A story I wrote at university. It wasn’t very well received. Not everybody likes a magical hobo.
A familiar feeling overcame Beatles Mahoney – failed thespian and professional kleptomaniac – as he clambered with considerable difficulty over an upturned market stall, a live Rainbow Trout flapping in his gnarled grasp: it was the woe of imminent arrest.
The outline of advancing stab jackets and the protrusion of steeply-domed black helmets could be seen by Beatles as he looked back through a mist of sparkling scales and droplets of hobo-sweat, causing him to clamber a little faster. The disturbing signs of trout-related crime were now readily apparent to passers-by up and down the street, so Beatles swerved sharply into an alley and away from the disapproving gaze of polite society.
The hiss and crackle of the police radios that had been advancing upon him all morning now dulled, and the familiar feeling of fear subsided into a low, tense buzz as his feet slapped down amongst the discarded fag packets and broken hubcaps strewn across his path. As the hubbub gradually ceased, his mind relaxed a little and he thought of Frank. He was sure that Frank would be pleased with this new acquisition – it was more than impressively shiny, and it glinted with a thousand subtle shades as Beatles carefully smoothed its ruffled scales. He fondly imagined the man’s smiling face as the trout was presented to him – Beatles was a mind that was quite prepared to retrospectively amend a grimace of horror into a gratified smile. “My hat goes off to you Beatles!” he’d say “never have I received such a fine gift!” – and his would be the glory of the present well-chosen. He was shaken from his covetous reverie by a breathless shout from the mouth of the alley.
‘Sir! Put the fish down and get your hands on your head!’
His lapse of concentration had lost Beatles the lead, and he cursed as he sped further into the gloom, the angular arrangement of scrabbling limbs that propelled him forth calling to mind those of the spider or the shock victim. With his new prize spitting fourth shards of prism-colour into the muggy gloom, he jerked and scraped forward, all four limbs working in crazed hyper-semaphore as the long legs of the law vaulted over an old trolley, skidded round a ruined dishwasher and steadily closed the gap between them.
But Beatles had spied a low doorway in the wall ahead – escape could be possible, his heart sang. If he could only get out of this alley and to Frank, then his work would be done. But the Policemen were gaining on him, and as he skidded wildly through the opening, he was confronted by a very solid looking brick wall. He emitted a desperate wail as he attempted to claw his way up, but the futile scratchings had only served to alert the advancing authorities of his position. As the agents of the law rounded the last corner, breathless but triumphant, he knew the game was up. Beatles slid sorrowfully back down the wall and was presently arrested for petty theft.
Relieved of his fish, Beatles sat shivering in the cell of Woodford police station, where an officer was attempting to placate his huddled form with a cup of terrible coffee.
‘You could’ve put a bit more in, y’know.’
‘S’a bit weak.’
‘I know it’s weak, it’s fine.’
Constable Hobbs did not think the prisoner in any position to negotiate, but he put a bit more in anyway and thrust the vessel unceremoniously back through the bars of the cell.
The constable’s expression was one of weary resignation tinged with mild disbelief.
‘How many bloody times, Beatles?’
The owlish eyes stared back at him.
– ‘What was it this time? A fish? … Last week the bloody nose off the statue in the square? Coupla weeks back, after the lads brought you in, they said people ad been complaining to the counsel about subsidence, and when they investigated they found five tons of rubble missing from forty feet underground George lane! Five tons! I mean … ow did you even get down there’s all I wanna know … Havin’ a shitting giggle as far as I’m concerned.’
The eyes closed in fond remembrance.
Officially, Constable Hobbs told Beatles that in light of his kleptomania, he would have the right to a course of government-funded psychiatry sessions on his release, but even as he was saying it, he knew that it would be useless. Kleptomaniacs could be cured, but creatures like Beatles had the word ‘steal’ hard-wired into the matrices of their brains – an ancient, vestigial instinct that predated the human concept of possession by a long shot.
‘Well, I’m gifted, int I?’ Beatles reasoned. ‘No use stealin’ normal fings. Where’s the challenge in it?’
Hobbs gave up on the speech and left the poor creature to his coffee, taking up his usual position at the desk down the corridor. Next week he would see what he could do about going on the beat.
Meanwhile, Beatles, accompanied by his customary collection of blasphemies, had found a loose brick in the wall of his cell and was worrying at it with considerable tenacity. It was a beauty. When he got it out he would give it to Frank. He’d like that.
‘You’d best not be pissing around in there!’
Half-hearted and empty, the threat was drowned out by the gradually increasing scraping sounds coming from the cells. Alarm bells blared in Hobb’s head as he hurried in the direction of the noise, breaking into a run as he neared the source.
‘What the bloody –?’
What he saw was Beatles, crouching furtively against the wall and periodically straining bodily against the sides of a large hole that had appeared in the wall of his cell. From the angular form of the prisoner’s pockets, it was clear to Hobbs where the bricks had gone. As soon as he saw Hobbs, Beatles flung himself back from the opening as if he had been shot, and assumed the Position of Innocence.
‘I weren’t stealin nuffink, was I? Just a present fur a mate, aren’t they?’
He looked guiltily at the pocketed bricks.
‘You’ll put them back or God help me, I’ll put you in cell B. We’ll move cells once your done, understood?’
Beatles had been in cell B, and what it lacked in windows, it certainly made up for in wildlife. He stared balefully at Hobbs for a few moments, as if deciding what to do with him, then he started slowly to put the bricks back.
Halfway through this though, there was a sudden change in his movements, and Hobbs fancied, becoming nervous and fingering the truncheon at his belt, that something seemed to change in the captive.
Quick as lightning, Beatles spun round, and to Hobbs’ complete surprise, eyed him in a predatory fashion.
‘What you got there, Constable?’
‘What are you on about? Come on, get to it, for god’s sake!’
But Beatles did not get to it. He started slowly to stand up, and inch towards the jailer.
‘Nah, nah … I see you – you’ve got something, aven’t you Constable?
‘You sit the hell back down, or Christ help me I’ll …’
Beatles was up and about and was shuffling around him with purpose, now – actually circling him.
‘Do you know, Constable?’ he said as he clamped the wailing Hobbs’ head in place with a hand.
‘you’ve got lovely eyes.’
The grasping, outstretched hand that rushed to meet him was the last thing that the constable ever saw.