The thing is, you're supposed to report this sort of thing and then they seem to get upset that you've bothered them. The girl in the call centre hadn't been very helpful. After she'd sulkily asked for my ident card number and where I was calling from she'd taken the rest of the details with a bored attitude and then said that she'd see if she could get someone to me, possibly that evening. Maybe.
As it was, I had to wait for a couple of hours before someone turned up. I suppose I should have asked to see some identification but I really didn't need to once I saw her.
"Someone reported a Code 4 violation here?" she said peering down at her clipboard and then looking up at me with a despairing expression. "You?"
I nodded, sheepishly. She sighed. "Ident card?" she said.
I handed it over. She sighed looking at the card with distaste at having to handle something from a man's pockets, slipped it into the portable data reader she took from her case, pressed a couple of keys and then gave it back.
I ought to explain. A lot of people don't understand how I can go on living here after New Order got in, what with all the changes they brought in. All right, things aren't easy if you're a man but actually I've got a reasonable job with a sponsor that treats me fairly and, as long as I keep my nose clean and toe the line, I don't get too much in the way of harassment from the Government.
Keeping your nose clean and toeing the line includes reporting any code violations to the Bureau. You had to do it within four hours of the offence. I wasn't going to take the risk that they hadn't been spotted. That's why I had called.
"You'd better show me through then."
"Can I take your coat?"
She looked around. I suppose in some places she goes she would be reluctant to leave it out of sight but I have my own front door and three rooms to myself. She obviously decided it would be all right. "I suppose so."
I took it from her and hung it on the hook at the back of the door. "It's best if we go through there," I said pointing to the door to my living space.
I followed her through. I was feeling apprehensive – well that was inevitable – but at least it was only a Code 4. That's the lowest grade, "Conduct likely to be offensive or viewed as disrespectful." I've never known anyone that was involved in a Code 1 "Actions contrary to law or prejudicial to the new Order state" or a Code 2 "Physical or sexual assault on a woman" but a friend of mine had to phone in with a Code 3 once when he collided with a woman's parked car; "theft of or damage to a woman's property". He only just stayed out of the camps because he'd called in quickly.
"You've got it quite comfortable here, haven't you?" She sat down in the one armchair in the room.
She was right. Ally Wishaw, my boss at the packing firm where I worked, knew I was a pretty good designer and she obviously thought it was worth her while to see I got a few creature comforts. I had a comfortable apartment in a mixed block (that's unusual; the male only rooms are on separate floors from the couple and the female apartments, of course), some nice furniture, a good TV (with the ident card reader, of course). I've even got a view down over the local park and while the men's door is at the back of the building I can still walk past the elegant art deco front and think, that's nice, I live there.
I took a quick look at my caller. Of course I wasn't staring. I didn't want to make things worse but she was certainly a striking looking girl. The Bureau paid their staff well and they seemed to spend their money on clothes. Mostly they were girls not long out of college. Often they were girls who had been keen members of New Opportunity, the New Order party's youth wing. She had the standard look that they all seemed to go for. She had blonde hair. It was long but scraped back from her face and pinned up at the back in a French plait. She had the flawless skin of a twenty two year old and the tan of a girl that like to spend her spare time in the sun. She was wearing the sort of outfit that was almost a uniform for the Bureau staff. I guess the blouse was from Hermes; its bold print of gold horse bits on white silk, suggestive of how she like to treat men. She wore a straight, straw-coloured skirt that skimmed her knees with a leather belt that was the same colour as her bare tanned legs. Strappy cork heeled wedge sandals, thongs winding up her calves finished it off.
"You know the drill," she said.
I did. It was the first code violation that month but I'd had to report a few in the past. It was always the same. Stand facing the wall, hands on the back of your head, and recite whatever it was you had done. Then there's a pause while the appropriate response is determined and you have to take whatever is decided.
"Err," I'd had to do this about five or six times but I still found it hard to start. I heard a sigh of impatience from behind me. It wouldn't do me any good to keep her waiting. "I guess this comes into the category of offensive behaviour," I said.
"This was this morning. I was on my way to work. Waiting for the male bus on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. There was a black car pulled up on the other side of the road. Three or four women got out. One was the Minister of Internal Affairs, she was wearing a leather suit. I found myself watching her."
"You're not getting off on this are you?"
"No. No, of course not."
There was a sceptical grunt. "Florence Daniels," she muttered. "What next!"
I thought that was a bit unfair. I mean, all right, Daniels isn't your typical über-Maitresse (to mix languages in a metaphor) but if you've spent the last ten years being hectored by her on your TV screen and lived in a climate where authoritarian women have to be deferred to, isn't it likely that you're going to have some sort of response?
"Anyway the minister was explaining something very forcibly to her team. She looked just like she does on the TV. Except of course, I don't think I've ever seen her wearing a leather suit and..."
"Get on with it. I'm not interested in your fetishes."
"No. Of course not." I was still facing the wall. My arms were aching a bit from standing there like that. "Anyway she seemed to break off in whatever she was saying and then she was looking right at me. I suddenly realised I had my hand in my pocket and I was..."
"All right. I get the picture. Did you come off?"
"No. No. I managed to stop myself as soon as I realised. I mean a Government Minister."
"Yes, a Government Minister." I could almost hear the sneer in her voice. "Then what?"
"She got back into the car and they all drove off."
"And that was it? Wasn't there something else?"