P.S.O Jules Stewart
Peta shows me into the office of Monanzo's charity division, a large space the size of about six strata 20 cubes on the corner of the Gambier Sky terrace block. I didn’t expect the corporation to be so invested in this. A large table is covered with leaflets. Real paper.
‘I love the smell’ I say running a finger over the piles , ‘reminds me of my childhood.’ I pick up a sheet and inhale, ‘Is the smell the paper or the ink?’ I ask.
Peta, not impressed by my question, stands with arms folded, waiting for me to begin. She has a million things to do and I'm taking up her time.
I turn the leaflet over, on one side of the sheet is an image of a broken boarded up window, on the reverse a picture of a cube in Fort Sefton. A caption reads: Your choice. Give your life a boost! Step on the corporate ladder and escape the streets.
‘Where do you give these out?’ I ask.
‘Estelle and I were going to distribute them down in Aigburth. To give people a chance to move before the construction work recommences. It’s what we do. We promote life in the Corporate Strata and see what can be done to help people get onto that first rung of the ladder. We set up at some of their amenity centres and help people to apply. Occasionally put on a bonanza'
‘Do you still meet with resistance? Do people there protest?’
‘Sometimes. But not in any organized way. The main protests happen closer to the Strata. It’s us, you and I officer, that the protesters want to influence.’
‘And what did Estelle think?’ I ask
‘Thinking isn’t really her strength, Officer, I doubt that she ever thinks very much at all, except perhaps about herself.’ Peta’s hands are busy straightening the piles of leaflets that I disturbed.
‘But is she in support of the strata? She does promote it?’
Peta pauses, her hands resting on the leaflets.
‘I don’t know actually.’
‘What makes you say that?’ I ask.
‘She talks to them, not about moving into the strata but about the streets, about what’s happened to the streets and the people there since the strata were built. I don’t know, she’s kind of sympathetic. I’ve passed this on to Jet and that Estelle disappeared a few times when we were down at street level. Caused me no end of worry and anxiety. It’s a rule, that we stick together. I mean anything could happen down there. Especially to someone prominent like Estelle.’
‘And what did Jet say?’ I ask.
‘It was all my fault of course. I have a mark on my record now, after all my years of work. I was moving up the board.’ She slams a fist down on the leaflets. ‘I thought twice about reporting her missing, but I figured it would be even worse for me if anything had happened to her and I’d not reported that she hadn’t been to work.’
‘So you noted her absence before Jet Wong reported it?’
‘Yes, I messaged Jet to report that Estelle hadn’t been in to work and wasn’t available on the network. She said she’d look into it and not to mention it to anyone. I can see she wouldn’t want a big fuss on newspulse.’ Having straightened all of the leaflets Peta is rearranging the objects on a desk. There are chairs but curiously I've not been offered one.
Peta pauses and asks, ‘Do you think she’s been kidnapped?’
‘Why? Did Estelle meet with anyone in particular down at street level? Anyone who worried you’
‘There’s an old woman I’ve seen her with once or maybe twice. Didn’t look like she had the strength to do anyone any harm though. Looked senile, most of the older ones are.’ The corners of her mouth turn down like she's trodden in something unpleasant, 'It's sad really,' she says.
‘What happened on the day of the last bonanza?’ I ask.
‘A fiasco, the whole event canceled. And Estelle went off with the protesters. Imagine, and there is nothing I can do. I can’t get rid of her, I can’t ask Jet to sack her and yet she ruins everything. It’s me that pays. I’m at a standstill since she arrived. One step forward two steps back.’
‘Can’t be easy,' I say.
‘No it’s not – I’m enjoying a break from her – it’s like a holiday – but of course all good things come to an end. She’ll bang through that door bringing chaos with her and it’ll all start again.’
‘You sound confident that she’ll come back.’
‘Oh I’m not lucky enough to be rid of Estelle for good, I’m sure. No she’ll be back to ruin my career further. Are you recording this? Silly question. Do you report to Jet Wong directly?’
I pull my lips into a smile and shake my head. ‘One last question, do you recognise this?’ I show Peta the button from Otterpool Skypark. Not a flicker of recognition.
‘No,’ she says, ‘can’t think that I’ve ever seen it before. Even I’m not so out dated as to wear clothes with buttons.’
An angry work colleague to add to the jealous friend, rebel boyfriend and controlling mother.
On my way over to Berry-Berry I take a virtual tour of a strata twenty cube that's currently free. If I can wrap this case up we could be in next week. Dorace really needs to move in this heat, I don't know how long she can stand it on strata 10.