THE ANGEL'S HEAD: CHAPTER 11 -- CRACKS

Noj was putting tins on the shelves at the back of the shop. Dog food and corned beef. He wondered whether there would be much difference once the cans were opened. They didn't have a dog and they didn't eat beef but his Dad insisted that these were just the kind of essentials that the local shop should stock. It seemed to Noj that the only essentials that most of their customers needed were cigarettes and milk. He chuckled to himself imagining what that shop would look like.

'All right Paki? What's so funny?' Andrew from the Crescent had crept up on Noj without him noticing.

'Don't call me that.'

'Why not? It's just short for Pakistani.'

'I am not Pakistani. I'm English.'

'Your Mum and Dad aren't.'

' They’re from India. So there is no reason to use that word.'

'Alright then, “English”. Here is a joke for you: How do you stop a Paki from drowning?'

'Heard it.' Noj gripped a corned beef tin in his hand. He knew he  would get in trouble,  either for attacking a customer or for denting the tin. He didn't care. 'What do you call an Irishman with an IQ of 120?'

'Heard it,' Andrew said. 'And I'm English too.’

‘Your parents aren’t.’

‘My Ma is Irish true, but my Dad is from bloody Blackburn. That makes me English. It’s not something that I'm particularly proud of, but at least it is a Christian country.'

'What's that supposed to mean?'

'Jesus is good like that. But you can tell your fat friend that I'm not.'

'Just that in a Christian country we call what you did to that gravestone Desecration. It’s is a serious thing. You shouldn't have done it.'

Noj felt the truth of the truth of the words in his stomach and felt a heat rise in his face. All he could manage was a shrug.

'Don't worry, Jesus will forgive your trespasses.' Andrew made the sign of the Cross. He was having fun again.

'Oh hello Mrs Patel.' Andrew beamed his brightest, wonkiest smile as Noj's Mum looked over from the other end of the shop, 'just having a chat with your boy. Don't worry I won't interrupt his work.'

Mrs Patel smiled. She didn't trust that redheaded family but it was the little ones who caused the most trouble. This one, Andrew seemed very nice.

Andrew turned back to Noj. 'Yes Jesus is good like that. But you can tell your fat friend that I'm not.'

'What?'

'Tell the Fat Boy that we are going to get it. Just him.' Andrew smiled then turned.

Noj watched while Andrew chatted politely at the till, bought cigarettes, then left without looking back. He released the tight grip on the tin and put it on the shelf next to the other meat products.

***

'Okay lads, meeting in session.' The Eldest held the talking stick. It hadn't been used much for the last few meetings. The constant sense of crisis had made passing a stick around seem, well, a bit stupid. This was an ordinary Tuesday night meeting. The Eldest planned to organise a bike ride and maybe a proper game of chicken down at the Level Crossing. “Business as usual” just like he and Mouse had agreed. Before all that though, he had a few words to say about the Crescent.

'It's been two weeks now since we made our stand and took back the cemetery.' He was expecting a cheer maybe, but there was silence. He noticed Jimbo and the Youngest exchange glances. Rabbit stared ahead impassively and both Noj and Purr-man seemed particularly interested in the cracks in the concrete.

'Yes we showed them, didn't we?' There was a response now, but just a few nods and murmurings that didn't sound above the breeze in the trees. 'We've shown what I knew all along. That lot are just divvy little tramps. They are chicken too.' He paused, feeling at a loss. Maybe he wasn't putting enough effort in? Maybe the threat had rattled him more than he thought and the gang was picking up on it?

He felt hot and watery behind his eyes again and blinked furiously

He didn't feel like talking any more.

'Yeah, we showed them!' He handed the stick to Mouse and sat down. He was pleased to see them clapping at least, but nobody else seemed to want to say anything either. He felt hot and watery behind his eyes again and blinked furiously. He was ready to complain about dust in his eyes but everyone was listening to Mouse talking about the need to stay alert and organising shifts keeping an eye on the Citadel. Good practical stuff.

Later Jimbo and the Youngest were sitting on the back wall. There hadn't been a bike ride organised and the meeting had broken up earlier than usual.  Jimbo was trying to catch spiders by poking a stick into the cracks between stones.

'That was weird.' Jimbo said.

'What was?'

'That meeting. Didn't you notice how quiet everyone was?'

'Suppose. I've not been to that many.'

'Well believe me. That wasn't right.'

'Do you think the Eldest is scared?'

Jimbo shrugged, then after a pause said: 'Maybe? Or angry. Really flipping angry. He does that sometimes.'

'What?'

'Goes sort of quiet - like today.'

'Because he's angry?'

'Yeh.'

They saw Purr-man coming along the back road carrying a box of eggs in one hand and a pint of milk in the other. He was trying to wipe his nose with the back of the milk hand and the bottle was swinging wildly.

'Y'right Jimbo? Youngest?'

'A'right Purr-man?'

Purr-man put the supplies down in the moss beside the wall and sat down on the other side of Jimbo. His hands were free now to work on his nose properly.

'Guess what?'

'What?'

'Andrew Nuthall cornered me at the bingo last Wednesday. I told him to sod off and he left me alone!'

'Yeh?'

'Yeh. But he told me he was going to get the Eldest. Just him on his own!' He let out a gurgling sort of giggle.

'That's what happened to us!' The Youngest said.

'Shh.' Jimbo dug him in the ribs but Purr-man was wide-eyed.

'Did you tell the Eldest?'

'We told Mouse.' Jimbo said quietly. 'Did you?'

'No. Didn't want to upset the boss. I wish I had thought of that.' He wiped the back of his hand slowly across his nose, pausing with a sort of sawing motion when it got to the bony bit of his wrist. 'Do you think they will?'

'Eh?'

'Do you think the Crescent will get him?'

'Nah. The Avenue is a way better gang than the Crescent.'

'Yeah but they're not after the Avenue aren't they? Just the Eldest.'

'Shut up Purr-man!' Jimbo was properly angry. He pronounced the name like the insult it was. 'We're a gang and we stick together. Or are you too chicken to fight?'

'Hey, don't talk to me like that. I'm older than you and I've been in the gang longer.' Purr-man stood over them. He was much taller.

For the first time he understood why the Avenue kids made such a big deal about being in a gang

'Yeh well, why don't you act like it?' Jimbo stood up too. He didn't back away even though we had to look up to meet Purr-man's stare. It was Purr-man that stepped back. Then he stooped to pick up his milk and eggs.

'You just watch your mouth!' He said almost over the shoulder.

'I will if you keep yours shut!' Jimbo shouted after him. 'Idiot.'

The Youngest had stayed sat on the wall while the row was happening. Now he spoke too, but quietly.

'Yeah, idiot.'

***

Andrew and the Crescent were making a plan. For the first time he understood why the Avenue kids made such a big deal about being in a gang.

This stuff was great.

His brothers and the rest of the kids were gathered around him in a circle while he drew in the dry soil with a stick.

'Right then, we know he rides home from Nab Wood - that's where their posh school is, so he must come along the top road then down Slenningford.

'He doesn't use Slenningford.'

'Why not?'

'Too rough. You wouldn't want to get that bike dirty.'

'Okay then, that's even better if he comes down the Tower Road. That turns out at the main road at the bottom so he'll have to stop.'

There was a murmur of agreement. Andrew looked around and saw with deep satisfaction: everyone had their full attention focused on the drawing in the dirt. Frankie had his tongue sticking out. He always did that when he was concentrating.

'So,' he carried on scratching with the stick, 'there's big houses all down that road and we can hide a couple of us in each driveway. See? Then we can try and surround him.'

'That hill is really steep. He can go really fast down there.'

'Yeah but the road at the bottom is busy.  He'll have to take it easy so that he can stop.'

'He can stop alright. His bike's got good brakes. How will we stop?'

'We can always use the fat boy and just crash into him. Nice soft landing.' Frankie said and everyone laughed.

'We could do that,' Andrew was laughing too. 'Or we could use our brakes and the soles of our shoes as best we can.'

'This is gonna be brilliant!' Frankie shouted and started his little war dance.

Everyone laughed again and, when Andrew started to dance too, they all joined in.

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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