Do not set foot in my office. That's Dad's rule. But
the phone'd rung twenty-five
times. Normal people give up after ten or eleven, unless it's a
life or death. Don't they? Dad's got an answering machine like
in The Rockford Files with big reels of tape. But he's
stopped leaving it
switched on recently. Thirty rings, the phone got to. Julia
couldn't hear it up
in her converted attic 'cause "Don't You Want Me?" by Human
thumping out dead loud. Forty rings. Mum couldn't hear
'cause the washing
machine was on berserk cycle and she was hoovering the
living room. Fifty
rings. That's just not normal. S'pose Dad'd been mangled by
a juggernaut on
the M5 and the police only had this office number 'cause all his
got incinerated? We could lose our final chance to see our
charred father in
the terminal ward.
So I went in, thinking of a bride going into Bluebeard's chamber
being told not to. (Bluebeard, mind, was waiting for that to
happen.) Dad's office
smells of pound notes, papery but metallic too. The blinds were
it felt like evening, not ten in the morning. There's a serious
clock on the
wall, exactly the same make as the serious clocks on the walls
There's a photo of Dad shaking hands with Craig Salt when Dad
got made regional
sales director for Greenland. (Greenland the supermarket chain,
Greenland the country.) Dad's IBM computer sits on the steel
of pounds, IBMs cost. The office phone's red like a nuclear
it's got buttons you push, not the dial you get on normal
So anyway, I took a deep breath, picked up the receiver, and
number. I can say that without stammering, at least. Usually.
But the person on the other end didn't answer.
"Hello?" I said. "Hello?"
They breathed in like they'd cut themselves on paper.
"Can you hear me? I can't hear you."
Very faint, I recognized the Sesame Street music.
"If you can hear me"I remembered a Children's Film Foundation
where this happened"tap the phone, once."
There was no tap, just more Sesame Street.
"You might have the wrong number," I said, wondering.
A baby began wailing and the receiver was slammed down.
When people listen they make a listening noise.
I'd heard it, so they'd heard me.
"May as well be hanged for a sheep as hanged for a
Throckmorton taught us that aeons ago. 'Cause I'd sort of
had a reason to
have come into the forbidden chamber, I peered through Dad's
blind, over the glebe, past the cockerel tree, over more fields,
up to the
Malvern Hills. Pale morning, icy sky, frosted crusts on the
hills, but no sign of
sticking snow, worse luck. Dad's swivelly chair's a lot like the
Falcon's laser tower. I blasted away at the skyful of Russian
over the Malverns. Soon tens of thousands of people between here
Cardiff owed me their lives. The glebe was littered with mangled
and blackened wings. I'd shoot the Soviet airmen with
tranquilizer darts as
they pressed their ejector seats. Our marines'll mop them up.
I'd refuse all
medals. "Thanks, but no thanks," I'd tell Margaret Thatcher and
when Mum invited them in, "I was just doing my job."
Dad's got this fab pencil sharpener clamped to his desk. It
sharp enough to puncture body armor. H pencils're sharpest,
faves. I prefer 2Bs.
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