Being Frank by Ian Rankin

Being Frank by Ian Rankin

The story takes place in Meadows – the city in the north of Edinburgh. Two respectable men were sitting on the bench and talking to each other. They didn’t suspect that somebody could hear them. There was only a napping homeless not far from the bench. However, the men underestimated the beggar. His name was Frank and he was a famous English artist and a brother of an English poetess. Frank often came to Edinburgh in summer to be a tramp. The local people considered him a mad dreamer. Somebody liked, others hated. Everybody knew that Frank was a great chatterbox. When Frank heard the conversation of those men, he went to the local inspector Rebus. Those suspected discussed a terrorist attack. Frank told the inspector the information about a possible threat. Rebus only laughed at him and gave some coins.

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Being Frank by Ian Rankin

It wasn’t easy, being Frank.

That’s what everybody called him, when they weren’t calling him a dirty old tramp or a scrounger or a layabout. Frank, they called him. Only the people at the hostel and at the Social Security bothered with his full name: Francis Rossetti Hyslop. Rossetti, he seemed to remember, not after the painter but after his sister the poet, Christina. Most often, a person – a person in authority – would read that name from the piece of paper they were holding and then look up at Frank, not quite in disbelief, but certainly wondering how he’d come so low.

He couldn’t tell them that he was climbing higher all the time. That he preferred to live out of doors. That his face was weatherbeaten, not dirty. That a plastic bag was a convenient place to keep his possessions. He just nodded and shuffled his feet instead, the shuffle which had become his trademark.

Being Frank by Ian Rankin

‘Here he comes,’ his companions would cry. ‘Here comes The Shuffler!’ Alias Frank, alias Francis Rossetti Hyslop.

He spent much of the spring and autumn in Edinburgh. Some said he was mad, leaving in the summer months. That, after all, was when the pickings were richest. But he didn’t like to bother the tourists, and besides, summer was for travelling. He usually walked north, through Fife and into Kinross or Perthshire, setting up camp by the side of a loch or up in the hills. And when he got bored, he’d move on. He was seldom moved on by gamekeepers or the police. Some of them he knew of old, of course. But others he encountered seemed to regard him more and more as some rare species, or, as one had actually said, a ‘national monument’.

 

It was true, of course. Tramp meant to walk and that’s what tramps used to do. The term ‘gentleman of the road’ used to be accurate. But the tramp was being replaced by the beggar: young, fit men who didn’t move from the city and who were unrelenting in their search for spare change. That had never been Frank’s way. He had his regulars of course, and often he only had to sit on a bench in The Meadows, a huge grassy plain bordered by tree-lined paths, and wait for the money to appear in his lap.

That’s where he was when he heard the two men talking. It was a bright day, a lunchtime and there were few spaces to be had on the meagre supply of Meadows benches. Frank was sitting on one, arms folded, eyes closed, his legs stretched out in front of him with one foot crossed over the other. His three carrier bags were on the ground beside him, and his hat lay across his legs – not because he was hot especially, but because you never knew who might drop a coin in while you were dozing, or pretending to doze…

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