Ben’s Bit, part twelve – Cold Governance
There’s something about the door that terrifies me. I suspect that it’s still unlocked. But I won’t try it to see. To try it would risk some fragile things. If it were locked and I had maintained my belief that Roger Sylvester, my new gaoler, being a good man, had left it open as a rebellious gesture against a system that had incarcerated a fellow good man, then something gentle and precious would be dashed against the old stone walls of Bakewell Gaol.
If it were not locked, then I would have doubted my picture of the new and honest man…
So, I don’t try it… I just look at it from the bed across my cell.
I must have drifted off. I am brought back to consciousness by the arrival of my new gaoler, so I can’t say whether he has unlocked the door or not. When I look up, sleepily, he is standing over me and smiling, dressed in a tracksuit, with a stopwatch on a lanyard around his neck.
“Good to rest, Ben,” he says, genuinely. “But not too much – exercise time!”
It’s said in a quasi military tone – navy induced, no doubt, and I realise that the comfort of having a fellow human being for a gaoler is to be tainted by the fact that he’s probably an exercise nut. He escorts me through the old corridors of the largely empty gaol and out into the central quadrangle which forms an exercise yard. “Can’t beat regular exercise, Ben, for lifting the spirits.” he says as we enter the yard with its lines of lichen streaked dripping red brick.
For the next forty-five minutes he ‘joins’ me in a suggested series of short sprints, push-ups, sit-ups and squat thrusts. He’s hardly breaking sweat, but I’m perspiring profusely. By the end of our exercise period, I’m wet through and gasping for breath.
“Give it time, Ben,” he laughs, “you’ll be amazed what a daily work-out like this can do for you!”
‘Daily’ my mind screams. I’ve moved from a decaying psychopath to a fitness nazi!
Grateful that it’s over, but acknowledging that I actually do feel better, I follow Roger Sylvester through the corridors, and am delighted when he turns towards the shower block. I’m glad for the opportunity, as being clean has always been very important to me. He opens the heavy painted creme door with the old, frosted glass panels, and nods me in.
“You should find everything you need in there,” he smiles. “Including a new ‘uniform'” he half snarls the word, sympathetic to the effect that such de-humanising objects can have on someone in my position. “I can only bend so many rules, Ben, you know that…But I’ll give you some privacy.”
I nod, grateful that he’s prepared to bend any rules, and enter the shower room, peeling off my sweat-streaked overalls.
The sanitised room is cold. Its Victorian black and white tiles forbidding and stark. But the hot water that follows is a refreshing delight and I have no complaints… not till the flow stops, suddenly, and I look around for the cause…
The Governor is standing by the far wall, his hands on the master stopcock. He’s smiling like a prize fighter would, who, standing over a knocked-down opponent, senses victory in the other’s disorientation.
I’m standing in a shower room and not lying on a canvas boxing ring. But it feels the same. I’m immobilised under an open bank of shower heads, naked and dripping. The cold of the cell is invading my former shroud of steam…and there’s literally nothing between my skin and the man I fear even more than Dr Grey.
He pulls over a battered wooden stool and sits, halfway between the stop-cock and me. “Thought we might need a chat, Ben.” he says casually, as though all this is quite normal for a Friday morning.
It’s a casual, black suit he’s selected for the occasion, with a matching black polo neck. “Like it, Ben?” he asks, fingering the cuffs. “Couldn’t help noticing how you admired my suit when we last met.” he smiles, cruelly. “Bet you have a few nice suits at home?” It’s a cruel reminder of a past that now seems impossibly distant, as well he knows.
“Ben,” he says, shaking his head as though he needs to clear his mind. “we need to clear up one or two bits and pieces…” I feel like covering myself with my hands, in case my bits are the ones he wants to clear up, but I don’t. I’ve learned about fear and how much of its paralysing force is in the mind, long before it’s in the body.
He looks over my body, taking his time. It’s a pale shadow of his triangular muscularity, with its well-tanned surface and perfect poise. But, grateful for small mercies, I can see there is no sexual element to his visual invasion. He’s just curious as to how fit I might be.
“I’m glad you take such a close interest in those in your care.” I drag out the word ‘care’ into a sneer.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about, Ben,” he says slapping his well-dressed thigh. “Gets us nowhere, that sort of attitude!”
Before I can think up something clever that a naked man in a shower might say as a riposte, he continues.
“Why’d you do it, Ben? The three of you–” His eyes have finished with the strip search and he’s content to bring his eagle orbs to look into mine. “Just mischief…? did you get drunk and decide it would be a wheeze?” He shakes his head. “Nope, it wasn’t like that, was it, Ben?” he stands up and strides to the raised edge of the shower platform. “There’s something deeper going on here, and we think you’re all part of something bigger – much bigger!” He raises one arm in what looks like preparation for a blow, but then diverts it to scratch the back of his neck. I decide not to ask who this ‘we’ might be.
I flinch, anyway…and then a miracle happens. Through the crook of the Governor’s elbow I see Roger Sylvester enter the shower room, carrying an extra towel. His relaxed gait and calm smile freezes as he glimpses the scene before him.
“What the hell’s going on here?” he shouts.
The Governor purses his lips and nods, realising his little exploration has come to an end. But he seems un-phased by his subordinate’s intrusion. “Just having a little chat, Roger, that’s all.”
“Little chats like this are likely to be misinterpreted,” says my gaoler, icily.
The Governor turns. “Oh, I don’t expect there’ll be any mis-interpretation between you and me, Roger. Despite any misgivings we might have once had about the past…”
I have no idea what that means. But it seems that Roger and the Governor have history, and, from the Governor’s confident stride as he leaves the chequered room, he has no doubt that he can command the gaoler’s obedience, if he needs to coerce.
But the prematurely grey-haired man walking calmly across the shower room floor does not look like he’s about to be intimidated by his superior, regardless of any history.
“Sorry, Ben,” he says, “That was way out of line…”
“No harm done,” I say, gratefully accepting a warm towel and wishing I were sure the words represented the truth.
“Trouble is,” says Roger. “The bastard still thinks he’s in sub-Saharan Africa…”
———————————————————–< to be continued-
Ben’s Bit is a continuing first-person narrative of the character created by Stuart France and Sue Vincent, which may bear some relation to the author of this story, Steve Tanham, their fellow director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. In their book, Scions of Albion, Ben is arrested for his overly enthusiastic part in a mad escapade, and the other two are nowhere to be seen . . . For more, enjoy their Doomsday series of books, and the new series (Lands of Exile) whose first volume, But ‘n’ Ben is now available in Kindle and Paperback. Click here for details.
Index to Ben’s Bits:
The Silent Eye School of Consciousness – a modern mystery school.