“Don’t try to guess the weight,” says Fish Man. “A pound or a stone, it’ll be your arm that becomes tired in the end. The important thing is knowing when to give up the weight. The weight will slow you down.”
The lad considered this awhile and the smoke hung in the room and Burning Spear rumbled in the speakers. The lad perused the walls and here and there he slides out a book just a few inches and moves on. After some time he sits back down on the sofa and pulls the belt from his dirty jeans. It is a long thin belt of brown leather with an S-buckle. From behind the lapel of his jacket he produces a large safety pin and with some trouble he gathers up a bunch of his oversized jeans at the front and stabs the pin through. Nappy style. He clasps it back together again, stands up, places the belt on the carpet and starts to collect all the books that he has selected from the shelves. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. He piles them roughly on the floor. 6, 7, 8, 9. Eventually he squats back down on the carpet and lays out the belt flat on the floor. He selects the books, largest first, and begins to make a pile of them over the laid out belt. After awhile he scoops up the ends of the belt and tries to buckle it up around the books. But there are one or two too many, the pile is a little fat. He has run right out of holes.
“Perhaps a little greedy,” says the lad. But Fish Man says, no. This is not the case. He magics a knife and kneels down on the carpet with the lad. Fish Man holds one end of the belt, lays it out on the carpet and skewers the knife tip through the leather with a series of grunts. He lays the knife back on to the table and with a smile declares something foreign that sounds like magic. The lad buckles the belt around the books, stands and lifts the belted pile up, his fingers slid between the top book cover and the belt leather. A dozen books. Fish Man is beaming. He likes this.
They say their goodbyes and out on the Streatham High Road the lad sticks out his thumb and up pulls a car and within the hour he is free of the confines of London. By dawn it’s Southampton and this where the ride ends. He loosens his belt, slides out the top book. It’s a dog-eared paperback called The Hollow Men by John Dickson Carr. He puts it on the dash and says thanks for the ride and please accept this as I have no money.