A serial fantasy.
Marta flipped on the TV in her tiny flat, and then disappeared into the kitchen.
‘I’m putting the kettle on,’ she called. ‘And then I’m going to change out of these ridiculous clothes.’
Vin and Steve watched the screen. A woman was talking.
‘…didn’t say that. I said that high heel shoes should have warnings on them. And that the government should introduce a progressive tax on high-heeled shoes, at a rate of about 10 euros per centimetre of lift. This would be to encourage young women to wear simpler and healthier flat shoes.’
‘There are a lot of health risks to wearing high heels, aren’t there?’ her interviewer prompted.
‘Oh yes!’ she continued. ‘Compressed toes, sprained ankles, torn ligaments, deformed spines. Nature didn’t intend women to wear high-heeled shoes. It’s unnatural.’ She sniffed, and brushed her short spiky hair. ‘And if you tread on a baby…’
Her interviewer swung his eyes towards the camera.
‘That was Wendy Straggle of Shoe Danger Alert,’ he said. ‘And now the main news again. European President Sigmund Hauser flew into Transmanche today, and was greeted by crowds lining the streets….’
‘Rent-a-crowds,’ Steve murmured.
They listened to the rest of the news, and then flipped the switch when the next programme started.
‘We’re in a war now,’ Steve said. ‘And it’s a war we never wanted.’
‘And it’s a total war,’ Vin added. ‘The antismokers have set out to destroy us. So smokers must destroy them.’
‘I wish there was some other way,’ Steve said. ‘One where reason and common sense prevailed.’
‘Common sense and reason vanished a long time ago,’ Vin replied. ‘Antismokers just tell lie after lie. More or less everything they say is a lie. And it’s all swallowed whole, and published unquestioned in the media. Reason and justice and democracy have all vanished, if they ever existed in the first place. There’s nothing left now but open warfare.’
‘Where will it end?’ Steve asked, of nobody in particular.
‘In a totalitarian state, most likely,’ Vin said. ‘We’re more or less there already.’
‘A state of that kind won’t last,’ Steve said. ‘It can’t last. They’re trying to construct a smoke-free, alcohol-free, perfect world. And it’ll be a kind of hell. And it’ll come apart.’
‘And I don’t want to wait to find out,’ Vin said. ‘I intend to do something about it.’
‘And me,’ Marta added. ‘I’m sick of these bastards.’
Steve said nothing.
‘I’ve got no love for any of them either,’ he said, eventually. ‘But what good does it do to start blowing them away? We can’t do much. There’s too many of them.’
‘We can make a start,’ Vin said. ‘There are far more smokers than antismokers in the world,’ Vin replied. ‘There must be at least 2 billion of us.’
‘And how many of them?’
‘There can’t be more than a few thousand of them. Antismoking professionals, at least. People who are paid to work to denormalise smoking and to marginalise and demonise smokers.’
‘There must be a lot more unpaid antismokers. Like Mrs Marchant,’ Marta said.
‘The little fish don’t matter too much,’ said Vin. ‘It’s the bigger ones we’re after. And we get them one by one, little by little.’
‘Just the three of us?’ Marta interjected.
‘Just the three of us can do a hell of a lot. We can begin to introduce a little fear into their lives, fear they’ve never known,’ Vin said. ‘Maybe some of them will begin to change their tune when they discover there’s a price to pay. Maybe then some of them will begin to watch what they say about smoking and smokers. And maybe some of them will start to consider doing something else for a living.’
‘We should just pick antismokers off one by one,’ Vin continued. ‘Here and there. Unrelated people in different towns. In different ways. That makes it hard for the police to connect them up.’
‘In the end they’ll realise that they’re not disconnected,’ Steve said. ‘In the end they’ll figure it out.’
‘But we can delay that as long as we possibly can. By holding down the forces of law and order by overburdening them with work,’ Vin replied. ‘Right now they have one murder investigation. But soon they’ll have ten murder investigations. They won’t have enough manpower. They’ll do the job badly.’
‘A kind of hidden insurrection,’ Steve mused. ‘I’m trying to think what the response will be when they realise it’s all connected,’ Steve said. ‘What are they likely to do?’
‘Throw a lot more police onto the job,’ Vin said. ‘Create a police presence on the streets. Stop and search people. Raid lots of people’s houses. Run big media campaigns. Stuff like that.’
‘Maybe they’ll finally make tobacco illegal,’ Marta said. ‘And shoot smokers on sight.’
‘Which will only help us,’ Vin said. ‘The more that ordinary people get harassed, the more difficult life becomes, the angrier they’ll get, and the more they’ll be pushed towards open revolt.’
‘Smoking bans and more and more petty rules and regulations are already doing that,’ Steve said. ‘What stops most people rebelling is that they have too much to lose. Smoking bans are already highly socially divisive. They set people against each other. They set smokers against antismokers. They set friends against friends. They divide communities, and they divide families.’
‘And when they’ve got nothing left to lose, they’ll start doing what we’re doing,’ Vin said, taking up the theme. ‘They’ve been gradually creating the conditions for a kind of civil war. And now it’s started.’
‘Can we count on the authorities to be heavy-handed?’ asked Steve. ‘They might adopt some other tactic.’
‘I think that’s their most likely response,’ Vin replied. ‘They’re going to have antismoking organisations demanding protection and visible action. They’ll want to see the forces of law and order doing something draconian.’
‘Antismokers certainly create division,’ Steve said. ‘But we’ll be creating further division too. Doesn’t that put us on the same side as the antismokers?’
‘Not quite,’ Vin said. ‘The antismokers want compliance. They want to squeeze smokers out of society. They don’t want a civil war. But maybe we do. We want them to react heavy-handedly. We want them to make life much more difficult for everybody. That way we win recruits to our side. Or at least potential recruits. And there’s probably plenty out there already.’
‘How do we know what antismokers want?’ Marta said. ‘They all seem like crazy people to me.Who knows what they’ll do?’
‘We’ll find out soon enough what they’ll do,’ said Vin.
They carried on talking deep into the night. Eventually Steve fell asleep. And Marta began pulling blankets and pillows out of a wardrobe. She spread one over the sleeping figure.
‘You’ve done all this before, haven’t you?’ Marta said, looking directly at Vin.
‘You’ve used that gun before. You may even have killed people before.’
Vin didn’t reply immediately.
‘In my line of business, people often carry guns,’ he said, eventually. ‘But they seldom use them.’
‘And what is your line of business?’ Marta asked.
‘I’m in the import-export business. We import and export a lot of things. Most of it is legitimate. But some of it isn’t quite so legitimate.’
‘Like what?’ Marta persisted.
‘Drugs. Guns. Anything people want. We imported a live crocodile for somebody once.’
‘It sounds a bit underwordly to me.’
‘Not really. It’s a legitimate company, doing legitimate business. It’s just that now and then some of our customers ask us to do them a special favour. We don’t want to lose their business, so we help them out.’
‘So you could get me a gun quite easily.’
‘Sure,’ Vin said. ‘What kind would you like? I was going to get one each for you and Steve, when I go back and recycle this one.’ He tapped his satchel.
‘This one’s hot now, so I need to replace it. And that’s quite easy. I take out a new one, and replace it with this one.’
Marta nodded. ‘I’m getting sleepy too,’ she said. ‘Would you like a few pillows and a blanket too?’
‘Please,’ Vin nodded.
Marta pulled out another blanket and handed it to Vin.
‘I’d like a double-barreled sawn-off shotgun,’ she said. ‘A pink one.’ She grinned. ‘And you didn’t answer my question.’