PC Jeremy Doyle’s first day alone on the beat was not supposed to be like this. He’d hoped to be eased in gently: a quiet amble around the centre of town, pointing tourists in the way of the abbey, providing the time if asked.
What he had not expected was to be struck, from source unknown and square on the forehead, by a suction-cupped arrow.
It took a moment for the shock to subside – it had been a terrific shot – and he halted, frozen statuesque by bafflement, on the pavement outside Greggs, coffee in one hand, yum-yum for his elevenses in the other. Remembering his training to stay calm when faced with threatening or volatile situations, he crossed his eyes for a closer look.
A dowel rod. Painted gold. Two feet of it, protruding from just above the bridge of his nose and below where the peak of his cap ended. The precise spot throbbed a little under the pressure of the suction, but otherwise, it didn’t hurt.
‘Right,’ he said to himself, still more surprised than aggrieved. He bent down and placed his cup of coffee on the pavement, yum-yum upon the lid. Remaining squatted, he attempted to pluck the arrow away from his head.
‘Ow,’ he said.
He tried again.
‘Ow ow ow.’ A dull jab of pain suggested this wouldn’t be a good idea.
As he tried for a third time, teasing the rod in a variety of angles, he sensed someone standing over him. He looked up.
‘So, he got you too.’
From his crouched position on the pavement, he could make out only certain details about her: gleaming patent leather shoes, tailored business suit, sleek leather handbag, and pinned upon her lapel, a brilliant red rose brooch. Craning his neck, he saw her face for the first time. She was young, more or less his age, and wore a perturbed yet inquisitive expression. Then there were her dark brown eyes and immaculately coiffured chestnut hair – it would have taken an age to wash, condition, comb and pin.
The gold, suction-cupped arrow jutting from the centre of her forehead was the final point of detail he noticed.
The junior policeman rose to his feet and rubbed the kink from his neck, acutely aware he’d been too easily distracted. More pressing was the fact the perpetrator, whoever it was, needed to be stopped.
‘Who is it?’ he asked.
‘Follow me,’ she replied. She stole a quick sideways glance at him, her own arrow wobbling with the subtle movement of her head. ‘He’s not making any sense.’
‘He’s speaking Italian. I think.’
They crossed the road, effectively retracing their arrows’ trajectories, and walked a short way towards the bandstand on the promenade. On the way, PC Doyle tried once more to wriggle the stick free from his head.
No joy. It really was stuck fast.
‘There,’ said the lady, gesturing at the bandstand. She pulled a face. ‘I’m going to miss my interview thanks to him.’ She cupped a hand to her mouth. ‘Arsehole!’
‘Shh,’ said the policeman, placing a hand on her shoulder before he knew he’d done it. ‘Let me handle this.’ He took a surreptitious deep breath and straightened his back. This was his chance to show what he was made of; his moment to convince his constabulary, the general public, as well as this young lady in his company, he could be a reliable rock of the community.
Another arrow whizzed by his ear; a startled pedestrian on the far side of the promenade yelped with surprise. PC Doyle, thinking it best not to delay any further, peered at the bandstand.
The perpetrator was short and squat; his pot-belly eclipsed his waistline like dough spilling out of a bread tin. Wispy, combed-over white hair flapped over his dry, scaly scalp; rheumy blue eyes formed two sunken pools in his liver-spotted face. The man seemed to be not only as old as the hills, but the rivers and oceans too. Yet this wasn’t the oddest thing about him.
Draped around him was a large white bed sheet. Other than that, he was naked as the day he was born – however long ago that was. Yet his advanced age and lack of garments were no hindrance. Around the bandstand he pranced, with the same energy as someone one fifth his age, jumping, leaping, and twirling, a blur of geriatric abandon. Completing the picture was his large plastic bow; this he clutched in one gnarled paw, whilst in his quiver was stacked a generous supply of gold-painted suction-cupped missiles.
‘Right,’ said PC Doyle for the second time that morning. He strode forward, through a ring of bemused and/or irate onlookers (many of whom had been likewise arrowed on their foreheads), and halted at the foot of the bandstand.
‘Sir,’ said PC Doyle, with as much authority as he could, given that a pole protruded from his face.
The elderly offender spun around, grinned, and rasped something complicated in what sounded to be Italian. He plucked another arrow from his quiver, held it up to his bow, and pinged it across the clearing.
PC Doyle flinched. ‘Sir, I must ask you to stop this at once.’
The old man peered down at the young policeman, puckering his lips to a tight wrinkle. ‘Non fit injuria,’ he said, annunciating each word.
This was, PC Doyle decided, a situation, and not one he could handle by himself. Besides, there were missiles involved. He reached for his radio, strapped to his waist in the same way the quiver was strapped to the old man’s, and called for assistance. In the meantime, the old fellow had fired off eight more arrows, each of which found their targets at impressive distances, whilst he skipped around the bandstand, toga tenuously protecting his modesty.
‘Sir,’ tried PC Doyle again. ‘I must insist…’
He felt a tap on his shoulder. It was the lady, hot and a little out of breath. ‘Officer, please…’ She grasped at her arrow. ‘It’s just I must get to my interview, and I can’t shift this thing, and no-one else has been able to, so…’ She smiled at him, the flush in her cheeks which may have been the stress of potentially missing her appointment, or the fruitless efforts at removing the rod, he wasn’t sure.
Nearby, several other people milled around, likewise trying to remove their unwanted appendages. Nobody was having any luck. It couldn’t be that hard.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Hold firm.’
He leaned closer to the lady. Gently he ran a finger around the stubborn black suction, massaging with tiny circular motions the skin clasped under the edge of the rubber. After a few moments, he gained enough traction to pinch a millimetre away. With a tug and an eye-watering ‘pop’ the missile came free, leaving a crimson tuppence-sized circle on the lady’s face. He hoped she wouldn’t whip a mirror out of her handbag for an examination.
Instead she said, ‘Thank you, officer! You’ve saved my life!’, gave a radiant smile, and hurried away along the promenade, her handbag swinging beside her.
PC Doyle watched her go. It was only as she disappeared through a side street he remembered his attentions were required elsewhere. Snapping himself out it, he turned back to the bandstand.
At last, the old man was out of arrows. Now he squatted on the floor, regarding his empty quiver with a bewildered frown. A couple of his victims had decided to choose that moment for a remonstration; however, he seemed to have entered a world of his own, and any protests fell on deaf ears.
Level to the opposite kerb the police van had parked. PC Doyle’s no-nonsense superior, Sergeant Bristow, was striding purposefully across the road.
PC Doyle climbed the steps to the bandstand and ushered the other people away. ‘Sir,’ he said as he knelt down. ‘We can help you.’
Innumerable lines of sadness framed the old man’s confused, pale eyes. ‘Habitus non facit monachum,’ he whispered.
PC Doyle was about to try to decipher this latest remark – was it Italian? – when Sergeant Bristow drew level with the bandstand. ‘All right, Granddad,’ barked the senior officer. ‘That’s enough knobbing around for today. You’re under arrest.’
PC Doyle looked up from his paperwork to see Samuela, the translator they’d had to call in, exiting the interview room and heading his way. ‘He’s not Italian,’ she said as she perched herself on the edge of his desk.
‘They’re trying to find out. But, I could understand. A bit.’
‘Oh, right…’ PC Doyle closed his notebook. Writing this one up had been a tricky business, and all the more so for the distraction of this thing wobbling from his face. ‘So what was he saying?’
Samuela shrugged. ‘Well, when asked what on earth he was playing at, all he said was, “Gaudeamus igitur iuvenes dum sumus”.’
‘“As long as we are young, we should have fun”, or something along those lines.’
‘He’s certainly not young,’ said PC Doyle.
‘We asked him how old he was,’ said Samuela. ‘But his response was, “Bis pueri senes”.’
‘And that is…?’
‘“Old men are twice children.” That’s one I knew already.’
PC Doyle brushed his brow around the arrow. ‘And we don’t know where he lives?’
‘“Olympus, the Zenith of Heaven”, according to him.’
‘Anyhow,’ said the translator. ‘I’d best be off.’ She rose from his desk to go.
He had a thought. ‘Say, could you…’ he pointed to his arrow. ‘All the boys have tried, the nurse, Bob the caretaker…’ He frowned. ‘Cheeky sods are calling me “PC Dalek”.’
Samuela grinned, made her way to his side of the desk, and leaned forward. ‘Sure, hold firm…’
He held firm.
‘Ay,’ she said after a few moments of trying to prise and pluck it loose. ‘That thing ain’t going nowhere.’
‘Never mind,’ he said, turning again to his paperwork. ‘Thanks for trying, Sam.’
‘It just needs the right touch, I expect. Ciao!’
But by the end of his shift, it still hadn’t budged.
That night, in his single-occupancy bedsit, PC Jeremy Doyle went to bed lying on his back. Sleep evaded him. Instead, he closed his eyes and mused upon the strange events of the day.
Old men are twice children.
So legend had it, Cupid was a cherub, destined to be forever young. Yet when it came to romance, the last deity PC Doyle would have imagined to associate with this concept was a cubby toddler advancing on him with a weapon.
Besides, wasn’t Cupid, being the very god he was, supposed to fire arrows at the heart?
PC Doyle considered for a moment.
That, he thought, probably explains it. At some point in the depths of time, more than anyone could calculate, Cupid had become a man. Now he was hanging on in there, clinging to life and to his mission, his destiny diverted, adapting and surviving. In this secular modern age, there was nothing left for the old cherub other than to fire harmless duds.
But, Doyle conceded, they sure did stick.
He remembered a phrase from earlier.
Non fit injuria.
For indeed not; the old geezer hadn’t been hurting anybody. PC Doyle wondered how it was he suddenly understood that.
Sleep, when it came, brought him a dream. Under a clear blue sky, with no other soul in sight, a crimson tuppence-sized sun blazed down upon the scorched sand of the beach. He stood in the shadow of the bandstand to cool down, but with no luck. It was hot; streams of sweat ran down his neck and back, plastering his regulation police shirt to his skin. A moment later, without cause as dreams are prone to do, a bunch of roses appeared in his arms. Firm, fresh and brilliant red, they refused to wilt in the heat.
PC Doyle looked up from his desk at Sergeant Bristow. ‘Pardon?’
‘That’s yer man,’ said Bristow. ‘They came and took him away last night.’
‘Oh. Who did?’
‘The Maple Leaf Home for Retirees from the Performing Arts. He made a break for it, yesterday morning. Gave the matron the slip. Nicked a tablecloth, dumped his pyjamas on the veranda. A last shot at the big time.’ Bristow snorted. ‘Silly old duffer,’ he said. ‘He won’t be bothering anyone anymore.’
‘Right,’ said PC Doyle as his superior slouched away.
He paused for a few seconds, then opened Google on his computer.
A quick search later, and there he was. Barnes, Derek. Perennial bit-part thespian, walk-on, television extra. Small roles in many B-movies, knock-offs of Spartacus, Caligula, and suchlike. It may have explained the stock Latin phrases, at any rate. No doubt most of his contributions ended up on the cutting room floor. A wannabe character actor who never quite made it to Hollywood. Indeed, his biggest part had been…
PC Doyle clicked on a link. Well, there was a result, of sorts. The starring role in a music video. A song which reached the top of the pop charts a good thirty years ago, The Arrow of Cupid (Goes Twang). A strange ditty by a long-forgotten New Wave synthesiser trio, Captain Tautological and the Nautical Sailor Boys. After their fifteen minutes of fame, they retreated into obscurity. But Derek Barnes, judging from these recent shenanigans, had attempted to make a comeback.
He continued to watch the YouTube video. Unable to get any closer than two feet to the screen, he squinted. Maybe it was the distance, but some doubt crept into mind. There wasn’t much resemblance between the younger actor prancing about on set, twanging his arrows in time to the squelchy electronic music, and the confused old bloke they’d apprehended. Sure, there’d been more than a few years in between, but…
No, PC Doyle thought to himself. I’m not sure that’s him. Not sure at all.
He pushed back his chair and rose to his feet. Time for elevenses.
Greggs was five minutes round the corner. He took a brisk walk through the morning sunshine, his golden arrow leading the way. The promenade and bandstand gave no hint of yesterday’s bizarre goings on. It was as he’d always known it: people going about their business, eyes down, on errands, to the shops, to their offices, or their homes, oblivious to each other.
He entered the shop and joined the end of the queue.
‘Well, look who it is,’ said a voice from behind. He turned to face the lady from the previous day, following him through the door. Today she was dressed casually in black jeans, cream coloured blouse, and summer jacket; her chestnut hair was unpinned and tied in a neat pony tail; and look, thought Doyle – there’s that brooch, on her lapel.
In fact, it took him a while to notice the tuppence-sized mark in the centre of her forehead hadn’t faded in the slightest.
‘Hello,’ said PC Doyle in an adolescent squeak. He cleared his throat, crossed his eyes and gave a rueful smirk. ‘As you can see, I’ve had no luck.’
The lady smiled. ‘Here, let me try.’
She leant forward. Gently she massaged the skin around the suction, the same operation he’d performed on her.
‘So,’ he said as she attempted to tease the arrow loose. ‘Did you get the job?’
She met his eyes, flashing a broad smile.
‘That’s great news,’ he said, genuinely pleased.
‘Hang on,’ said the lady. A deft tug and ‘pop’ later, the arrow came away.
PC Doyle’s heart bounced. He rubbed his forehead with relief. ‘Lifesaver,’ he said.
She brandished the freed arrow triumphantly. ‘So,’ she said. ‘What’s it to be? A coffee and a yum-yum, am I right?’
He nodded, words lost to him in any language.
The lady bought his drink and snack and handed them over. ‘I’d best be away,’ she said.
‘Okay,’ he squeaked even higher before, all the gravitas expected of an officer of the law having gone absent without leave.
She grinned again. ‘I’m Rose, by the way.’
‘Jeremy,’ said PC Doyle.
She made for the door. ‘See you around, Jeremy.’
‘See you,’ he said, fervently hoping he would.
Mike Scott Thomson
Mike Scott Thomson‘s short stories have been published by various venues, including The Fiction Desk, Litro, Prole, Bridge House, Momaya Press, and the National Flash Fiction Day anthology “Landmarks”. Competition successes include the runner up prizes from both InkTears and Writers’ Village, and in 2014 he won the inaugural “To Hull and Back” humorous short story competition, run by author Chris Fielden.
Based in Mitcham, Surrey, he works in broadcasting.
If you enjoyed The Arrow of Cupid, leave a comment and let Mike know.
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