“What's that commotion?” demanded Lewis irritably.
“Sorry, sir,” replied Hathaway, craning his neck round the partition keeping them resolutely two meters apart. “Uniform are having a bit of trouble with their latest pickup.”
“Do you have to call it that?,” admonished Lewis. “You make police work sound like a night on the tiles.”
“Sorry, sir,” Hathaway repeated looking somewhat less than contrite.
“Just go and see what it's all about,” Lewis dismissed him wearily with a wave of his biro, “and try not to breathe on anybody – it's hard enough to get anything done round here as it is. I don't need a Covid death in cells on my hands, coppers or robbers.”
Hathaway dutifully pulled up his fashionably ascetic face mask and left the relative comfort of his bubble with Lewis to investigate the source of the commotion.
Carefully navigating a socially distanced path between his colleagues, Hathaway found the interview room which appeared to be at the epicentre of the disturbance.
''What's the problem?'' Hathaway asked one of the uniformed officers gathered in a socially distanced group near the door to the interview room.
“Lewis send you, did he?” asked the young police constable, coal dark eyes bright as sunrise above the horizon of her functional face mask, salon-straightened hair tied into an efficient bun at the nape of her neck. From beneath his own mask, Hathaway vainly smiled his appreciation of her warm Caribbean complexion and her unadulterated Geordie accent. Lewis had been positively gushing in his welcome of her, 'a lass from home'.
“He's like a bear with a sore head,” said Hathaway.
“Right,” grinned the young officer from beneath her mask, “so, it's Mr...err...” The young constable consulted her custody records while Hathaway lamented his inability to be anything other than he was. “...Wouldn't give his name,” the young officer concluded, “that's why they brought him in.”
“And what was he stopped for?” asked Hathaway.
“Refusing to wear a mask,” the young constable recounted with the ennui of those fated to be tried by the terminally unco-operative, “apparently 'he has conducted a rigorous consultation with himself and found himself to be exempt'. He's got one of those lanyard thingies.”
“Did he give any reason for being exempt?” asked Hathaway, hoping the rosy warmth blossoming under his mask was not visible to the competent bright-eyed beauty disconcerting his composure.
“No,” replied the young officer. “Apparently that would be 'violating his human rights by reason of his ethnicity'.”
Mindful of Lewis' disinclination towards procedural irregularities, Hathaway ventured, “What ethnicity?”
“Posh twat,” replied the young officer flatly.
“Oh,” said Hathaway, deflated, aware of how he was perceived, “like me.”
“No, sarge” the young officer replied, burying the twinkle in her eyes in the depths of her custody records, “you're just posh, we still have some hope for you.”
Perversely buoyed by the put-down, Hathaway suggested, “Why don't I try?”
“Shall I sit in, sarge?” asked the young officer. “Things being what they are?”
“After you,” replied Hathaway, sweeping a chivalrous arm towards the interview room.
The rangy, bored looking designer-scruffy blonde sitting inside the room slid his feet off the table and stood in ironic courtesy as they entered. Hathaway gestured for the scruff-pot to be seated and then he and the young officer took a seat at the other side of the table, or rather the double-table some bright spark had installed as a social distancing measure.
“Mr...?” Hathaway tried, the simplest traps often being the most productive.
“I am refusing to give my name because I don't recognise your authority to arrest me,” the scruff-pot announced.
“You were only arrested because you refused to give your name,” Hathaway pointed out. “If you'd given the arresting officers a name, they wouldn't have arrested you.”
“You can't intimidate me,” swaggered the scruff-pot, “my party will be contesting the next election. Let's see your petty police state stop me going about my lawful business then.”
“But it wasn't lawful, was it, sir,” replied Hathaway. “You weren't wearing a mask. That is unlawful in the circumstances in which the officers stopped you.”
“I consider myself to have an exemption,” replied the scruff-pot.
“Perhaps if you had explained the nature of that exemption to the arresting officers, we could all have had a more productive afternoon,” observed Hathaway. “Do you have a reason related to age, health or disability for not wearing a mask?”
“I am defending my inalienable right of free association,” responded the scruff-pot.
“Is that right, Typhoid Mary,” interjected the young officer, “and what about the inalienable right of every other beggar not to be infected by a potentially fatal disease - which you could be carrying.”
“I accept there have been fatalities,” conceded the scruff-pot, “and obviously that's unfortunate, but I see no need for the rest of us to live under virtual house arrest and be forced to dress up like Dick Turpin every time we nip out to the shops. The vulnerable can shield.”
“Oh, aye,” said the young officer, “and just who are they, then? Because last any of us heard, anyone can get it. Have some form of magic radar, do we, sir?”
“It's unlikely that I or your sergeant are going to get it,” argued the scruff-pot, “but you'd be better off asking your politically correct bosses why you're still on duty.”
“Meaning?” intoned the officer ominously.
“Meaning,” babbled the scruff-pot obliviously, “you're more at risk, being an ethnic minority. Look, I'm all for diversity, I think it's lovely we have a multi-cultural society, and of course you have every right to be a police officer, but the facts speak for themselves. Ethnic minorities are more at risk.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the young officer stonily, “us ethnics are at risk all right, from people like you who won't wear a mask.”
“Could we get back to the question, sir,” interrupted Hathaway, just as stonily unimpressed, “do you have a legitimate reason for not wearing a face mask?”
“I have considered it carefully, and don't believe it is appropriate in my case,” said the scruff-pot.
“Yes,” acknowledged Hathaway patiently, “but the more pertinent question is why.”
“Bet you were a jumped-up snot of a prefect, weren't you,” accused the scruff-pot, “in whatever grubby little school your parents sent you to? I know, I recognise the type, you're just like they wanted to make me. Don't you see how you've been brainwashed? We've all been told that we have to accept this rainbow cancel culture, when we don't. It's okay to be who we are.”
“Well, that's just it, Mr Nobody,” interjected the young officer, “we don't know who you are.”
“And if I told you, would I be released?” sneered the scruff-pot.
“If you don't tell us, you can have a bed in the cells while we work it out,” replied the young officer.
“Then I demand you call my solicitor,” insisted the scruff-pot.
“With pleasure,” replied the young officer, elaborately taking out a pen, “who are they, and who do we say has been detained?”
Hathaway knitted his hands behind his head and leant back in his chair, smugness personified, allowing the young officer to pursue her quarry unhindered.
“Well?” prompted the young officer.
The scruff-pot looked mired in indecision.
“Make your mind up,” said the young officer. “Tell us who you are and you'll be gone before your solicitor gets here, or don't and we will have the pleasure of your company until we can figure it out.”
“Have they got cameras?” asked the scruff-pot.
“Where?” frowned the young officer, perplexed.
“Outside,” replied the scruff-pot, “I don't want this misreported, withholding one's name is a legitimate act of protest.”
“If you say so,” sighed the young officer, “do you think there's any possibility you'll have finished protesting before the rest of us die of boredom - sir?
Still leaning back in his chair with his hands knitted behind his head, Hathaway bestowed an infuriating, mask-covered smirk on the scruff-pot, encouraging, “In your own time, sir.”
“Any time today,” added the young officer.
“You're sure there are no cameras - or microphones – those pointless podcasts are just as bad,” persisted the scruff-pot.
“Bit of a celebrity, are we, sir?” asked the young officer.
“I have a certain public profile,” conceded the scruff-pot.
“Pity it wasn't high enough for my colleagues to have recognised you,” observed the young officer, “might have saved us all some time.”
“The establishment doesn't like me,” insisted the scruff-pot, “I see right through them, so I don't get the parts I deserve. But I've got a couple of albums out, I expect you've heard about them, I did a few interviews.”
“Nope,” replied the young officer. “Name?”
“It's not only the establishment, it's this whole self-righteous woke culture - and the BBC are just a joke,” the scruff-pot rambled on.
“Is just a joke,” corrected Hathaway lazily, “although, speaking for myself,” he continued, hazarding a jovial wink at the bright young constable of his dreams, “I'd be lost without radio four.”
“Name,” insisted the bright young constable.
The scruff-pot hesitated, on the edge of conceding defeat...
“Well, have you heard of him, sarge?” asked the bright young officer once she and Hathaway had completed the paperwork for the scruff-pot's release.
Hathaway shrugged disinterestedly, “Can't say I have, can't say I want to.”
“Got fed up of his mithering, so I googled him,” continued the bright young officer, “but all I could find was that ITV thing about Colditz. Me nan saw that, she said it wasn't a patch on that retro boxset she made us get her last Christmas.”
“Don't watch a lot of television,” admitted Hathaway, “really do listen to radio four, though.”
“And I found some of his songs on YouTube,” added the bright young officer.
“More into live music,” said Hathaway.
“Yeah, sarge,” grinned the bright young officer from beneath her mask, ”heard you were in a band.”
“Lewis,” groaned Hathaway.
He said you were good,” insisted the bright young officer. “Not his thing, mind - but good.”
Hathaway shuffled uncomfortably under the unexpected praise.
“Are you playing tonight?” enquired the bright young officer.
“Tonight?” dissembled Hathaway.
“Heard the university was doing an open air thing, the students, like,” continued the bright young officer, “you're posh enough to fit in, you can tell me how not to hold me fork.”
“They're not doing food,” said Hathaway stupidly.
“Have to teach me how to hold something else then, won't you, sarge,” winked the bright young officer, “once we're allowed, like.”