‘Why was he shot?’
‘Have you ever seen a cow?’ the man asked. Alex’s mouth hung open at a loss of a reply. She closed it again, opened it a second time… and then closed it. She cupped both hands around her scalding mug, ignoring the discomfort.
‘Yes, there’s one on the billboard in Pasteur Avenue,’ she said.
‘No, a real cow? Alive, mooing?’ the man asked. Alex did not know what mooing meant. Seeing as she was the journalist – the wordsmith as it were – she didn’t think it appropriate to admit such. She covered up her ignorance by drinking from her coffee. It was bitter and smoky. Not unpleasant.
‘No,’ she finally admitted.
‘And yet you’ve eaten beef?’ he asked. He didn’t blink often. It made his unremarkable face that more markable. Eyes stop looking like eyes without regular blinking. The fire gave a sudden splutter, finding something in the most recent print distasteful.
‘I’m a vegetarian,’ she replied. The man waved away her comment irritably. His mouth curved as though she had just confessed to a horrific crime.
‘A cornfield then? Or a cabbage patch? Have you seen them?’ He snapped. Alex didn’t see what that had to do with anything but guessed you didn’t get deemed mad by the city press without talking about vegetables at some point.
‘No,’ she humoured him. The man’s smile widened, stretching the lower half of his face wider than should be possible. His head was practically seventy per cent smile.
‘And yet the shelves are well-stocked.’ Said the man. Alex conceded the point but was beginning to think she was wasting her time. Though she had to admit it was an improvement on the usual knowing she was wasting her time.
‘Is this why Shapcott died?’ She asked. The man appeared to ponder upon this for a time.
‘In a sense,’ He said.
‘Can I get a proper answer?’ Alex was beginning to lose her patience. The man tossed another newspaper upon the fire. This one carried a startling statistic on the front. They always were. Statistics were invented to be startling. They served little purpose otherwise.
‘What would you accept as a proper answer?’ The man responded, his magnified eyes staring unblinkingly into hers.
‘I just want the truth,’ she said feeling the hot tongs of frustration squeezing on her temples. A man doesn’t get gunned down because he’s never seen corn.
‘People are rarely able to accept the truth.’ The man shifted his weighed in his armchair. It gave a little creak and dust swirled out from the fabric and danced in the cold lines of light.
‘That doesn’t make it less true.’ Alex sniffed.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Even so, if no one accepts it, what good is it?’ The man challenged her.
‘If you can prove it, people will accept it.’ She said. The man gave a dry little chuckle.
‘Why did Alan Shapcott die?’ She asked, for what she hoped was the final time. The man took off his glasses and began to rub at the lenses with his jumper. As is always the case when glasses wearers remove their glasses, he looked like a completely different man. There were skin sacks drooping under his eyes, his forehead looked wider and his ears seemed to double in size.
‘Because,’ he said pushing them back on across his nose, ‘he asked questions. And he accepted the answers and went on to ask the questions those answers brought up. They had to stop him, otherwise, he’d keep asking questions. He’d get others to ask questions and they’d keep asking questions. They’d question until they died, and then their children would go on asking questions after that. He had to be stopped. The Mayor had to show that no good came from asking questions.’
Alex took a deep breath. So, the Council were to blame for Shapcott’s death. He was asking questions, so they took him out. What conspiracy had he uncovered? and what did that have to do with him never seeing corn? Or cows for that matter? What truth had he gained from this madman that meant he had to die alone in the cold?
‘Questions have to be asked. People should not be afraid to question the government. He shouldn’t have died for that,’ she said sternly.
‘Oh, he wasn’t questioning the council. No, he was questioning reality.’
Alex could feel herself deflating. They were going in circles. There was no way she could turn this conversation into an article, at least, not one people would read. She rubbed at her eyes with warm, clammy fingers. It seemed Shapcott was just as mad as the man who spent his days burning the newspapers that had branded him insane. ‘And he died because he questioned reality?’ she asked doubtfully.
‘No, he died because he was getting answers.’
‘And answers lead to –
‘More questions.’ Alex finished for him. She stood up. Seeing as she was getting nowhere, she didn’t see the point in getting stuck there. It seemed the mystery of Shapcott’s death would remain just that. This was one case were a question didn’t lead to answers and subsequently (no doubt much to the relief of the council), no more questions.
‘Thank you for your time. I should get going.’ She said, making for the doorway.
‘Go to the edge of the City.’ The man said, ‘Go to the edge where the bridge is and keep going.’
‘Goodbye,’ said Alex.
She showed herself out, pulling the door closed as sharply as she dared. She walked through her own footprints back to the roadside. The snow glittered under the pale light above. The sheer blue sky stretched over the city’s rooftops like a tarpaulin. Not a cloud to be seen. She strode along through the snow so lost in her own thoughts that she barely noticed the old lady and her dog coming back the other way.
‘Good morning again,’ She said.
‘Morning again,’ Alex replied a little startled.
The woman paid no more attention to her as she hobbled along the street. Alex carried on and felt her foot land on something that wasn’t snow. She glanced down and groaned in disgust at the inch and a half of dog muck now smeared across the bottom of her shoe. If she wasn’t mistaken, it very much acted as a visual metaphor of some description.
If she wasn’t careful, there’d be more shit ahead and it wouldn’t just be her shoe getting covered.