THE ANGEL'S HEAD: CHAPTER 14 -- Enemy Territory
It was getting late but the sun was still strong. The Youngest felt his pace slowing. He could feel another bead of sweat trickling down his back, where it would soak into the waistband of his pants. He was feeling sort of dizzy and definitely soggy. He was ready to turn back.
‘You all right?’ Jimbo asked.
‘Yeah, I’m fine.’
‘Not scared are you?’
‘Yeh, well…maybe you should be. You and me both.’
The two of them turned left into The Crescent and immediately the scene changed. Rusty chain link fences separated the gardens instead of green hedges. You could see all the scrubby lawns and cluttered yards right the way along. There were hardly any cars parked along the road. It was just a long dull sweep of grey pebble-dashed houses.
‘Are you scared then?’ The Youngest asked, his voice almost a whisper.
‘A bit,’ Jimbo said, ‘but I think we’ll be alright. Andrew could have got us loads of times this summer, if he’d wanted to.’
‘Like at the Canal?’
‘Exactly.’ Jimbo nodded for emphasis. He was trying to control his own nerves too. ‘Just stay a bit behind me and be ready to run if we need to, okay?’
‘Okay.’ The Youngest felt his heart beat faster and his dizziness cleared. He knew that he could run, if he needed to. He could run all the way home without stopping for breath, if he needed to. That’s where they would both go if the mission went wrong. He clenched is fists tightly and shoved them in his pockets.
The next house was an end of terrace with a door at the side. There was a motorbike parked in the yard and a big old wooden shed behind it.
‘This is the place.’ Jimbo said. ‘You ready?’
The Youngest took a deep breath:
They pushed the low gate and the Youngest wasn’t at all surprised by its rusty groan of protest. He half expected the angry barking of some massive dog, but he had never seen any of these kids walking any sort of dog, thank goodness. Maybe it was too vicious to leave a kid in charge? Don’t be stupid, he told himself, nobody keeps guard dogs around here, not even the Nutthalls. They’re just normal. Normal for the Crescent.
Jimbo had moved ahead and was already at the door. He glanced back towards the Youngest then knocked.
Rat-tat-a-tat-tat – a friendly sort of knock.
There was a jumbled thumping and the sound of a scuffle behind the door. They could make out voices:
‘No let me…’
‘Will you two pack it in!’
The door opened. Andrew stood there holding his younger brothers each by the scruff of their necks as they tried to lash out at each other. When they saw who had knocked they stopped still. Maybe they actually did growl a bit but the Youngest might have imagined that.
Andrew ginned his biggest wonkiest grin.
‘You ‘right there lads? What brings you all the way ‘round here?’
The Youngest stepped up beside Jimbo. ‘We’ve got a message.’ He said.
‘Oh, a message is it? Let’s hear it then.’
‘Sunday,’ The Youngest started, then faltered. Jimbo took over.
‘The Eldest said that he’s happy to fight you. He’ll meet at the bottom field and the winner gets the Angel’s Head. But he wants it to be on Sunday. Four o’clock by the old swings.’ The messengers looked at each other and nodded. That was everything.
Andrew carried on grinning. He let go of his brothers but they didn’t move. They did look back and forth at each other and then back at their big brother and then again at these two outsiders standing on their doorstep. Something was about to happen and they couldn’t wait to join in.
‘Sunday he says? After a big Sunday dinner I’d be surprised if the Fat Boy could even get out of a chair, let alone fight. But no, I’m sure he could manage it eventually.’ Andrew paused. ‘Sunday, Sunday, Sunday,’ he said slowly and made a show of stroking his chin as he stared off into the distance. ‘I’m afraid boys, that Sunday might be a bit of a problem.’
The Elders were sitting on the back wall. It was the Saturday before the start of school. The sky was a deep, heavy grey and the air was warm and somehow seemed thicker than usual. The Eldest could feel sweat starting to drip from his forehead and a dampness on his cheeks under his eyes. He glanced at the other two and was sort of relieved to see that they looked hot and sweaty too. Not that sweating was a sign of weakness or anything.
‘….so, the Crescent aren’t going to fight on Sunday eh?’ Mouse was thinking aloud. He had passed on the news from Jimbo and the Youngest, without mentioning Andrew’s exact words. The young lads had reported with glee a lot of details that Mouse was sure the Eldest didn’t need to hear. It didn’t help much, he was still angry.
‘And he seriously said that he can’t fight on a Sunday…’
‘…for religious reasons? Yeh.’ Mouse answered and Sparrow laughed. He stopped when the Eldest failed to join in.
‘I think he was just trying to be clever. Have a laugh you know?’
‘I don’t know,’ The Eldest said. ‘They’re Paddies aren’t they? They take that sort of thing seriously.’
‘Do they even go to church? I’ve never seen them.’
‘Different Church, Sparrow,’ Mouse said. ‘They probably go to the Catholic church in town.’
‘What do you mean “you’ve never seen them”?’ The Eldest said. ‘How often do you go to church?’
‘Just Christmas and Easter.’ Sparrow said, looking a bit embarrassed. ‘I used to go more often when I was in the Cubs. They kind of expected you to go, and the Vicar was always hanging round the Scout hut.’
‘I don’t think it’s anything to do with Religion really.’ The Eldest said. ‘There’s some other reason for him to wait until Monday.’
‘I think you’re right.’ Mouse said, and Sparrow did a sort of nod and shrug at the same time. He often did this. It was his way of agreeing, but leaving room to say later that he’d always thought the idea was rubbish.
‘Maybe it’s because they know that we’ll all be smart in our uniform?’ The Eldest voiced his fear, and when the others looked at him all confused he carried on talking, clutching around for a way of making what he’d just said sound sensible. ‘You know, so it would be us who get into trouble if grown-ups see us fighting.’ He stood up for emphasis. ‘They would know which school to report us to. That lot don’t wear uniform. They could be from anywhere.’
‘Could be.’ Mouse said but he didn’t sound like he meant it. ‘They do seem to think we look funny when we’re in uniform.’
‘Bloody tramps.’ The Eldest spat. ‘Anyway, just ‘cos the say “No fighting on a Sunday”, what’s that got to do with us? If we want to fight and they don’t? Well that’s their problem isn’t it?’ The others nodded. ‘I say we go looking for them tomorrow. It’s up to me when I beat the crap out of that little sod. Not him.’
‘That’s a brilliant idea.’ Sparrow said.
‘Yes,’ said Mouse, ‘as long as we can get them away from the Crescent.’
‘We can go to the Crescent if we want.’ Sparrow protested.
‘I’m not going down there,’ the Eldest said, ‘on principle.’
‘Not only that,’ Mouse said, ‘but we don’t want to get done by their older brothers, or their Dads….’
‘…or their Mums.’ The Eldest said. ‘Have you seen the size of some of them?’ The Eldest smiled as the other two laughed. ‘Put the word around. Tomorrow we’re going for a bike ride.’
‘After Church of course!’
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.
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