The phone was ringing.
I opened my eyes slightly, but was immediately accosted by a burning sunlight. They were closed as soon as they were opened. I silently cursed the sun and all bright things and wished only to return to the sweet bliss of slumber.
The phone was still ringing.
Realizing I could never get my sleep unless I answered that damn phone, I reached out and felt around my desk for the noisy culprit who had stolen my sleep. Finding it, I picked it up and brought it to my ear, eyes still closed.
"Hhmmyeah?" I mumbled blearily, only waking to enough consciousness as to speak.
"Where the hell are you?" came a booming voice on the other end.
I was instantly awake. "On my way, sir! I was just leaving!"
"Well hurry up!" came the voice as the phone was slammed down onto the cradle.
I rose out of the chair where I had spent the night, and buttoned my shirt, straightened my tie, and put on some shoes. I was late. I looked at my watch. Very late.
Running out the door, I hurried down the stairs and out into the aforementioned damnable sun. Shielding my eyes, I found my car, got in, and was down the street like a bat out of hell.
While I sped off to my appointment, perhaps I should introduce myself.
My name is Geoffrey Poland. I am a private detective. A good private detective. I lend my services to whoever wants them. You could call me a rent-a-cop, but it you do, you had better not say it to my face.
I live a peaceful live, except for the crime that surrounds me. My home is my office- a small, cramped two room apartment with a small bathroom squeezed into a closet. It is definitely not the most glorious of working places, but it is enough in these times of financial stress. I can not complain, as the place is paid for by an anonymous benefactor. Apparently I have come to the attention of someone who wishes me well. I honestly do not care why someone would want to buy me an office, but I am not complaining. You take what you can get.
As for my past, I can say little about it. Partly because there is nothing to say, partly because I refuse to say, and partly because I am forbidden to say. What is there to tell? I was born in a town I cannot remember to parents whom I do not know. Nothing really happened in my life until I was about twenty when I was asked to join a small intelligence agency called Q5. Q5 was the type of agency that the government refused to acknowledge but used so much that everyone knew of us. We were the personal intelligence officers of the president himself. Now, you may ask 'why would the president need personal intelligence officers?' Well, I am glad you asked. You see, the president at the time was a bit paranoid. He believed everyone had something to hide, and most of those somethings were the business of the public. Unfortunately, his views of the world were not too welcome with the other members of the government (did they have something to hide?) and he was ousted as soon as it was possible. Needless to say, we at Q5 were no longer needed. We were disbanded and each went our own ways. I have not seen many of my former colleagues since then, but again, I cannot complain as some of them I would not wish my enemies to meet, if you catch my meaning.
What else can I say about me? Other than what I have already said, I live alone, have no family, no pets, few friends, and one annoyingly grannily neighbour, Mrs Former.
Anyway, back to the story.
I slowed and stopped the car just outside the tall, imposing giant of the Centracore building. There, by the entrance, was the familiar sight of the police. I stepped out of the car and headed toward the entrance and, avoiding the cop, entered.
I was greeted by the sound of clicking and dull voices echoing along the boring grey walls. There was no decoration in the foyer and only the slight glow from wall mounted lights stopped you from thinking that all the colour had been sucked from the world. Even the staff and workers in the foyer wore only grey and white. But then again, everyone wore grey and white. Why wear any other colours?
A man off to my right noticed me and waved. I approached him.
"Where the hell have you been, Poland?" he bellowed, "You are more than twenty minutes late! Don't you keep time? We all have schedules to keep, including you!"
"It's good to see you too," I said wearily. I hate this man. I hate him a lot. There are not words enough to describe how much I loath this man. He is the local police chief.
The despicable man took out his file book. Punching in something (my personal code, I would guess) he said, "Poland, do you see this?" He showed me the contents of the book and- to my happy surprise- I saw my timetable for today. "This is your timetable for today and do you see what it says here?" He pointed. "This is when you were supposed to be here. This is now. There is a twenty minute difference here. That gives you twenty minutes less than what you should have. If you keep this up, you will be fined and then sentenced to reforment. Do you want to go to reforment, Poland?"
"No, sir. Not at all." I replied truthfully. I won't even start on what I have heard of the reforment sessions.
"Do not do this again."
"Right," he said, motioning me to follow him, "Come this way and we will finally start this investigation." I followed like a good dog.
"This," he said, stopping beside a small cubicle, "is where the culprit worked up until yesterday. Here is his work record." He handed me a small disc and continued. "Yesterday he did not show up at all to work and was nowhere where he was supposed to be on his schedule. He ignored his schedule, the scum."
I tucked the disc into my pocket and responded with the obligatory return. "The irresponsible scum. He definitely needs reforment."
The chief nodded solemnly and continued.
"You have been brought onto this case because you seem to have some friends in high places. You must have really impressed somebody last time."
I nodded and took a look at the cubicle. There was the usual stuff. Desk, monitor, keypad, chair, trashcan. Typical things, nothing out of the ordinary.
Looking in the trash, I noticed a piece of paper. This caught my attention immediately as normal people use paper so rarely what with the commonality of computers. I picked up the paper and examined it. There was only one word scribbled on it.
Liberation? What could that be? And more importantly, what did this man know about it?
"What do you make of this?" I asked the chief, handing it to him.
He looked at it for a moment before handing it back. "No idea. What does it mean?"
I shrugged. What a strange word, Liberation. I wondered what it could mean.
"Anyway, solving this crime is not my problem, but yours. You find the culprit and we bring him to justice." said the chief, walking off. How true. Trite, but true. While I may hate the man personally, he performs a job that is necessary. Just as I.
I continued searching the cubicle but turned up nothing of interest so I left.
Standing on the curb of the Centracore building, I looked to the nearest clock and then checked my own watch. Both on time. As usual. Good. So where should I go now? According to my schedule, I had almost ten minutes before my daily personal health meeting, so I could either return home and jump right into this possibly interesting case for a few minutes or I could go just down the street and get some lunch.
Lunch it is.
I did not get the chance to come home until later that night. I opened the door and staggered into the office letting the door close behind me. Sliding down into my chair, I put my head down on the desk. I was tired, so ungodly tired. I wish I could have asked that my schedule be lessened, but that was impossible. Changing the schedule was only allowed for extreme circumstances. I was still healthy, I was a long way from the fifty mark, and I had no children. Poor me. Pity me.
Then my mind suddenly came to life. Liberation. Damn it! What the hell did that mean? It had been driving me crazy for most of the day.
Awake in a instant, I keyed the word into my computer and searched for the meaning. Tick, tick, tick. Nothing. No matches. The word did not exist. Strange. Why would the schedule skipper have written down a word that did not exist? The only real reason people write on paper is so that the computer screeners would not see something. So why did the skipper think that this nonexistent word would be dangerous?
Hmm. What about a general search? Surely something would come back, right?
I again keyed in the strange word and this time initiated a general search of all files on record. Tick, tick, tick. One matching file! Great! So this word was not just some fantasy of... whoever my target was. I opened the file.
Welcome to the Liberation said the text. Tick, tock, tock. Tick, tock, stop. That was all the file said. What was this supposed to be? Some sort of joke?
Frustrated, I closed the search. Damn it. What kind of stupid file contains only a poem?
Speaking of stupid things, I supposed I should take a look at my prey. I should at least know what he looks like. I took the data disc from my pocket and slipped it into the computer. Tick, tick, tick. The info came up.
His name was Jerome Harvey, aged 35 with a wife but no children. I looked at his picture and smiled grimly. Jerome Harvey was a small, thin man with thick glasses and fading hair. He looked so harmless that you would never think of him as a schedule skipper. Then again, it always seemed to be the people you would least suspect who break the Law.
Damn it. How was I supposed to find this little punk? His spouse would be useless for information if this Jerome had anything like a normal relationship. His file listed several places he frequented but other than those, I had no idea where to start. Somehow this strange word, Liberation, and Mr Harvey were connected. Liberation was something Mr Harvey did not want the guys in charge to find out about. But why? And that stupid file. What about that poem? Did that figure in? I took a minute to think about the poem.
Tick, tock, tock. Tick, tock, stop.
Well, a clock sometimes makes a 'tick tock' noise. Perhaps that is what is meant by those, but what about the last words in the lines? The second 'tock' and the stop? Hmm. If I can substitute 'clock' for the 'tick, tock' that might make it easier.
Clock, tock. Clock, stop.
Clock stop?! Could that mean that a clock will stop? Why would you want that?! Clocks are important to everyday life. Nothing can be done without them. Why, schedules rely on them.
That's it. It was perfect thought for a schedule skipper. If a clock were to stop, then schedules did not matter. That meant that this file on Liberation was some sort of anarchist file, meant to spread chaos and confusion.
This revelation made me feel uncomfortable. My mind started working on it's own, dreaming up a world where there were no clocks. There was fire everywhere and people just wandering around doing nothing. Chaos. Anarchy. Liberation. Such a world frightened me more than I could describe.
I closed down the file and decided to get some sleep. I needed to clear my mind of the horrible images of this Liberation. I entered the next room, got changed and crawled into bed. Sleep would help me forget those terrible images.
The next day, I started looking for this Jerome Harvey. Keeping his file at my side, I began to search those places where he seemed to spend much of his time. The first place on the list was a restaurant. I looked around but saw nothing unusual, so on I went. The second place was a library. I immediately crossed this off the list. There was no way Mr. Harvey could have found out about this Liberation from the library. After all, libraries are around for the sole purpose of learning about useful things, not secret conspiracies. Next.
The next place on the list was a small pub. I entered and looked around, but could see nothing out of the ordinary. Just the odd patrons of this part of town looking sadly into their wishing mugs. I looked at my schedule and saw that I still had more than two hours of flatfooting before I was due at my next appointment, so I decided to have a quick drink.
I sat myself down at the bar and ordered something light. Taking a sip, I turned to view the other drinkers. It was then I noticed that they were all staring at me. I took another sip and started to engage the bartender in conversation.
"Good weather we're having today, huh?"
He nodded. "Yup. Good weather."
"Looks like we may be in for even better weather later on in the week."
Again the nod. "Good."
Leave it to me to find the only bartender in the city who was not an avid talker. Figures. Time to go out on a limb.
"Have you ever heard of the word Liberation?"
I could feel the room go cold. If there had been any eyes not on me when I came in, I was certain they had found me at last.
The bartender seemed to freeze for a moment before continuing with his work. "Strange word." said he.
I nodded. "Very strange."
"Do you know what it means?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Not really. A friend told me it."
His large eyebrow raised a bit. "Really?" he asked, sounding indifferent.
"Who was this friend?"
"A Mr. Harvey."
There was a quiet gasp from behind me and then a muffled conversation followed.
"Have you heard of him?" I asked.
"Perhaps. Common name."
I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see a young man looking me square in the eye. He pointed to my glass. "You are almost empty, bud. Let me buy the next one."
I nodded to him in appreciation. "By all means."
The man motioned to the bartender and my glass was filled. "My name is Cole." he said.
I shook his hand and introduced myself. "I am Geoffrey Poland."
"Good to meet you Mr. Poland." said he. "What was that word you mentioned just now?"
I looked him in the eye before answering. He looked honest enough, with his youthful features and disarming smile, but I could tell that he was expecting something.
"Liberation. Have you heard of it?"
He nodded slightly.
"Do you know what it means?" I asked.
Again the eye contact. "Do you know what it means?"
I was silent. Think! I told myself. Think! What would sound convincing?
"No schedules?" I asked, reflecting on last night's revelation.
The young man smiled. "You could say that."
I could feel the atmosphere around me get warmer as the people in the pub relaxed. At least my chances of being killed seemed to have diminished drastically. I breathed a sigh of relief. Good answer, Geoff. Good answer!
"You have heard it before?" I asked.
He nodded before answering. "What do you think a world without schedules would be like?"
Again with the hard questions!
"Pretty good, I suppose." I lied. "We could do what we want when we want."
The smile widened. "Very good answer." He leaned closer to me. "Do you think such a world is possible?"
I nodded. "I hope so."
"Then you have come to the right place, friend." He stood up. "Please, come this way."
I rose and, taking a sip of my drink, followed the man into a back room.
There, on a cot, sat the man who had abandoned his schedule. Mr. Harvey. Beside him sat another man.
"Jerome," said the young man, "It appears your friend has passed the test."
Mr. Harvey turned and looked at me. "Who is he?"
Cole looked confused. "You told this guy about Liberation, didn't you?"
Harvey shook his head and stood up.
"I have never seen him before in my life!" said my prey.
"Then what is this?" I asked him, pulling the paper from my pocket. Everyone in the room could clearly see the Liberation scribbled on it. Harvey seemed scared.
"How did you get that?" he asked quietly.
"You gave it to me, Mr. Harvey. Don't you remember?" I asked.
He shook his head violently. "I have never seen you before! I told no one about that word!"
The other two men looked at Mr. Harvey. I seized the chance and pulled out my gun. Firing off two quick blasts, the young man and his friend collapsed at Jerome's feet.
He fell to his knees, crying. "Please don't kill me!" he begged.
I holstered my weapon and yanked Mr. Harvey to his feet. "Get up, you scum!"
He whimpered, but said nothing. I grabbed the man by the collar and pulled him out from the room. Entering the pub, I placed my glass on the bar and set down some money next to it. "Thank you." I said and left the building.
Still dragging Mr. Harvey behind me, I walked to my car and threw him into the back seat. I followed him (but with more grace) into the car and pulled out into the street.
"How did you find me?" he asked from the back.
I laughed. "Mr. Harvey, your employer has all the information he can get on you. This information includes everywhere you go and what you spend money on. The most common places are placed first. That was how I found you."
I heard the whimpering again. "Stop that whining, Mr. Harvey, or I will have to kill you. Understand?"
The whimpering stopped immediately to my relief.
After several minutes of silence, my captive spoke up. "Why are you so angry at me?"
I sighed. "Because you are a schedule skipper, that's why."
"Is that so bad?" he asked.
"Yes, that is so bad! If everyone went about missing appointments or work, there would be chaos! The world must be organized in order to function properly."
"Do you really believe that?"
I was silent for a moment as I thought about this. Well, of course I did. Why wouldn't I? Why would we have created schedules if not to follow them? The world needed schedules. Well, that was what the government said, and they knew what was right, didn't they? I thought harder. Did I really believe schedules were necessary or did I just spout out what was fed to me? Come to think of it, just who made the schedules? And more importantly, who put them in charge?
"You don't, do you?" he asked.
"Shut up! Of course I do!"
The prisoner was silent until I stopped the car outside the police station.
"Right," I said, "this is where you get out."
I opened the door, got out and pulled Mr. Harvey with me. He was unnervingly silent.
"You will thank me after your reforment." I said, trying to comfort him.
He shook his head sadly. "But I do not want to be reformed. What then?"
I had no idea. Although it was not really part of the equation. While punishment was supposed to be against the will, reforment was given to cure that most evil of diseases, chronic laziness. To cure healthy people was just plain stupid and worthless, but who would not want the cure if they were sick? It made no sense.
"Sir," said the little man, "You know about the word. You know what it means. So why, if it were such a foul and wrong word, was it created?"
"Shut up." I said, not wanting to listen to anymore of his banter, but he continued.
""Liberation is freedom from evil and oppression. Why would it be used on schedules? Something supposed to be good for society?"
"Shut up!" I said, getting angry.
"Please listen to me, you must know- people must know- that-"
That did it. I was just so tired of his whiny voice going on and on. "Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!"
I struck the man with the back of my hand and he fell to his knees in shock.
"Poland!" came a voice. I turned to see the police chief standing above me on the next level up. "Is that the skipper?"
I nodded and threw the man to the ground.
"Good," said the despicable man. "Give him to the officer on duty and you can collect your pay."
"Wait!" I called out as the chief started to turn away. "What will happen to him?"
The chief shrugged. "Reforment, of course."
I looked down at my captive and saw him staring up at me. His words echoed through my mind. Why would this word be created in direct opposition to something that is good? Which one is right?
The officer on duty came and collected Mr. Harvey, giving me my money as the skipper was dragged off. I left the station with an empty feeling in my gut.
Returning home, I sat in my chair and turned it to look out upon the window. I could see the sun sinking behind the countless numbers of buildings in the city. The clouds rolled lazily through the sky. Somewhere a clock tolled.
Suddenly I noticed that there was something outside the window. This was the first time I had noticed anything, although this was also the first time I had really looked out the window.
I stood up and looked. There was a balcony there! It was small but still a balcony. Since when did I have a balcony?! If there was a balcony, there must be a way to get onto it. I lifted the blinds and found a latch. Turning it, the window opened silently with a gust of wind.
I stepped out onto the small balcony and marvelled at how I had never noticed it. It was made of the same stone that the building was faced with; a grey marble. I leaned on the stone rail and looked around. There was a much better view of things from here than through the window. Everything was much clearer. Such clarity started my mind working. I thought. Thought about what Jerome Harvey had said to me.
If a word that should stand for good is against schedules, which one is right? I could not decide. I had lived with schedules for all of my life. I could not comprehend a life without schedules.
Of course, sometimes I had cursed my schedule because I had not really felt like sticking to it, but in the end I had broken in. What else was there to do? Ignore the schedule and end up like Mr. Harvey?
I looked at my watch. Liberation is freedom from schedules. Freedom from oppression. Does that mean that schedules are oppressive? Should we live by the clock? Always rushing around with no will of our own?
Clouds rolled passed as the bell continued to toll.
Come to think of it, there were a lot of clocks in town. They were always on time and always read the same, never different. They were everywhere you turned, compelling you- forcing you- to be on time. To be late had almost become a crime. A crime of taking time for yourself and not using it in the best way. To miss a scheduled appointment was extremely rare, and totally ignoring the entire schedule was unheard of. It was just not done. But did that make it wrong? Did the majority always chose the best path?
While I could understand needing some regularity in life, is it possible to be confined by one's own need for that regularity? Is it possible to be shackled by the hands of the clock? Is it possible to break free?
I had no idea, I just stood there on the balcony staring out into the great beyond.