Storyline - 29: "The Usual Suspects"
"Er... mmm... tell that last one to say "Gimme your dosh!"
There was I, minding my own business, walking down the High Street when I felt the weight of someone's hand on my right shoulder...
"Would you minding joining an identity parade in the police station around the corner, Sir?" I'd been about to - try and - shake off the hand and run like the clappers. That was before I looked around - and up - at this cop who looked as tall as Nelson's Column. I fought down the panic and just nodded, changed direction and followed a few others after the lanky cop to the local nick... er, cop-shop.
Let's get this over and done with, then I can go and 'recover' from my ordeal in the King Edward VII public house. Let's hope it's that simple. I've heard of people being picked out in error and the miscreant's gone and done the same thing again. In the mean time a night in a cell and your boss hearing about your 'night off'. "Sorry Jack... aah, Harry, we won't need your services..."
I fight down the anxiety attack and join the others in a long room with a line chart on one wall, marked with measurements up to seven feet above ground level. I wonder, 'Do they ever get clowns on stilts?' I'm still grinning at the foolish thought when someone calls out over the tannoy, "Number three, step forward please". "That's you", the fellow next to me nudges me and nods me forward. "Number three..." A pause, then, "Turn right and say 'Gimme your dosh!'"
I feel a fool but do as I'm told, "Gimme your dosh!" I say, maybe too much like someone in 'The Sweeney"*.
"Step back, thank you, number three".
I say to myself, mimicking Patrick McGoohan in 'The Prisoner" on TV, "I am not a number, I am a free man!" The man on my right gives me a sidelong look. Have I said it aloud? Another silence, an embarrassing one for someone the other side of the long mirror in front of us. Have they lost their nerve?.
"Did you say something there, number three?"
I shake my head. Another silence. A door opens at the opposite end of the room to where we filed in off the street. A little old lady leads two policemen along our line. She looks up at the man next to me, shakes her head and on to me. She peers up at me, fumbles in a massive carpet bag and brings out a small, long box from which she pulls out a pair of ancient specs.
"Were you wearing your glasses when the incident happened?" the shorter, more senior policeman asks her. "Eh?" "Did you wear them when you were accosted?" "Eh? Oh, yes!" "Then why did you not put them on earlier?" She pouts like a schoolgirl denied her good report reward, puts on the specs and stares up at me.
This is a bit unnerving. There I was, thinking the cop had got the old girl rattled and the lineup dismissed but she was adamant. She wanted her pound of flesh! I felt sweat rise. "It's not me!" a voice cried out from deep within. Did I look anxious to her? The senior cop looked askance at me.
"Are you in some discomfort, Sir?" He looks straight at me, than at the next man when he averts his gaze. The man looks straight ahead again. The cop looks back at me, "Are you?" .
I shake my head, stay mute and hope that's enough. It isn't though, is it. The old girl saunters off down the line and back to stand almost toe-to-toe with me. She nods, her mouth shut tightly, determinedly.
"I think I've made a mistake... " Sigh of relief down the line. "He said, 'I want your cash!' Uh-oh!
"Are you sure?" The senior cop bites his tongue. He's losing patience but perseveres.
"Very well then", he looks from her back to me and tells me to say what she;d said just now.
"I think I've forgotten what it was", I tell him honestly. All this waiting around has wound me up good and proper.
"She said... Er, Mrs Penfold said, he told her 'I want your cash!"
"I want your cash!" I repeat, hoping this is an end to it all.
"You said it more threateningly before, like 'I want your cash!;"
I blurt out, trying to copy her, the whole room focused on me,
"I want your cash!"
"That's more like it" she claps, dropping her bag and its contents on the chequered lino floor. The young cop goes down on one knee and salvages Mrs Penfold's belongings, trying not to get in the way of her swinging brolly.
"Is it him, then Mrs Penfold?" asks the senior cop. Some of the other men in the lineup try not to collapse in fits of laughter. One has his knees together. I think he needs to go somewhere and the senior cop notices as well. "Do you want to go somewhere, number seven? We can wait".
I'd sooner not, I say to myself. This is getting me nowhere, certainly no nearer that well-deserved pint. Number seven leaves us, escorted by the younger cop to the door and another guides him to where he needs to go. The door closes again and we wait... and wait. The senior cop looks at his watch and tells his younger colleague to go and find 'number seven'. Who's Number One?" I conjure up a vision in my mind's eye, of one of Patrick McGoohan's nemesis' on the island, his head outlined by bright spot lamps.
At long last number seven arrives back looking sheepish,
"Lost my way, didn't I".
The senior cop looks dismissively at him and motions him back to his place in the line. "Well, Mrs Penfold, you're sure now it was number three?"
"Er... No, actually. This one must be six inches shorter". ,
The senior cop draws on his strength to preserve his integrity. He daren't lose face and he certainly daren't speak to her in the way he'd - probably - like to. On the other hand he's got to let her know she's been wasting police time and that's an offence in the eyes of the law. The look he gives her he'd like to make it a custodial sentence. But he forces a smile. We all smile as we're shown the door. I maybe moreso than the others. But dare I show it? Oh no! Luckily number one is last at the door when Mrs Penfold barks out, "It's him - number one!"
Number one looks back... whether nervously or not I can't tell. I'm outta here! One lovely cool pint of ale here I come!
"On second thoughts he was a lot taller... er, shorter". Shuffling of feet in the line. I can almost hear the officer say, "Round up the usual suspects...
Some of the others in the lineup crack jokes on their way back to the High Street, mimicking old Ma Penfold with her brolly and bag. I think back on cartoons I saw in the 'Daily Express' newspaper, of Grandma in the Giles family. One of the others laughs,
"I don;t know, i'm not old enough to remember, but she did look like one of those old biddies in the comics!" He laughs again as he peels off from the other five of us, all with the same idea.
"Giles was it? I'll Google that when I get home".
"I thought it was all much more like 'Casablanca', when Claude Rains says, 'Round up the usual suspects!" That brings a round of appreciative laughter.
"Dead right", says number six. I look at him, making sure he doesn't look my way as I do so, to see whether he looks like Number Six, Patrick McGoohan. He turns, sees me look at him, shakes his head and tells me. "I thought you were going to wet yourself in there!"
"I very nearly did!" I laugh. I can now, but I felt as though I was passing bricks in the police station!
That pint goes down well, and the next. I can hardly see straight when I'm back on the street after another three pints and a chaser. A policeman steps in my way,
"Sir, would you mind following the others to the police station around the corner? It's only for a lineup".
One of the others giggles. The drink's gone to his head as well,
"We've been to one lineup already, Conshtable".
He steps back and lets us go our way. When I look back he;s still got an eye on us. Hopefully he doesn't run us in for D&D....
You can't beat a spot of the real thing thlough, can you, "Round up the usual suspects". That brings tears of laughter. Claude Rains was certainly a master of one-line delivery!