Ben’s Bit, part eleven – Aspects of Power
“Ben, I’ve got some good news and some bad news…” The Governor of Bakewell Gaol is enjoying himself, but there’s a deadly edge to the calm exterior manner.
We are sitting in the ‘interview room’. We being the redoubtable Dr Grey, looking smug; his sexy assistant, Miss Goodnight of the Heels – nee Golding, who is not looking at all happy; a man in his forties with prematurely white hair whose name I’ve yet to discover… and the boss of the meeting, the hitherto absent Governor, whom I’ve just met.
But there’s something wrong with the Governor… He’s very tall, at least as big as Yellow Eyes, who often misses these ‘operational’ meetings. He’s built like a soldier… or possibly a mercenary, were I to refine my description. He has massive shoulders, and eyes that look like they’ve been plucked from a golden eagle… and he wears one of the most expensive pinstripe suits I’ve ever seen. He is, as Wen would have said, terribly corporate… and I find that strange for the Governor of a small gaol in the depths of darkest Derbyshire.
As though urging my mental appraisal to get a move on, the Governor continues, “Did you get that, Ben?” he smiles to clear the air. “Good news and bad news?” Then he makes a small barking noise, which I take to be a triumphant laugh…
“I’m all yours,” I say pleasantly, trying a new tack of playing the obvious idiot. I try to copy his smile exactly, but I don’t have enough teeth, and make a lopsided mess of it.
He studies my action, minutely… and files it away for future reference. “Good!” he brings his hands together and rubs the palms as though we’re going to make a fire. “So, in the interests of levity – which I don’t suppose you’ve had much of in here,” his wide grin is almost infectious… almost. “which…” he stretches the word till it’s as ridiculous as the kind of limo I can see him riding in. “… would you like first?”
I can’t believe it’s a question. “I can’t believe that’s a question,” I say neutrally, as though we were discussing Derby County’s football results. Dr Grey looks delighted that I am trying my old tricks on someone he clearly expects to squash me. Miss Goodnight, however, pitches slightly forward in mirth and pretends to cough. Dr Grey misses it, but the Governor doesn’t–and the look he gives her has a long steel blade in it. For a second she holds his glare – and goes right into my mile-high bucket list. Then she drops her gaze, but not before running it over my left thigh in a gesture that no-one but me clocks. Oh my, I think, Oh my….
One thing that twenty-odd years of running a company taught me was that you’ve got to keep them guessing, never play the same persona too much, switch it around, mess it up… a lot.
“But enough sparring,” I say, looking back into the eyes atop the pinstripe from the sombre power base of my grey prison overall. “Let’s have the good news, ” I say, cheerfully. “Then we can close off with the bad, and a commiserating latté… what do you think?”
I lean forward – something that nearly got me killed with Yellow Eyes – and gaze at him, as though I want to have dinner with him and his gorgeous suit.
His gaze never falters… he looks back at me as though he wishes we were alone together… and not in a good way… and the tiny tick I’ve just noticed on the right side of his tight lips tells me that he will make every effort to ensure that happens, one day soon…
The left thumb traces the perfect crease of the collar line on the mohair-rich suit. “Okay, Ben,” he says, in a voice suddenly turned very soft – it’s obvious he can do it, too – “Let’s do the good news…” the teeth have fixed themselves into a snarl. “We’ve caught up with your accomplices!”
It’s a shock.
For several seconds I picture poor Don and Wen, hunted and cornered by the dark forces at the command of the pinstriped army of the Knights of Severity, of which the Governor is just an adjunct… but then I focus on what he has just said: We’ve caught up with your accomplices! There’s something wrong with that sentence; in fact there are two things wrong with it. I hold up the first two fingers of my right hand and present the palm as though making a secret sign to him – he seems temporarily shocked at the gesture, and I file it away, pulling back the hand and peering at it to make a visual joke of its apparent potency.
“Two things…” I say, pleasantly. “Who’s ‘we’? And secondly,” I let my aggressive and secretive fingers march forward again. Opposite me the snarl returns. “‘caught up with’ is different to ‘caught’…” I continue. “and, anyway, how can you catch what doesn’t exist?” I realise how close I’ve been to the edge, and how cleverly he built the tension so that I would miss it…
But he wasn’t expecting the rebuff of logic, and seems happy to pass over my preposterous posturing of being alone at the scene of the crime and moving an ancient stone in an action impossible for a single person, even with tools.
“Ah, Ben,” he smiles. “What’s the point playing games, anymore.” I can tell he’s sliding the ace down the inside sleeve of his pale, blue shirt. “Surely Don and Wen would understand that you’ve been through enough?”
It’s a hammer blow–that their names are known, but I cling to my remaining handhold – that ‘we’ was a strange construct under these circumstances. Its demolition doesn’t take long.
“And as to your first point,” he says, looking very smug. The Chief Constable is a close friend,” he leans back in a chair, a chair I’ve suddenly noticed is both leather and new. “In fact, we play golf together…. so there’s your ‘we’.”
“And the bad news?” I manage, weakly.
“Ah the bad news,” he says, looking like he’s about to light a cigar. “Poor Graham Rumins–your former guard, here, I believe you called him Yellow Eyes–most amusing… has suffered a seizure and we’ve had to retire him.” He looked at me as though I have achieved a minor victory, but one which can easily be sacrificed in the greater game. “He won’t be back. I’m afraid; instead–”
The quiet man with the premature grey hair interrupts, “–Roger Sylvester,” he actually gets up to come over and shake my hand. “I don’t know the full facts of how you got here, Ben, but I’ll do my best to ensure your inappropriate stay is as comfortable as I can make it…”
The pale blue eyes that have lived through much are steady. They are full of integrity. I was not expecting this intrusion of reality into this madhouse of elsewhere power-politics, apparently centred on me. “Thank you,” I say sincerely to the new face. In reply, he simply nods, and looks across at the Governor in a very strange way…
“That will be all, Ben… for now,” says the Governor. “Don’t leave the country, will you…” he chortles, then barks, again, at his own joke. “We still have the firearms charge to pursue, not to mention the detailed analysis Dr Grey and his assistant want to carry out on your state of mental health… apparently, there are rumours that your ‘unconventional’ actions contributed to the collapse of your former guard?”
Roger Sylvester, my new gaoler, takes me back to Cell One. He opens the old door and ushers me in. He’s about to close it behind me but stops, leaving it half open. “Don’t suppose you fancy a cup of tea?” he asks. Mute with shock, I nod and he walks off down the corridor to get it himself, leaving the door still open.
When he returns, a few minutes later, he has two mugs of steaming tea and an old fashioned game of solitaire, wrapped in a clear plastic bag, which he lays on the bed. “Marco left this for you,” he says. “So don’t invent a way of breaking out centred on an ingenious use of white marbles…please…” Then, noting my smile, he looks at the wooden board and its old muslin bag of pieces.
“Used to be in the navy,” his face creases with what looks like an ironic smile. “Good game for passing the time – can teach you all sorts of things…”
With that he leaves with his tea. But I don’t hear the door lock.
<See index below for other parts of this story>
———————————————————–< to be continued-
Ben’s Bit is a continuing first-person narrative of the character created by Stuart France and Sue Vincent, which may bear some relation to the author of this story, Steve Tanham, their fellow director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. In their book, Scions of Albion, Ben is arrested for his overly enthusiastic part in a mad escapade, and the other two are nowhere to be seen . . . For more, enjoy their Doomsday series of books, and the new series (Lands of Exile) whose first volume, But ‘n’ Ben is now available in Kindle and Paperback. Click here for details.
Index to Ben’s Bits:
The Silent Eye School of Consciousness – a modern mystery school.