The Angel’s Head: Chapter 3 - Council of War

‘There’s a meeting today. The Elders called it this morning.’ Jimbo was leaning out over a branch as he spoke.

‘What?’ The Youngest hadn’t been listening. He was watching the thin shafts of sunlight breaking through the canopy just above him.

‘A meeting. Today.’

‘Can we tell them I made the climb? That I got up here?’

‘Don’t see why not.’ Jimbo shrugged, then the blank face broke into his broad, lopsided grin and he punched the Youngest fairly lightly on the arm, ‘but I think they must’ve called the meeting for something serious. We don’t usually have meetings the same day they are called.

‘Wonder what it’s about?’ ‘We’ll have to wait and find out. It’s after tea. Make sure that you can come out then. We’re meeting in the Eldest’s yard.’

‘Not up here?’

‘Nah, it’s too crowded with everyone up here. This place is for emergencies.’

‘Like a war?’

‘Exactly.’

***

The Eldest picked up the stick. That meant that it was time. He didn’t stand up or call for quiet. The stick did the job for him. To the Eldest, gang meetings were like conducting an ancient ritual. That was why he had copied the ceremony after reading about a Red Indian tribe. The holder of the talking stick had the right to speak. At the moment, the stick was just a bit of Birch branch that he had stripped of bark using his Dad’s draw knife. He had asked permission and was obsessively careful of course. One day soon he might get some proper hardwood and try painting and carving it with nice intricate patterns like he had seen in the book.

Mouse and Sparrow sat at either side of the Eldest. As a three they were called “The Elders”. It was the Elders that made all the decisions. These meetings were to make sure that the rest of the gang knew what was going on and what they had to do. The gang were sat on the paving stones of the yard in a semi-circle across from the Elders who sat on a low wall. Between the two groups was a large flower pot filled with soil but no plant.

The Eldest noticed that the new kid was here but didn’t say anything to him. He was pleased to see him, even if he was too little to be of much use. But then again, he was Jimbo’s friend and Jimbo was probably the gang’s best soldier. Even though he was still small, he was tough. The other thing about Jimbo was that his Dad kept shotguns in his wardrobe. Two real-live guns propped up behind some camouflage hunting gear. Jimbo knew where the cartridges were too, but they were locked up.

As well as Jimbo and the new kid, there were three others: Purr-man, Noj and Rabbit:

Purr-man was the same age as the Elders but not so important because he was kind of soft and clumsy. He was always full of snot too and that was why he always had to breathe through his mouth.

Rabbit was a year younger with a mess of blond hair and goofy teeth. He was really more into football than the gang, but he lived right in the middle of the Avenue so if he wanted to have friends, he couldn’t really avoid it.

None of the Crescent are allowed up here, especially those ginger tramps the Nuttalls. They’re nasty little gits

Noj was a chubby Indian kid, the same age as Jimbo. He lived on the corner above the shop. Even though he lived half way between the Avenue and the Crescent, he couldn’t be in the Crescent gang because they were the one’s who called him Paki. Noj was popular with the gang because he always had sweets. He was clever too, not weird clever like Mouse, just ordinary school clever. He also did funny impressions. He could do a great James Bond, which always sounded a bit strange coming from a ten year-old brown kid.

Everyone watched the Eldest, waiting for him to speak. He knew that he had their attention and if he felt a bit nervous, he didn’t show it.

‘Right lads, there’s no agenda today; just one item.’ He left a pause while everyone exchanged curious looks. Sparrow looked at the ground, Mouse stared into the distance.

‘The Crescent have been coming up here, and we don’t like it.’ He waited for everyone to murmur and growl, then continued. ‘So, as of today, they’re not allowed.’ He pushed the stick hard into the soil of the empty pot.

‘But what...’

‘Wait for the Stick!’ Mouse hissed at Purr-man. Then he pulled the stick out of the soil. Purr-man held out his hand but Mouse ignored it.

‘The Elders have agreed. None of the Crescent are allowed up here, especially those ginger tramps the Nuttalls. They’re nasty little gits and they don’t go to our school. The only reason they’ve got to come up here is thieving.’ There were grunts and growls of agreement. Purr-man reached for the stick again but Mouse passed it to Sparrow.

‘Noj, we need you to pass the message on okay?’

Noj shrugged.

‘Any questions?’

Purr-man’s hand went straight up and Sparrow handed the stick over.

‘What about Conor?’ Conor was the oldest of the Nuttall kids, everyone was used to seeing him tearing around on his big Suzuki motorbike. ‘He’s been in prison.’

The Eldest just snorted, and Mouse took back the stick.

‘Yeh well, we can’t do anything about grown-ups.’

‘But if he parks that heap of a bike up here on the Avenue, we can always slash his tyres.’ The Eldest said, nodding in a slow rhythm to emphasise that he was serious. He pretended to ignore the gasps all around him and kept his face set firm, even though he was desperate to smile at the reaction he was getting. Could they really be brave enough to do something like that?

‘As long as he doesn’t catch us actually doing it, we’d be okay. And anyway; he can’t beat up kids.’

‘But his brothers can.’

‘Not if we stick together.’ The Eldest had the stick again and held it over his head like a sword salute. ‘If it’s one-against-one I can take on any of them scruffs, as long as you all back me up.’ He looked around.

‘Are you with me?’

‘Yes!’

‘Together then?’

‘Ye-es!’

***

Noj held the meeting stick in two hands across his body as if he was getting ready to defend himself - like Robin Hood and Little John about to battle with Quarter Staffs.

‘I talked to Nuttall,’ he was saying.

‘Which one?’ ‘Johnny – one the little ones.’

‘That was lucky.’ The Eldest said with a grin.

‘Yeh,’ Noj smiled too. ‘He comes in most often. I didn’t mind giving him the message. He’s only about two foot tall. He’s got a nasty mouth, but a runt like him wouldn’t start anything on his own.’

‘So what did he say?’

‘He said that he was going to get his big brothers on to me. And that I smelled of curry.’ The others tried to keep their faces straight. It was the sort of thing that everyone used to say, but not since Noj had joined the gang. He was one of them now, so they didn’t use the kind of words that Mouse said were “Bigoted”. It felt good to be on Noj’s side when no one else was.

‘Did he come back with a reply?’ The Eldest asked.

‘Oh yes.’ Noj rolled his eyes and a few of the gang laughed. ‘He came back later to buy cigs for his Mum. That’s when he said he had a message from his brothers.’ There was a pause as Noj looked around. Everyone waited for more.

The Youngest felt excited. This was serious stuff. Exactly what he thought being in a gang would be like.

‘They say that the Avenue isn’t allowed past the shop on their side...’

‘Good.’ The Eldest spat. ‘I wouldn’t want to go down there anyway.’

‘...or past the wall of the cemetery. That’s out of bounds to anyone from the Ave. He said that they would beat up anyone who crossed those boundaries.’ Noj stuffed the stick into the soil to show that he had no more to say and sat back down.

He wasn’t all that angry really, but that’s what it seemed you had to do - go along with everyone else

There was a general chatter. Everyone abandoned the rule of the stick at once. The Youngest listened as they shouted about how there was no way down to the canal or the river without going through the cemetery. Besides, it one of the best places to hang around. Jimbo was angry, shouting about how the best rope swing in the woods was in the part that was now banned.

Then the Eldest picked up the stick and the talk died down, but more slowly than usual.

‘Well now, well now,’ the Eldest paused and looked over to where the Crescent started. ‘We barred them tramps from the Avenue. That was all. If they’d have said that the Crescent was out of bounds, then that would have been fair enough. We couldn’t have complained about that. Could we?’ There was a general shake of heads and murmuring of “no”.

‘But what they’re saying, well it’s the same as saying that they can order us around, same as saying that they can beat us in a fight.’ His voice was getting steadily louder. Everyone else was starting to shout too. It made the Youngest feel nervous.

‘Same as saying that we’re soft!’ There were howls of outrage now. Even the Youngest was making angry boo noises. He wasn’t sure why, he wasn’t all that angry really, but that’s what it seemed you had to do - go along with everyone else.

The Eldest stood up and began waving the stick back and forth over his head like he was shipwrecked and signalling. The angry shouts faded.

There was silence by the time the Eldest held the stick across his chest. Not like Noj held it at the last meeting. The Eldest held the stick like a rifle. Then he spoke slowly:

‘There’s no way we are staying out of the cemetery. We’re going to go there right now. All of us. And we’re going to make sure they know we’ve been there.’

‘How?’ Purr-man asked.

‘We’ll make our mark somehow.’

‘What if they are waiting for us?’ The Eldest just smiled at the question. Then he smacked the stick hard into his left hand one, two, three, four and then the Elders joined in with Sparrow and Mouse stamping out the same rhythm. Gradually everyone else joined in and it was impossible to know who was driving, but the rhythm got faster and faster.

Then the Eldest screamed out his best war cry and there was uproar. The Youngest was screaming too and didn’t even care about next door’s dog barking or old Mrs Hopkinson threatening to call the police.

If there was going to be a war, they were ready.

Chapter 4

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