He rapped out a rhythm on the wrong side of an interview table and pushed back the uncomfortable plastic chair to allow room for his paunch. He shivered. The room was not freezing, but they had confiscated his coat due to their concerns about suicide risk. Trying to persuade a stubborn custody sergeant he had no such ideology was like trying to persuade a reindeer to fly. It couldn’t be done. Or so the elves had proclaimed.
A click from the door alerted him; he looked up, and saw two police officers sauntering through. They were chatting, frivolously, about their seasonal activities. Apparently the male — tall, black and groomed to perfection — would be visiting his in-laws. The female — equally tall, hair gripped in a bun — would be working.
“Good evening, sir. Merry Christmas.” She smirked at her colleague. They mumbled their names — she was PC Statham, her colleague Sergeant Jones — and some words for the purposes of legality, about recording device and lawyers. “Please state your name for the benefit of the tape.”
“I have told you. I have many names. Santa Claus seems the most pervasive, although personally I prefer Father Christmas or St Nick. The German Weihnacht—”
“Yes, we know. You have told our colleagues.” Her sarcastic words leant a sadness to his jovial mentality. Why did they stop believing? “The problem, sir, is that we have this recurrent problem at this time of year. Unfortunately, most burglars we can identify.”
“And yet, you can’t find me in your database.”
“Not in our criminal database, no.” Sergeant Jones spoke with respect, mingled with disbelief.
“So what drives you to the automatic assumption that I am a criminal.”
The officer took a deep breath, as figures with a guise of seniority are wont to before releasing a vital fact. “You were arrested in a child’s bedroom in the premises of a Mr and Mrs Grant.”
“Yes. Your officer was most condescending. He made some appalling joke about being nicked. As if I haven’t heard that before.”
“Ah, so have you been arrested previously.” PC Statham interjected, practically frothing at the mouth.
“No, I have never been arrested before; I have never committed a crime before. Obviously,” he paused, the familiar sparkle decorating his eyes. “Otherwise I would be in your database.”
“You could be in any number of international databases we have not had the time or inclination to check.” She was good: intuitive and an excuse for everything. “Do you deny the location of your arrest?”
“No.” He scrunched his nose with unwelcome foresight.
“And what, dare I ask, were you doing in Master Grant’s bedroom.”
“Well, Henry Grant has been a well-behaved boy this year, so I entered the Grants’ house to fill his stocking.”
The male officer sighed, his face stern as he instructed. “May I remind you, sir, of your legal right to have a lawyer present. You are at present only under arrest for Breaking and Entering—”
“Which apparently you do not deny.” PC Statham interrupted her colleague.
“I deny that most vehemently. I did not break in.”
“How did you come to be in the boy’s room then?”
He considered his answer. “I had to enter through the window. Gone are the days when I could enter every house through a chimney. Now I have to improvise.”
“I am impressed at least with your persistence. Let me ask you,” Sergeant Jones paused and gave the female officer, who was mouthing ‘improvise’ sarcastically towards the table, telepathic instructions to allow the suspect to answer. “Let me ask you who will deliver the presents tonight, if you are Santa — Sorry, Father Christmas — and you are detained in here.”
“Oh. Do not worry about that. My husband and the elves will arrange everything. You won’t recall the winter where I had the flu. It could have been terrible. But, as the clocks sounded, as children scampered out of bed, presents were snuggled under trees, and stockings rested on bedsteads.” He smiled at the memory.
The officers shuffled papers, uneasily.
“Umm,” he said, “if I may be so bold as to ask a question?”
Sergeant Jones nodded.
“How were the officers aware of me? By that, I mean I am in the house for a matter of seconds. They were in the room waiting.”
“If you are insinuating entrapment, then I can ass—”
“No, no, no.” His chortles echoed around the room.
“In the course of a routine neighbourhood enquiry, they saw you burgling the rest of the houses on the street, one by one.”
“Exactly.” The officers looked to each other, confused. “If I was burgling the houses one by one, as you say, then where are my goods? What was stolen from the other houses? Has anyone else complained?”
“Sir, we will be investigating this fully, including your motives, I can assure you.” His tone was vaguely threatening. “But, in the meantime, may I remind you that breaking and entering is a crime in itself. There is no requirement for misappropriation of material.”
“I understand that.”
“Ah, so you understand that being in the Grants’ premises without consent, whether force was required to enter or not, constitutes a crime?” She attacked, again.
“I am not au fait with the precise laws of every county, but I understand what you are telling me.”
“Do you therefore wish to change your little tale?” The way she described his life as a fiction riled him.
“No. I am unable to change the truth.”
Sergeant Jones shook his head. “Very well, sir. Although it is Christmas morning, we will need to detain you in accordance with the law until we have been able to investigate this matter further. May I remind you of your legal right to have a lawyer.”
Later, as Sergeant Jones slammed the door to the cell, he was certain he saw the old man wink, a mischievous glint in his eye.
Nick Fordham is a doctor, who enjoys writing stories in his ever-diminishing spare time.
Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it,
and joy of the season to all.