It was clear from the CCTV still they showed on the news that Carl the Clock was a man – and a grubby man at that. Short, fat and wearing soiled clothes, he had lank, black greasy hair beneath a baseball cap (the peak of which obscured his face – though it was obvious he was unshaven), and looked more like a tramp than a criminal mastermind.
Yet dozens of men on Oxford Street, in the space of one day, were tricked into thinking that this very unappealing looking man was in fact a buxom, leggy very attractive woman wearing a low-cut top and mini-skirt.
And no wonder: Carl the Clock (so called because of his early days spent fencing Rolex watches) had put all of them under his spell by using “inverse” sorcery to conjure up an illusionary female guise: Basically, the uglier and grubbier he was, the more beautiful the illusion – and the spell, supplied by a criminal coven, was of such good quality that Carl, in his glamorous guise and stood in front of Burtons, was able to reel in almost every man he beckoned.
“Can I have just a minute of your time?” – but none of the men realised that this sultry voiced woman, conducting a survey on shopping habits, was taking their time under false pretences- for the survey was just a sham, a ruse to enable Carl to steal minutes with the aim of converting them all into saleable commodities, though how he managed to actually capture and keep these units of time – and turn them into something tangible – has not yet been discovered.
All that’s certain is that Carl – the, as ever, enigmatic Carl – had gone into partnership with a shadowy group of rogue time-travellers called the Time and Space Consortium, whose “clients” were the members of the gang who ended up pulling off the Dougray Mansions heist (They’d needed some extra time to effectively make their getaway and, as it turned out, they managed it with only seconds to spare directly as a result of using all the time that Carl had managed to steal that day on Oxford Street).
Well, of course, when the news broke, and the CCTV footage was released, there were many men who suddenly realised they’d been mesmerised by a squat grubby man.
There they were, being featured on the news, with faces pixellated, but the body language revealing all.
And some of them – having seen, on the news, that their time had been literally stolen – called the police. But, as one of the victims, who was interviewed, said: “What’s ironic is that detectives at the station took up so much more of my time than the suspect did.”
Each of the men, in any event, insisted that the illusion was impossible to resist – and not just the body but the voice. One of them – anonymously, in an interview with a paper – said: “That’s what I remember most – that amazingly attractive female voice: ‘Can I just have a minute of your time?’ In the end, he got five – I’d have given him an hour, if he’d wanted it.”
But even if it was generally accepted that any heterosexual man with a pulse would have probably ended up being completely seduced by Carl the Clock’s disguise, the men who’d been fooled still found themselves the butt of countless jokes in the press: After all, these men had been charmed by the beauty of what was arguably the ugliest man in Britain!
But the daftest thing about it all was that the authorities had been watching the scam as it happened. The CCTV cameras, with digital eyes unaffected by the spell, were capturing the scene without the illusion: A man stood all day at the same spot on Oxford Street, conducting a survey that clearly hadn’t been authorised, and getting always the attention of men, never women. But when two community policemen were despatched to speak to the man, they returned saying they couldn’t find “anyone answering the man’s description”! Two more policemen were then despatched but, by that time, the man/woman/illusion had quickly hopped on a bus, and was gone.
Two weeks later, though, the police, again, were close to catching Carl the Clock, but ended up botching the raid on one of his hide-outs.
This, from a newspaper report at the time:
“. . . Police raided a flat which, only the day before, had been used by Carl the Clock, and there found cases filled with boxes, each containing a one minute unit of Class-A GMT.
“They knew, from intelligence they’d received, that the units were encased in seals of solid gravity, but weren’t aware that they’d been booby trapped.
“It was triggered off by a detective constable. The seals exploded and the escaping minutes filled the room – turning what was simply a split second for the world outside into a gruelling five hour moment there in the flat.
“The loss of such vital evidence is a major set-back for the investigation. And the longer than anticipated dawn raid was made too late: It’s believed that Carl the Clock has fled abroad – intelligence suggests Switzerland – and that he’s already planning the theft of every spare second in his host country’s time zone . . .”
The Epigrams - Martial
The Naked Civil Servant – Quentin Crisp
Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee
Diary of a Madman and Other Stories – Nikolai Gogol
Tom lives in London and currently works in the House of Commons. He recently came second in 4’33″ Magazine’s 60 Second Story Contest and has completed a novel.