Know your Enemy
Carl waited on the uncomfortable sofa, in the uncomfortable office of the job centre. He had handed his diary to the same security guard, given the job search computers a cursory glance and found an empty space on the end of one of the blue sofas in the waiting area.
All around was activity. How ironic, Carl thought, that so much activity could be gained from peoples inactivity. This was the worst place to find yourself. The lost souls around him all either had a look of depression or aggression on their faces. A glance through the windows saw small gaggles of the unemployed looking furtively around as they smoked cigarettes that they could somehow afford on the pittance allowed them. All had pale complexions and the very latest mobile phones, paired with cheap clothing and baseball caps.
One of the office jockeys stood to call the name. A typical specimen rose to his feet and slouched towards the desk, swinging himself into the chair and staring at the floor. Carl looked down at his shoes.
Carl had come from a successful career in transport, working for a small but strong family company. Things were different there, not for them the complicated computer systems and gadgets. They favoured common sense and pieces of paper on cork boards to organise deliveries and shipping. Similarly, the warehouse ran smoothly without the need for scanners and bar codes. This was just the way Carl and the other employees liked it, and within a few years, Carl had worked from the warehouse, into the vans and onto the office floor, where he generated many new leads and more business for the company. The owners were more than happy with Carl's progress and workload, and would have considered him for management, had not their main client fallen foul to the recession, and with their demise, took Carl's company with them.
He regarded his shoes, anything but to make eye contact. He was a picture of faded glory. Being single, and on a decent wage, he had rewarded himself with good clothes, good food and a fancy car. That was over a year ago, and now the car was gone; replaced with a high mileage run-around, the food came from Aldi or Tesco blue stripe, and the clothes were starting to wear thin. His shoes had broken threads poking out around the side, the jeans were fraying at the ends and his shirts all looked worn and tired, with several sporting small stains and holes.
Carl glanced up at the bank of desks in front of him, trying to work out whom he was likely to see. He dreaded this fortnightly meeting. It was a chance for him to show what he had done to get work in the times between. Sadly, Carl had gone into his job straight from GCSE's, and had worked there for ten years. That left his CV pretty thin. Also, to land a similar job these days required a degree in computing to negotiate the delivery and warehousing systems utilised by each company. Not qualified or experienced in any other area, Carl was finding it hard to land a decent job. That, coupled with the struggles of the job centre employees to rid themselves of as many job seekers, or statistics as Carl thought of them, these meetings were a constant source of stress. Carl remembered his first one.
"Good morning Mr Wilson. Take a seat."
Carl sat on the office chair, his shoes still nice and shiny, and his jeans pristine. He looked around the office for the first time, and thought to himself, "I'm not going to stay here long."
"So, I see from your records, you were in deliveries, yes?"
The young woman behind the desk peered over her spectacles and regarded Carl as one would regard a specimen in a laboratory.
"Well, I worked through deliveries and into logistics, and office management, really."
"Fine, fine." She bent over her computer, the screen angled to prevent Carl from seeing what information she was inputting. She tapped several keys. "And how far would you be willing to travel for work?"
"Anything up to about 10-15 miles, I suppose, maybe more, depending on the salary."
"Fine, fine." She tapped away again. Finally she peered at the screen. "OK, looks like we're in luck. I have here a pizza delivery job in Luton. You'll need your own car, but it does pay £6.50 per hour."
Carl sat in silence, not entirely sure if she was winding him up. Luton was at least 20 miles away, and he would have to work 25 hours a day to make £6.50 a decent wage to cover his rent, bills and living expenses.
"Have you got anything else?" he asked. She peered at him as if amazed he wasn't leaping at the chance to drive a 40 mile round trip and deliver pizzas to the Luton populace. Tap tap tap.
"Well, I do have a paper round in the town, if you are interested?"
Again, Carl took a few seconds to realise she was serious.
And that was how it had gone since then. Over a year of reviews, meetings, reassessments of his benefits – never to his advantage. And today, he waited for the inevitable review of his benefits. An invitation to have his strategies assessed every chance that he would have to take any old job they threw at him, or be cut adrift.
He gazed out of the window. There must have been at least 15 other lost souls waiting for their names to be called out, and each of them radiated the same dread that Carl felt. Across the car park, he could see office workers wandering around, entering or leaving their workplaces. They all looked almost as fed up as he was, but he would be willing to trade with any of them right now. No matter how much they hated their jobs, they all had jobs and could work their way up the ladder, or look around for another job at their leisure. Sometimes, Carl reflected, you really don't know what you've got until it's gone.
The lad sat to Carl's left lurched to his feet and slouched to the desk. The man, who called his name, regarded him coldly. Carl knew that look; he had had that particular man far too often. That look said he was going to give that lad a hard time. Carl felt pity for the lad, but secretly hoped he would take a long time over it and allow Carl to escape him for another fortnight. More people were climbing the stairs to the first floor where the reviews were held. He watched them go with the feeling you would watch someone climb the stairs to the gallows.
A man sat next to Carl.
Not usually a notable occurrence, this, but today something caught Carl's attention about him. Without trying to be too noticeable, he chanced a glance at the man.
He was about Carl's age, mid 20's, and he looked as if he had just been clubbing. His hair was short and spiky, he wore large sunglasses, despite the fact he was indoors and it was overcast outside. His clothes looked designer and he wore several large rings on his fingers. Carl's nose caught the scent of expensive cologne. His jaw worked hard on chewing gum, and unlike the others, he sat back on the sofa in a relaxed pose, only his head glancing around the open plan office. He caught Carl's eye.
"Conner Morris." He held his hand out. Carl took it uncertainly.
Introductions over, he sought to distance himself from this unusual intrusion. People just didn't talk here. This was a place to gather your thoughts and prepare for the interrogation. Conner had other ideas.
"Nice here, isn't it?" he asked, a smile playing around his face but his eyes concealed from view by his sunglasses.
Despite himself, Carl laughed. "Oh yeah, I always come here this time of year."
Conner looked at him, a faint grin on his lips. "So, what you in for?"
Carl chanced a glance around. Humour was a lost entity here and, aside from hushed whispers, communication was usually that of the occasional nod of a head. Their talking was attracting some attention, even amongst the staff. Several people had turned to see what the laughter was about. Conner was watching him, at least he assumed he was; his head was turned towards him, but only his own reflection looked back from those sunglasses.
"Well, it's the usual story I guess. Lost my job over a year ago, and can't seem to find another one."
"Can't find another one?" Conner turned his head to survey the line of desks that was their destination. "Or can't find a decent one? You know the difference?"
"These monkeys," he gestured to the staff, most of whom were looking at him too, "they don't care if you're happy with your job or not. They just want you off the lists. They don't care if you can't pay your rent or if you can't afford heating. As long as you get your hand out of their pockets, they're happy."
"Mr Ackbal?" Another soul trudged to the desk. More people were listening to Conner talk, and even one of the security guards was looking nervous, like a keeper in the zoo just before feeding time.
"So, what line of work were you in?" Carl asked.
"Me?" Conner seemed surprised by the question. "Well, I suppose you could say I'm a fixer. I get things done. Not much call for that at the moment, what with all the cutbacks. No one needs anything done anymore, so here I am." He leaned back in his seat and stretched his neck back, looking at the stained ceiling tiles.
"And what job are you looking for?"
Conner slowly turned his head to look at Carl. "I thought I'd see what they offer me."
They both laughed at this and Carl started to forget were he was until he heard the call.
His heart sank; it was the man who he was hoping to avoid. He turned back to Conner.
"Well, that's me. Best of luck to you."
They shook hands again. Conner's hands were cold. "And to you, mate. Think we're gonna need it."
Carl tried to read the expression on Conner's face as he stood up, but with the sunglasses on, it was impossible. Instead, he turned to the desk and the face of the man who was to conduct his signing on. He didn't like the look of that face at all. Mentally he rehearsed the list of companies he had applied to, the jobs he had sourced and the phone calls he had made, but no matter how hard he worked, they were bound to push him into an unsuitable job that was miles away and that he couldn't afford to work at anyway. As he took his seat, the lady three desks down called out.
"Mr Morris?" Conner sprang to his feet and strode confidently to her desk, almost leaping into his chair and leaning forward to shake her hand. He'll learn, Carl thought, then turned back to his own desk, the man identified as Nick tapping at his keyboard and peering in disdain at Carl's diary.
The next couple of minutes went predictably. Nick laid a veneer of concern over his obvious contempt of anybody without a job while Carl desperately fought off an attempt to get him to apply to be a dustman. Then all trains of thought were derailed by a commotion three desks away.
Conner's voice rose above the hum of the air conditioning, the gentle buzz of whispered conversation and the discussions at the other desks. His voice rose further and further still, but although the volume was raised, he appeared to be enjoying himself.
"Maggie, my dear, why on earth would you think I'd enjoy being a labourer? These are not the hands of a brickie."
Maggie tried to calm Conner down but he leapt to his feet. "For that matter, why do you, all of you," he swept his arms wide to include all the desks lined up against the wall, "try to sell us, your brothers and sisters, into slave jobs? Jobs that have no prospect, no dignity, no reason?"
One of the security guards was striding towards Conner now. All activity had ceased while everybody, staff and clients alike, watched in a mesmerised silence.
"All we ask is you help us. Give us a chance to find work that defines us." The guard reached Conner and put a hand on his shoulder. Quick as a flash, Conner dropped his shoulder, spun and danced away.
"A mans work is what makes him. If we hate our jobs, we hate our lives."
Again, the guard approached Conner, the look on his face said he had heard enough. He lunged at Conner's wrist, but instead his hand closed on thin air. Conner leapt onto Maggie's desk and Maggie shrieked.
"For too long have we been returning here, only for you to try to palm us off with the shit that has settled at the bottom of your files."
The guard snatched at Conner's ankle now, but he jumped to the next desk, sending the occupants scurrying away. More people moved away, trying to put some distance between themselves and this mad man.
"Why should we settle for second or third rate jobs? Do you think of yourself as a third rate person?"
He was pointing at a girl wearing dark clothes and a pale face at the desk on which he now stood. She slowly shook her head. The guard pushed her out of the way and moved for Conner again. He leapt easily out of harms way and landed on Carl's desk. Nick merely stared up at Conner's back, powerless to do anything, his face a total blank, as if his shock hadn't arrived yet.
"I say to you, brothers and sisters, we need to show these people that we deserve to be treated like humans and not machines. We need a chance to find work that will motivate us to work harder. We need to stand up for ourselves." He looked down at Carl. "Will you stand with me?"
There was a perfect silence in the office. Even the guard seemed to hesitate. All eyes were suddenly on Carl and he felt the whole situation hinged on his next move. He noticed in that perfect moment, there was a split on the side of his shoe. He stood up.
A grin spread across Conner's face. The guard hesitated then stepped forward to them both. Suddenly he found his path blocked by the girl who he had pushed earlier.
"Stand with us now, everyone who thinks they deserve respect. Stand if you want a job that defines you. Stand if you want to show the government that we are people too."
All around the job centre, more and more people were standing up, some slowly and hesitantly, others more decisively with looks of determination on their faces. The guard looked to his colleague for support, and found him backing towards the door. He turned his head one way and the other, and moved to join his partner. Three youths from the sofa nearest him barred his way.
"Let him go," Conner spoke. "Let all those go who want to. This is to be a peaceful protest, but we demonstrate by force. Whoever doesn't want to be involved, you may leave now."
Some of the job seekers moved to the door, their heads down, and they were joined by the guards. The staff seemed rooted to the spot. Nick spoke then.
"What do you think this will achieve? You can't go through with this."
Conner turned around on the desk to face him.
"What it will achieve is to make people take notice. This will grab people's attention. The government needs to do something, and that starts now." He addressed all the staff, most of who were standing watching him with the other job seekers. "If any of the staff want to stay with us and add their voices, they are most welcome. Otherwise you should go now."
"And if we don't?" Nick asked sarcastically.
"I did say this was to be a peaceful protest, but if you insist on being stubborn, I'm sure I could ask some of my brothers to forcibly help you to the door, and then through it."
At least six of the thirty or so job seekers left looked keen to do the job, and three stepped towards Nick. The gravity of the situation seemed to hit him then, and he grabbed a handful of files from between Conner's feet.
"You won't get away with this. This is criminal. You'll all end up in prison for this." And with that, he almost ran through the doors, the files spilling pages behind him. This acted as a catalyst for the remaining staff members, the rest of which followed Nick's example and left the building.
Nick's words seemed to hang in the still air following the staff's departure, and several of the remaining job seekers looked uneasy. Conner sensed this.
"Don't listen to him, he's just the puppet of the government. He would have you breaking your backs for minimum wage for the rest of your lives if he could. Prison is not your destination. I'm the instigator, you are just along for the ride." He laughed at this, and the mood seemed to improve with his confidence.
"We are the lucky ones," he said, addressing the remaining people in the office. "We start a new chapter for ourselves, and our fellow job seekers. But we have work to do."
He jumped down and clapped Carl on the shoulder.
"I knew I could count on you, the first moment I saw you. You looked hungry."
Carl didn't know about that, but Conner's presence was mesmerising. You almost felt invincible with him.
"So, what now? We've taken the job centre, but they'll take it back."
"Of course they will, but not before our work is done." He looked around. There were about thirty of them left. The floor of the office was strewn with loose paperwork, and each empty desk had a computer screen staring into nothingness. They were a mixed bunch, the leftovers. Mainly in their 20's, there were a few in their 30's, and a pair of gents well into their 50's. Again, mainly men, there were eight girls. But they all looked to Conner to tell them what to do next.
"First things first," he said. "I want a couple of you big strong lads to barricade the doors with these desks."
One man who looked like a builder stepped forwards.
"What good would that do? These doors are glass, and the walls too. If they want to get in, they'll smash their way in."
Connor turned to him, a faint smile on his lips. "What's your name, friend?" The builder identified himself as Mick. "Well, Mick, we can't stop them getting in if they really want to, but if they do resort to smashing the walls down to get to us, think of the front pages in all the papers tomorrow. Think of the footage from all the camera phones out there beamed onto the Six o'clock news. Think of how it would make them look, smashing their own office up to remove us. We just want to make it hard for them, not impossible."
Mick was smiling himself now, and nodding. "Yeah, we can block the doors completely. If they want in, the only way is through the plate glass walls."
"And take a look outside, Mick."
They all turned towards the scene unfolding outside. The staff and occupants of the Job Centre were gathered across the car park in a huddle, and more and more people were taking an interest. Faces were turned towards them. Carl could see Nick in a heated discussion with one of the security guards who was shaking his head and turning away. Already, he could count three camera phones turned their way.
"Hurry now, Mick, before they find their nerve. And you, my dear," he addressed the girl who had stood in the path of the guard earlier, "take four others upstairs and make sure all the offices there are cleared. Anyone still up there not willing to join us, let Mick and his friends take care of them."
Quickly, the girl turned and picked four others, jogging up the stairs, with her team hot on her heals. Connor organised the rest into groups tasked with clearing the desks out of the way, securing the fire escapes and back doors, and helping Mick blocking off the main door. The team from upstairs returned with five office workers, one of which opted to stay, the other four being ushered out of the building before the desks were stacked in front of the large double doors. These tasks being completed, they again turned to Connor.
Connor was seated in a large black leather swivel chair. He was idly swinging it from side to side, and playing with the handle, dropping it an inch at a time. He seemed oblivious to the crowd waiting for him to speak. Carl cleared his throat.
"You're all wondering what happens next." It was a statement, as well as a question.
"You could say that," Carl said. "You seem to know what you're doing here."
Connor sprung to his feet and approached the glass wall, looking out over the car park. Carl and the rest of them could only see his back.
"Look at them out there. They're scared. They've had their world taken away from them by the very wild animals they're trying to send to the knackers yard. They're scared. They outnumber us easily, yet they walked out of here without an attempt to stop us." He turned to face them, and even with his sunglasses on, Carl could feel him radiate excitement. "They're already phoning the police. That will draw more onlookers, which will draw more attention, which equals the press, Newspaper, maybe radio, and possibly TV. Then the world can know what we have to endure in the name of progress."
Mick looked nervous. "Police? I don't want to get arrested. I'm already on a caution."
Connor shook his head. "They can't arrest you, you've done nothing wrong. It's me they'll want, but I won't stop until we've had our voices heard." He turned to the assembled gang. "Don't fear their empty threats. Whatever happens, I will take full responsibility. I'll make sure you receive full pardons for whatever part of this you choose to take. We must be strong now, and show the people up on high who has the true power now."
The small crowd of rebels looked on, and Carl fancied he saw them all standing a little taller following Connors words. The moment was broken by the harsh buzz of a telephone. They scanned around, finally locating the sound emanating from Nick's desk. Without a word, they all stood back and looked to Connor, who sauntered up to the desk, swung himself into the chair, and picked up the receiver, throwing his feet up on Nick's tidy desk.
"Yes, this is he," he said, smiling to Carl and the others, who gathered round at a respectful distance. "Yes… yes… no…," he continued, Carl tried to imagine what questions were being fired at him, and by whom. "Connor Morris. M. O. R. R. I. S. Yeah, that's right."
Mick sidled up behind Carl.
"Who do you think he's talking to?" he asked.
"No idea yet." Connor was now listening, grunting the occasional affirmative. Chatting as if to an old friend. "I don't think they're asking him for a job."
Mick snorted a laugh as Carl peered out through the windows. He could see Nick and the other employees in a group, and a small squad of police had joined them. They seemed to be busying themselves with controlling the small crowd that had gathered in the car park, and as he watched, the police herded them back and started stretching out their yellow tape across streetlights. Carl thought he saw one tall figure in plain clothes standing at the rear of the police group with a telephone held up to his ear. Connor cordially bid the caller a good day and calmly replaced the handset. He leaned back in his chair, stretching his trainers further onto Nick's desk as if releasing tension, but the calm smile on his lips never faltered. He raised his head and addressed the crowd.
"That was Detective Inspector Westgate. He wanted to know what our intentions were. I told him we are a peaceful demonstration who did not use force to make our point. He assures us if we comply, this will all go away."
"What are we waiting for?" The voice came from the back, and most of them turned towards it. "It's been fun and all, but it's getting late now. How long did you think you'd hold out? Why don't we call it a day, and walk out with our heads held high?"
Connor was on his feet again. "We could, true." He approached the owner of the voice, a lad in his early 20's, dressed not dis similarly like Connor. He lacked the glint in his eye though. "We could go home and forget this ever happened, and in the morning, come back here to go through the same routine over and over again, or we could stand strong and see it through. This might not be a quick fix; it might go through the night and into the next day at least. Any of you who want to reconsider, Mick will let you through the barricades. I won't stop you."
Most of them were watching the lad who had spoken up. Carl could sense his fear, and also the disapproval of the group. He wilted and shook his head. Connor clapped him on the shoulder.
"Chin up mate. You'll be famous in the morning."
This seemed to diffuse the situation, and they drifted off, some of them clearing the desks out of the way, Connor directing others to get some water from a storeroom, and others sitting in groups and chatting. Carl spoke to Connor.
"Did he ask your demands?"
"He did, but to tell you the truth, I couldn't think of any on the spot. What do you reckon?"
As if on cue, Carl's stomach let out a long gurgle. He checked his watch, surprised to see it was gone 6 'o'clock.
"I could murder a pizza."
And so it was that, come 7:30, they sat in a circle in the middle of the floor and shared out pizza, bottles of beer and coke. Occasionally glancing outside, Carl could see the crowd gathered behind the police line, watching them. True to his word, as well as the curious onlookers, there were two groups of people huddled around microphones. Radio press, Carl guessed. They seemed to be interviewing some of the employees remaining; Nick included, and various members of the public and police force. Carl wondered when their turn would come to be interviewed. Having said that, he couldn't remember ever having tasted pizza so good.
Meanwhile, they all swapped stories and got to know each other a little better. Carl could feel the bond grow between them, but there was one who didn't join in the sharing session. Connor moved here and there, checking the windows, talking softly on the phone to DCI Westgate and disappearing upstairs from time to time. They let him get on with it, engrossed as they were with their own tales. As the night drew in and the sun sank low below the horizon, they were all sitting or lying on the floor, listening to Mick tell more tales of his exploits. Carl felt the buzz from the beer, and they were all laughing along when, with a pop, their world went black. All the lights and all the computer screens went dead. The only light came from the fire escape signs at the back of the office, and the yellow streak of light that came from the lights in the car park. One of the girls screamed and the rest fell silent. Carl could hear Connor moving around upstairs, and followed his footsteps to the staircase and down to the main office. Mick had his phone in his hand and was using it as a torch, as was Connor, and in the blue glow thrown from their devices, he could see Connor's calm face looking back at him. He had even removed his sunglasses revealing large dark eyes shining with a calmness that Carl didn't feel he could match.
"Don't worry everybody, I had a feeling this would happen. They're trying to make it uncomfortable for us. I'm just surprised they didn't do it sooner."
"Bastards," came a voice from the gloom.
"Jenny, Kate; could you check the back doors? Use your phones as torches and just make sure they aren't trying something stupid. Bill and Mick, the front."
Wordlessly people moved to their feet and went to action. Carl was amazed that a group who had never met before today could operate as a well-oiled machine in so short a time. Calls came back that all was well, and the phone started to buzz again on Nick's desk. Connor sauntered over and began another chat with the Detective. Carl walked over to the front and joined Mick and Bill, who were leaning against a couple of the overturned desks and watching the scene outside.
The temperature had dropped and as a result, some of the crowd had thinned, but the reporters were still there, joined by two TV crews; the cameras pointing towards the front of their building, with the reporters standing in shot, delivering their piece to the studio. Carl peered at the side of the vans but couldn't make out the names of the studios. Still, their presence was certainly being made. Carl's eyes scanned the crowd, and he caught sight of the tall man on the phone again. DCI Westgate was tall, thin and serious. His body stood still as stone, and only his mouth moved. Carl could hear the tone of Connor's voice but couldn't make out the words. Still it sounded all very calm so far. He walked back to Connor who hung the phone back up as he approached.
"How are we doing, Carl?" he asked. Carl felt like a general reporting on the moral of his troops.
"All good I think. No movement front or back. What does the Detective say?"
Connor ran a hand over his spiky hair, which sprung back to shape immediately. "He just wants this to come to a quick conclusion, but he can't deliver my demands."
"So, what are your demands?" Carl asked.
"Why, decent jobs for all, of course."
Carl couldn't help his laugh, but Connor looked confused. "How do you think we can all find decent jobs? I don't even know what it is I want to do. Mick's been a builder all his life, but his back is playing up now. He needs something less strenuous. Kate got a qualification as a hairdresser, but having finished the course, doesn't want to cut hair. We are here because we don't know what to do."
"That's as maybe, but I'm trying to stop them forcing unsuitable jobs on us. You know what they offered Mick last week? The job of delivering water to offices. You know how heavy those water cooler bottles are? Mick's back isn't a medical case yet, but he has to take it easy. They're threatening to stop his benefits if he refuses that job, that's why he came here today. Most of us have a story like that. I'm just trying to put a stop to it. I think it's gone on too far. All we need is time to find what's right for us, but poor old Westgate is struggling to deliver."
"I'm not surprised. There are nearly 30 of us here."
Connor laughed. "I'm not just asking for those of us here. I'm demanding for everyone."
As night drew in, the cold crept in also. With glass covering the entire front of the office, the temperature fell dramatically. Connor organised them into 3 shifts. One would watch the front of the building, one the back and the other would sleep in an office on the first floor. The smaller enclosed space holding the heat better. They worked in 2-hour shifts, and Carl drew the back of the building first.
The night went slowly but without incident. They chatted quietly amongst themselves to keep awake and he got to know his group more. Katie pointed out that Connor had spent the night moving from front group to back group, chatting, checking and reassuring with his golden words all through the night. Yet, as the sun cleared the dawn horizon, he still looked as fresh as ever. The same couldn't be said for the rest of them. Although they had slept, it wasn't a comfortable night. They lay on the harsh carpet or on top of the desk and closed their eyes while they waited for the next shift. As they assembled in the main office, Connor greeted them with cheerful words.
"Morning all, and isn't it a beautiful morning? I trust you all got some sleep?"
They responded with grunts, stretches and yawns, but if Connor noticed, he didn't react.
"You all did a great job last night. We remain independent and free, and I await word from DCI Westgate within the hour. By the end of the day, each of us will be a hero to the others fending off the inadequate jobs forced upon us."
Carl looked out into the car park and was shocked at the transformation. The small crowd from last night had swelled to at least one hundred. There were even a few banners waving from the throng. The police were working hard to contain them, and the yellow Do Not Cross tape had been replaced by sturdy metal barriers. There were now at least 5 film crews there, including one baring the unmistakable BBC on the side of the cameras. Carl's feet carried him over to the window, and others followed him. Connor stood back with a smile on his lips. As he got closer, some of the crowd caught sight of him and a great cheer went up. People waved, banners swayed and cameras swung towards him and the others standing by his side. At that moment, the phone on Nick's desk brayed it's harsh tones and Connor snatched it up. Carl scanned the crowd for DCI Westgate but couldn't make him out in the sheer chaos. There was a call from Bill who was watching the back door. Connor waved at Carl to check it out while he spoke on the phone, his body turned away from his comrades, shoulders hunched.
Carl found Bill in the rear of the building alongside the fire escape door. He gestured at it with his thumb.
"You want to hear this," he said. Carl approached and Bill banged the door with the flat of his fist. "Say it again, mate."
"My name is Rupert Graves and I am a reporter with the Sun newspaper," the voice said. "Let me in and I'll give you £5000 for an interview."
"If you're a reporter, how did you get past the police line?"
"Well, let's just say I know which part of the engine to grease, if you catch my meaning."
"No deal, Mr Graves. Not interested."
Carl turned his back to the sounds of protest from behind the door, and headed back to the office where Connor had finished his phone call and was looking unusually agitated.
"What did Bill want?" he asked. He seemed to come to himself and slipped his sunglasses on.
"You won't believe it, but there's a sun reporter outside offering £5000 for an interview."
"Those bastards. They don't know when to leave things alone."
He snatched the phone back up, and punched some numbers into it from memory. A few harsh words were exchanged and he hung up again.
"Everything alright?" Carl asked. Connor turned towards him, reflecting Carl in his sunglasses.
"They're dragging their feet is all; just a setback, nothing else. That should have sorted out our unwanted guest."
He turned away and strode up the stairs. Carl walked back to the fire escape where he found Bill listening intently at the door with a wide grin on his face. There was an unmistakable sound of a scuffle from the other side, followed by the sound of someone being dragged away.
The morning gave way to afternoon. More pizza was delivered, but after the last night's feast, Carl's appetite for pizza wasn't as strong. They ate in silence, each wrapped up in their own thoughts. Carl tried to field their questions, but Connor had hardly come down from the first floor offices where the sound of his voice on the phone came drifting down from time to time. The main concern was they might have to spend another night in the office with cold pizza for dinner and no heating or lights.
Still the crowd swelled. More police were brought in just to control the onlookers. Each of the rebel's phones were constantly ringing as their friends and family sought more information. Connor had allowed them to keep their phones, but requested they keep the calls short and not give any information away.
Carl could feel the tension creep into the group like a thin mist; starting at the feet and ankles, and rising up slowly but surely. More banners and placards had been added to the crowd outside, most trivial and humorous, but some confrontational. It seemed their demonstration had spread to the outside world. Once or twice Carl thought he caught sight of DCI Westgate, each time he had a phone pressed to his ear, standing stock upright like a statue. When he couldn't give any more answers, he climbed the stairs to seek out Connor.
He found him at the window looking out over the crowd, a phone to his ear. He murmured softly and when he heard Carl approach; he brought the call to an end.
"Quite a crowd, eh?" he said to Carl.
"It's been building all day. Not sure the police can handle it all."
"Ever wanted a job with the police, Carl?" The wicked smile was back.
"Got good news yet?"
"Not as such. Says its making Prime Minister's Question time though. That's a good start."
"A good start? How much longer is this going to stretch on mate?" Carl leaned on a desk and looked out on the crowd. "I'm not sure how much longer we can last here."
Connor was silent for a minute, his gaze directed at his expensive trainers. Carl realised how decrepit his own footwear looked alongside Connor's. Finally he spoke.
"I think it's gone on long enough."
He raised himself off the desk, and walked downstairs, Carl following him. As if on cue, the group all gathered around the foot of the stairs, awaiting his words. When they were gathered and silent, he spoke.
"We have stood together against a mutual enemy this last day. It has not been easy, I grant you, and you will forever have my thanks, along with all those who find themselves in our position. I couldn't have done this without each and every one of you, but now I must make the next part of the journey alone. The powers that be have agreed to review the way the system operates, and that takes time, and so I go now to face the music. Rest assured I would shoulder the blame. You will not be called to account, but will be the true heroes of the hour. I feel sure we will meet again."
And with that, he asked Mick and Bill to shift a path through the desks so he could walk out of the front door. He turned to Carl and held out his hand.
"I wish you luck Carl. You have a lot to give. May you find your path soon."
Carl felt quite overcome. "You too," was all he could come up with, and as he watched Connor stride across the car park towards the waiting police line and DCI Westgate standing unmoving in their midst, and the flickering storm of flashbulbs and shouted questions from the gathered reporters, he wished he could have come up with something more eloquent than that.
They stood inside the doors, watching as Connor was escorted through the barriers and into a waiting car, which sped away with Westgate in the passenger seat. Then the police came for them.
There was no police brutality, no beatings and rough behaviour. True to his word, Connor had somehow arranged immunity for them, but after being escorted out of the door and into the blinding sunlight, they were loaded into 2 minibuses and whisked away to the police station where statements were taken, questions were asked and, finally, they were ushered out of the door in ones and twos. A few reporters were still lingering around, waiting to pounce, but Carl had not desire to get his face on the television, and so slipped away, and back to the calm familiar surroundings of his flat, his bath and his bed.
That had been 3 whole weeks ago. The media storm of the 'Siege of Stevenage Job Centre' was short lived, and life had a habit of dragging itself back to normal. Carl had received a letter from the Job Centre requesting he return to sign on again and while questions had indeed been asked in parliament, results were sure to be slow.
It felt strange for Carl to return to the office; stranger still to sit on the same uncomfortable sofa and wait in turn for his name to be called. He glanced around to see if any of his fellow rebels were waiting with him, but he couldn't recognise any of the glum grey faces cast down to the harsh carpet and their scuffed shoes.
The main change in the surroundings had been the removal of Nick. He took the revolt hard and decided to take early retirement and spend more time with his poodles. Also, the desks had been rearranged following their occupation. It was now nearly impossible to see who was going to call your name, as each desk was turned to the side, bordered by a screen decorated with supposedly inspirational posters depicting happy smiling people in a variety of work related attire. Carl realised his teeth were clenched.
He realised he had jumped when his name was called, but he gathered himself together and made his way towards the source of the call, sitting in the recently vacated chair which was still warm from the last body. He glanced at the nameplate on the desk.
Mr Connor Morris.
The sunglasses were no more and the expensively spiky haircut had been smoothed flat. The club attire was replaced with a sensible suit and the glint was all but gone but the man sitting opposite him was indeed Connor. Carl sought the adequate words to express himself and found nothing.
"Well, Mr Wilson. I see you are looking for a job in sales?" Connor looked up from the screen to Carl, but if he recognised him, he didn't show it. He waited for a response, but after realising that one was not forthcoming, he continued, tapping further information into his computer. Finally he sat back, a look of satisfaction on his face. "Well, I see we have an opportunity for you. How do you like the sound of delivering pizzas in Luton?"