"Bull shit," said Big Betty as she snatched the
remains of the roll-up from Richard's smoke stained
fingers. "If bull shit was an Olympic event I'm sure
you'd make everyone real proud of you."
"No, it's true. People don't see what's really
happening," Richard said each word slowly like it
was important. He got back to struggling with the
buttons of his ill-fitting brown warehouse coat before
"People only see what they expect to see. Just watch
me. I'll walk right through the main door. I'll go
anywhere I want to and carry our next pay packet
back out with me. No one will see me. They'll only
see a workman in a brown coat. Nobody ever pays
any attention to a workman in a brown coat. They're
all far too important for that."
Good luck, loser, though Betty. But she waved as she
watched Richard stride confidently up the steps of the
He was soon in a long corridor eyeing the doors like
a hunter stalking an unsuspecting prey. One looked
like a kitchen. Perhaps a nice microwave, he thought
as he swung the door open. He strode quickly inside,
careful to act as if he owned the place to avoid
But he did attract attention.
The sign on the door of the girl's toilet still lay where
it had fallen off, weeks before. No one had been in a
hurry to put it back up. After all, everyone knew what
The catcalls he got from the girls were quite enough
to cause Richard to lose the cool that was the
camouflage that kept him safe. He found himself
running back down the corridor. "Stop him,"
someone shouted as he turned a corner and ran into
an old lecturer.
As he tried to push past the old man, he found
himself in a choke hold, expertly applied from
behind. Struggling for breath he used all his strength
to loosen the arm across his throat just long enough
to sink his teeth into the wrist. He drew blood, salty
and warm. It was about the last thing he noticed for a
while for the hold was on again and his airway was
Richard came round coughing on the floor.
"We could give him a good kicking," said one of the
girls as they crowded around enthusiastically.
Richard quickly curled himself up into a defensive
huddle on the ground. He knew well enough what a
good kicking was and this was a big girl with big
boots and lots of friends.
"No," said the old lecturer. "Let's just wait for the
police to come and take him away. They'll know what
Big Betty watched from a discrete distance as
Richard was led to the police van. She then went
back to wait alone in the cheap apartment they
Richard knew what to expect at the police station. He
had been there before and could put on a good show
of taking it all in his stride. It was the waiting he did
not like, the waiting and not knowing.
There were about half a dozen in the holding cell.
Time passed as new arrivals were brought in and
others were taken down the hall for photographing,
fingerprinting, paperwork, the usual.
Richard watched a spider working on its web high in
the corner. When it finally caught an insect he went
over and squashed it. Daylight disappeared in the
little window high up on the end wall. Still no one
came for Richard. He reckoned he hadn't done
anything he could actually be charged with. He could
easily talk his way out of being in the college by
saying something about checking out what courses
were available. It wasn't a crime to go through an
unmarked door. What's more, the old lecturer had
grabbed him and not the other way round. So why
was he being held so long? Richard now mostly
watched the cell door like there was something on the
other side, something that shouldn't be there.
Finally, the sergeant himself came for Richard. But,
they didn't go down the hall where the others went.
They went instead to a cold little room with a red
cross on the door and a smell of old disinfectant
about it. A man in a white coat and rubber gloves was
waiting with a stainless steel dish, part covered with a
"House rules," said the sergeant. "You need an HIV
test on account of the blood when you bit the old
"It's OK," said Richard with a grin. "Please tell the
old guy it's OK. I don't do drugs or anything like that.
I'm clean. Tell the old guy not to worry."
The sergeant and his colleague looked at each other
and shuffled uncomfortably.
"I'm really sorry," said the sergeant. "But it's you
we're worried about. The old guy is an AIDS patient.
Apparently he got it overseas. Something to do with a
bad blood transfusion."
After taking and testing a urine sample, they
explained it was negative but inconclusive. Richard
would have to sign himself into any local clinic for a
follow up HIV blood test in six months time. That's
how long he would have to wait to be sure if the
antibodies were present, or not, in his bloodstream.
"The good news is you're not being charged," said the
sergeant with a big smile.
Richard went home and told Big Betty who left him
the next day. She went on to tell all their friends that
Richard probably had AIDS.
Throughout every long day of the six months that
Richard waited for his follow-up HIV test, he never
did discover that the lecturer he bit was in perfect
health. Or that the old man had a son with a wicked
sense of humour who worked as a police sergeant in
the local station.
The Bite was published in
The Straitjackets Magazine