Constructive Sabotage

Author: Damien Muldoon

Something odd is happening to disfuctioning public amenities in a council estate!

It all started with a smashed up phone box. Well that was most likely stupid kids. I mean, a phone, just standing there in the street. That was just too much temptation for the vandalisticly inclined. When the repairman came to fix it, old Matt Lowry was there, asking questions as usual.
�Kids, I suppose?� Matt inquired.
�That�s what I thought. But this was more dismantled than just smashed. Methodically dismantled, I�d say. By someone who knew how to do the most damage.�
�Method in his madness,� chuckled old Matt.
Without picking up the old man�s amused tone, the repairman mumbled, �More like madness in his method.�
For the next three weeks there wasn�t any more spontaneous ruin inflicted on the Crescent Hill Estate. Talk about the broken phone diminished. Except for old Matt who could make a five-act saga out of the blandest occurrence. Apparently, he was staking out the phone box. He lived just across the street from it, and, being retired, had nothing else to do all day. If anybody under the age of forty tried to use the phone, he was out, issuing warnings. Had it not been for the fact that old Matt was nearly eighty, some people might have taken angry objection to his questioning the nature of their phone call. No one wanted to argue with a mad old man though. Many of Matt�s neighbours pointed out, quite correctly, that the phone always worked perfectly now, since it had been smashed and repaired. Before being vandalised, it hadn�t always been reliable. Whoever broke it had actually done the estate a favour. Still Matt Lowry watched it everyday and chased away kids who even stood next to it. From his house though, Matt Lowry couldn�t see the clutch of shops and other amenities that served Crescent Hill. That was where the next act of destruction took place.
Fire gutted the local snooker hall. On Sunday morning it was nothing more than a charred shell. Word soon got around that the fire officer investigating had found traces of petrol. It was undoubtedly arson. To his face, Crescent Hill�s locals commiserated with Paul O� Riordan, the owner of the snooker hall. Behind his back though, a lot of the locals were relieved that the snooker hall was gone.
�It was a bleeding den of iniquity,� John Barber declared to his drinking buddies in the pub that Sunday night. The other middle-aged men nodded their consent. After all, hadn�t they all signed Barber�s petition. �Corrupting kids is all it was good for,� continued Barber. �I�m not one bit sorry to see the back of it.� Then there was a silence while glasses were drained. Tony Walsh broke the silence with his squeaky voice.
�Did I see you hanging around there last night with a can of juice John?� joked the diminutive taxi driver. A roar of laughter peeled out. It ended abruptly when Paul O� Riordan entered the pub. John Barber approached the snooker hall owner, put a hand on his shoulder and said,
�Can I get you a drink Paul? Bad luck about the snooker hall. Are you going to re-open with the insurance money?� O�Riordan just shrugged and accompanied John Barber to the bar.

October brought high destructive winds. Phone lines on Gibbous Drive, a tiny cul-de-sac at the north end of the estate, were damaged. Despite persistent complaints from residents, nothing was done. Excuses were offered. The phone crew were understaffed and busy repairing all the other lines that the storms had blown down. Tomorrow and tomorrow was the eternal promise from the phone company. A month passed. Then, one wet Friday morning in November, residents of Gibbous Drive awoke to find that three telegraph poles had been hacked down. Their felled form lay helpless in the rainy street, wires hanging from them and sparks spitting from the wires. By lunchtime that Friday, every phone in every house on Gibbous Drive was working. Emergency situation you see. Yet there was no doubt that the hacking down of the telegraph poles had been deliberate.
�Must�ve been done with a hatchet or something. People would have heard a saw,� concluded the inspector of the crew who came to take away the broken poles and erect new ones.
�They have these silent buzz saws in America,� chirped Declan Nolan, the crew�s teenage apprentice.
�Would you ever f*** off with your silent buzz saws,� dismissed his boss. Declan went back to work.
Christmas was coming and residents were complaining about delivery vehicles blocking access in and out of the estate. Apart from anything else, these trucks were dangerous and the drivers inconsiderate. A child suffered injuries when a truck ran over his foot. Somebody�s bicycle was crushed by another truck backing out from the supermarket�s customer car park. So it wasn�t really a surprise when, a week before Christmas, signs started appearing on the main road diverting traffic away from the estate. Local shopkeepers, frantic at the late arrival or non-arrival of stock, simply drove themselves to the local cash and carry. None of them owned trucks. A van was the biggest vehicle belonging to any of the local businesses. Once Christmas was over, the volume of traffic into the estate decreased. And the signs disappeared.
Winter brought a big freeze. Heavy snowfalls disrupted the day-to-day affairs of the estate and its residents. Deep down, in the network of piping that ran underneath the estate, water was freezing in the mains. Four streets were without running water for five days. Phone calls were made to the council. An inspector from the water board came out. He fiddled with a spanner in a shore. Then he drew a yellow triangle around the shore with paint and told residents not to touch the shore till a crew of workmen came out. Two more days passed and no workmen came. On the morning of the third day, someone noticed that the shore was open and water was oozing from it. Within an hour, the four waterless streets were flooded. Emergency water board workers were deployed. They dug up sections of road and made an astonishing discovery. The pipes that carried water to the houses in Crescent Hill were made of plastic. The plastic pipes had been set on fire. Those that weren�t burned to a gooey mess were melted. But so too was the ice inside of them. People were calling the four waterlogged streets Little Venice. By the end of that week though, new pipes had been laid and everyone in Crescent Hill had running water again. It did take a little longer for the streets to be drained though.
Brendan Boylan, a Crescent Hill resident who�d been a local councillor for thirty-four years called a meeting of the Resident�s Association.
The community centre was packed that evening. Even people who weren�t members of the Resident�s Association attended. Boylan stood before them, a small man, but with a defined presence and strong speaking voice.
�Ladies and gentlemen�, he began. �It is quite clear to me that some person, or persons, unknown has been engaged in a campaign of vandalism and sabotage in this estate. I spoke to one of the chaps working on the destroyed water mains and he told me that in twenty years as a water board worker, he had never seen anything like it. Now I ask myself, what kind of a person gets down into the sewers in the middle of the night and sets fire to the whole blooming water system.� There was a silence while some people nodded. Boylan was about to speak again when a voice struck up from the back.
�The kind of person who knows the council will do nothing until the estate is in chaos.� A ripple of laughter greeted the comment. Brendan Boylan peered into the crowd asking,
�Who was that? Who said that?� Norman Sheridan, a big man in his early thirties stood up.
�I said it!� he declared. �And you know what I�m saying is the truth, Councillor Boylan.�
�What? What�s that you�re saying? Is that young Sheridan?�
�Yes. Norman Sheridan. It�s no coincidence, Councillor, that the recent acts of vandalism have all had positive outcomes for the community. Now I don�t condone smashing and burning as a means to�lobby the authorities�but��
�Oh, oh I see. Well is Mr. Sheridan going to make a confession I wonder,� Boylan looked about the room for support as he said this.
�Scrambling around in sewers is more your style than mine,� snapped Sheridan. There was a slight gasp in the community centre. Brendan Boylan was visibly stunned by the remark. It took him several minutes to compose himself. Then he walked to the front of the stage, held out his hands and commenced a defence of his record as a public official.
�Residents. In thirty-four years of service to this community, never once has my integrity been questioned. I�ve sat on council meetings that went on until the early hours, fighting this community�s cause. Let me remind everyone of what I�ve done for this area. Who was it campaigned to have the Health Centre opened up? Who challenged the council when they wanted to close the local library? I look out into this room tonight and I see the faces of individuals who wouldn�t have jobs or homes if it weren�t for me. People who�s kids would be travelling six miles to school every day if I hadn�t fought to keep the local primary school open. Who was it that got speed ramps installed on the approach roads to the estate? And�and��
�Who is it keeps voting you in, Councillor?� It was Norman Sheridan again. This time, his comment was greeted with calls of, �HERE, HERE�. Sheridan turned to the gaggle of supporters he�d managed to gain. �You all know that there�s local elections in May. That�s only three months away. I want to inform everyone, here and now, that I shall be declaring myself as a candidate in those elections, and, that I�ll be running against Councillor Boylan.� Quite a roar went up at this announcement. Lots of people got up and milled around Norman Sheridan, slapping his back and shaking his hand. Others pointed to Brendan Boylan on the stage and shouted things like, �YOUR TIME IS UP COUNCILLOR! RESIGN! TIME FOR A YOUGER MAN!� This last comment became Norman Sheridan�s campaign slogan. Sheridan was carried shoulder high from the community centre that night. When he won a landslide victory in the May elections, most residents assumed that he�d played some part in the incidents of sabotage. This assumption was bolstered by the fact that not one public amenity was damaged or broke down over the summer months. In late September though, the destruction for the greater good initiative, took on a strange and sinister turn.
Bullying had never been seen as a big problem at the Crescent Hill National School. Only the victims of the bullies really knew the true extent of the intimidation and ridiculing that went on in most classrooms. The bullied were as scared of telling grown ups as they were of the bullies themselves. And the bullies knew it. Somewhere though, in the chain of fear and silence that always protects bullies; a link was broken. For on the last day of September, three of Crescent Hill�s most notorious bullies didn�t turn up for school. By the second day of October, James Coughlan, Vincent Sheridan and Tanya Darcy were officially declared missing and search parties were assembled. No one suspected Norman Sheridan of being involved this time. Vincent was his only child. Councillor Sheridan broke down on national television while making an appeal for his son�s kidnappers to get in touch. News crews from all over Europe were descending on the tiny council estate. Presently, the missing bullies story became old news. Councillor Sheridan resigned and Brendan Boylan�s daughter, Claire, won the ensuing by-election.
The missing kids were never found. Pupils at the local school, who might otherwise have entertained bullying aspirations, thought twice now. They remembered James, Vincent and Tanya and knew that their simultaneous disappearances had been no fluke. In time, Crescent Hill National School went on to produce the highest academic performances of any primary school in the country. Eighty-eight per cent of its pupils made it to college. The estate won the coveted TIDYEST TOWN competition six years running. Councillor Claire Boylan became Lady Mayoress Boylan. The President conferred a special merit award on the estate. Plans to turn a field on the edge of the estate into a sports complex were rushed through the council�s planning department. It was only when work was begun on this project that the gruesome discovery was made. The skeletons of three children buried beneath the field.