On the positive side (and, as we all know, I’m all about the silver lining) I was not the Colin of four years ago. Physically, mentally, emotionally… well, okay, emotionally I was still a disaster, but I had gained a lot of impressive qualities during my time away.
I was confident that I could get out of this situation. I’m not saying I would, I’m just saying the confidence was there.
The cops and the crowd that had stopped to rubberneck were all looking confused. Several of them had caught some of what had just happened on their phones and were checking the footage. I was tempted to go over and have a look myself.
I had definitely performed magic. I didn’t know how I did it, and I felt no different when it happened, but it did happen. The homeless guy’s face was proof of that.
Which was great. Who wouldn’t want to be able to do real magic in a world as drab and mundane as this one?
The only problem was that I had no idea how to do it again. And in the meantime, people were looking at me funny and whispering to each other. Torches and pitchforks would appear any moment now.
Strangely, I didn’t feel awkward or embarrassed. Instead, I saw them as ready-made accomplices who were going to help me get out of here.
“Thank you, very much. Thank you, thank you.” I took a bow. “And a big hand for my assistant.” I put my arm around the befuddled homeless guy. “Please visit my website, blackmagicmuckery.com, where you’ll find more videos with amazing demonstrations of impossible feats.”
The crowd looked disappointed. They lowered their phones. When I was some rando doing inexplicable things, I was worthy of space on their SD card. But a self-promoting twat looking to get Youtube-famous, that was just taking advantage of their curiosity and good-natured desire to leech off of someone else’s ability to be interesting.
“Are you some kind of street performer?” asked the slightly less chubby cop.
“That’s right. I’m street magician Zane Xenon. You’re being filmed, right now.” I pointed in various random directions.
The crowd’s interest dissipated like morning fog in the sunshine as the words ‘street magician’ spread through the air. Is there anything less attractive than a man who does non-consensual card tricks in public?
“Do you have a performer’s licence?” asked the other cop.
“Sure, talk to my manager.” I pointed at where the driver had been standing a moment ago, but he was gone. At least that was one problem less I had to deal with.
“Mah face. Wha’ happened to mah face.” The homeless man was still in shock. A moment ago, he’d been struck by a rock. Now, he had the looks of a mid-70s Rod Stewart. I mean, it wasn’t pretty, but it was definitely a step up from Kirkpatrick Kiltshitter.
“It’s okay, show’s over,” I said to my reluctant assistant. “You get back and I’ll see you later.” I slipped a handful of coins into his sporran (at least I hope that’s what it was) and sent him on his way.
“You’ll have to show us your licence or I’ll have to give you a ticket.”
I was fine with getting a ticket. Worth it if I could get away from Archie’s goon.
“Hold on,” said the other cop, who had his phone out now. “I got a hit.”
“Someone in the crowd?” asked his partner.
Suddenly, the crowd looked shifty, moving out of the eye-line of the phone.
“No. This one. He’s a missing person. Went missing four years ago.”
“Is that some kind of facial recognition?” I asked, fascinated by how much things had changed. “Isn’t it illegal?”
“You can opt out,” said the phone-wielding policeman. “Have you opted out?”
Obviously, I hadn’t. “No. Can I do it now?”
“Noob,” said someone in the crowd.
I can’t say it didn’t hurt. Used to be, you had to be crap at a game to be called a noob. Now, apparently, you had to be good at life, too. Kind of hard for those of us who hadn’t even passed the tutorial.
“I got a flag on it. Look.” The two policemen peered at the phone screen.
“What does it mean?”
“Dunno, never seen one that colour.”
“Tap it. Maybe there’s a hint.”
I decided this was the perfect time to make myself disappear — a trick far too few street magicians perform — and casually turned around.
There was an ugly yellow and blue police car parked right behind me.
“Ooh, I know what the flag’s for. Special attention.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means we’ll take it from here,” said the driver of the police car as he exited and opened up the passenger door. “You’ll have to come with us, sir.” He smiled mechanically and nodded towards the car.
I looked around. The homeless Scot was staring at his reflection in a shop window, crying. Further along the street, the driver was watching from behind some scaffolding.
I got in the car. It smelled clean, but not in a good way. Like a recently disinfected public toilet. I slipped around on the plastic seat cover, still damp from its most recent wipe down. On the back of the driver’s headrest, a small screen informed me of my rights in a sloping white font set against a montage of idyllic autumnal scenes.
It may harm your defence … a carpet of red leaves in Hyde Park … if you do not mention when questioned … Victorian lamp posts viewed through golden branches … something you later rely on in court …
Soothing classical music played as we drove.
I didn’t bother asking where we were going or why, I was just glad to have a moment to myself.
Magic. It was really possible. I sat there as we slowly drove through Central London, my eyes closed, trying to find my way back to the state of mind that would allow me to access it again.
The first time I managed it, back in Flatland, it took a long time to create the right mindset, a mixture of hopelessness and not giving a shit, to trigger the power. A small flame on my finger.
After that, it had got easier and easier.
Here, I had tried all of my old methods but nothing had worked. Not until I accidentally lamped a tramp. Then it happened without me even being involved, on pure instinct. Would I have to get into another violent altercation to force it out again? Was it the cry of pain or the sign of blood that was the catalyst?
Going around attacking people for personal gain wasn’t ethical or moral, and it was also very hard to stab someone without them getting the hump. But at least I had something to go on. It was very energising. Well, relatively. For someone with my levels of enthusiasm, a strong mint was an emotional experience.
But if I could get my magic working in this world, then I could finally live the life I always wanted. A life where everyone else could fuck right off. It wasn’t much of a dream, but it was my dream.
I was immersed in my thoughts as I searched for any hint of my old powers, that I didn’t notice we had pulled into what could have easily passed for a supermarket car park. It was only when I was let out that I saw the rotating steel sign in blue and silver proclaiming: New Scotland Yard.
There was no booking in, no filling out any forms or handing over my belt and shoelaces. I’d only seen the inside of a police station in movies and TV shows, so I had no idea what the reality was like.
Noob for life.
The two policemen escorted me from the car into the building. Neither of them had said anything to me other than purely functional statements.
“This way, sir.”
“Mind your head, there.”
“Through this door, sir.”
“Just on the right, sir.”
Before I knew it, I was sitting in a small room with a table and four chairs. No big mirror for people to secretly watch me through, not blinds on the windows to let in sexy lined shadows.
I had put off thinking about how I was going to handle this. Missing guy reappears after four years — there were bound to be questions. But what could they do if I said nothing?
Two men entered a moment later.
“Hello, there,” said a man in a shiny grey suit like he had dressed up for the occasion.
He was blond and weirdly muscular on the top half of his body, so his suit looked abnormally wide.
“Sorry about the delay. Busy day. Let me get the introductions out of the way. I’m Detective Sergeant Len Seymour, and my colleague here is Detective Constable Esposito.” He indicated the dark-haired man to his left.
Esposito gave me a curt wave as he sat down opposite me and opened a small laptop.
“DC Esposito will be recording our conversation on this computer, and you’re welcome to a copy at the end of this interview. We can put it onto a memory stick if you’ve got one with you or we can provide you with one for a nominal charge. Or we can just email it to you.” DS Seymour drummed the table with his fingers. “Whatever’s best for you.”
“I don’t remember,” I said.
“Sorry?” said DS Seymour.
“I’ve been performing street magic to survive for the last four years. I have no recollection of what happened before that.”
“Poor bastard,” muttered Esposito. I wasn’t sure if he was sympathising with my amnesia or my line of work.
This was what I had come up with, the Oliver North defence. Memory gone. No idea who I was or what I’d done.
“I see,” said DS Seymour. “Then, why don’t we find out together?”
“Can I have a lawyer?” This was my second line of defence.
“Uh, you aren’t under arrest, you know that, right? We just want to help you find out what happened four years ago.”
“I have the right to have a lawyer present, don’t I?”
“Yeees.” He didn’t seem overly enthusiastic.
“Do you do some sort of martial arts?” I asked him.
He looked confused. “Sorry, what?”
“The way you move, it suggests you’ve had training. Martial arts, I would guess. Possibly dancing.”
His confusion flickered to admiration for a moment.
It wasn’t really that impressive. I’d been around enough fighters to recognise the tells. The idiotic swagger, the awkward posture due to overdeveloped muscles, the teeth pushing into the lower lip as they imagined dominating the guy in front of them so they could prove their dad wrong. He was textbook.
“Actually, yeah. I do a little Brazilian jiu-jitsu.”
Of course he did. The martial arts for every man who needs to be hugged but can’t bring himself to ask a friend.
If I could get this guy to attack me, perhaps that would help my latent power emerge once more. Just had to provoke him into losing his temper. How hard could that be?
“If we could just get back to the matter in hand, Colin — alright if I call you Colin? Is there any particular reason you feel you need legal representation, Colin?”
“Yes, I have a strong dislike of policemen. I think one might have done things to me as a child. Like I said, my memory’s very hazy.”
“Well, okay, I’m sorry to hear that, but do you have a solicitor you can call. It might take some time for us to find a—”
There was a knock on the door. Sharp and insistent.
DS Seymour got up and opened it. There was a woman standing there, looking pissed off.
“And you are?” said DS Seymour.
“Cherry Hinton. I’m his lawyer.”
Which was news to me.