The two of them swayed down the alleyway, doing the drunken two-step, Hartog fighting to keep the older man on his feet as they came around the corner of the alleyway and out into the scrutiny of the main street. Hartog got his good ‘ole drunk voice out and they were transformed into two derby supporters who’d returned from leaving their mark on the wall of the apartment building.
“What about them girls, eh?” Hartog said to the door man who raised one eye brow, as the two of them staggered through the door.
“Can’t say I know, Detective,” the doorman said, the disdainful smile playing over his ultra bright teeth. “It may be the National Sport now, but myself sir, I’m a hockey man through and through. Good thing my father’s passed on. He’d be appalled to see what’s happened to the state of hockey in this country.”
“State of hockey, yeah,” Hartog slurred and dragged Joe off to the elevator before the doorman could draw out their exchange any further. Hartog had seen the way the doorman did it with other tenants when he was investigating something he considered unsavory. Nothing annoyed Hartog more than than a zealot for protocol.
“Yah – go girls!” Hartog howled just to piss the doorman off, who shook his head and picked invisible flecks of lint from his immaculate coat. The power punch punctuated the frigid wheeze and the doors opened and the two of them toppled into the safety of the elevator.
With the door closed, Hartog carefully propped Joe up in the corner. The old man’s head bobbed of its own free will as though the tendons had turned to rubber bands. The elevator groaned to a halt at the fifth floor, his head shot up and bloodshot eyes on Dirk.
“I wish I ha’ a son like you, Dirk.”
“No you don’t. Don’t mistaken random acts of kindness for some kind of inherent goodness.”
“Random acts don’ happen twice, m’boy. No… no, no they don’”
Hartog dragged him out of the elevator and tried not to think what three random acts of kindness would actually mean. Joe was his secret and no one need know – no one other than Joe’s daughter. Hartog was mentally pencilling her in for a visit tomorrow, as he keyed in his security code.
Benjamin looked up, squinting into the sun. His gaze settled on the top of the building across the road and the spinning turbine of the water mining units topping it like an architectural disaster. Round and round the blades went, faux momentum, because the trajectory never changed. Stuck.
As a kid he thought the city looked like it was trying to escape. He expected one day the buildings would gather enough lift from the massive propellers and fly away. The buildings would flee to Somewhere Else. A place where the rain would wash away the City’s sins. Where wounds would be salved. A chance to recover and move on. The building would take him and Portia away with them and they would start again. A new beginning.
Portia had loved the rain. She was always reminding him how cathartic it was to cry. Mother Nature cried and she never got it wrong Portia said. Even now, knowing the flood of good hormones which would follow, Benjamin could’t bring himself to cry. To cry was to admit Portia was gone and he was all alone. That the small light, which had raged in his life, had gone out.
Portia never got over the fact it would never rain again. When the water crisis threatened to end civilisation as they knew it, some bright spark invented a system to mine the moisture from the air and turn it water. Atmospheric aqua mining upset the balance of condensation and evaporation in nature. Precipitation became a thing of the past – a meteorological relic. Portia was just ten the last time it rained – old enough to remember and forever miss it.
The last time rain fell she pulled on pink gumboots and jumped in puddles. Portia had said she wished she’d stayed out playing longer. If only she had known it was the last time. Benjamin knew all about last time regrets.
But Portia had never seen it that way. There was never time nor the inclination for regrets in her life. She’d believe the City had the ability to redeem itself but the city sucked the life from Portia and then spat her out in a filthy alleyway among broken crates and bags of garbage.
She had been too good for a place like this.
A job like her’s.
Maybe if only he could cry something would move inside him. His heart might actually break and if it broke maybe it had a chance to heal. Or the lump in his throat all these years, might finally choke the life from him.
What life it was.
Benjamin turned his attention back to the street level, and the ebb and flow of pedestrians stepping around him. A taxi eased into the lay-in and Hartog stood half in and half out of the taxi haggling over the fixed fare until he finally allowed the flustered drive to scan the back of his hand for payment.
Hartog stepped away from the taxi and glanced at the digital tickertape NewsFeed above the door of the bar and then to Benjamin.
“Slow news day?”
Image: Angels and Olives