'La Dolce Vita' a novel by Guy Martyr 16.
La Dolce Vita instalment 16 of 20
A carriage swept in. Jack Wylie; of course! "Horatio! You're here. Good. All settled in? This is our first day: your first day. Big day. Come on." Wylie was corralling the conscripts and arrivees alike. "Take them over to that hut." indicating one of the larger structures "Tell them to undress for showering. Hurry up!" he ordered Sergeant Sparrow, who began barking at his men. Then he went to the luggage compartment of his carriage and fetched a box containing more of the tins of the sort Horatio had seen in the store, and a small axe. He indicated for Horatio to bring another bulky box of the tins from the carriage, and headed off, Horatio in tow, towards the Special Store.
"You'll have to do all this yourself soon, Horatio. Train up the men. It's quite simple."
"What? What is this all about?"
"Haven't you read your Orders? This is a Sector 15 camp, for persistent offenders, or people who have persistently failed to gain camp accommodation. It's my plan, actually, my baby. A kind of architecture of the soul. I was able to get the contract, once I had found these Special Materials" nodding to the box he was carrying "- they were in a bunker on one of the old military sites we had acquired for Transitional Habitation. The stuff was brought over from Germany after the old European war, to be studied, but it all got forgotten. It was my destiny to find it, I like to think, inside that bunker - solid, brutalist concrete, quite a wonderful structure! in a wonderful layout too: long, wide roads, vistas, cleansed of trees, shorn of all rough edges. It hadn't long been vacated, and had been so well kept."
Wylie was at the Special Store now; he placed his box on the counter, and took out one of the tin cans.
"When I realised what I had found, the idea crystallised straight away! I even thought of your part in it, my boy - you'll be proud of this . . . this great scheme!"
He was walking now towards the flat-roofed concrete building, whither the citizens had been taken, can held before, axe grasped, animated. Horatio, having deposited his load in the Special Store, followed.
"Tree clearances, shorn landscapes, protected areas, efficiency, drainage, and now . . . Sector 15 dispersal!" He gesticulated towards the concrete structure. "One of yours, my boy. And a good job you did, too." To Horatio's quizzical look, he asserted: "Yes, you designed this building. It was the first job I gave you when you joined us. The idea was forming in my mind even then; nothing concrete, so to speak, but I was making preparations, including your part in it, Horatio." Horatio interrogated his memory and found there that far off, inauspicious-sounding task, his first professional engagement - 'Design a temporary wash house'.
Wylie was climbing a ladder set into the wall at the back of the concrete hut, tin tucked under his arm, clasping the axe.
"Come up, come up." Horatio followed onto the roof. "Ah, yes, all ready boys?" asked Wylie, of the group of conscripts who were hanging round slightly aimlessly up there – this was the whole of Horatio's platoon. "Hallo sir" said Darren, smiling his youthful smile. "Hallo sir." They all acknowledged his arrival. "Hallo chaps! Good to see you." There was uncertainty behind everyone's voice. "We're all here, sir. Don't know what for, as usual" said Javed.
They stood around a small, chimney-like aperture in the roof. "You see" said Wylie, now very animated, "take the axe, a quick blow on the lid, break the skin, up-end the can onto the hole in the roof, keep it pressed on" he was miming the motions "until all the crystals have fallen." They peered into the hole in the roof, to see that it opened directly into the interior of the building, now full of people. "Then wait twenty minutes, they should all be dealt with."
"Dealt with?" asked Horatio.
"Dead, of course. What did you think? . . . The crystals in these cans, when exposed to air, give off poison gas" he added impatiently. Wylie was looking round . . . "Here . . . you do it! . . . " He thrust the tin and axe at Darren, Horatio's youngest charge.
Darren stared, transfixed, then looked at Horatio.
"Here you are lad. Go on! It's an Order!" Wylie was pressing. Darren brought his hands forward slowly, trembling, uncertain. The other conscripts stood like stone. Flashes of mutiny went through their minds, but they thought about life-long-Credit-Status, and the prospect of being deported themselves.
"Lock the doors; put up the shutters!" Wylie was calling to the soldiers below. Sergeant Sparrow hurried them along: these were his small band of regular soldiers; he was refusing to have anything to do with the useless Service conscripts. "Come on, come on lads, get those shutters closed. Hurry up with the doors . . . "
People inside the building called out, "Hey!" "What's happening?" "Let us out!"
Sergeant Sparrow's men busied to the task to which they had been ordered.
"All done sir!" called up Sergeant Sparrow.
"Ready with the can." Wylie fixed Darren with a commanding stare. Darren placed the can at his feet, lifted the axe, trembling, twisted his face away, eyes streaming. Paul, the platoon’s priest-in-waiting, emboldened as his vocation came alive, suddenly reached out, and relieved Darren of the axe. "Jack . . . he can't do it. No one can" pleaded Horatio, at one with Paul’s intervention.
"No one? No one? Don't talk to Jack Wylie about no one. Give me the axe!" He snatched the tool from Paul, raised it above his head, and brought it down forcefully into the lid of the can. But the axe stuck fast; the axe head itself maintained the seal; Wylie could not remove it. He bent down and struggled with the axe handle, clamping the tin between his knees. The men were dumbstruck; Horatio though, was spurred to action. He grasped Wylie from behind in a bear hug, though his plan extended no further.
"Get off!" exclaimed the axe man, prizing his large arms apart.
"Help me!" Horatio looked pleadingly at his men. Slight hesitation; Darren stepped forward: he pulled the intact axe-and-tin from
Wylie; the others followed; Wylie was pinned to the roof, but this was the extent of their plan.
"What's going on up there?" shouted Sergeant Sparrow unsighted as to events on the roof and impatient to proceed with his administrative tasks. He had the digging of burial pits to supervise that afternoon - the bulldozers should be arriving any time now - as well as somehow fitting in lunch for his men.
"We're coming down!" shouted Horatio. They made their way down, leaving the terrible item where it was. Wylie was held tight, but was submissive by now. Sergeant Sparrow rushed over. What's going on, sir?" addressing Wylie. "There's another consignment due in an hour."
"The programme is cancelled" interposed Horatio.
"You ignorant fool!" retorted Wylie.
"No, sir" Sergeant Sparrow countermanded Horatio. "The consignments; due to arrive every two hours. Two hundred at a time, sir. Here, I have the Instructions, the written Orders." He was waving paper at Horatio.
"Orders? Instructions? This is 'killing people' Sergeant Sparrow! Don't you understand?"
"I'm not killing anyone, sir. I am camp Orderly Sergeant. Nothing about killing. I have merely to administer movements in and out of the camp, keep the camp running smoothly." He looked round: his men, the old soldiers, nodded in approval. "It's the conscripts who are down to put the stuff in" added one of them.
"I was grooming you, Horatio." Wylie joined the fray. "You could have been great! In charge of all this, and beyond . . . "
"Let them out !" Horatio ordered his men.
The doors were un-barred. The people streamed out, those who had undressed hastily pulling on their clothes.
"You have to go now" Horatio addressed them.
"What do you mean?"
"Anywhere. Get right out of this area. Tell others you meet. Don't stay anywhere near here."
"What'll we do, sir?" asked Darren.
"You'll have to make your own decision. It looks like our days in Service are over. You can hand yourselves in to the authorities . . . 'them' " indicating Sergeant Sparrow and his band "or make your own way . . . "
"The woods?" Simon said.
"Yes . . . "
"You, sir?" Javed.
"The woods for me, for now. I'm heading back South."
"We'll come too, sir, won't we?" Javed looked round; Horatio's platoon nodded as a man.
They left the camp in an army lorry, which had been intended to convey bodies to the burial pits. Wylie, Sergeant Sparrow and the old soldiers stood by powerless and shocked.
The citizens trailed out of the camp too, leaving the huts burning, the concrete buildings flattened by bulldozer.
As night fell, Horatio's lorry entered Derbyshire; it had succeeded in proceeding unmolested due to the generally chaotic situation north of the Doncaster parallel.
"Go where you can" Horatio told his lads. "I'm going on on my own."