P.S.O Jules Stewart
Fat Peter and I are sat at my table in the back corner of Berry-Berry. There is only one other customer who is busy chatting on the network, their cranpineberryjuice untouched before them. Fat Peter is enjoying a rest after Gina turned out to be some guy promoting a new form of colour therapy, trying to sell his philosophy. One that he obviously didn’t follow himself, someone found Gina’s real identity and the network was flooded with images of a man of sixty-eight in grey exercise pants, in a strata two cube, unshaven and uninspiring and definitely not orange. Suddenly the market for orange fruit dropped, although no one in the strata would risk eating a real orange, certainly not one grown at ground level. The fickle crowd have moved on to follow a new cult no doubt.
A trickle of sweat starts to roll down my spine, it's hot in here with so few customers, the strata prioritising other more populated areas in greater need of cooling.
Fat Peter drums his fingers on the tabletop, which is the shape of a pineapple sliced down the middle. He stops. ‘So tell me again, what do we have?’
I place the evidence bag with the button on the tabletop next to the magnetic pulsar reflector. ‘We know an older guy with a taste for young women gave or sold Estelle devices. We know Estelle was interested in street level, especially Aigburth, she met an old lady there once or twice, her boyfriend Justin is involved in protest, her friend Loretta is jealous, her work colleague Peta is mean spirited and Jet Wong is a closed book.’
Fat Peter has picked up the button and holds it in the bag against his chest, lined up with the buttons on his shirt. It’s not just similar but identical.
‘Did you lose one?’ I say.
‘No, it’s not mine, but it’s from a shirt like this one.’
‘So where’s the shirt from?’ I ask.
He pauses for a moment. ‘A past life,’ he says, ’I wear it to remind myself that I’m just an ordinary man. Not really an ancient hero or a god. I was a good player, but a man nevertheless. I wear this shirt everyday to remind myself who I once was.’
‘Peter Wallinski’ I say and now I say it, it seems obvious and yet all this time I hadn’t realised.
‘The same,’ says Fat Peter
‘That explains the weight.’ I say
‘Aye, they don’t tell you about the affect of the modifications, the weight gain, when you stop playing. Or the rest.’
‘And the shirt?’
‘The whole crew wore them, players and techies, like a uniform. It was ironic. Old fashioned attire when we thought we were the future.’
‘So this button in all likelihood came from the shirt of one of your old crew?’
‘Someone whose not moved on, deals in dodgy tech and with a taste for young women. I know just the guy. His name's Roberto and it was his suggestion I use the patch. I didn’t actually need it. I was top of the leader-board anyway but I was so far from reality. I’d have done anything to keep my advantage. And then when I was caught he was nowhere to be seen. I took the whole hit. I lost everything.’
‘I remember.’ I say ‘It was one of those moments that everyone shares. Everyone remembers where they were when you were taken down.’
‘Yeah and now I’m forgotten,’ he says looking around at his empty bar.
‘Can you get in touch with him?’ I ask.
Fat Peter rises and says, ‘leave it with me, I’m sure I can pass a message through to him. I’ll let you know as soon as I have contact.’
‘Make it as soon as, I’ve a feeling we need to act fast – we’re not the only ones working out what’s happened,’ I add as I watch him walk away, the saddest I've ever seen him.