A New No.2
Number 6 floundered in the dark and dirty water of the ornamental fish pond, amid the water lillys and colourful Carp. The water was deeper than it looked, and the stone wall which surrounded the pond was higher this side. But luckily for him two pairs of arms reached over the wall and together Harlequin and Number 3, who still wore his usual Village attire of piped blazer and straw boater, helped haul Number 6 out of the pond.
“Dim chillado da squelhachy du pungerato” said Number 3.
“Oh it’s you, what did he just say?” Number 6 asked Harlequin
“Take no notice of him, no one does, no one can understand a word he says!” Harlequin replied.
“I’ve heard that said before.”
“It’s a question of an interpreter you see, they can’t find one!” Harlequin replied.
Number 6 stood by the side of the pond drenched from head to foot amid the pointing fingers, the whispers and witticisms of “showers later!” He looked across the lawn to where 73 was administering first aid to 42’s broken nose, and swore revenge and squelched his way along the street back to his cottage.
Discarding his wet clothes into the laundry basket Number 6 soaked for a long time in a hot bath with glass of non alcoholic whisky in hand. As he lay there up to his neck in frothy bubbles, he heard the helicopter flying overhead.
“Another new arrival, some poor soul’s in for an unnerving experience!” he thought, and paid it no further heed.
The Allouette helicopter approached the Village from over the mountains. The pilot had radioed his approach and requested to land, the passenger had busied herself by reading through a sheaf of papers, but now as the helicopter was on its final approach over the estuary she took notice, requesting the pilot to circle the Village before landing.
In the control room it was the supervisor-number 25’s duty to inform Number 2 of the helicopter’s arrival “He’s not going to like this” he muttered picking up the blue ‘L’ shaped telephone.
“Yes what is it?” Number 2 snapped with annoyance at being disturbed, not his usual calm, calculating self.
“The helicopter is here” the supervisor reported.
“And what is that to me, the helicopter calls once a day as part of its daily schedule.”
“Well I thought you should be made aware Number Two” said the Supervisor.
Number 2 sat back in his chair and thought for a moment before asking “how far away is it?”
“The helicopter has just crossed the estuary and is circling the Village at this very moment.”
“Circling the Village!” said Number 2 “what’s the pilot thinking of?”
The supervisor waited before answering “Apparently the passenger requested the pilot to do so.”
“Passenger, what passenger, we are not expecting any new arrival” retorted Number 2, quickly checking a file.
“Shall I order you a taxi, the helicopter Number Two, don’t you want to meet it?” the supervisor asked.
“Now why should I want to do that……” Number 2 began, then suddenly fell silent, as though seeing the writing on the wall.
“Well the helicopter only stays a couple of hours each trip, it doesn’t give you much time” said the supervisor.
Number 2 pulled himself together enough to reply “Not much time for what?”
“Well the helicopter will be waiting to…. to take you onto better things” replied the supervisor.
“Do you know who that passenger is aboard the helicopter?” Number 2 snapped down the telephone.
The supervisor hesitated for a moment “No, no Number Two.”
“Well less of your insolence and be about your business and despatch that taxi at once” Number 2 ordered, who was now on the verge of losing it!
“The sooner he’s gone the better!” thought the supervisor, and went on to order the taxi transport.
Outside in the Village as the helicopter touched down on the triangular lawn by the sea wall the Village bell tolled, as though tolling a new arrival, which of course she was. The passenger gathered up her papers and slipped them in her black leather documents case. The pilot opening the Perspex cabin door stepped out onto one of the helicopter’s grey floats, lending a helping hand to the passenger as she stepped down onto the lawn.
Number 2 sat in the chair in his office, watching the view on the wall screen as this new arrival crossed over to the waiting taxi, who climbed into a back seat, and then as the taxi drove off he switched off the screen. He spun round in his chair taking in the view of his office, and the office which he could no longer hold on to. The failure to recapture the Fakir-Number 91 was enough to put paid to any further idea of a second term, this despite all his achievements for the Village and its community. The line drawn between prisoners and warders is a thin one indeed, and for he who transgresses……comes Nemesis! Leaning forward in his chair he pressed a button on the control panel, moments later the pair of steel doors opened and his ever faithful manservant stood at the top of the ramp.
Number 2 looked up at butler and said in a trembling voice “Would you…. would you see that my things are packed, I shall be leaving within the hour.”
The butler remained silent, showing no emotion, he simply bowed
and withdrew, the steel doors closing behind him.
As for Number 2, he decided that he would go with dignity and take the scenic ride through his beloved Village, it would be something he would dearly miss when he’s gone. But then would the Village and its community miss him, it seemed unlikely and yet he hoped.
In ‘6 private,’ Number 6 was studying his sodden Identity, credit, Employment and Health and welfare cards, not to mention the photograph, which he had pinned up in order for it to dry. The other items could be replaced, he would have to pay a call in at the Citizens Advice Bureau at some point soon. Dressed in nothing but his blue striped dressing gown, he went through into the bedroom and opening the wardrobe door found an identical set of clothes to which he had been wearing. Once dressed he went through and poured himself another glass of non alcoholic whisky, quiet soothing music played through the black speaker and outside the sun shone as citizens went about their business, or in fancy dress costume in early preparation for Village Day. He found himself admitting to himself that life here did seem to suit him, and that he was in grave danger of becoming used to life here in the Village. Trouble is, however much a rebel you are, if exposed enough to any given environment, you eventually accept it simply on the grounds that there is nothing else.
Adequately dried out and refreshed, it was late afternoon when Number 6 returned to the great outdoors of the Village. He still had his quest to fulfil, and time he felt, was drawing on.
The Village seemed to be very quiet, certainly the citizens were not out and about as they had been earlier in the day, but as Number 6 thought, time was drawing and the shadows were lengthening towards that eight o’clock curfew. The Brass band had long since ceased playing, the fete stalls stood silent and abandoned until the morrow. Yet there were a few citizens in fancy dress costume still promenading around the Village streets and paths, as they filled in the last few late afternoon – early evening hours.
Walking along the main street Number 6 met with a stout man at the top of a ladder, he was replacing a burnt out bulb of a street light. Close by was the electrics truck and trailer.
“Why do you drive those things, a bit slow!” said Number 6.
“In an emergency we walk” returned the electrician.
“Fascinating” Number 6 replied, stepping sharply to the side of the street to allow a taxi pass by, and who was amazed to see the lonesome figure of Number 2, not dressed in his usual Village attire, but a light grey suit.
The taxi had travelled through the Village swiftly and smoothly, too swiftly for this
ex-Number 2’s liking, who was about to depart his beloved Village. There had been little time to see the new Number 2 settled in, but then she seemed to require no time at all. And there was no time to say any goodbyes, but then no one was interested in a departing Number 2, it was all about his successor! On the triangular lawn by the sea wall the helicopter stood waiting, the pilot was anxious, because his departure time had been delayed and the light would soon start fading, but he still calculated that there was time for the quick flip to the landing stage. The taxi turned left at the bottom of the hill at the Old People’s Home and round to the lawn. The pilot at seeing this, opened the Perspex cabin door and climbing in started the helicopter’s engine and the rotor blades began to turn. Number 2 alighted from the taxi carrying a single bag. Halfway across the lawn he paused and looked about him, up and around and knew instinctively that he would never see the Village again. If he were to, it would probably be as….. a prisoner! Finally climbing onto a grey float and into the Perspex cabin of the helicopter, the pilot prepared to take off, the engine roared into life, the rotors turning faster and faster until they were a single blur. The helicopter lifted off the ground, its nose tilted forward and then soured high up over the estuary. This departing Number 2 had requested the pilot to circle the Village in order to give him a final view, the request was denied for there was no time as the helicopter climbed high over the hills, leaving the Village far behind.
Number 6 watched the turquoise helicopter as it flew high and away across the estuary and wondered if one day it might carry him far and away. Then the words of Number 2 echoed inside his head “The Village Is For Life” and he wondered if Number 2 could now see the irony of those words. It was getting late, both the Café and Ice Cream Parlour were closing up for the day, they along with the General Store and various kiosks about the Village, he glanced at his watch and he thought about his quest and the cave which featured in his nightmare, had it not been for the tide being in he would have…… but the entrance would be flooded and then there was the little matter of that steel door. He would have to find a way to open it, and so it was with this upon his mind that Number 6 slowly made his way back through the Village to his cottage.
As he walked up the cobbled path he noticed the orange and white coloured cottage, the Roundhouse which the maid-Number 27 had spoken about! He must have walked past it a dozen times and more without ever really taking it in. Looking up he saw the turquoise iron railings of the balcony and the French door, below which, set in an alcove a Roman statue upon a pagan altar. He dashed up the short path between the Roundhouse and the general store, through the archway and up to the door of the cottage which upon turning the door handle, he found to be securely locked against him. He tried peering in through the glass and the small window to the left of the door, but could see little of the interior, but enough to see that it was
furnished, and in so being occupied! Stepping away from the window, he tried the door again, but it would not budge. He paced the small patio thinking what action he should now take, and sat on the curved wall to give this more thought. Perhaps if he should wait, after all it will be curfew time in a couple of hours or so, and who so ever occupies this cottage must surely return by then.
Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak went the Penny Farthing as it was pushed along. Number 6 heard this and stood up, when a well dress, middle aged gentleman sporting a moustache and receding hairline, dressed in plain black double breasted blazer, grey polo neck jersey and flannel trousers came pushing the squeaking Penny Farthing through the archway.
“Excuse me” said Number 6 stopping both the man and the squeaking “can you tell me who lives here?”
“Why no one sir, it’s empty and has been for some time” Number 9 replied politely.
“How can you tell that?”
“Well there’s no ‘private’ sign by the door sir.”
“If it’s empty, why then is it still furnished?” offered Number 6 looking in through the window.
“Perhaps it’s waiting for a new occupant sir” 9 replied in that polite manner of his.
“Or the old one to return. By the way what sign was it?”
“Sign sir?” asked Number 9, sounding rather vague about it.
“Yes, the sign once outside this door.”
Number 9 thought for a moment “Now let me see, oh yes, I remember…. Six Private!”
“Thanks” said Number 6, seeing that this was possibly the next link in his quest.
“Be seeing you” 9 saluted, and went on his way pushing his squeaking Penny Farthing.
“And you” Number 6 saluted in return.
Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak.
Once the man and his Penny Farthing were out of sight, Number 6 went to work on the lock of the door, with the pin of his Penny Farthing badge which he removed from the lapel of his blazer.
Click and turning the handle, the door to the cottage once known as ‘6 Private’ opened and he entered closing the door behind him. He was astonished at the sight which greeted him. The lounge was an exact replica of the lounge of No 1 Buckingham Place in the City of Westminster, and just for a second that is where he thought himself to be. He knew the house of course, having been there on numerous visits. All the furniture, fixtures and fitting, paintings, prints ornaments and the like. The rest of the cottage, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom were alien to him, after all both the bedroom and bathroom should be upstairs, but here there was no upstairs. With the knowledge that surveillance in the Village was absolute, he
understood that they might well know where he was at this very moment. So time was short. There was a distinct lack of dust, he ran a finger along the top of the fire place, everywhere was neat and tidy, just as though the occupant had just nipped out for a moment. then he began to make a search.
In her office of the Green Dome the new Number 2 sat in the black spherical chair watching the view of Number 6 on the wall screen as he made a search of the Roundhouse. He found two old copies of The Tally Ho, both undated, one with the headline ‘No 6 Speaks His Mind,’ it was a newspaper he had seen before. The other read ‘Increase Vigilance Call From No 2,’ that was accompanied by a photograph presumably of a Number 2. He replaced the two newspapers back in the empty magazine rack, wiped a finger across the television screen, through which the new Number 2 was observing his actions upon her wall screen, as Number 6 continued making his search. He was drawn to the open bureau, she had seen enough, and pressed a button on the control panel of her desk, switching off the wall screen and leaving Number 6 to it.
The bureau at first glance appeared to contain nothing remarkable, a ‘Things To Do Today’ pad, a pen, a pencil. A watch with a stainless steel watch band, it had stopped at and the date registered 19. A colour Map of Your Village in a drawer, a small black note book, with nothing written in it, but some pages had been torn out. There were several sheaves of papers in one pigeonhole, one having notes of a drawing about a something called a Triquetrum, a Greek ancient device used to find one’s bearings. A Penny Farthing badge in another, the red numeral denoting the number 6, he examined it along side his own badge which he took from his pocket. Both were opposites to the other in the fact that the Penny Farthings faced different ways, his to the left, the other to the right. In another pigeonhole were several cards, Credit, Heath and Welfare, Employment and Identity, and this contained the photograph of the man on the front page of The Tally Ho, and his own photograph of the man he has been searching for, Number 6….. his predecessor! Replacing everything as they were in the bureau, he turned his attention to the black telephone on a small side table, the number on the dial face was a black 6, he picked up the receiver and listened for the dialling tone, there wasn’t one, the telephone was dead. The rest of the cottage was quite unremarkable. Both water and electricity had been disconnected, the turning of a shower tap, and the switching on of a light switch was enough to prove that. But time was short and for Number 6 it was time to go, but before leaving, he observed the wastepaper basket under a small side table. He sat upon the recliner and reached for the wastepaper basket, and retrieved the crumpled sheets of paper therein. He straightened them out, scanned them quickly, then folding them he placed the papers in his blazer pocket and replaced the basket under the table. “Careless” he thought to himself. One final
glance around the room and he made his departure, securing the cottage door behind him, with the aid of the pin of his Penny Farthing badge.
Outside there suddenly came an announcement, the supervisor’s voice booming out over the entire Village;
“This is an urgent message for Number Six, would Number Six please report to Number Two immediately. I repeat Number Six please report to Number Two, the Green Dome immediately.”
He decided to ignore the summons, for that is what the announcement was. Instead he made his way through the Village, passed the café, across the taxi rank, passed the Labour Exchange and along the path into the woods towards the graveyard, because he had something he needed to check, one more thing to tick off his list so to speak. Walking amid the gravestones he was surprised not to see any new graves. Some headstones were grey and weather worn, some more than others which were green with mould, all with but one inscription a simple number 66, 80, 86, 27, 73, 113, 46, 204, to name a few, no names only numbers. And no number 6 at that. Number 6 didn’t know whether to be pleased or happy about that. Then he saw a woman kneeling at the graveside of Number 73, her head bowed in quiet reverence. He slowly approached the woman in colourful cape and blue trilby hat, and asked her if these were all the graves, and whether or not she knew of a grave marked 6, and whether or not there had been any recent funerals? The woman lifted her face and looked up at the man standing at her side. Number 6 could see that there was much sadness in the woman’s face, and she had been crying. He asked her again, the woman said nothing, she simply shook her head before lowering it once more. He walked away, leaving the woman to her grief at the graveside. Checking the time by his wristwatch, Number 6 saw that it was less than an hour away from curfew. He thought of the lonesome woman lost in her grief, he turned back to remind her of the time. However as Number 6 turned, he was amazed to see that of the woman there was no sign, she had gone. But to where, there was no place she could have gone, and certainly not passed him, for there was only one path in and out of the graveyard. He turned in all directions, and on all sides of the graveyard was an overgrown dry stone wall, not difficult to climb over, but difficult enough, besides he would have seen. A sudden breeze rustled in the tree tops, and this with a cold chill in the air told him, the graveyard was not the place to be!
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