Dept 17


part two

The palid figure stood almost transparent in the headlights of our blue, 1993, Toyota Hiace Powervan. It was waving its arms in front of its face in a dance which made me think of Kate Bush. “Oh my god, is that a gho… gho… gho…” I looked at Firelighter. My eyes bulging and wet. “A gh-” I managed and Subsonic punched me on the back and that dislodged the Haribo Stripe which was jammed in my gullet. I coughed. “Cheers mate.” I croaked. “Nearly choked to death there. Is that a ghost?” I asked, unwrapping another candy. Yeah, all the good colours had gone but even the orange ones were alright. I balled the wrapped up and flicked it onto the floor with panache.

Firelighter pulled back the protruding metal and plastic stalk which was behind the steering wheel. This simple action made the headlights change from full beam to standard. “No, it’s just an old person,” she said.

“Toot,” I ordered.

“But… but it’s just an old woman,” said Firelighter.

“I don’t care if it’s…” I started. I couldn’t be bothered finishing it. I only said it because it was managery. “Toot.”

“We’re here, I think, she’s the one who called us, I think.”

“What? This is Fallow Farm? And less thinking, more facts.”

“According to the TomTom.”

“Well…” I rolled the window down. The van doesn’t have electric windows. You have to crank the handle. I know, right? Old school. “Did you call us?!” I shouted at the woman.

“Wait there, I’m still blinded,” she shouted back. Only her lower half was really illuminated, but I could just about see that she was rubbing her eyes.

“Get out,” said Firelighter.

I brought my head in from the passenger side window and turned to her. “Oh yeah, I’ll just get out, on this dark lane and go and speak to the creepy woman. Yeah, I’ll do that now.” I turned around to Sub and Tan, who were sat in the depths of the darkness in the back of the van, and shook my head. They probably only saw my silhouette. Not my eye rolling. I turned back to the front and clicked my fingers and pointed for Firelighter to pull forward. She did, even though the lane was narrow, until the old woman was outside my window. I pressed the long skinny button which rose up from the top of the door body and made my door lock. “Did you call us?”

“Are you from. TTS?”

“It’s not called that anymore,” I said, leaning towards Firelighter because the old woman had put on her old lady hands on the door. Her fingertips were in the van. With her other hand the old woman rubbed at her upper face and then held her eyes really really open for a few seconds. Then she did some fast blinks. TTS was our old name. Transport and Technical Services, but a few years ago most Jersey States departments got renamed. Fuck knows how much that rebranding exercise cost, but we’d been Department 17 ever since. I prefer it. It’s mysterious and doesn’t give the vandals anything to work with. Seeing TTS on the side of our van was too much for them. They couldn’t resist pulling out their spray paint and making that into an offensive word.

When the light is right you can still just about see where it once said SHITTS. You have to be looking for it, though. “We’re Department 17 now.”

“Did you get rid of that flying twat?”

“The flying twat?” I said, checking that I’d heard her correctly.

“The blue one.”

“No, he’s still here,” I said.

“Hello!” shouted Sub from the back. He sounded a bit sad. The old woman did a grimace.

“So, where is it?”

“Follow me,” said the woman and she began to walk. Firelighter started the van and we crawled down the lane after her.

“I need a wee,” said Sub.

“No you don’t,” I said, correcting him. “You went just before we left.”

“I know, but I really do.”

“Yeah, well you can’t.”

“I’m really busting.”

I ground my teeth together. “Where the fuck is she going?” I asked. We’d been tailing her at 2mph for, well, it seemed like ages. It probably hadn’t been that long.

“Just… pull over and I’ll…”

“Why do you always need a wee? It’s not right.”

“I’m well hydrated. Please stop. Please?”

“She’ll have a house! Go there.”

“Please!” he whined.

Firelighter stopped the van. “Don’t be fucking ages,” I said because I knew he’d be fucking ages. He has to get nearly completely undressed to do a piss. It’s fucking ridiculous. Sub was already crouched over in the back of the van. You can’t open it from the inside and so after unlocking my door I climbed out and slid back the side door. It made that noise that sliding doors on the side of vans make, you know the one. Sub jumped down and turned away from me with his head tilted forward. I had to feel for the top of the zip. After finding it I began to pull it down. It met resistance pretty quickly, and then I really had a choice to make.

I could pull it down sharply. Hoping to simply power through whatever was causing the issue – perhaps it was just some stray thread from his badly made suit? But on the other hand, perhaps it was the small flap that runs down the side of zips which had become snagged? If that was the case then pulling down the zip as forcefully as I could would just increase the jam damage. I could pull the zip back up to his nape, gently, then try again, gently.

The roll of a dice.

Subsonic was dancing around on the spot, which didn’t help. I looked where the van was looking. The old woman was out of the reach of the van’s low beams but she was still visible. She wouldn’t be for long. “Hurry up!” said Sub and with the decision made for me I yanked the zip down as hard as I could. It moved about three centimetres before my fingertips slipped from the metal tag.

“Fuck!” I said.

“Is it-“

“No.” I found the zip’s tag again and tried to pull it up. I’d jammed it good. Real good. I really pinched it betwixt thumb and forefinger and while grabbing Sub’s suit in the middle of his back, I pulled. “How the fuck have they not invented zips which don’t jam?” I pondered. “It’s twenty twenty.”

“It’s jammed?” said Sub, horrified, and then he tried to look over his shoulder. Fucking idiot was trying to look at his own back.

I grabbed the back of his suit and shook it. “Keep still.” Three times I tired to pull the zip up. I even used my tip toes for added leverage. I twisted the zip slightly as I pulled but it didn’t budge. And you know what they say? If you can’t go up then you have to go down. So with my left hand grasping and holding together, as best I could, the two separated bits of Sub’s costume which were above the zip jam, I pulled down on the zip toggle as hard as I could. It didn’t move even one zip tooth. Whatever was jamming it was in there good, like a cartoon cat in the gears of a machine. “I’m going to piss myself,” said Sub in a strange tone, like he was talking while inhaling.

He turned to me and the desperation and pleading in his eyes was almost too much. He turned his head away slowly.

“No, look at me, you’re not going…” I never finished that sentence.