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  • The soft, echoing ripple of urine, splashing on marble, permeated the hall with irreverent candour, swiftly followed by the urgent clapping of footsteps, thundering through the arches. Then the sharp retort - 'Oi!' - of an outraged security guard. The tramp waited, bolstered by a sheen of glass that royally housed artefacts, laid out on a dignified violet felt, reminding man of a time before the wheel, before people had places to be. He fingered the glass, daubing smudged art over it, observing voyeur-like as the arrogant cabinet was tainted and raped of its clarity. The footsteps quit their rhythm, faltered, - a 'cl’ without the 'ap' - balancing before the treacherous reservoir of a homeless man's toxic whizz. These were new shoes. He would be damned to heck if he were to have them spoiled so soon.

    "What do you think you're doing?" Eric uttered breathlessly.

    The tramp smiled irascibly.

    "If your question pertains to me, then my question would be to you..." - he forced a stagnant grubby belch, focused in on a central digit and swivelled it towards the security guard -"...fuck off."

    Eric bristled.

    "You can't be here. This is a museum."

    "In any case," the tramp continued, "I think it's quite clear that right now I'm sitting, (but not yet shitting,) in a puddle of my own delectable wee conversing with a gentleman in a cheap blue suit. Presumptuous of me, I know, calling you a gentleman. Forgive me."

    "You can't just piss anywhere you like. If you don't get out of here I shall be forced to call the police." Eric shrugged uncomfortably in his jacket, looking round for assistance. Even a mop would be handy.

    Our filthy rascal drawled his best attempt at a John Wayne impression: "Well a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." A chuckle, he felt, was unnecessary.
  • Eric shuffled back slightly. His CB lay abandoned on the reception desk - on the other side of the hall - where he wouldn't be able to see the waste of a man, particularly without his glasses. Eric was short-sighted.

    "Listen", Eric demanded impertinently, "What's your name?"

    The tramp waved a bottle of yellowing liquid in front of him, which Eric hoped was some kind of liquor. Eric refused the proffered beverage.

    “My name is irrelevant. Not important. Sans significance. I am your audience, dear sir, and audiences are not to be recognized, only amused.”

    He farted.

    “Listen,” Eric fumbled some change from his pocket, “I’m just trying to do my job here. I can’t have you hanging around this place. We should have closed five minutes ago-”

    “Do you like your job Mister Security Guard?” the tramp interjected.

    Eric rolled his eyes and dropped the change at the tramp’s feet, where it remained.

    “I’m just trying to make a living you know,” Eric replied, “like everyone else. I’ve got bills; I’ve got rent to pay. I’ve got to keep my girlfriend happy.”

    Our dishevelled beast stood up and spat. Then he looked into Eric’s hopeful eyes, smiled and sat down again. With a squelch.
    “I had a job once. Didn’t like it.”

    “Come on, man. Help me out here.” Eric reasoned, exasperated. “If you just come on over with me to the reception desk, I’ll call you a taxi and we’ll see if we can find you some place to stay.” Eric unconsciously wiped a hand on his jacket, offering to help the tramp up. The tramp laughed and looked, pityingly, into Eric’s eyes again.
  • “Seriously Mister Security Guard, I mean look at me, I’m covered in my own piss here – do you really think a taxi driver is going to want his car stinking of piss and whisky? I doubt it. No, no, no – I like it here, I think I’ll stay.”

    Eric couldn’t understand why the tramp was so intent on provoking him.

    “Why don’t you just tell me what it is you want, ok? Obviously you can’t stay here. You want money? That change is all I have. You need a place to stay? We can work something out. But I can’t just leave you sitting here, ok?”

    A bleary fog-eyed stare. Eric saw something in those eyes that made him feel like prey. He was out of his depth. He would have to call the police, but it would mean leaving the tramp on his own to wander off and create who knew what mischief. It didn’t appear like he had much choice. There were other security guards there, but they weren’t exactly spry. Eric started to back away.

    “How about we do a deal?” The tramp fished in his waistcoat for a rollie, straightening out the paper with surprising care, lit and sucked heavily in. “Just sit and talk to me for five minutes – you may check your watch if you wish – then I’ll leave. No questions asked. No delays. How about that?”

    Eric said nothing. Eric sat at a careful distance, avoiding the stagnant pool.

    “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.”

    The tramp took one long drag and demolished the joint.

    “Once I had a home, I had a job, I had a girlfriend. And I resented all of them. I resented my job because I got paid very little to listen to people whine on about their credit cards all day - more money, more time, same old, same old. I resented my house because it was all I could afford and it wasn’t enough. I resented my girlfriend because she always whined she wanted more and I just wanted more for myself. There was a hole inside me desperate for something else, something I hadn’t had yet. Something to satisfy me.”

    “Look man, I don’t want to hear your whole life story,” Eric complained.

    “If you want me to get out of here then, please, just - Shut. Your. Mouth.”
  • Eric thought twice about replying. The tramp continued.

    “Every day at work I fantasised about throwing my swivel chair through the big glass windows in the high rise building I used to work in. Sometimes I imagined my boss would be in that swivel chair. Sometimes I imagined I would follow it. Fifteen storeys down. All I could see was my whole life stretched out in front of me, tapping away at a computer, listening to dribbling fools all day, counting the hours until I could clock off, while all the good stuff, all the stuff that life’s supposed to be about, was passing me by.”

    Eric groaned.

    “I watched the news and read the papers. About people getting into debt - and being so out of their depth that they committed suicide. I remember pitying them and thinking how stupid they must be to kill themselves, how pathetic their lives must have been to get to that state, where there was no other choice but to die. And it scared the shit out of me to think my life could be that pathetic. So I decided to do something about it. I defrauded the credit card company.”

    “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Eric interrupted, burying his head in his hands with incredulity, “Is this going to be a long story?”

    The tramp carried on, ignoring Eric’s impolite outburst.

    “I knew I’d probably get caught, but I learned pretty quickly not to care. It was pretty easy really, setting up a program to process transactions on thousands of credit cards for a bogus petrol station. I’d called it ‘V1’ - so damned bland that nobody would notice anything unusual. I’d go home with reams of credit card numbers and process hundreds of payments through my company, just little bits on each, but it all mounted up. After three weeks I had five hundred thousand pounds. So I went spending.”

    There was a pause while our indecent storyteller waited for Eric to respond. He smiled as Eric failed to reply. He could see the cogs turning in Eric’s head, desperately trying to figure out if the tramp was lying.

    “As I said, I knew they’d catch up with me eventually, so it wasn’t long after that I gathered up anything that meant something to me and left – my job, my house, my girlfriend, everything. I booked myself into a hotel, under a pseudonym of course, then went about spending. Just new clothes at first, then alcohol, drugs, prostitutes – that was really living. Sure, I got Crabs and Chlamydia and it was touch and go for my nads for a bit there, but I had a lot of fun getting it. I had no ties, no responsibilities and no-one to please but myself.”
  • Eric tried to hold back a conspiratorial grin.

    “Soon enough though, my operation was shut down. I got paranoid very quickly after that. I checked out, took my stuff with me, stayed with a drug dealer friend of mine for a while, until he got busted by the cops and I had to climb out the bedroom window. After that narrow escape, I shed all vestiges of my former identity and took to the streets. A man with no name, but no labels either. I had beaten the system.”

    The story was finished. The tramp lay back and folded his piss-soaked arms together in triumph.

    “Well,” he questioned, “what do you think?”

    Eric stared inquisitively at the thing before him, lining his brow with wrinkles of thought, attempting to reconcile the tramp’s incredible tale with the wasted pathetic nonentity he saw before him.

    “No, no, no,” Eric finally replied, “You, a man who sits in my museum in a puddle of his own excrement, took on a financial giant like that and won? It’s a nice tale though, pal. You had me going there for a second. Now if you’ll just come on out with me-”

    And the tramp was on top of him, his knee firmly pressed into Eric’s neck.

    Our foul animal gripped Eric’s arms tightly. Eric thought he would choke. He struggled as the tramp shook him. “I FUCKED THE SYSTEM! I FUCKED THE SYSTEM!!!” shouted the tramp. Spittle flecked Eric’s face. He couldn’t get a grip. He kicked out, but his footing was lost in the wee. He tried to push the tramp away but he was too strong. The tramp had him pinned to the ground.

    “My new shoes!” Eric screamed, “My new shoes!”

    The tramp stopped shaking Eric.

    Eric stopped squirming.

    The tramp let go. And laughed. And couldn’t stop laughing.

    Eric had run for the phone. He’d called for the police, but by the time they arrived the tramp had long gone. He’d given a statement and cleaned up the wee and locked up and went home. His shoes were a little mucky but nothing he couldn’t clean off. If he played his cards right he might get some time off for the trauma he’d suffered. You have to take your chances where you can get them.
  • In the east wing of the museum, in the room they imaginatively called the British Government Room, by the life-size representations of Margaret Thatcher and Queen Victoria; there is a scale model of the House of Commons. It’s an impressive reproduction, with small plastic models of all the ministers inside it. For each of the rooms or compartments of the building there is a little light which, if you press one of the little red buttons correctly, illuminates the space, then the deep, rumbling, comforting tones of a former Radio 4 star tells you the room’s history and the function that it still serves. Today as Eric is about to enter the room, doing his rounds before opening, a man stands before him. Eric takes a step back.

    “How the hell did you get in here?”

    The tramp looks different. Now he doesn’t look like a tramp at all. He’s wearing a suit, for one, possibly Armani. His hair is combed, his shoes are polished and his beard is trimmed. His teeth are still yellow, but perhaps he’s working on that. He even smells nice – musky.

    “I just wanted to apologise for the other night. I’m really so embarrassed. Of course, you were just trying to do your job. And doing it splendidly too I might add.”

    Eric hadn’t realised the man was so tall.

    “Well, er, thank you very much,” the flummoxed Eric replies, “As you say, I was just trying to do my job. And you look like you’ve landed on your feet anyway. I mean really, you look magnificent. Sir.”

    The tramp seems to grow weary for a moment. Then he brightens up.

    “I decided to rejoin civilization,” he grins mirthlessly. “Well I hope there’s no hard feelings old chum. Good luck paying the bills eh?”

    “Well, yes. Thanks.”

    They shake hands. Eric has the feeling something momentous is taking place.

    As the tramp walks out through the main doors of the museum he starts to wonder if maybe the old codger was telling the truth. Eric basks in his royal fragrance for a moment, breathing in the rich, intoxicating luxury of it and then another wave, something fruity, balmy and then something noxious…

    “Oh shit,” says Eric, running into the British Government Room.

    A large sloppy turd adorns the central altar of the House of Commons, Tony Blair sinking in the solid and his cohorts drowning in
    the slop. Eric turns to catch the cleaners before they leave.
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