WALL OF CONFLICT
There was an air of suppressed emotion about Mary, Lambert Farrar’s willowy secretary, as he entered his utilitarian Town Hall office.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Arlington Street has started picketing the builders,” she said.
“How nice for them!”
“They’re protesting that the top of their street’s now walled-off from the corner shop while the bottom’s separated from the corner pub...”
Lowering his stout frame behind the metal desk, he grunted, “And no doubt they’re raising another petition?”
Mary nodded but would not look at him.
He signed a couple of routine letters then returned his attention to her. “There’s more?”
“Yes, Mr Farrar. The police have been called in to safeguard the workmen,” she went on. “The wall should be completed this afternoon.”
“And the other streets?”
“Similar progress there, sir. Although, they don’t seem to mind their streets being blocked-off half-way...”
They wouldn’t, he thought, amused. Of all those chosen, only Arlington Street had a pub at one end and a shop at the other.
He dismissed Mary and smiled. His hate had come to fruition. Hate for Arlington Street had festered and grown ever since he resigned his commission in the Army and overheard someone talking about him in that damned local. “Arrogant swine, he is. Still thinks he’s top brass in the Army!”
Even his mother sided against him when he told her. “Son, they’re friendly if you give them a chance...”
“It’s their ignorance, mother - their jealousy warps them,” he informed her in measured tones. “They know I’m better than them, but won’t accept it.”
Then, Nat Brice, their next-door neighbour and the council’s Director of Technical Services had called. “I’m sorry, Lamby...”
“For Heaven’s sake, Brice, stop calling me “Lamby”! We’re not kids now!”
Sorry! That’s all he ever got out of him! No damned back-bone, that was always his trouble. How on earth did the borough cope with him at the helm? “Well, out with it, man!”
“My van - I backed into... your Bentley... Nothing serious – I’ll pay for the repair...”
Lambert had responded with the invective traditionally reserved for raw Army recruits.
Still, the incident prompted him to seek alternative parking for the Bentley. The solution was simple enough. Knock down the wall and turn the front room into a garage.
Trouble was, when he made his project known, thirty neighbours objected to the idea and Nat Brice made a representation to the Housing Minister. Brice had also protested in the national press: “A garage in the front of the house will spoil the appearance of the road and create fumes and noise.”
They won the day. While the urban council agreed to Lambert’s proposal, the county planners turned it down. He moved out of his mother’s house and rented a flat round the corner.
The sourness of that defeat goaded him. A senior post in the town council became vacant. With the help of qualifications gained in Forces’ Correspondence courses and the leverage of a few very influential friends, he managed to get the job.
He reflected smugly that his rise had been uncanny. Ironically, on his third anniversary in the council, he achieved the position of Assistant to the Director, Nat Brice no less. The appointment galled him; but he had already formulated a scheme to rid himself of Brice.
It was brilliantly engineered. But everything he handled had flair.
The local weekly paper scooped the nationals with a sensational exposé: ROOF FALLS IN ON HOUSING RACKET - BOROUGH DIRECTOR RESIGNS.
It had taken some string-pulling, altering documents where necessary, and it wasn’t easy to twist the incriminating evidence in Brice’s direction.
For all Brice’s protestations of innocence, the stigma stuck; he had no option but to resign as an enquiry was called.
Moving into Brice’s office had been a marvellous feeling. And, at forty, still the town’s youngest-ever Director of Technical Services.
Lambert’s first speech was an impressive one. “Our society faces a growing problem - increasing town traffic. I aim to curtail any further influx of vehicles.”
They were unanimously behind him for it was an explosive issue brought home to them by irate house-owners and pedestrians. And the cold statistics of rising road-deaths only lent more substance to such a prohibition. Speed-bumps and speed-cameras weren’t the answer, he’d said. Too expensive.
He never looked back after that. Now, he was a well-known figure, though not very popular with motorists. The tabloids had speedily pointed out that he still allowed himself one concession - the Bentley...
“I won’t be provoked,” he said during one press gathering. He had other plans...
As proposals for ring-roads and one-way systems went forward, he dropped another vote-catching bombshell: “The safety of the towns-people’s youngsters!”
His speech made front-page headlines. “This aim has always been dearest to my heart and I believe now is the time to make the streets safe for our children to play in.” Every word his own. “I want to see more play-streets in this town and less traffic...”
Put like that, he knew the council had no alternative but to agree wholeheartedly. They wouldn’t particularly relish hundreds of mothers hounding them should they veto the idea!
Shopkeepers and the sturdier die-hards offered their objections. But he soon silenced them: “For the price of a few bricks and mortar you’d see more of the town’s children run over?” Good rhetoric, that.
The intercom squawked. “The wall’s completed, Mr Farrar.”
He felt content at last. Revenge! The brick wall stretching across the middle of Arlington Street, dividing his mother’s door from her neighbour, Nat Brice, and chopping the entire street in half!
“An Arlington Street representative is on the line, sir,” Mary hesitated then added: “It – it’s Mrs Farrar... your mother...”
Lambert”s finger paused on the console. Cunning devils! Oh, well... “All right,” he said coldly, “I’ll speak to her.”
He listened absently to her pleading tirade, then interrupted, “I’ll look into it, honestly, mother. It’s a trial period. But you must appreciate the safety of our neighbours’ kids comes first, boozing and packets of fags at the corner shop a sad second.”
“Since when have you had the welfare of our neighbours at heart?” He could picture her flaccid rouged cheeks quivering with barely suppressed emotion.
“Ever since they took such a liking to me, mother.” He hung up.
The cool night air hit hard as he emerged from the pub. Quite a celebration! He clambered into his parked Bentley.
He pulled away from the kerb. A note from Mary was still unopened in his coat pocket. He’d forgotten all about it in his eagerness to come out and celebrate; he might relent after a few months and have a doorway cut into the wall for pedestrians. He fished out the envelope.
Accelerating into his own street, he suddenly realised he was driving with no lights and the street-lamps were on the blink again.
He tried to brake on seeing the obstacle in his way, but his reactions were too dulled.
When they cut him out of the tangled wreckage, a crumpled envelope was found in his dead hand. The note inside said:
The protesters dismantled the bricks from the Arlington Street wall and dumped them across your street. Do you wish to prosecute?
Previously published in the Costa Blanca News, 2005.
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014
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