You can tell when there’s real trouble because Morrisons goes quiet. People stop hollering and fighting and for a few blissful moments silence blankets the cold, metallic shell. Then, there is the unmistakeable click-clack of boot heels marching up the frozen foods aisle. Someone’s getting it today.
I peer round and watch as a kid, no more than 10, is pulled up, cuffed and jabbed in the gut by the butt of a rifle. He doubles over, looks up at the officer and spits. The officer cracks him a right hook on the nose and blood starts flying.
Suddenly everyone looks busy, a low-level hubbub returns. No one wants to admit they saw that, although everyone can still hear the kid being dragged away. I turn at the last minute and watch as two officers, lead by a third, bundle his unconscious body into a trolley and push him away. The lead officer sees me looking and marches over and as he does, I recognise the unmistakeable gait. The apologetic stoop has gone, but the precise footsteps and awkward hand movements are still there.
‘You know it’s against protocol to address an officer by his name.’
‘Who are you these days then?’ I peer at the number on his uniform. ‘Agent 22769 I guess.’
Clive remains stoic in the face of my taunting. He’s loyal, I’ll give him that, but then he always was a company man. I bet he aced training.
‘Have you thought about my offer? he says.
‘I’ve filed it in pending,’ I say.
‘Touche,’ he says, in recognition of my hilarious callback to his own pre-Fall catchphrase. ‘But this offer won’t last forever. You’d better decide quickly or it might be you in one of those trolleys one day.’
I nod towards the boy.
‘What’d he do?’
’Stole food off a relief lorry.’
‘You know there are rapists in aisle three, right? Where the fruit used to be.’
‘You want to point them out to me?’
I shake my head and Clive turns to leave.
‘Thought not. Don’t wait too long, Truman. I can’t protect you forever.’
‘Wait, what’s that supposed to mean?’
But he doesn’t look back, his boot heels echoing around the hall as the noise fades up.
‘Friends with the law, eh?’
Norris is very good at startling me, appearing from nowhere. A leery smile stretches across his pockmarked face. ‘Reckon there’s a few in here would be interested in that particular piece of information.’