…the arrogance that is essential to one’s perception of the universe
Smith’s car was having trouble starting so early in the morning. The frost had taken hold of the engine, also freezing over the windscreen and freezing the puddles of water at the feet of both Oscar and Smith, who were sitting in either front seat, impatient for the engine to kick into action so that they could get away.
Either’s impatience was down to their eagerness to be somewhere else so early in the morning. This eagerness would have been most clearly discerned in the manner in which Oscar jumped out of his bedclothes once Smith had managed to tell him what was happening. Or perhaps the firm sense of purpose would be most evident in the manner in which Smith grunted yeses and nos into the phone he had finally put to his ear. This was a stark contrast to either’s condition moments before – Oscar assiduously ignoring the ringing of his own telephone as well as the loud noises suggestive of a violent fight coming from downstairs, and Smith manically banging the telephone against the wall as it was disturbing the twelfth successive James Bond film he was watching in the living room on the newly acquired television.
And it wasn’t either’s worry for the well-being of Henry which motivated them. What motivated both Smith and Oscar was the thought of seeing Henry confined in a police cell – it was the strangeness, the unbelievably, the never-before-seen-ness, the i-can’t-believe-it-ness, the oh-my-god-ness, the sheer… of it all, which surged through the veins of them both, which triggered off such an eagerness to get going, to see, to hear, the get there, to… they just couldn’t believe it – My god – Henry has been arrested.
“His voice was flat,” Smith said, as soon as they were underway. “Flat. Completely without… there wasn’t a note of anything.” The thick layer of frost covering most of the windscreen wasn’t seen as a barrier to their progress – Smith had to crane his neck to see the road ahead through a gap in the frost at the bottom of the windscreen, and this was enough for their purposes.
Oscar was occupied with his thoughts – it could be seen in his eyes, how one thought after another was being slotted into place as he absorbed this new piece of information and incorporated it into his understanding of the world he lived in.
“There wasn’t a note of emotion,” Smith went on. “‘Get here now!’ that’s all he said.”
“But he said that he’d been arrested. You said he was arrested for stalking. You said sexual deviancy. You used the term ‘peeping tom’. Where did all that come from, if he only said ‘Get here now!’”
“Sure he said all that… he’s been arrested for stalking. It must be ten degrees below freezing and he’s walking around at four in the morning in his pyjamas and a trench-coat. He told me everything. He’s going down. He’s a sexual criminal and they’re going to put him out of action. He’ll never expose himself again – society must be protected.”
“The words ‘sexual criminal’ and ‘stalking’ were actually used?”
“Innocent or guilty, they’re going to try to take him down!” And finally Smith had to admit defeat to the laws of physics and stop the car – he could no longer see out through the windscreen. He pulled up onto what he assumed was the footpath, but which turned out to be something more substantial, causing the car to jolt to a halt and Oscar’s head to bang off the windscreen.
Oscar removed what he could of the ice with the heel of his shoe.
“He’ll be a wreck of a man,” was Oscar’s opinion, delivered with great conviction as the car picked up sped again. It was an assertion founded on a thorough understanding of the weak and pathetic character of Henry and the ways of the world. “He’ll be reduced to tears. A shadow of a man.”
“He’ll get through.” Smith was far more confident in the resilience of man, even of Henry. “The chips are down. It’s do or die. Every man’s a fighter when it comes down to it.”
“And what will Henry fight with?”
“He’ll lie. He’ll lie and cheat – that’s what he’ll do. He’ll use his god given talent for deception. He’ll swear blind to anything. He’ll come up with the most amazing stories to back himself up. He would convince the pope himself if it came to it.” Smith pointed a finger to the sky in order to indicate that his next statement was an essential truth of the universe – “It’s survival of the fittest. Every man will fight for his own existence… tooth and nail.”
Oscar had trouble accepting any possibility of Henry fighting, surviving or succeeding in any way. “He’ll fall apart,” was Oscar’s opinion. “I know just what kind of guy Henry is. I know how the world will tear him apart. It was only a matter of time. This world was always going to reduce him to a snivelling heap. It’s a cruel and malicious universe. By the time we get there he’ll be begging them to put him out of his misery. Mark my word – this is the end of the person formerly known as Henry.”
“Never underestimate the raw power of the survival instinct.” Smith pushed his foot down on the accelerator in order to lend his statement some emphasis. “The gods stand back and watch us suffer, but they’ll watch us thrive as well. Mark my word – this is the beginning of the person formerly known as Henry.”
Of course, two such contradictory views of the universe couldn’t possibly coexist, not for long anyway, not in the same car which was right then hurtling towards the proof of one grand theory and the destruction of the other. As the speedometer swung wildly from zero to sixty neither party in this discussion of the ways of the universe would relent. They would each, they insisted, be proven right by the state of the man formerly known as Henry, either curled up on the floor of a police cell or standing smiling at the door a free man.
Smith and Oscar entered the police station without a hint of doubt in their own hypotheses. Such was either’s confidence that each managed a look of contempt at the other, as they waited for the policewoman behind the desk to register their arrival.
“We’ve come to petition for the release of an innocent man,” Smith stated, in a voice which wasn’t his own – a voice from a film perhaps, the voice of an old time politician.
“Henry Bridgewater?” Oscar asked, adopting the look of someone who was there to pick up his recently deceased grandmother. “Can we take him home? At least for tonight? I would just ask you to take pity on him. He can’t handle all of this… it’ll break him.”
“He’s an innocent man!” Smith remonstrated, though without anyone to remonstrate with – the policewoman behind the counter stifled a yawn and lowered her gaze to whatever papers were laid out before her. Then, without the least hint of sarcasm, without a note of any feeling, the policewoman stated, “Mr Bridgewater is asleep in his cell. I wouldn’t like to wake him.”
Both Oscar and Smith were struck dumb by this announcement; it was as though the gods themselves had thrown their well worn and often expressed and more often paraded belief systems to the ground and stamped upon them.