The Angel's Head: Chapter 8 -- Near Miss

Andrew and his brothers were sitting on the wall by the rope swing. This was where the Crescent gang held their own meetings. None of the others were here now though. It was too late in the evening. The brothers were only there to keep out of the way. Ma and their big brother Conor had been having a row when they had turned up ready for tea. Once the food was on the table it had lapsed into a resentful silence, as thick as the stew on the plates. Andrew shovelled it down as fast as he could and kicked the younger ones under the table until they got the hint and did the same.

Andrew asked to leave the table without even mentioning pudding. As soon as they scuffed their chairs back, it started again.

'We're going to the swing.' he said.

'Yeh, swing.' Frankie and Johnny chorused and they were gone before their Ma had wound herself up to full volume.

This particular rope swing was easily the best in the woods. The other good one swung out over the canal but it was old now and nobody really trusted the rope anymore. This one had a blue nylon rope that still looked new. It also had a strong piece of sawn wood tied to the end. You could sit or stand on it, depending how big you were. Up in the canopy, the rope was tied round and around a really thick branch that grew out over a steep bank. Once you got a good push off, you could get thirty feet off the ground as you arced out towards the trees at the bottom of the slope. If you lost your grip then it could be a long fall, but the ground was soft and sandy down there. There were also a couple of holly bushes that would break your fall in return for a sacrifice of skin and blood. There were no big rocks or tree stumps of the kind that demanded the higher tribute: broken bones and a trip to hospital.

'What's a “hoor”?' Frankie asked.

'What?' Andrew looked at his eight-year old brother in surprise.

'That's what Ma called Conor's girlfriend. It made him really angry.'

'Oh, that. It's just a bad word that people use...'

'Andrew is a hoor-or!' Frankie shouted, trying on the word for size.

'No. Only girls can be whores you idiot.'

'Why?'It wasn't fair this time though – it was Ma that had said the word. He took a deep breathAndrew paused for a second, thinking hard. He knew Ma would go mad if she ever found out he had been telling Frankie about more bad words. It wasn't fair this time though – it was Ma that had said the word. He took a deep breath.

'it's a really bad word. It means... You know on the news, there was that woman who was murdered?'

'By the “Ripper” you mean?' Frankie had been fascinated that a real life murder had happened only a few miles away.

'Yeh, well she was a prostitute. Whore is another word for prostitute.'

'I know what a prostitute is.' Johnny said. 'It's a lady that men pay to do it to.'

'What?' Frankie's eyes were sparkling with glee. “Doing it” was his favourite subject. He could say all the words he knew that caused trouble when he was talking about Doing it. He could pretty much use all of them at once. 'Men give ladies money, so that they will do it with them?'

'Yes. Some men do. And some women let them.' Andrew did his best to be patient and sensible like a grown-up.

'You mean the man gives them money and then she lets them put their...'

'Yes!' Andrew shouted.

'Wow.' Frankie paused for a moment. He looked puzzled. 'But the woman who got murdered – the pross to shoot – she was really ugly!'

'Frankie! You don't talk like that about the dead.'

'But she was. She was.. Ow!'

Andrew had slapped him around the ear. He really didn't like it when people “spoke ill of the dead”. It seemed wrong, but mostly he wanted to shut Frankie up. Andrew didn't want to talk about it anymore because he didn't understand it either.

'I'm telling Ma!' Frankie rubbed his ear. Andrew had clipped him harder than he had meant to.

'If you do, then I'll tell her why. Then she'll probably slap you again, but a lot harder that I did.'

That did the trick. Frankie quietened down to a single sniffle. Then he let his ear go.

'Do you want to go on the swing now?'

'Not just now.'

'It's our swing now.' Johnny said.

'What do you mean?'

'Now that you've banned the Avenue from coming over here, it's only the Crescent who can use it.' Johnny was proud that his big brother could make a rule like that. It reminded him of that comic and the policeman from the future. He one who said “I am the Law!”

'I think they'll still come over here,' Andrew said.

'But you said they couldn't!'

'It's a good swing.' He said with a shrug. I don't care really, but if I actually catch them here...well that's different.' He threw a stone in that expert sideways flick that he did, and it hit the big marble obelisk gravestone with a sharp click, before spinning off into the bushes.

******

'What was that?' The Youngest whispered. He was crouched with Jimbo behind the cemetery wall, a few yards away from where the headless angel still stood. They had decided to pick their way around the outside wall rather than take the usual path. The woods out here were more overgrown than they had realised and it seemed to have taken them a long time.

'Don't know.' Jimbo said. He was whispering too but he didn't look as worried as the Youngest felt. ‘Let's just stay here a minute and listen.’

The snap of stone on marble had rung out and echoed all around the different monuments so they couldn't tell where it had come from. They were too far away to hear the Nuttall boys talking though, and after what was only a few seconds, although it felt like much longer to the Youngest, Jimbo signalled that they should move.

Jimbo peaked out over the wall. He couldn't see anyone.

'Come on.' They climbed over the wall where it had started to collapse. The bag was already open and Jimbo hung the speech bubble placard over the shoulders and then quickly stuffed the old football over the shallow stump that was all that was left of the angel's elegant neck. Most of it had broken off with the rest of the head. Jimbo took a few seconds to make sure it was level then stepped back. The two of them started to giggle.

He was over the wall so quickly that he didn't even notice the skin he left behind from his hands and his left shin

'Who's there?'

The Youngest looked at Jimbo all shock and fright. Jimbo just nodded, his legs already pushing hard into the mossy ground, ready to run.

The Youngest didn't need any telling. He ran towards the gap in the wall fast enough to leave his breath behind and blur the edges of his vision. He was over the wall so quickly that he didn't even notice the skin he left behind from his hands and his left shin.

If they had thought about it, they could have hidden nearby and checked to see who had shouted.

They hadn't thought about it.

The Youngest felt like his tongue had died and was just lolling around in his dry gasping mouth. Jimbo was pounding the path ahead of him with the sports bag swinging wildly from his shoulder as if it was struggling to make its own escape. The Youngest thought he could hear shouts behind him, but the sound of his own struggle for air and the rush of blood in his ears made it difficult to tell.

Then he was catching up, but only because Jimbo had slowed right down. The Youngest hadn't even noticed the blur of green changing as the path ran out on to the back road. As he got within touching distance, he realised and slowed down too.

'Did...' He couldn't get enough air to speak.

'Did....' The effort was too much and he fell to his knees, then to all fours, trying to force his lungs to work better somehow.

'There's nobody chasing us.' Jimbo said. He sounded calm, which was strange having seen how fast he had been running just a few seconds earlier.

'Good,' the Youngest managed then slid forwards and rolled onto his back, still gasping. 'Did you see who it was?'

Jimbo shook his head. 'It sounded like a kid, not a grown-up to me.'

The Youngest nodded. 'If it was the Nuttalls...'

'Then we'll find out soon. Come on,' Jimbo helped the Youngest back to his feet. 'Let's get back to the gang.'

'Did you see who it was?'

'I saw.'

'Who was it?'

Silence.

'Tell me!' Frankie almost squealed he was so angry.

Andrew climbed back down from the wall and walked over to the angel. He took in the red nylon hair, the daubed freckles and the wonky teeth. He closed his mouth tightly; partly self-conscious, but mostly furious. He unhooked the sign and went to grab the football. He was expecting it to be a mask over the stone head but when it moved at his slightest touch, he watched it fall then bounce slightly. He watched it with the same shock that the Youngest had felt just the few days before. Then he saw the bare rough stone, where the neck had broken, and his anger deepened.

He looked at the perfect hands clasped in prayer, just like the blue-robed statue of the Holy Mother at Church. He blinked back the tears that were forming and his fury broke.

'Frankie, Johnny,' he spoke slowly and deliberately to his brothers and they waited. Their eyes were bright too. 'We are going to get those Avenue bastards.'

More about the author

About the author

Russell McAlpine abandoned his polymath ambitions to concentrate on writing and living a quiet life on the South Coast.

The Angel’s Head is his second novel.

He is also working on the screen play of a low budget zombie movie for children and writes poetry that will go to grave with him.

He spends the rest of his spare time watching the horizon.

Follow Russell on Twitter.

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