she said, trying to keep the scorn from her voice. “Because they know how they’ll be treated.”
She regretted the words as soon as she said them. Talking ill of the Capita wasn’t wise no matter whose company you were in, and in front of Charles it was downright dangerous.
“You have no idea how they’re treated, Heather.” He managed to make the words sound like a reprimand and a threat at the same time.
Charles stood up out of his seat. She was struck with the impression that his costume made him seem taller than he really was, that if you peeled back the pantomime you would see a man who hadn’t eaten his vegetables as a child.
“Would you know if your daughter was one of them?” he said.
She almost leapt to her feet. To hear this man talk about her daughter made her face hot. Kim glanced at Heather, and this time she looked alarmed.
“She’s not one of them,” said Heather.
“But would you report it, I wonder? How deep is your loyalty to the Capita?”
“You expect people to choose the Capita over their families?”
“That’s what I did.”
The room was silent. Max, over in the corner, looked at the floor. Charles looked beyond Heather at the patio doors and the garden, and for a while his eyes softened and his shoulders sagged. One blink of Heather’s eyes later the effect was reversed, and Charles, with his leather coat and hideous mask, once again filled the room. He drew his coat together. His pick axe hung over his back until it rested parrot-like on his shoulder.
“Watch the children. Be my little magpie. Report anything worthwhile to me, and I’ll make sure you’re rewarded with breadcrumbs. Don’t report anything, and I’ll make sure you’re punished.”
Heather didn’t say anything, but that didn’t bother Charles, who carried on speaking.
“I shouldn’t be telling you this, but there’s a Resistance insider feeding information from the Capita. I don’t know who it is, but I’ll found out. These people can hide, but I know all the hiding places. But in the meantime, those of us who live under the Capita must stick together.”
He turned to Kim.
“Do you know how the air smells, girl?”
“Have you ever wondered?”
Kim’s response was strange. After all the things she lied about, all the facts and stories that she exaggerated for no reason, she decided to tell the truth about this? This was the one answer Heather didn’t want her to give. It made her seem suspicious. Normal people didn’t know the smell of the air. Normal people didn’t care, and the Capita liked normal people.
Charles knelt in front of Kim. As he bent down his leather coat creaked.
“Do you friends ever take their masks off?”
“What about yours? Have you ever taken it off? Even for a tiny second?”
Kim looked at her mother.
“I’m not stupid. I know what’s in the air. Mum taught me how to use the AVS when I was four.”
Good girl, thought Heather.
Charles nodded his head. “Your mum is a sensible woman. Let’s hope she stays that way.”
With that he straightened up and nodded to the two soldiers. Max gave another look around the room and then walked out of it. Charles turned to Heather.
“Stay safe. Both of you.”
After he left the house Kim moved off the sofa, walked up to her mother and threw her arms around her. It was a closeness they rarely shared, despite the love between them. Heather had always found physical contact strange. She thought that having a kid might solve that, but hugs always felt awkward even when they were from her only child. Still, the sentiment hit home and this time, she was happy to return the embrace.