Monday, August 03, 2009

Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin (Orion 1987)


'Fight Imperialism, fight Racism,'

A young girl wearing a mock-leather coat and little round glasses stood behind Rebus. He turned to her. She had a collecting tin in one hand and a pile of newspapers in the other.

'Fight Imperialism, fight Racism,'

'So you said,' Even now he could feel the alcohol working on his jaw muscles, freeing them of stiffness. 'Who are you from?'

'Workers Revolutionary Party. The only way to smash the Imperialist system is for the workers to unite and smash racism. Racism is the backbone of repression.'

'Oh? Aren't you confusing two entirely different arguments there, love?'

She bristled, but was ready to argue. They always were.

'The two are inextricable. Capitalism was built on slave labour and is maintained by slave labour.'

'You don't sound much like a slave, dear. Where did you get that accent? Cheltenham?'

'My father was a slave to capitalist ideolgy. He didn't know what he was doing.'

'You mean you went to an expensive school?'

She was bristling now all right. Rebus lit a cigarette. He offered her one, but she shook her head. A capitalist product, he supposed, the leaves picked by slaves in South America. She was quite pretty though. Eighteen, nineteen. Funny Victorian shoes on, tight pointed little things. A long, straight black shirt. Black, the colour of dissent. He was all for dissent.

'You're a student, I suppose?'

'That's right,' she said, shuffling uncomfortably. She knew a buyer when she saw one. This was not a buyer.

'Edinburgh University?'

'Yes.'

'Studying what?'

'English and politics.'

'English? Have you heard of a guy called Eiser? He teaches there.'

She nodded.

'He's an old fascist,' she said. 'His theory of reading is a piece of right-wing propaganda to pull the wool over the eyes of the proletariat.'

Rebus nodded.

'What was your party again?'

'Workers Revolutionary.'

'But you're a student, eh? Not a worker, not one of the proletariat either by the sound of you.' Her face was red, her eyes burning fire. Come the revolution, Rebus would be the first against the wall. But he had not yet played his trump card. 'So really, you're contravening the Trades Description Act, aren't you? Do you have a licence from the proper authority to collect money in that tin?'

The tin was old, its old job-description torn from it. It was a plain, red cylinder, the kind used on poppy-day. But this was no poppy-day.

'Are you a cop?'

'Got it in one, love. Have you got a licence? I may have to pull you in otherwise.'

'Fucking pig!'

Feeling this was a fitting exit line, she turned from Rebus and walked to the door. Rebus, chuckling, finished his whisky. Poor girl. She would change. The idealism would vanish once she saw how hypocritical the whole games was, and what luxuries lay outside university. When she left, she'd want it all: the executive job in London, the flat, car, salary, wine-bar. She would chuck it all in for a slice of pie. But she wouldn't that just now. Now was for the reaction against upbringing. That was what university was about. They all thought they could change the world once they got away from their parents. Rebus had thought that too. He had thought to return home from the Army with a row of medals and a list of commendations, just to show them. It had not been that way, though . . .

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