Part 5 – The New Laws of Probability
“You’re making a big mistake,” threatened Damian as Harry tightened the rope around his wrists. Unfortunately, Damian’s threats now carried the menace of a generator salesman, not a mad dog. Harry seemed unconcerned.
“Oh yeh? So what are you going to do about it? Refuse me discounts on your pathetic, jumped-up hair driers?”
Harry’s mocking enquiry proved to be a source of great amusement to his gang, as they chuckled their approving support from the back of the room. Undeterred, Damian persisted.
“Oh much worse than that. You’re talking generators, solar panels, bags for life, plant-a-tree schemes, the lot. I have contacts you know. I could see to it that you never get a good green energy deal ever again.”
Harry very much wanted not to sigh at this point, but the occasion was clearly getting the better of him.
“Ah well,” he lamented, ”I guess I’m just going to have to take that risk. You see, your problem is that I’m one of those what-you-ma-call-its.”
“Deniers?” suggested one of the backroom pack.
“Yeh, that’s it,” confirmed Harry. “You see, I think all this talk of climate crisis is a load of cock. It’s just a ploy to scare the shit out of everyone to get them to pay more taxes. And even if we are treading all over the world with our size ten carbon footprints, I’m sure as hell certain your clean energy windy bollocks isn’t going to bail us out. So, if you don’t mind, I’m getting tired of hearing your voice. How about if I were to gag you?”
Harry’s gang nodded enthusiastically – dirty rotten deniers to a man, no doubt. But the irony is this: I very much suspect that Damian had more than a little sympathy for Harry’s position. He had just expected Harry to have been swept along with the insistent media campaigning, making him easily threatened by the green deal hard sell. It was just Damian’s bad luck to have been accosted by what must be the last climate change denialist gangsters in town.
Once Harry had implemented his new moderation policy, matters of global existential risk could once again be conveniently put aside as the robbers resumed their desperate search for Groper’s safe. I was perched right next to Jack Groper and so he and I took the opportunity to exchange a few observations.
“You’re a pair of green deal pillocks. You do know that, don’t you?”
“Sir Jack, I’m so sorry, I can’t apologise enough. But I assure you, this has nothing to do with us. We are just two ordinary folk doing our bit to save the world. How could we know that there were still anti-science deniers out there determined to do anything within their power to destroy our children’s future? We are just as much victims as you are.”
“And me,” sobbed Mandy.
“Yes, and Mandy,” I added with sympathetic afterthought.
“So how did this feral bunch of thugs come to think you were part of their gang?” continued Jack, still with accusation in his eyes.
“Well, it seems that they had planned to meet up with this Mad Dog bloke on the way to the heist. They were going to supply him with a stolen car and a gun and then re-join him at the target premises. I can only presume that they had never met Mad Dog before and so when we flagged them down they put two and two together.”
“Well that still doesn’t explain how you two turned up at the very same place that Harry had chosen.”
“Well, I can only assume that Harry and his goons had to follow us because it was actually Mad Dog that had chosen the target. Either that, or it was a sheer fluke.”
“But it was a sheer fluke,” announced Harry from the far side of the room.
Our faces dropped in unison as we realised that ‘Harry and his goons’, that ‘feral bunch of thugs’, had overheard every word we had said. There was an uncomfortable pause before Harry spoke again.
“Okay, now that we have cleared up most of the plot’s loose ends, can we get back to finding this safe?”
I nodded sheepishly, as if he needed my permission. Then I got to thinking. That’s one hell of a fluke that Harry would have us believe, particularly when you add that Damian just happens to share a first name with the real Mad Dog. Okay, I appreciate that probability isn’t what the world used to think it was. I know that the climate scientists had to teach the world that the probability that something might happen is actually calculated by counting the number of people that can be persuaded to believe it, and then comparing that with the dwindling number of people that don’t deserve an opinion anyway. But even the new laws of probability theory no longer appeared to apply here. So I resolved to do nothing else that might tweak the nose of plausibility; not that I could get up to anything much with a canteen chair gaffer-taped to my backside.
“I haven’t finished with you yet,” pursued Jack. “Because I have been thinking it through. You claim to have been blocked in by a broken-down car at the refuelling station.”
“Err, yes,” I confirmed in extra-hushed tones.
“So you have never heard of reverse gear then.”
The time had come for more evasion.
“Well, I wasn’t actually the driver.”
I felt it best to break off our tête-à-tête at this point.
As the troublesome trio continued in their frantic search for Groper’s secret safe, it became ever more certain that uncertainty was not their friend. This was a situation laden with irony, since it had been the denialists’ delusion for many years that by exaggerating uncertainties they could dismiss the collective wisdom of the world’s scientists. The reality, of course, was that uncertainty was the very reason why action over climate change was required. The fact that we had no way of knowing what risks were involved was actually the reason why the worst case scenario should be presumed. By the same logic, there was no way that Harry’s gang should have been planning to find the safe; their uncertainty regarding its whereabouts had condemned it to effective non-existence. After ten more minutes of searching, the penny finally appeared to have dropped.
“Harry,” pleaded the fattest, “don’t you think we’ve searched enough? We’re not going to find anything, and what if that idiot has phoned the police? They could be here any time now.”
Damian and I exchanged glances; a quizzical look was playing across Damian’s face.
“He means you,” I confirmed. “If you remember, you’re the idiot who claimed to have phoned the police.”
Damian remained puzzled. He could indeed remember having claimed to have called the police, yet he still couldn’t remember ever being an idiot. In the event, Damian’s powers of recall were immaterial. Everyone knew that Damian had been bluffing. Unless the police were travelling by eco-friendly catamaran, they would have arrived before now.
Harry dropped his rubber plant and lit up another cigarette. Within seconds he was engulfed within an acrid haze streaming from his nostrils. He leered at Mandy, glared at Jack, sneered at Damian and shook his head at me. Finally, he spoke.
“I agree. This has been a total waste of time. But I still think we can rescue something from this mess. We’ll leave Groper and Co tied up so that we can get away before they call the rozzers. But these two deadbeats are coming with us. We’ll take them back to the Jolly Eater and meet up with the real Mad Dog.”
“Who, by this stage, would wish to be known as Even Madder Dog,” suggested the fat one.
“Yes, that might be an issue,” conceded Harry. “We meet up with Even Madder Dog McAllister, explain the error, and persuade him to get involved with the kidnapping of two useless, windy bollocks generator salesmen.”
Damian’s ego was not having the best of days. Already, he had been called a fart, a green-deal pillock, an idiot, a deadbeat and an epileptic wind turbine. Now, to top them all, he had been accused of being a useless salesman. Dignity could be regained only if his captors asked for a ransom that reflected his true importance.
“Yeh, we could demand a hundred quid for the knobhead and fifty for his monkey,” jibed the fat one.
Damian looked crestfallen, so you can only imagine how his monkey was feeling.
If Harry had higher ambitions, then he wasn’t letting on. He just proceeded to silently untie us, and then, under the escort of a shotgun-toting ruffian, we were led out to the stolen car that Harry had so thoughtfully provided for us. Harry rode shotgun whilst the fat one drove and the third of the ne’er-do-wells followed us in the gang’s second car. Twenty minutes and only two re-charges later, we arrived back at the Jolly Eater. We glided past some idiot’s abandoned BMW before pulling into a parking space reserved for parent and child.
“Stuff that!” the fat thug complained, pointing at the sign. “Next they’ll be reserving spaces for trannies and queers.”
Harry was in no mood to debate transgender politics. “You wait here whilst I go and find Mad Dog,” he instructed. Then he retrieved the gun from the glove box, slid it into his jacket and rolled out of the car. Not wishing to be overshadowed, Fatty the Felon decided to have some fun at our expense.
“I’m just looking forward to the bit were we get to cut your ears off. Better still, I’ve got a revolver here with just one bullet in the chamber. Who wants to play lucky dip? And remember, under the new laws of probability, your chances are determined by consensus.”
We pretended not to be listening and focused our attention instead on Harry as he scouted the forecourt. In short order, he was confronted by a particularly thuggish brute and they engaged in heated conversation (or, as the Guardian was now insisting, incinerated conversation). It would appear that Mad Dog was even madder than we expected Even Madder Dog to be. After their brief altercation, the two of them made their way back to the car. As they approached, I could see why Harry was confident that he had got the right man this time. Across the man-beast’s forehead were tattooed the words ‘Dog’ and ‘Mad’, though not in that order. And he looked very wet and angry.
Part 6 – Death by Double Entendre
Mad Dog peered into the back of the car. The look on his face suggested both disgust and bloodlust in equal measure and its unwelcome proximity gave us ample opportunity for close inspection. A scar ran across his left temple, finishing above his eyebrow, only to resume its trace across the left cheek. Several teeth were missing, his nose was broad and pitted, his head bald and leathery, and on the left side of his veiny neck a skull and crossbones tattoo sat atop the jaunty slogan, ‘Agony to All’. His top lip curled in a dribbling, involuntary snarl as he spoke.
“Which one of you turds took my bastard car? Slurp!”
That, I thought, seemed a reasonable question under the circumstances. Since Damian was still subject to moderation, I elected to answer for both of us.
Damian’s eyes widened and he seemed to be mouthing something from behind his gag.
“Right,” responded Mad Dog, slavering over Damian. “So you get the blunt shears.”
The implication made me shudder – It seemed little consolation, to be honest, but I was to enjoy the sharper of the two fates.
Having delivered his sentence, Mad Dog lumbered over to the other car and squeezed his simian frame into the front passenger’s seat. Off they went with Harry’s carriage in baleful pursuit.
The journey to the gang’s lair seemed long and the route torturous, giving plenty of time to reflect further upon the uncertainty of our fate. Once again, there was solace to be found in the wisdom of climate science. For many years, the complexities of the climate system had been the root of much uncertainty, making the future difficult to predict. And as the scientists discovered more about the climate, even more complexity was unearthed. This meant that the more they knew, the less certain they could be of the future. Ultimately, their understanding was so great that they didn’t have the first fucking clue what was going on. Only then could they be certain of the strategy to be implemented – panic! The implication for Damian and I was clear; if we wanted to remain confident about the future, it was essential that we understood nothing.
An hour later, sage cogitation was brought to an end as the two cars finally wheezed to a halt outside a disused warehouse. More cliché, I observed. Any more of this and the story is going to turn into Dried-up Reservoir Dogs – the not-as-gripping climate change sequel to Tarantino’s masterpiece. In keeping with trope, we were roughly man-handled inside and then plonked onto two chairs, positioned beneath a ceiling light comprising a single, unshaded, swinging lightbulb. “Can things get any worse?” I asked myself. Well, yes they could. Damian’s gag was then removed.
At first, all that Damian could do was to cough and splutter, as if he were choking on a backlog of diatribe. Then he let rip.
“Batty, you arsehole! Just you wait until your performance related review!”
Did I not tell you? My name is Batty – Tim Batty. It didn’t seem relevant until just now. Even so, you’ve probably never heard of me, so any name would have done at this point. But my name happens to be Batty, and so that is who Damian was calling an arsehole. As for performance related review, well that was just a joke. I can’t remember the last time I’d had a pay rise.
No, don’t let Damian fool you; working for Powergate UK isn’t the Thurnbergian paradise one might expect. The directors are just self-serving tosspots who bleat on about ‘mainstreaming diversity through proactive management engagement’, whilst lining their nests, until eventually falling out under the gravity of their overwhelming incompetence. Middle management spend all day strutting up and down with I-phones glued to their ears, taking of empowering their staff and devolving responsibility, or any other twaddle they can come up with to put a gloss on the shit that they push downwards. The Health, Safety & Environment department are just a bunch of half-baked little Hitlers and the wages are pants.
So why do I put up with it? Well, there is the small matter of saving planet Earth so that our children can grow up in bucolic, stone-aged bliss. But it’s mainly because I have no choice! It’s the only way I can keep up with the payments to my ex-wife, Pamela, cosying up in my house with Dave and my two children. All I got out of the marriage was an orange and purple Volvo. Okay, a strange colour combination I’ll grant you, but it was a compromise between Pam and myself – she couldn’t stand orange and I couldn’t stand purple.
Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, the rusty shears.
Harry and Mad Dog were, by now, deep in conversation at the other end of the room, whilst the fat one and his fellow minion were sitting opposite us, making immature throat-cutting gestures. We could just about hear the plot as it unfolded in the far-room shadows:
“Well, Harry, have you ever done a kidnapping before?”
“No, I was hoping you had, Mad Dog.”
“Not really. I once ran off with three prize bulls I found in a field one day. I mean, it wasn’t as if they were doing anything in particular, besides farting the world to fuck.”
“Did you get any money for their return?”
“No, I was in a good mood, so I broke their necks.”
We swallowed hard but continued eavesdropping.
“Okay, Mad Dog, so let’s say that I’ll be the brains on this one. First we need to find out who to send the ransom note to. That’ll require some probing.” They both shot us a glance. “Then we need to decide on a good ransom figure. Not too much or they’ll never cough up, but enough to make our effort seem worthwhile. I’ll arrange to pick up the loot. You can get rid of the blur-blur.”
“What did he say?” whispered Damian.
“I’m not sure,” I replied. “It sounded like ‘blur-blur’ but it couldn’t have been.” Remembering what I had recognised on route to the lair, I advised Damian that we might be better off not knowing.
Having finished their conflab, Harry and Mad Dog re-joined us. Harry wasted no time in confirming that he was, indeed, calling the shots.
“Okay, you’ve each got a minute to write down who we should send your ransom note to and how much they would be willing to pay for your safe return. The good news is that we are going to untie your hands to make it easier for you. The bad news is that Mad Dog will be doing the timing, and he can’t count to sixty.”
Our hands were untied and we were each thrown a pencil and a piece of paper. We started frantically scribbling, finishing just as Mad Dog cried, “Twenty eleven Jackety-Jones – coming ready or not!”
Harry grabbed the two notes and read them out aloud. First, Damian’s:
“Powergate UK, Britain’s premier supplier of eco-friendly, renewable power generation solutions. If it has to be powerful, it has to be Powergate – £250K.”
“Pamela Batty – Sweet FA.”
“Right,” said Harry. “We’ll go with Powergate UK.”
Later that evening, our captors rolled out an old television. There was something they wanted to watch:
“Good evening. On tonight’s news: Powergate UK, an obscure supplier of budget level generators, has reported that two of its salesmen have been abducted. A ransom note demanding two hundred and fifty thousand pounds has been received. Roger Flake, Managing Director of Powergate has said, ‘We are doing everything we can to cooperate with the police but, at the end of the day, we at Powergate UK are committed to using the finest power-generating technologies to protect the planet and safeguard all our children’s futures, so we make it a policy not to negotiate with kidnappers.’ Also on today’s news: A known vicious gang were foiled in their attempt to rob Groper Industries following an audacious raid.”
The known vicious gang were not best pleased. Harry turned the television off, sat back and scratched his head.
“Those tosspots at Powergate don’t seem to be all that bothered about you two.”
“I don’t understand that,” moaned Damian. “They are always saying that their staff are their only asset.”
Meanwhile, in my imagination, Roger Flake is holding an emergency board meeting:
“Right, as you know, this has been a difficult day for Powergate. As a result, the Groper Industries contract is in the balance. I want you all to start thinking outside of the box. Has anyone got a plan with sufficient bandwidth to optimise our blue sky prospects?”
Bob Marlin, Director of Opportunity, is the first to respond.
“Firstly, we need to diversify our portfolio. Then we need to vertically align our synergies.”
“Didn’t we vertically align them last week?” challenges Debra Stoneware, Director of Challenge.
“No,” corrects Bob, “we customer-centred them. Now we need to think more strategically.”
“What’s your view on that, Ted?” says Roger, directing his question at Ted Bracket, Director of Strategic Thinking.
“Well, Roger, the way I see it is this: We need to think more strategically.”
“Well you and Bob certainly seem to be on the same page,” observes Roger approvingly. “I want you all to go away and come up with a five-point strategic plan for deciding the agenda for next week’s emergency meeting. Any other business? Good.”
The planet’s future, it seems, is in safe hands.
Meanwhile, back in the room, Mad Dog McAllister was busily rummaging through his tool kit.
“Is it the nail gun or the tin shears?” he muttered to himself, as if trying to decide what to wear to the debutante’s ball. “Nail gun, I think,” he decided at last. Then he turned and brandished it in my direction. Something told me that he wasn’t about to vertically align my synergies. In fact, I very much feared that I was about to become much less than the sum of my parts.
“Okay, which one of you ladies would you like me to nail first.”
A double entendre wasn’t exactly what was needed to clarify the situation, but fortunately for any ladies present, Harry sensed the need to regain control.
“Hold on! Let’s not be too hasty here, Mad Dog. We can still get those tree-hugging pillocks at Powergate to cough up. We just need to persuade them that we mean business.”
Mad Dog sighed deeply and lowered his makeshift weapon. “Alright, I guess you’re the boss, but I’m telling you, if I have to miss Corrie over this, then it’s boosh, boosh!”
Each boosh drove a hypothetical nail deep into our skulls. I was still hypothetically recoiling as Harry hastened to provide reassurance.
“No one’s going to miss Corrie, but we do need to make soap stars out of our two little eco-warriors here.”
Everyone stared back at Harry. Sometimes he could be too cryptic for his own good.
“Look,” he explained, “we need to video them both pleading for their lives. Then we attach the film to an email and send it to Powergate, marked, ‘We are not Joking’. They’ll cough up soon enough when they hear their precious sales team blubbering like babies. But first let’s go and see what’s on telly. Not you, Chaz! You can take the first stint guarding the hostages.”
So now, at long last, we knew that the fat one was called Chaz. But be warned, by now our newly-identified malefactor wasn’t just fat, he was also mightily pissed off.
“Harry, you promised us no one was going to miss Corrie!”
Part 7 – Plan D
That night, Damian and I slept fitfully, overseen first by Chaz, then by Harry, then by the third ne’er-do-well. We were both dreading Mad Dog’s shift; he had yet to gain our confidence. As it happened, nothing did happen and the night passed peacefully. By eight o’clock the following morning, we were both ready for our close-ups. Damian was on first:
“Okay, erm, err, well you see, erm, err.”
“Get on with it!” exhorted an off-screen voice.
“Well, erm, it’s like this. If you don’t do what they say, they’re going to kill me. Look, I know two hundred and fifty thousand sounds like a lot of money, but you have to see it as a strategic investment, going forward. I’m on the verge of clinching the Groper contract. That’s twelve K just for starters. With maintenance service agreements and future supplies, we are talking big money. The generators are bound to break down every other day, so call-out charges alone will pay back the ransom within two years. And that’s before we talk about the fossil-fuelled backup generators he’ll still need for when the wind doesn’t blow.”
Damian looked very pleased with himself. You could tell that he believed he had just booked his ticket home. Then came my turn:
“Not good enough!” insisted the off-screen voice. The more observant may also have noticed the director’s nail gun waft momentarily into view.
“Okay. It’s like this. If you don’t do what they say, they’re going to kill me. I can’t promise to balance your spreadsheets this month. I’m just a lowly ground soldier, doing what I’m told. But I know this, it is through the honest efforts of people like me that Powergate got to be where it is today, and I know that if we all pull together we can defeat the evil that is climate change. Floods, hurricanes, forest fires, melting glaciers, drowning polar bears – these are not myths, these are not spectres of a bleak future. They are a fact of the here and now, and they are proof that we may already be beyond the tipping point of no return. But nature has given us the solution in the form of clean energy – the wind will save us. All I need is to get out there once more, selling the green new hope. The ransom being asked may seem a lot, but is it such a large amount when you think that our children’s futures are at stake? Thank you for listening and have a carbon-neutral day.”
“Well bugger me,” quipped Harry. “If that load of bollocks doesn’t do the trick, then my name isn’t Leonardo fucking DiCaprio.”
This, of course, was the very sort of cynicism one could expect from the leader of a ruthless gang of climate change deniers. All this talk of obtaining ransom money may have been fooling Damian but I wasn’t buying it for a minute. I knew that the real agenda here was the wanton obstruction of the legitimate desire for a carbon-free future. Harry and his gang may have been blood-thirsty thugs out for all they could get but, moreover, they were climate change deniers. Even if Damian had forgotten that important fact, I certainly hadn’t. I watched on suspiciously as Harry attached the file to an email and pressed the send button. “That should just about make the lunchtime news,” he cautiously predicted.
Later that day:
“Good afternoon. On the lunchtime news today: Dramatic footage as the two kidnapped salesmen plead pathetically for their lives…”
We all sat glued to the old television set as our performances played out for the world to see.
“…And that’s before we talk about the fossil-fuelled backup generators he’ll still need, for when the wind doesn’t blow.”
I leaned over to whisper into Damian’s ear. “I think we may have just blown the Groper contract.”
It proved to be a long afternoon. Damian was sulking again; his promotion now seemed a distant dream. I appreciated the resulting silence, but with silence also came the inrush of my own thoughts. Things weren’t looking terribly good and my imagination was running riot. Presently, my imaginings returned to the Powergate boardroom:
“Sarah, I need HR’s input here. Do kidnapped staff still draw salary?”
“Well, Roger, it all depends upon whether Powergate is in any way culpable.”
“Well, are we? What do Health, Safety & Environment have to say about it? Dan, what’s our corporate liability?”
“Kidnap was on our risk assessment, so we’re covered.”
“Excellent! So can anyone see a downside to any of this?”
“I can,” I interjected.
“What are you doing here? You’re not on the board. You’re in a warehouse tied to a chair!”
Oh yes, so I was.
Since I was getting no comfort by reflecting upon my employer’s largess, I decided to engage once more with Damian. Even that was better than my wandering thoughts. “Damian, if we ever get out of this alive, will you promise me one thing?”
Well, so much for that. That was supposed to be the bit where I would make Damian promise that he would fully embrace the carbon-free way – the bit where he would turn to me and say, “You know, Tim, I have always admired you for your integrity and your tireless struggle against the greenhouse monster that society is still spewing into the atmosphere, despite the best efforts of Emperor Trump the Slippery.” Instead, it was the bit where Damian and I slowly became aware of a meeting Harry and Mad Dog were having at the far end of the room. Recognizing that we were still a captive audience with a vested interest, we pricked our ears.
“Do you really think those videos will do the trick?”
“Well we’ll soon find out, Mad Dog. That bollocks the little fat one came out with about climate change is certainly going to help. The BBC are bound to headline it now. I’m guessing something like, ‘New Science Shows that Climate Change is Killing our Salesmen’. It’s all good shit as far as we’re concerned. Anyway, I told them to drop the money off in the skip behind the Jolly Eater. The drop-off is supposed to take place at 5.00pm today. If the money isn’t there, then we have our answer. Just remember, I’ll go and pick up the loot whilst you get rid of the blur-blur.”
“The what?” I strained. “Damn it! What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they know how to speak clearly?”
Damian was equally exasperated. “Look, I’ve no plans on hanging around waiting for subtitles. We need to get out of here.”
That seemed like a good idea. In fact, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having had similar thoughts. The knack, of course, was in determining how this was to be achieved. Maybe – just maybe – Damian had a plan D.
Our options were limited. The competition had superior numbers and the advantage of mobility. They were also well stocked with a variety of firearms and DIY weapons. We could only offer unbeatable prices on wind-powered generators. Damian may have believed that this was enough, and I strongly suspect that it featured prominently in his plan D, but I was not as confident. In my view, an effective plan D would have to feature the untying of feet, at the very least. To make matters worse, we were fast running out of time. Harry was shortly to leave us to pick up the fruits of his gang’s misdeeds, and Mr McAllister would, no doubt, waste little time in disposing of the blur-blur.
“Damian,” I whispered, “do you have any escape plans that don’t rely upon Harry urgently requiring a new source of renewable energy?” Damian shook his head. “I thought as much,” I bemoaned.
It’s a strange thing when death confronts you. One’s thoughts inevitably turn to past achievements or, as in my case, the paucity of them. I think it’s safe to say that anyone who does a fist pump every time he has a half-decent poo will struggle to write an impressive CV. Even so, the future was still out there to be saved. My salvation would be to make the world a safer place for our children to grow up in; which I felt would look very good on my CV, next to the half-decent poo.
My wistful regrets were to be rudely interrupted by Harry’s announcement of departure.
“I’m off now. Let’s just hope for your sakes that Powergate has had a change of heart,” he said whilst winking at Mad Dog. “Chaz, you’re coming with me.”
Once more, he slipped the gun into his jacket and headed to the door, closely followed by his waddling confederate. A second later they had disappeared from view. Outside the silence was broken by the shrill whickering of an electric horse spurred into action. Mad Dog started to salivate.
Now, at least, the numbers had evened up. It was Damian and I versus Mad Dog McAllister and the third ne’er-do-well. Then things seemed to improve even further.
“Untie their legs. They look as though they could do with some exercise.”
We were led outside by Mad Dog as he brandished the shotgun in Damian’s face. The third ne’er-do-well brought up the rear. It looked to all intents and purposes as though we were being led to our deaths. If Damian had any plans to negotiate a greener deal than that, then now was the moment to hear his opening gambit. Sadly, however, Damian appeared to be resigned to his fate and he merely bowed his head in despair. Our backs were placed up against the wall, no doubt to provide an appropriate metaphor. Then Mad Dog handed the shotgun over to the third ne’er-do-well.
“Here, you take the gun. You know what needs to be done.”
“What?” protested his fellow felon. “You’re the psycho, why do I have to do it?”
Mad Dog looked sheepish.
“Well, it’s like this. I don’t actually like the sight of blood. I’ll be inside. If I’m lucky, I’ll still catch the last ten minutes of Countdown.”
Then off he flounced, leaving his accomplice to close the deal. I too was now resigned to my fate but I did have one last request.
“Look, I don’t really want to be done in by someone known as ‘third ne’er-do-well’. Can I at least know your name. It would mean a lot to me.”
The reluctant executioner lowered his gun and leant forward to whisper into my ear.
“I’m detective inspector Chard, undercover officer for the Organised Denialism and Crime Squad. I infiltrated the Harry Garth gang six months ago and I am observing their preparations for a grand heist. Whilst I’m still around you’ll remain safe.”
“Damian! What the hell have you done, and where did you get that spade?”
“Plan D!” announced Damian joyously. “When have I ever let you down?”
Part 8 – Panic in Reading
With Chard now lying in a pool of his own blood, there was nothing for it but to do a runner and hope that Mad Dog was still too engrossed trying to solve the final conundrum. So we legged it. But it wasn’t long before enervation brought on by years of enforced veganism caused us to collapse, exhausted, into a doorway. As we gasped for breath, the peril of our situation encouraged us to take stock.
“How far have we gone, do you reckon?” wheezed Damian.
“About fifty yards I would say. Another couple of miles and we’ll be home and dry. Is there any sign of Mad Dog?”
Damian peered round the doorway, fully expecting Mad Dog’s lumbering hulk to be loping down the road.
“None yet,” he said with discernible relief in his voice. So we decided to extend our stock-taking interlude for just a while longer.
“You know,” I proffered, “cowering in a doorway, waiting for a bullet between the ears, wasn’t on my bucket list. I’m guessing that goes for both of us.” I turned to Damian expecting the nod of confirmation, but he wasn’t listening. Instead, he posed a question.
“Do we actually know which direction we should be running in?”
Despite the interrogative, it still wasn’t clear whether or not Damian was just thinking aloud. Taking the gamble, I chose to answer.
“Away from the warehouse, I would say.”
“Obviously!” snapped Damian. “But some of the directions are still going to be better than others. Do we even know where we are? That would help to know. It’s a pretty run-down area. Maybe its Reading.”
And maybe it wasn’t. And even if it was, I saw nothing to be gained by disrespecting a town that, when all is said and done, was only trying its best. I had nothing against Reading personally and, in better circumstances, I suspected that Damian might have been equally charitable. But let us not lose perspective here. This was not about Reading, it was much more about nail guns and bloodlust, and how the former could be used to satisfy the latter. So I felt it best to re-focus minds.
“Look,” I warned, “if we stay here much longer, the question of Reading’s civic pride will soon become academic. I can’t believe Mad Dog won’t be wondering by now where his companion has got to. When he investigates, he’ll find only one body lying there, where two should be. He doesn’t need to be able to count to sixty to work out that something must have gone wrong.”
Damian nodded in agreement. “Sure thing, but that doesn’t mean that he’ll know what to do about it. He wouldn’t know where to start looking. In fact, he strikes me as the sort who could get lost on an exercise bike.”
Damian paused awhile to savour his own joke, before adding, “But I suppose we shouldn’t take any chances. Are you ready?”
“Okay, so let’s run!”
And off we legged again, arms pumping, bellies swaying, and legs doing what you might expect under the circumstances. Faced with an existential threat, we were doing what was necessary – we were taking action. No one ever saved their skins by not acting. We may not have had the first idea how effective the running might be or even the direction to be taken, but only a denier would think that doing nothing was an option.
“Keep running!” implored Damian.
As always, Damian was playing the role of leader, providing the sense of urgency that he assumed others would require. I might have (perhaps through lack of concentration) forgotten that a psychopath with a nail gun was almost certainly in hot pursuit. But, by the grace of Greta, Damian was there with his insights and masterful command of the situation, helping me to keep on task. And to think I had always been the one to say that all those team-building workshops had been a complete waste of money. How wrong could I be?
Another fifty yards down the road and we were back in a doorway, stock-taking whilst desperately trying to re-inflate our flabby, vegan lungs.
“You say it’s not about civic pride,” persisted Damian, “but I’m still waiting for an explanation as to why Reading’s council thought it necessary to build a pier when Reading is fifty miles from the coast. They can’t be proud of that.”
“Damian,” I replied, “you never did quite get your head around the precautionary principle, did you?”
“Oh, I see,” claimed Damian. “And I suppose that the precautionary principle also explains why they renamed it Reading-by-the-Sea. Yet, five years on, and the sea’s still fifty miles away, and that’s a fact!”
“Yes,” I returned patiently, “but Reading’s presence on the coast is a future fact, and those are the facts that matter. It’s time you stopped agonising over data anomalies and started listening to the scientists! More importantly, I think I may have just thought of a flaw in our escape plan.”
“What, a flaw in our just-fucking-run-like-hell plan?”
“Yes, that one,” I confirmed. “But it’s not the pace of running or the threat of a business-as-usual future that pose the problem as such. It’s the fact that we’re running in the same direction. If Mad Dog were to catch us up then we would both come a cropper, but if we were each to take a different route, he could only nab one of us.”
“But how is that going to help me?” queried Damian. “The chances that I might escape Mad Dog aren’t improved by you taking another route. In fact, if he does catch me, that can only mean you will have escaped; and that just makes matters worse. Besides which, you’re not as fit as me. If we stick together, I don’t need to be able to outrun Mad Dog; I just need to outrun you.”
Okay, so I might have been a bit generous just now regarding the team building courses. If Damian couldn’t grasp the precautionary principle, he was always going to struggle with the concept of the greater good. I didn’t waste any more breath trying to explain; I needed it for legging.
“That’s an excellent point well made,” I lied. “You’re right. We just need to keep going.”
“Quite so,” asserted Damian, triumphantly. “One, two, three, run!”
And run we did, ducking and diving through a labyrinth of alleyways as we sought to put as much distance as we could between ourselves, a murderous savage whom we assumed had unfinished business, and a fast-encroaching coastline. But then, just as we negotiated what we had hoped would be the last corner in our mazy dash to safety, we found ourselves confronted with a strangely familiar image. The light wasn’t terribly good, but even the growing gloom couldn’t disguise the unmistakably simian frame of a nail-gun-toting oaf, stooped over a motionless body lying in a pool of blood. The oaf looked as mad as we had ever seen him, and the sight surprised us so much that we allowed our legging to peter out into an ambivalent trot before finally giving way to a definitive stop.
“Damian,” I ventured. “You don’t suppose that in our panic we have been running around in circles do you?”
Damian must have had an opinion but I was destined never to hear it, since our concentration was quickly broken by the peril of a slavered question.
“Stretching your legs were you? Slurp.”
Mad Dog absent-mindedly wiped Chard’s blood off the back of his hand. His demeanour seemed to suggest that he wished to share his feelings with us, and it seemed only a matter of time before he would finally work out how best to emote.
“What would you say to a little bit of human origami inflicted upon two windy bollocks, tree-hugging cretins?” he submitted.
I wasn’t too sure whether we were expected to answer, but it ceased to matter when Mad Dog added ominously, “Get back here before I forget what species I belong to, slurp.”
None of this sounded good, so I turned to Damian to see if he had a plan E. I regret to reveal, however, that at this point in the story Damian was already far removed from the scene. The lessons of teambuilding had finally found their limit of application.
Part 9 – The Knowledge Hypothesis and the Beast
I could, of course, have followed Damian’s example and made a final dash for freedom, but somehow I couldn’t see my dumpy legs transporting me to safety with the required speed. I wasn’t nearly as fit as I used to be and no amount of mathematical trickery could hide the decline. Besides which, I had already tried panicking as a strategy for dealing with an existential risk, and that hadn’t worked out as well as the climate science school of risk management had led me to expect. I had no option but to talk my way out of the predicament in which a woeful sense of direction had misplaced me.
“Now steady on, Mr Dog. You wouldn’t want to do anything you might regret in the morning.”
Upon reflection, this wasn’t the best way to start. Clearly, regret was an alien concept to Mad Dog. Besides which, mad dogs and deniers live in the moment. One way or another, a reference to future misgivings was unlikely to result in a change of heart.
My suspicions were soon confirmed as Mad Dog strolled nonchalantly towards me, looking quite unconcerned about where his impulses might take him. In fact, he looked as though he was quite excited by the prospect of losing himself in a frenzy of B&Q sponsored violence. He stopped briefly to check that his nail gun was loaded, before advancing to within arm’s reach. Mad Dog reached out his arms and thrust the nail gun against my dripping forehead.
“Fortunately for me,” he growled, “I’ve just discovered that the geezer you nobbled was an undercover rozzer. So you’ve saved me the trouble of whacking him myself. But unfortunately for you, he was the only person who could have saved you. So I guess this is where we say goodbye.”
“Don’t you mean au revoir?” I asked hopefully.
“No, I think I meant what I said. Once I’ve given you eight inches, we’ll not be meeting again.”
“Err…I presume you mean eight inches of, erm…”
Mad Dog looked at me quizzically, seemingly unaware of the awkwardness of the moment. Finally, the beast recognised his faux pas.
“Yes! Nail of course! Eight inches of nail. What do you take me for? Some sort of queer?” Mad Dog looked hurt.
“Oh no!” I protested. “I would never suggest that. Of all of Harry’s psychopathic thugs you were always my favourite, but I don’t mean it in that way. Actually, I always saw you as quite the millennial villain – in touch with his feminine side, but still able to channel the inner gorilla when the circumstances warranted. I just wish that you could find it within yourself to treat the environment with more care and compassion. For example, no more of this bull bullying you seem to get up to. You do know that climate change has made the cow an endangered species, don’t you? Come to think of it, you do know what I mean by climate change, don’t you?”
Mad Dog furrowed his brow. “What are you trying to suggest? That I’m thick or something?”
“Well you are a climate change denier,” I replied. “All the evidence is there but you just can’t seem to accept it. So either you’re thick or perverse. So which is it?”
“That’s not the point,” protested Mad Dog. “Philosophers have often noted that science displays an uncommon degree of consensus on beliefs among its practitioners, and yet consensus in the sciences should never be a goal in itself. Consensus on beliefs is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for presuming that these beliefs constitute knowledge. In fact, a concrete consensus on a set of beliefs by a group of people at a given historical period may be explained by different factors according to various hypotheses. Regarding the climate change consensus, you obviously adhere to what is sometimes referred to as the ‘knowledge hypothesis’, in which shared knowledge is the only explanation for the existence of a consensus. Well, I agree that if all the alternative hypotheses to the knowledge hypothesis are false, or are not as good in explaining a concrete consensus on beliefs, then the knowledge hypothesis then becomes a plausible, though fallible, indicator of knowledge. But it is only when a consensus on beliefs is uncoerced, uniquely heterogeneous and large, that the knowledge hypothesis provides the best explanation of a given consensus. I just happen to think that the consensus on climate change has been coerced and so, to a significant extent, can be explained by one of the many competing hypotheses to the knowledge hypothesis. Slurp!”
Well, that was a bit perverse, I thought. Moreover, it was obvious to me that he had only said all of that because he thought I had just doubted his toxic masculinity. But then Mad Dog’s face relaxed as it slowly dawned upon him that the knowledge hypothesis needn’t concern someone armed with a nail gun. He pressed the trigger.
He pressed it again.
Mad Dog looked mortified.
“I’m sorry,” he pleaded, “This has never happened to me before.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I managed. “It could happen to anyone. It doesn’t mean I think any the less of you. You’re still a murderous, denialist thug in my eyes. Here, let me see if I can help.”
I took the nail gun from Mad Dog’s grasp and started fiddling with the trigger. “There you see. There’s your problem right there.”
“What?” asked Mad Dog, eager to see the problem resolved.
“You’ve just given me the gun and I’ve got it working. That’s your problem!”
I brandished the gun in Mad Dog’s face with a Hollywood flourish.
“Now put your hands above your head and don’t move.”
Mad Dog’s face was a pretty picture. Well, actually, no. It was still a picture of primeval ugliness but it was certainly a very surprised version of itself. That said, I can quite imagine that my own face must have closely reflected Mad Dog’s bemusement, since I hadn’t actually been the one to issue that last command. Somewhat bewildered, we both turned around to see a phalanx of armed police, backed up by a row of police cars and a couple of principally precautionary police boats. Red dots played upon our chests. The nearest policeman repeated his demands, this time more insistently.
“I said put your hands above your heads and don’t move!”
“But I’ve only got one head,” I returned in puzzlement. “Oh, I see, you meant both of us.”
Sheepishly, I raised my hands – nice and slowly, not wishing to appear too impressive with my newly-acquired weapon. The police approached swiftly and, after disarming me, Mad Dog and I were both unceremoniously dumped to the ground and handcuffed. Only after the police had determined who I was did their demeanour soften.
“Okay everyone, this one’s just the fat loser from the video.”
One of the officers lifted me to my feet and brushed me down. “So where’s Chard?” he enquired.
“Ah yes,” I started hesitantly. “About Chard…”
Part 10 – A Change of Career
Our brush with Harry’s gang had been a chastening experience. Such villains occupy an underworld in which the salesman’s instincts, and a firm grasp of the precautionary principle, are of little benefit. Damian, whilst perfectly at ease impressing credulous customers with tales of unique ethos and culture, could do little to charm the likes of Harry or Mad Dog. For my part, I might have been able to rid Harry and his gang of their eco-hostile attitudes but, alas, like all climate change deniers I fear they were too much in thrall of their confirmation bias. It was an important reminder of the first rule of salesmanship – know your market. Even so, there was solace in the knowledge that they were all locked up now, alongside Clarkson and all the other denialist reprobates. Their plot to obstruct the green wave had been thwarted.
Mind you, I’d also learnt a lot about myself: In a crisis, I was actually quite useless. I had always thought that, when confronted with a life-or-death situation, the best policy was to panic. After all, the whole world had come to that same conclusion with regard to the climate crisis. Who was I to question the wisdom of the best amongst us? And yet, strangely enough, panicking had proven quite inappropriate when attempting to deal with the dangers posed by Harry and his evil mob. Obviously, I had yet to master the fine art of acting upon a terrifying presumption.
But even more than that, I’d learnt a thing or two about Powergate UK. Once my debriefing with the police had concluded, it was time to return to head office to post my end-of-month sales report.
“Ah Batty,” greeted Roger, as he ushered me into the boardroom. “So good of you to attend.” The board were all present and correct, so Roger wasted no time in getting down to business.
“I think we can all agree that this has been a testing time for all of the Powergate family. But every challenge brings with it the opportunity to learn lessons going forward, so I thought this would be a good time to undertake a 360 degree review. Since Digby is still helping the police with their enquiries regarding the attempted murder of a police officer, we must proceed without him. I’d like to start, if I may, by taking on board the views of our Finance Director. Bill, what are the figures?”
“Roger, as you know, throughout these testing times, Powergate UK has maintained its commitment to leveraging the most value-focused solution.”
“Yes,” I interrupted, “about that solution. I’d like to inform the meeting, if I may, what the value-focused solution looked like from the perspective of a person sellotaped to a chair, whilst a blood-crazed psychopath wielded a nail gun in his face. Meanwhile, his mightily disappointed accomplice can be found slowly loading two cartridges into his sawn-off shotgun.”
“Okay Batty,” countered Roger, “if I could just stop you there. There will be plenty of time for your input later, but I think it is important that we remain focused on the bigger picture. Tom, how has all this impacted upon Powergate’s market position going forward?”
“Well Roger,” replied Tom Goodjelly, Director of Positioning Going Forward. “Since Digby’s announcement to the world that our generators fail every other day, we no longer have a marketing advantage over our competitors – that’s for sure. But on the upside, the Powergate brand has never enjoyed such a high profile. In the longer term, the pay-off for these testing times, that we can all agree we have all had to endure, may be a future-proof, win-win situation market-wise.”
Debra, Director of Challenge, nodded enthusiastically. “And can I say,” she added, “that we all need to give this one hundred and ten percent?”
“Good point!” observed Roger. “Could you minute that, Mandy?”
“But exactly what are we giving one hundred and ten percent?” I objected.
“That’s detail that we need to take outside of the meeting,” advised Roger.
“Yes,” agreed Bob Marlin, Director of Opportunity. “And remember, we need total buy-in on this one, Batty.”
By this stage, I was beginning to lose the will. The pretentious drivel these guys were speaking exceeded even my bleakest imaginings. But it was about to get even worse.
“Do you think we need to re-engineer our processes, Janet?” speculated Roger in the direction of Janet Plink, Director of Process Re-engineering.
“Well you could,” she confirmed, “but first you’ll have to establish our ontological foundation, take a declarative approach, and tackle our organizational semiotics, applying them within the context of a knowledge-based, multi-perspective framework.”
I’d had enough.
“I chuffing give up! I’m sorry, but isn’t this just a load of effing crap?”
There was a stunned silence. Then, after a few seconds, Mandy broke the tension. “Do you want me to minute that, Mr Flake?”
“No!” thundered Roger. Then he turned on me. “Now look here, Batty,” he said. “We have all been through testing times, and we, the board of Powergate UK, can understand that you, as a lesser member of the Powergate family, will have, to a certain extent, shared some of that stress. But if we are to learn lessons going forward, we are all going to have to pull in the same direction. What’s HR’s view on this, Sarah?” he added ominously.
“Well Roger”, replied Sarah, “HR take a dim view of this sought of thing. I think we can safely say that Batty has just received a verbal warning. We can get the written warning in his inbox by lunchtime and the final written warning by close of play today. I’m sure everyone understands that we only want team players in the Powergate family. That’s the only way to protect our unique ethos and culture, going forward.”
“Look, don’t bother,” I returned wearily. “I had assumed that I had been invited to this meeting to provide the board with an insight into the risks that your staff run on a daily basis for the betterment of your beloved Powergate. An opportunity, perhaps, to re-affirm our commitment to the noble cause of fully eradicating carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and tackling climate change head on. Instead, it was just an excuse for a bunch of self-regarding, bloated, overpaid space-wasters to indulge themselves in a frenzy of pretentious, meaningless waffle. If I thought I had to spend one more minute in your presence, I think I would gladly take Mad Dog’s nail gun and punch an eight inch nail through my forehead. I bid you a carbon-neutral day gentlemen, ladies, and particularly you, Mandy.”
I stood up, walked to the door and turned to face the board. “Mandy,” I repeated, “you do know you’re wasted here, don’t you?”
Two minutes later I was standing outside the Powergate main entrance. All I could see from horizon to horizon were the local windfarms, and all I could hear was the banshee’s wail wafting over from the distant M3. But, for once in my life, I was feeling good.
It’s nice to stand up for yourself every now and then but one has to consider the consequences. Having just joined the ranks of the unemployed, what were my prospects of getting another job? It’s not as if my newly acquired notoriety was going to help me much either. Furthermore, without an income, how was I going to keep up my payments to Pam? And what about the planet? I suppose, without my vital assistance as a supplier of eco-friendly, ‘windy bollocks’ power generators, it would just have to take care of itself. The prospects were grim, you might conclude. But then you would be overlooking one thing.
I know where Jack’s safe is.