owners of 'innocent little Italian coffee shops' who sat eating pasta all day and kept their shirts clean and their suits pressed.

But he didn't think he was going to need all that. He reckoned from Rod Bremmer's history that he liked stirring the shit up. Some people are just like that.

The kettle was beginning to steam.

He reached into his rucksack and pulled out some instant espresso and put the sachet’s contents into a stained brown mug. The coffee fizzed as he poured in the hot water.

He sat and thought about his day ahead. He thought about his girlfriend who didn't know where he was and thank god, never asked him too many questions. If all went well they would meet up together in New Zealand. If…

He drank his coffee and went to Carlton.

He made his way to block 2C where he filled in some forms with the personnel officer. His pseudonym was Scott Fenton. From now on he was going to think, act and shit like Scott Fenton. He told the personnel officer a little bit about his personal history. She listened, nodded and said yes and no.

He had moved out here because he had been made unemployed in Detroit. He'd been a technician in the cutting tools division, which made parts to make tools to make tools to make cars. He filled in more forms on screen, they all checked out.

Scott Fenton had appeared from nowhere but was now a virtual person in the system. In fact he'd been around a while it's just that his filling had been done improperly. Well that was the official story but no one was going to check really and even if they did they would never find anything.

“Great, that's everything. If you have any questions at all just come and ask. You fixed for a place to stay?"

Yeah, I've got somewhere for now, although I might move fairly soon if I can.”

“Where's that?"

“Around Montana Avenue.”

“Oh yes, quite a lot of people who work here live around there."

“Well good luck. I know that Rod Bremmer wants to see you. He said he’d meet · you in his office at eight, I’ll take you there now if you like, it’s a complete maze around here but you'll get used to it."

The woman was quite young, about twenty five and had had a College education. She wore a nice suit but it was well chosen, it was not over pricey so she blended into the atmosphere quite well. She had long slim legs, short-cropped black hair and inviting brown eyes. She smiled easily and walked gracefully. Scott trotted behind her in the thin corridor admiring her pert behind bobbing up and down like a cork on a slightly rough sea.

Carlton, from what he'd seen, was a hotch potch of incredibly modern and incredibly old buildings. The doors had speckled glass insets in dark thick wood, their bases were bruised by years of wear and tear and their brass handles gleamed from the grasp of sweaty hands. They went through a thin premoulded corridor. Outside builders mixed concrete and laid bricks.

“We're doing some repairs here. The roof's leaking. We're hoping to clear this whole area to build a new part of the plant."

They entered a relatively modern building. There was a corridor but on either side the walls were glass, with people tweaking 3-D spreadsheets, scrutinising bills, receipts and running around looking a bit harassed.

They are very busy at the moment," she said apologetically.

They took a swift left turn and then almost immediately a swift right which lead into a backwater. There was a sink, kitchen, coffee machine and a small office. The name Rod Bremmer hung in the air projected by small little lights that weren't visible.

The office was clean and tidy. It had polished wooden floors, not one piece of paper on any of the surfaces, the usual collection of office equipment; desk with built in viewcom, a small cubicle for holoconferencing, small microphone placed in the flowers on the desk (which very nearly looked real) for dictating messages into, etc, etc.

In fact there were only three things that were slightly strange about the whole room. One was the small gold fish tank that was inset into the front of the desk. The second was a stuffed mousse head, which hung on the wall eyeballing everyone that went past for all the world like it thought it was the Mona Lisa and the third item was something that Tom had never seen before.

It looked a hundred years old, maybe more. It stood in pride of place at the edge of the desk. It had a brass stem about twenty centimetres high with two magnifying glasses inset in brass surrounds at about a forty-five degree angle to each other.

Rod Bremmer was looking out of the window and held his hand under his chin. He looked even more unhealthy than his picture had suggested. He was in his mid-forties; about six foot and his fleshy, sallow skin clung to his chin but only just. His thinning gingerish-brownish hair was swept over the top of his · head in a side parting. He didn't turn around when they came into the room. Tom had assessed him from his reflection in a mirror.

"Rod I've brought Scott Fenton here to see you." He didn't respond.

She looked at Scott and winked at him. Then she mouthed something at him, which he thought was, "Don't take any notice of him. He can be a silly ass."

She smiled, turned and left with grace, she moved like his girlfriend.

Rod span and regarded Scott Fenton. It was one of those assessing looks and Rod obviously took pleasure in trying to make Scott feel uncomfortable. Yet strangely there was a certain mischievous kindness in his eyes, as if the man were torn between being boyish and his need to project a ' don't-ass-with-me’ persona.

“Want some coffee?"

"No. It’s okay thanks."

“Sure you do. Have some coffee. Who knows? I might never get you coffee again, I should make the most of it, if I were you."

Rod slumped onto his chair, which made a creaking complaint, put his arms behind his head, screwed his lips and gazed at Scott.

“Albert get us some coffee, would you? Two lots, usual way, and yeah, get us some cookies while you're at it."

“So, where you from, boy?"

“LA originally."

“West coast, eh?"

“Read your file, says it was good at your job. You good at your job?"


Rod guffawed and smiled in spite of himself. "So how is old Detroit city?"

“Ah you know, still there."

“They still havin' those illegal races on Saturday near Hooper's? All that rubber burning shit going on, with the police pretending they don't notice?"

“Yep. Sure are."

“Hertferd's dead by comparison. You’d better get used to it." Bremmer let out a mock sigh of whimsy.

“She doesn't like me you know, that personnel officer, she never has. Still there you go, lots of folks don't like me round here, I like it that way, keeps me on my toes, keeps people awake. Albert likes me, don't you Albert."

A man of medium height appeared at the door. He was about thirty, his face was without blemishes and his trousers were well pressed.

“Albert's the only rear arse-seeker in Hertferd I reckon. You get lonely here don't you Albert? Rod slapped his arse as he bent over and put down the tray of coffee."

Rod howled with laughter.

Albert gave Scot a knowing, pained look and shook his head in mock despair.

“Don't take too much notice of him," said Albert jauntily, "fancy sending you in to see him first. Cruel. Good luck."

Albert dexterously whipped the tray and minced out.

“English and the biggest queen in Hertferd. Still Union rules is Union rules, employ any piece of arse, black, white, cream, women, man, transvestite whatever just so long as they do the job. So I did and that's Albert."

Bremmer slurped his coffee and put his cup down with a deliberate slowness.

“My information tells me you were a big Union man in your former job."

Tom smiled inwardly; they really had been professional in setting all this up.

“Yep and I didn't come here only to have my job taken away from me by some hick farmer of a Mayor. I wouldn't have bothered coming here if I'd known what was going on. Still I'm here now. They won in Detroit but they aren't going to win this time round. No sir. Not again."

“Fighting talk. That's the way a lot of us feel here. We aren't going to let that happen. We're organising a committee to go around lobbying people in the town who are unsure which way to vote. We're going to make damn sure they know which way to vote."

Bremmer laughed. "They're going to learn there's only one vote." Scott nodded.

“Hope we can call on your support if we need it."

“I would like to be a bit more involved than just giving my support," Scott said raising his eyebrows.

Something in Rod's manner, something in his eyes told him that he may know more about him then he was letting on, he couldn't be sure but it vaguely worried him. No-one was to know his real objectives.

Rod lent forward.

“How do I know I can trust you?"

“How do I know I can trust you?" Tom replied evenly.

The two men sat in silence, supped coffee and eyeballed each other.

“Trust your instincts Mr. Bremmer," said Tom throwing down the gauntlet.

Rod got up and closed the door of his office. He also asked for privacy mode. Invisible walls sprung up around them, which absorbed sound.

“There's a lot more at stake here than jobs. You understand if you've worked in Detroit.

“That's why we may end up 'persuading' people in a manner that Ellephanie won't agree with. So we aren't going to tell him. We're just going to persuade people. It may sound strange, but even in this little hick town there is plenty of arm-twisting that can be done. Plenty of information to be had, you just have to look."

Scott knew only too well what was at stake. Bremmer was under pressure from the small time mafia to keep the money and kickbacks from Union membership flowing their way.

“I don't want to lose my job Mr. Bremmer. I'm happy to do some persuasion, provided the persuasion keeps people alive, if less happy."

“Good, that's what I like to hear. We'll be in touch very, very soon. See you later. I've got stuff to do."

Tom knew that he needed to make the guy feel like he was king so he got up and walked away. Just before he left he turned around.

“What's with the brass thing?"

“It was invented by a guy called Gilbert. It helps people draw. It allows you to draw around objects in the distance."

“Oh," said Tom none the wiser.

“I'll show you some time. Now beat it, I've got stuff to do."

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