Hey guys, just a few updates before the story. We’re recording another Those Aren’t Biscuits tomorrow so it should be up on Thursday as usual. I’m also waiting for the first issue of the new Judge Dredd Mega Collection to arrive in the post, it’s a reprint of the 1990 story America, and I’m planning on reviewing it when it arrives, so watch this space.
This story started out a little more sci-fi when I planned it out, but as I was rewriting, I thought it worked better if I just pared it back to the characters and kept it a little more relatable. Let me know what you think.
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Domino waited. She watched the nearest clocktower, saw the digits count down. Her heart beat faster with every minute. It was dark now, they were right in the middle of winter. The weatherman even said something about snow, but it wasn’t until 9 so she probably wouldn’t see it. Cars were honking and engines grinding on the roads, everyone trying to get home at once. An announcement piped up over the city’s speakers and reminded her she only had ten minutes left. As if she needed reminding. As if anybody did.
It was Jackson’s fault. He was usually there first; of all the dealer’s she knew, he was usually the most reliable. He took the rail in to the city centre past the sec-checks, and could make it to most neighbourhoods pretty quickly. How he knew all the tricks, she didn’t know, but he knew them and made good use of them too. But curfew was rolling out earlier and earlier these days and if he got caught, she didn’t know what she’d do.
She heard footsteps and ducked back into the recess of the wall and peeped out. An older woman. Well dressed, probably worked for the city. She peered back at her and smiled. “Curfew soon, dear.” Domino looked up at the clock and pretended to be surprised. “Do you need a ride?” She waved over to the corner where her car was parked up with the door open. The woman must have spotted her a mile off. “I have quick clearance, I can take you anywhere you need to go.”
“Oh no,” Domino was flustered, she tried not to babble. “My sister’s supposed to be picking me up.” The woman eyed the clock, she wasn’t convinced. “I mean, I’d love to go with you, but if she gets here and I’m not waiting, then she might wait for me and then she’ll miss curfew, and I don’t want to get her into trouble.” That sealed the deal, well-dressed-and-nosy gave another little smile and walked off to the car.
They were pretty high up on the overpass, she hadn’t expected anyone else to come along. The streetlights were still on, but if Jackson didn’t turn up soon she’d be stood out here in the dark. Then the questions would be even harder to answer. She watched the lights go out section by section across the city. Curfew was any minute now, but she had a good ten minutes before all the lights dropped completely and the streets were filled with cops. She slipped her hands into her pockets, tried to look non-threatening and impatient. Best to start the lies early, she thought. Look believable. She heard a car pull up behind her and she ducked back into the recess. The door opened, few people would bet out on the street now the traffic was clearing. She pressed her back against the cold bricks and did her best not to be seen. If you can’t act cool, better to hide and hope for the best.
“Dom?” A voice hissed. “You around?”
It was Jackson, she poked a hand out of the shadows and waved him in.
He stepped in alongside her and she caught a look at his face in the dark. It looked bruised.
“Shh!” He crouched down, she copied him. A cop car crawled past and then moved off. There was almost no traffic now.
“I know, I’m sorry.” He pushed back his greasy hair and she could see that his usual cocky grin was gone. “I got stopped by the early patrol.” He started pulling papers out of his jacket pocket, then thrust her a pale green slip.
“A fine?” She laughed. “You got away with just a fine?”
“Barely,” he snatched back the paper. “A bloody huge fine.”
“I got off the rail early, heard they were doing checks. I thought it couldn’t hurt to be careful, so I jumped off ahead and figured I’d walk. I had plenty of time but turns out they were doing foot checks too.”
“Unlucky.” She stood but he shook his head and pulled her back down.
“I think they followed me, don’t know how many. They know I don’t live in this sector, so I spun them a line about my Granny’s blackout being on the fritz. Said I needed to go be with her this curfew, make sure everything went ok and she knew how to call tech if it didn’t work. I don’t think they believe me, but what could they do?”
“So they let you go?” Domino couldn’t believe it, she trusted Jackson, but this was just the kind of setup her friends fell for.
“No,” Jackson pulled up his jacket and shirt, the bruises to his ribs were clearly visible even in the dark. “This was just incase I was being less than truthful.”
When no cars had passed for a couple of minutes, they stood again and swapped glances.
“Look, Dom. I have to get to a safehouse without any problems. If I’m caught with barter on me, I’ll be in serious trouble.”
Domino pushed him against the wall. “Shit, Jackson. I’m putting my neck out here too. I need it.”
“I know,” Jackson’s grin returned. He fished in his pocket and pulled out the little flashlight. “Take it tonight, pay me in the daylight sometime.” Domino couldn’t believe it, she rushed into a hug before remembering his wounded ribs.
“You really trust me?”
“Of course,” Jackson laughed. “That thing runs on batteries, who else can hook you up with those.”
Domino slipped it in her pocket, she said her thanks with a nod, and stepped out into the street.
She wasn’t in as much danger as Jackson. She was only three blocks from her flat. The curfew was rolled out in the next few blocks, but she could probably reach her door before things really got dark in her building. Hopefully she’d have it unlocked before then and she wouldn’t have to fumble around in the dark. She crossed the road without thinking, there was no traffic at this time, despite the jams only a few minutes earlier. When things got really bad, people just parked up on the streets and ran.
She picked up speed herself, her building was in sight now, but she just heard the voice behind her.
“Stop!” And she did, like a conditioned response. Even if she’d had time to the think, the fear of a bullet in her back wouldn’t soon be forgotten. She turned and saw the police officer who had shouted her. His uniform was black and yellow, with two strips on the shoulder. A captain then. But she couldn’t make out a face under the helmet. He walked towards her and then the exposed lips smiled and he lifted the helmet off. She didn’t know his name, but the face was familiar. He lived in her building. He was nice. Outside the uniform, they always seemed nice.
It was a trick question, the first thing they taught you in the underground. Employers had to get to curfew too, nobody worked late.
“I’m sorry officer,” that was the right answer. This was going smoothly, if she could just get past without a search she’d be fine. “I got caught behind a protest on 5th, and I didn’t want to seem associated so I had to take a longer walk home.”
His smile dropped, but it had the right effect. There was always a protest somewhere during the curfew, if it wasn’t on fifth it would be on 6th or 7th. He did just what she expected. He nodded and then returned to his vehicle, driving off in the direction of a protest she sincerely hoped he would find when he got there.
And now she was at the front door of her building, Curfew was any second. She made it through the door, reminded herself not to take the lift so close to the power switch off and sprinted up the steps. The power went just as she pushed her key in the lock. Not bad, Domino, she thought. She pushed her way into the flat and locked the door behind her. It was pitch black inside, she had to make her way to the bathroom feeling her way with her hands. The blackouts had dropped before the power cut and now all light was sealed off in the tiny flat. She felt her way to the bathroom cupboard, finding towels and blankets. There she stuffed up the cracks at the bottom of the bathroom door, then made a soft bed in the corner. She kicked off her shoes and pulled a blanket over her head.
Domino took the tiny flashlight from her pocket and twisted the top. A ring of LEDs sprung to life, illuminating the entire room. She quickly pulled the blanket over her head. It would only take the tiniest crack for light to seep through to her neighbours and she would be caught. Then she felt around for the prize she had concealed in there earlier, the book. She opened the pages gingerly, old books like this were antiques. No scrolling, no screen. She pointed the flashlight at the page and didn’t stop reading until she heard the blackouts lifting the next day.