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Joe Solitary was a baby-faced guy with a sublime introversion and a deep self-destructive streak which endeared him to the denizens of Beerlight. Solitary got his name from a love of solitary confinement, which he said really got him into himself.
But this was not the first and by no means the most deep-seated of his obsessions. When he was at school Solitary had been chastised for a misbehaviour he did not commit, and while most of us would conclude from this that there is nothing to be gained from obeying the rules, Sol was more impressionable - he loved the martyr-like buzz of false accusation and in later life used every trick in the book to be arrested and imprisoned for crimes in which he had played no part whatsoever. Being black helped. Sol scanned the papers for whatever crimes had been accomplished lately and dropped by the cop den to confess.
At first he was smiling and reckless, claiming responsibility for armed robberies, auto thefts, political hostage-taking and even boxing fatalities in regard to which thousands of spectators could and would attest his innocence. The multiplicity of his allegations and his breathtaking lack of motive made the cops suspicious - even Chief of the Cops Henry Blince, who was known to the Beerlight community as the kind of cop a kid would draw.
Sol soon realised he'd blown the gaff. Everyone knew he was crazy and that he wanted to be sent down for no good reason. The clincher came when he claimed to be the ringleader of a gang which had achieved a spectacular bullion raid and the real ringleader came forward and indignantly proclaimed his own guilt, presenting photographs to prove it.
Sol was a laughing stock. He didn't even know the true facts of the crimes he'd put himself up for. He was a failure as a wrongful conviction.
Solitary decided to try a different approach. He knew he needed to lay out the scam to the cops before the story hit the headlines - maybe even before the crime had been reported. So he attempted to infiltrate the underworld and get the grapevine on whatever improving affairs were brewing up. He tried to get chummy with the real crooks, but when they saw him approaching - sad-eyed - they'd huddle and swear, telling him to take his innocence and shove it. Everybody knew that Sol was getting desperate.
It was inevitable that at some time an antidude would have the brains to recognise Solitary's value as an alibi. This person was Billy Panacea, burglar extraordinaire, known to the denizens of Beerlight as a man who could think without moving his legs. Billy's life of crime had begun in his late teens when he broke a bottle over a guy's head and was arrested for impersonating a cop. From that day he was always on the lookout for a scam which would fool the constabulary because he knew what alot of crooks didn't - that the most important part of any crime is to get away with it.
Billy Panacea approached Sol with a proposition. Sol would join Billy and the gang on a flying visit to a premises one evening - Billy and the gang would spin-dry the safe and Sol would sit and think about the holy trinity. He wouldn't even have to carry anything. It would be Sol's responsibility to slam his prints on the safe, the window and a crowbar which they'd leave behind. Then the next morning he'd go to the cops, confess everything and implicate Billy and the gang. The cops would dismiss the whole thing as a sophisticated attempt by Sol to get sent to the state pen and Billy and the gang would be cleared along with him - if Sol said they were there, nobody would believe they were within a million miles of the place. Sol wouldn't get any time, but to compensate Billy would give him a share of the proceeds. It was a daring plan, but as Billy knew and as Billy's attorney would repeatedly proclaim, 'The law is where reality goes to die.'
The raid started out like a dream. Billy's gang at this time consisted of the cracker twins Brailleface and Hangerhead. They were so easy with the dial they spent the early part of the break-in sniggering fiercely at Sol, who didn't mind. He watched from an armchair, a beatific smile splitting his features as the door swung. Billy stood at the window on the lookout, now and again turning to the twins and snapping commands like a harassed sniper. Sol pawed the premises, plastering his fingerprints over anything sturdy enough to hold them. By the end of his rounds he was looking tireder than Al Pacino and slumped into the armchair again.
'Unless I am sadly mistaken this is no time for a rest,' shouted Billy Panacea.
'Don't worry about me,' said Sol. 'I'll be alright in a minute.' But he was clearly nodding off.
This calibre of exhaustion in such a huge guy was a cause for concern among Billy and the gang, and they began to fear that they'd be collared by a friendly neighbour or patrolling cop. 'Let's get out of here Joe, or we'll be in the soup until the rattle in our dying throats relieves us.'
But Sol was asleep. Sol was snoring. Billy and the gang grabbed ahold and tried to lift him out of it but Sol was as heavy and loud as a whale that had swallowed a foghorn and Billy was getting nervous. Sol was snoring loud enough to wake up Billy's dead grandmother and right now that was the last person to whom Billy wanted to explain himself. Every attempt at waking Sol was met with cow-like inertia.
'It aint no use,' whined Billy, 'we'll have to leave him and hope he stays dumb.' Billy Panacea and the gang cleared out, leaving Sol sound asleep in a corner.
The cops had a field day. There was more evidence than they could comprehend, and god knows he had a motive. 'So you finally did it eh Joe?' said Chief Henry Blince.
'That's right Chief,' said Solitary, beaming. 'I did it alright. My prints are all over this premises.'
Sol was sentenced to twenty years, and he sat in his cell chuckling at what could be achieved with a well-measured dose of sleeping tablets.
Two weeks later Billy Panacea and the gang brought Sol's contentment to an end when, in a fit of remorse and criminal fraternity, they nitroed the jail and busted him out.
Copyright © Steve Aylett, 2007