Dante left the old man with a mumble of thanks for his hospitality and followed the sound of rumbling music to the basement stairs, where he slipped his biscuit to Jude the dog and left the mug of tea hiding in the shadows. A few steps later and he caught his first whiff of Joel’s room, a lingering scent of stale takeaway food and cigarette smoke that mingled with Joel’s own, unique odour. Preparing himself for the worst, Dante hammered his fist on the door.
A slit opened and two maniacal eyes peered out. When they caught sight of Dante, the slit slammed shut and the door opened with a blast of vulgar music. Dante tried not to wince as the smell intensified. Oblivious, Joel reached out and dragged him into his underground den.
“Mate, I proper thought you were ignoring me,” he said, wrapping an arm around Dante’s shoulder.
Joel took after his father. Half-eaten meals piled up on a ketchup-smeared desk, littered with dirty mugs and empty bottles that spilled out over a floor carpeted in scribbled music scores, subcultural magazines and pamphlets for subterranean club nights. In one corner of the room, Joel had gathered a pile of sheets and unwashed clothes to form a rudimentary bed, watched over by glossy depictions of sword-wielding champions, angry guitarists and women with improbable chests. Somewhere in the bed’s moat of filth, Dante spied a tattered copy of ‘Myths of the Great Cataclysm’ from the Theatre library, but when he noticed the snakish trail of used condoms draped over the cover he made a mental note to avoid it in future.
As comfortable in his mess as he was in a velvet shirt and leather trousers, the gurning raven ushered his guest over to a sagging sofa set in front of grey box with an archaic screen. Joel believed it an ancient treasure, excavated from a tomb left sealed for a thousand years, but it was actually an emulation, a modern copy of ancient technology crafted for those who wallowed in times long passed. If Joel paid the slightest attention to Mr Smith’s lectures, he would have realised that. Instead, he embraced the illusion. “I got this proper brutal game off Johno,” he said. “Mate, you’re gonna love it. Beer? It’s the old geezer’s finest.”
He waved a bottle in Dante’s face. On any other day, Dante might have turned him down — he still had vague memories of the time Byron plied him with whiskey — but the promise of escape was too great a temptation. Maybe if Katrina hadn’t confiscated his own sedatives he wouldn’t have had to resort to this.
There are plenty of automated factories, mainly underground, churning out crap for people like the Gibsons to wallow in. It keeps people distracted, y’know?