“Come on,” Brian said, elbowing him in the side. “Enough of that, let’s get your baccy and sort some poverty.”
“Sort some poverty.” Neil chuckled lowly as they strode towards the orange, neon-lit entrance to the superstore. “Wonder how many times that sentence has been said out loud? Well, by anyone but Bono. Hold on.” He pointed at a bundle of tattered rags by the door, sat upright in the form of a dishevelled man. “We might be in luck.”
The homeless man stared at them suspiciously as they approached with smiles on their faces.
“And what do you two want?” he growled, stroking the sleeping Staffordshire bull terrier by his side.
“Charmed, I’m sure,” Brian replied. “Can’t imagine business is good with an attitude like that?”
“Hmph.” The man snorted. “Usually when people approach me with shit-eating grins like that on their faces, it’s cos they’re about to rob me.”
“Rob you?” Brian eyed the man dubiously, all unkempt beard, dirty clothes, a knackered old backpack full of whatever worldly possessions laying by his side. Heroin, he thought. Or perhaps a bottle of White Lightning. “What on earth would they rob you of? I’d say shoes, but you’re not wearing any.”
“You’d be surprised. People think we make bank doing this.”
“Who thinks that?”
“Right, okay. And how much do you make in a day exactly?”
Eyes narrowed again.
“Why? You thinking of robbing me?”
Brian rolled his eyes.
“We’ve already been over this, no-one in their right minds would rob you.”
“I don’t know if you’re in your right minds or not, do I?”
“There ya go, then.”
“Look, I’m trying to be helpful here, okay? Do my good deed for the day, and all that.” He reached for his wallet, keen to earn some brownie points with the Olympus squad, but starting to wonder whether having an angry god on his tail might be preferable to this awkwardness. Skimming out a handful of notes, he continued. “How much does a typical day of begging earn you? £10? £20?”
The beggar eyed the notes, licking his lips.
“Between fifty and a hundred, most days, I’d say.”
“Hundred bloody quid?” Brian’s eyes narrowed so deeply with scepticism he could barely see. “Really? You’ll have me believe that sitting out on Penzance streets holding a cup in front of you can net you a hundred quid a day? I’m in the wrong job! No wonder you’re scared of being mugged.”
“It’s the dog,” the man nodded, patting the snoring bundle of mange beside him. “People like dogs, they do.”
“Aye, people like dogs. People also like money, preferably remaining in their own pocket. No homeless person is earning a hundred quid a day, cos if there were, they wouldn’t need to be bloody homeless, would they?”
“Fif…?” Brian shook his head, glancing to a grinning Neil at his side. Neil seemed to thrive off uncomfortable situations, the awkwardness running off him like water from a duck’s back, seeing only the humour in them. Brian, on the other hand, felt every uncomfortable moment. Which was odd – after so many awkward encounters in his life, he should have been immune to it by now. Like that Roman emperor who tried to poison himself. “He’s bartering with me, Neil. I could have walked on by, not giving him time of day, and now he’s bartering as to how much money I give him.”
“You’re the one that asked how much I earn,” the tramp protested. “Not my fault you don’t believe it.”
“I don’t believe it cos it’s bollocks.”
“Fifty quid, take it or leave it.”
“Take or leave what? I’m giving you money, not buying something. Though at this moment, I’d gladly give a hundred quid just to extricate myself from this conversation.”
“Alright then, a hundred quid it is.”
“Wait, no, I didn’t mean…”
“Bri.” Neil shaking his head, trying his hardest not to laugh. “Remember what’s at stake, yeah? The mission? Just give the man some money, it might be the first Labour over and done with. Also, I’m gagging for a fag, and I can’t roll one without any baccy, can I?”
“Fine.” Brian scowled down at the beggar, handing over some notes. “Fifty quid, not a bloody hundred. Be thankful I’m feeling in a charitable mood today.”
“Thanks, mate!” the man beamed, revealing approximately fifty percent of the teeth he’d started out life with. “Made my day, that has.”
“Aye, I bloody bet it has. Don’t go spending it on drink and drugs, will ya?”
The beggar’s smile widened, funnily enough revealing no more teeth.
“I can’t promise that.”
“Go on,” Neil prompted Brian, pointing at his phone. “You gonna check? Task complete, or what?”
Brian nodded, taking his phone out of his pocket and bringing up the app.
“Labour One,” he read out. “Incomplete. Fuck.” He stuffed the phone angrily back in his jeans pocket. “Well, that was a waste of money and time, wasn’t it?”
“Not for me,” the beggar chuckled. “Also, if you’re going in to get baccy anyway, you mind getting me some? Fifty gram of Amber Leaf’d see me right.”
“Get some yaself, you cheeky sod. I know full well you’ve got fifty quid in your pocket!”
“Yeah, but that’s for drugs.”