THE ANGEL'S HEAD: CHAPTER 20 -- Dropping It
The whole of the Crescent Gang gathered at the Nuttall's house. Andrew greeted each of them with a solemn handshake while his younger brothers looked on. They were quiet and serious. Andrew had made sure they would be.
Together they all made their way across the main road and up the short hill to the Avenue. They walked slowly and in silence, not exactly in procession, but close. Then they followed the narrow rutted snicket that led up past the Turner's house onto the back road. That was where Mouse had said to meet - under their tree house. Mouse had called it something else but Andrew didn't know what he was talking about until he'd said tree house. There wasn't much to it, just a few planks and some chicken wire, but it was really high up and that was quite impressive.
The Avenue kids were all there waiting. All of them except Robert, he was still at the hospital, doing much better everyone was saying. They nodded as the Crescent approached, they looked serious. Andrew looked around at his own gang. They held the same expression. Even Frankie was trying, only the slight twitch of his eyes gave away the excitement he was feeling.
'Alright Mouse?' Andrew said. It was the only one of these stupid nicknames that he could remember.
'Alright Andrew.' Mouse nodded. Then there was a pause. Frankie started to fidget.
'So, how are we going to do this?'
'Like the Eldest said.'
'Robert.' Mouse nodded to Jimbo and the Youngest and they delved into a big green canvas bag. There was a grunt of effort and Jimbo straightened up with something heavy held against his chest by crossed forearms.
'It's yours now.' Mouse said and stood aside to let Jimbo past. He approached Andrew slowly.
'Take it then.' Jimbo said between clenched teeth. 'Watch it though - don't drop it.'
Andrew held his arms out and Jimbo stepped in closer. It was as if they were hugging. Then Jimbo stepped away and it was Andrew carrying the heavy load.
The Crescent kids gathered around Andrew. They stared with the same hushed awe that had settled over the Avenue all those weeks ago. Back when they had first seen the beautiful pale face lying in the dirt. There were lots other statues in the cemetery, but there was something special about the angel's head. Maybe it was only because she was no longer attached to her shoulders. It made the beauty seem more precious somehow.
'Wow,' Frankie said. 'It's ours now.'
'Yeah,' Johnny said, 'we've got the Angel's Head!'
'Shut up.' Andrew cut his brothers off. 'No more. Okay? This has caused enough trouble.'
'So, what are you going to do with her?' Mouse asked.
Andrew grunted as he lifted the stone to his shoulder. He stood for a moment, adjusting the weight to get his balance. 'Come with us and I'll show you.'
Mouse looked at the Crescent kids; they all seemed mystified. Then he looked around at his own gang. They shrugged, they frowned, and when Mouse nodded, they nodded too.
Together the Avenue and the Crescent formed a much bigger, straggling sort of procession behind Andrew, who seemed to have no problem coping with the weight of an extra head on his shoulder.
Without really thinking about it, Jimbo and the Youngest fell into step with Frankie and Johnny just behind Mouse and Sparrow, who were walking with Andrew. Every now and then, one of them would offer to carry the head and each time, Andrew refused.
'Where's he going? Frankie asked his brother.
'Don't know.' Johnny shrugged.
'We're heading to the phone box.' Jimbo said.
'Oh no,' Frankie almost wailed, 'I don't want to go there ever again.'
But Andrew crossed the road before they got to that junction. If they had gone to the phone box, they would have seen that the kerb stone and gutter had been scrubbed and bleached so that they were paler than the rest of the road.
They turned down towards the bridge that went over to railway line.
'Must be going to the canal,' the Youngest said, 'or the river?'
' 'suppose,' said Frankie. 'But you never know with Andrew.'
'He's alright, your brother.' Jimbo said.
'He's the best!' Frankie said, and Johnny nodded fiercely, so much so he was jumping up and down.
'Don't call me that!'
'Sorry,' Johnny said, 'I don't know what else to call you.'
'Yeh,' Frankie said, 'what does your gang call you?'
'I don't like that either.'
'Maybe we should think of something now?' Frankie suggested.
'How about "Two Fists?" Johnny said with a laugh. 'You really got us in the playground that time.'
'Yeah?' The Youngest was surprised, and a bit delighted. 'Sorry about that.'
''S'aright,' Frankie said. 'Andrew is always telling us not to wind people up. We asked for it.'
The Youngest shrugged. He noticed Jimbo grinning. They were both enjoying this.
'You could call me Russ?' The Youngest said. 'That is my name.'
'Nah,' Johnny said. 'That doesn't suit you at all.' The four of them laughed.
'Anyway,' Jimbo said, 'people can't choose their own nickname. That'd be stupid.'
'Yeah,' said Frankie, 'then everyone would end up calling themselves "Killer" and stupid stuff like that.'
'It's the Eldest's job to give me a gang nickname.' The Youngest said, then wished that he hadn't. It squashed the fun they were having instantly.
There was a long pause, they could hear some of the others chatting quietly. Then Johnny took a deep breath and sighed. Then he said: 'Well, that can be his first job when he gets out of that place, can't it?' There was a chorus of "yeahs" and the Youngest felt better.
At the front of the procession, Andrew and Mouse were talking about the Avenue gang. Mouse had been explaining a bit of the history. Andrew was pretending the weight wasn't getting to him.
'So Robert didn't start it?'
'No, he joined as "The Youngest" like everyone else. I don't know who was "Eldest" back then. There have been three Eldests since I was Youngest.
'It seems a bit weird that the leader is just the next one is oldest.' Andrew said, and Mouse smiled and nodded.
'Yep, it's worked out alright, but only so far.' He lowered his voice. 'There might have to be a rule change,' then quieter still, 'Nobody is going to want Purr-man in charge.'
'Which one is Purr-man?'
'Oh,' Andrew said and grinned. 'But I don't reckon Robert is going to leave any time soon. Seems to me, he loves this stuff.'
'Yep.' Mouse said simply.
By now they had crossed the railway bridge and were close to the canal.
'So where are we going?'
'To the lock,' Andrew shifted the weight on his shoulder, 'that's where it's deepest.'
'Oh, okay.' Mouse said. He understood. And for the first time since that beautiful head had left its shoulders, he felt the knot of guilt unwind. Just slightly.'
'I was going to bury it,' Andrew said, 'but I would have to do that on my own, otherwise...'
'...someone might just dig it up again?'
'Exactly. This way, well, everyone can see. They can see that it's over.'
'Nothing left to fight over, either.'
'For now.' Andrew said and a grin flickered on his serious, earnest face. He caught Mouse's eye and they both broke into a laugh.
'What are you two giggling about?' Frankie was trying to walk in line with them.
'We're negotiating.' Andrew said and then he was laughing even harder.
'Negotiating.' Andrew sniffed back to just a chuckle. Frankie looked blank. 'You know? Discussing, talking about what happens next. Like at the end of a war.'
'Oh you mean a peace treaty? I've heard of those.’
'Yes, a peace treaty. That's it exactly.' Andrew patted his brother on the shoulder with his free hand.
'That doesn't sound like something to laugh about.'
'No, it doesn't, does it?' Andrew stifled another giggle. Then he just had to. He put the Angel's head down carefully on the grass and stood shaking in a fit of laughter.
By the time he had recovered, everyone had gathered around him. Some of them looked confused, others curious. Frankie and Johnny were annoyed. If someone was laughing they wanted to know why so that they could join in the joke.
'Okay lads,' Andrew crouched back on his haunches and straightened his face. 'Sorry about that.' He picked up the stone with a grunt. 'Not far now. Then we're going to have a bit of a ceremony.'
'But where are we going?'
The canal was oily green and still, but not silent. There was a gentle waterfall rush from the sluice stream that gurgled past, hidden by nettles and brambles. Jets of water hissed through gaps in the old lock gates bubbling though the water below.
The lock was empty. That's how the boatmen described it but there was plenty of water in there - just at a much lower level than the other side of the gate. Looking down from the footbridge was like standing over a giant grave. That's how it always seemed to Andrew and that's why he chose this place. He stood in the middle of the footbridge with Mouse. The rest of the two gangs were standing on either side. They were in mixed groups and anyone passing would just have seen a bunch of kids, probably up to mischief.
'Right everyone, I know there's been a lot of trouble between us,' nods and murmurs, 'and I don't care who is to blame anymore. This lady..' he raised the Angel slightly, 'well, it definitely wasn't her fault, but she's probably made it worse.'
The Youngest looked over at Jimbo. Jimbo stared straight ahead.
'Anyway. I don't know.' He turned to Mouse. 'Have you got anything to say?'
'Nah, I think you've said it.'
'Well this seems like the right thing to do so here goes. Andrew started to lean forward.
'Hang on.' Jimbo shouted. 'Can I say something?'
'Sure.' Andrew stepped back from the rail.
'I just want to say sorry to,' he paused to pull a scrap of paper from his pocket, '...sorry to Mister... and Missus Oliver. It was their grave that had the angel over it.'
'Hey,' Mouse said, 'It was all of us you know? Not just you.'
'I know.' Jimbo said, 'but still.'
'Nice one.' Andrew said. 'Right then: Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, big heavy stone to water.'
He pushed the Angel's head outwards from his shoulder with a grunt. Far too heavy to go up in the air, it traced a curve outwards, tumbling in slow motion for the second time.
Then, a deep, loud sploosh.
There was hardly any splash, just a tightly packed eruption of bubbles in the dark water. Then it was gone.
'Amen.' Andrew shouted and everyone cheered and clapped.
'What shall we do now?' Frankie tugged at his sleeve. His attention had already wandered.
Andrew looked around at everyone, taking in the Crescent and the Avenue kids all standing together.
'I reckon there's enough of us here for a really ace game of Kick the Can.'
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