The House of Dust
Life goes by like a dream. The nightmare only
begins when your brain slips out of gear and you realise that everything
is turning to dust.
I can remember when spring was a non-event in Edinburgh. We used
to go straight from the damp chill of winter to summer's deceitful
blue skies, and the wind's well-honed knives never took more than
a day off at a time. Things are different now. April 2028 was even
warmer than previous years. People started parading around in clothing
that revealed far too much, juxtaposing the skin and bone of undernourished
locals with tourist flab. In June the Big Heat that results from
global warming would kick in and the city would turn into a giant
Turkish bath, though not in the air-conditioned hotels occupied
by our honoured guests.
Except, come June, the tour companies might well have voted with
their feet and left us to enjoy the sweat season on our own. The
ruling Council of City Guardians has been losing the fight against
the youth gangs in the suburbs for over a year. These days groups
of Edinburgh's generation excess even mount raids into the central
zone, divesting foreigners of currency, clothing and consciousness
- not necessarily in that order. The headbangers in the City Guard,
no strangers to extreme violence themselves, have had more than
their hands full.
Which is why the guardians, fearful that their main source of income
is about to go drier than the Water of Leith in August, have been
working on a plan to put even more of a squeeze on their subjects.
The appearance of the first swallows - they arrive earlier every
year - coincided with the completion of the city's new corrective
facility: it was intended to turn the Council's "perfect city"
into a fully operational prison-state. Personally I've never been
a supporter of banging people up, but no one asked my opinion. After
all, I'm only an investigator. What do I know about crime and the
causes of crime?
So every night the city resounds to the frantic rush of youthful
feet and the slap of truncheons on flesh. Special squads of extra-hefty
guardsmen and women were formed to deal with the gangs late last
year, but the so-called "beaters" end up beaten more often
The problem for me in recent months has been one of commitment.
When I was a kid I loved Edinburgh for its breathtaking vistas and
its glorious if blood-lathered history. Even after my home city
set itself up as an independent state twenty-five years ago, I stayed
on the scene. The Council's extreme policies were better than the
mayhem we'd lived through when the UK was ripped to pieces in the
drugs wars, and its high-minded Platonic ideals at least meant that
people were treated with a reasonable degree of fairness. But I've
had about as much as I can take of the present regime's iron fist.
I've even been considering slipping over the border and heading
for Glasgow - at least there's a semblance of democracy there.
To hell with spring. I go along with Merline Johnson. Back in the
1930s she sang about the blues being everywhere. I've always had
a tendency to pessimism, but it took the fatal shooting of a guardian
and a journey to the underworld to make me realise just how right
the old diva was.