The Angel's Head: Chapter 10 -- Good Soldiers
The sting behind the Eldest's eyes was as strong as he could ever remember. He was sitting on the wall with Mouse and listening, trying his best not to move, or react in any way. When he felt his eyes start to water, he turned away and started to blink furiously. He couldn't shake the thought of what his Dad would say about him crying in front of a friend.
No. His Dad wouldn't say anything because he wasn't crying. At this jolt of anger his eyes dried more or less at once.
The hot sting of surprise and no, not fear, just surprise, became a cold blade of fury.
After a few seconds, the Eldest realised that Mouse had stopped talking and was waiting impassively, not quite looking at his leader. The Eldest vaguely appreciated that Mouse knew by instinct how to avoid challenging him or making him more angry than he already was. Mouse was good soldier.
‘Just me is it? Okay.’ The Eldest said slowly.
Mouse saw the pale skin and hard-set mouth and knew that he had been right not to mention that Andrew Nuttall had called him “Fat boy”.
‘That's what he said.’
‘Do you think I'm scared?’ The Eldest couldn't disguise the sharp challenge in his voice.
'No,' Mouse said. ‘But I know you are angry.’
'I'm angry too.'
'You don't show it.'
'Hey, it's alright. I know what you are like.’ The Eldest ruffled Mouse's hair probably a bit too roughly. He really felt like lashing out if he was honest, but he wasn't angry enough to be that stupid.
‘I am angry.' The Eldest said. 'I'm also....’
‘Kind of, impressed.’ The Eldest surprised himself that he'd said it out loud. ‘He's a clever little dustbin raider isn't he?’
Mouse smiled and nodded. ‘We're clever too.’ He said.
‘Yeh. Well, you are.’ The Eldest gave him a friendly punch on the arm. ‘What do we do next then eh? I don't mind them going for me but I'd prefer a bit of backup.’
‘Let's do nothing then.’
‘Yep. I'll have a word with Jimbo and the Youngest and tell them not to say anything. Then everyone stays on their guard and you just make sure you don't give the Crescent a chance to get you on your own.'
The Eldest gave an exaggerated shrug to demonstrate that he wasn't scared. Then he nodded slowly. It was a good plan.
Purr-man was at the club. Just like every Wednesday night. He was nursing the last dregs of a warm Kia Ora and picked around at the bottom of crisp packet for crumbs.
Wednesday night was Bingo night at the working men's club and Purr-man's Dad was the caller. As usual he was up on stage cranking handle of the old machine, wearing his shiny suit and big red bow tie. Sat at the tables around Purr-man were all the old ladies and some young ones too. They hovered over their game cards, each clutching at fat tipped pens which stabbed at the cards whenever one of their numbers was called.
Purr-man wasn't allowed to play. It might look fishy if the caller's own son started winning. Besides, he was too young. Usually Purr-man kept himself interested by trying to follow the flashing coloured pens and guess who was going to scream “House!” first before waddling over to Arthur the committee member, who would check over the card before handing out the prize.
Tonight though, he was staring up at his Dad without looking around. Halfway through the first game a raucous crowd had taken up a table at the back causing a wave of shushes and tuts. When Purr-man looked over, the only thing he saw was the scrabby red hair of what seems to be the whole Nuthall family. He had turned away and hunched down in the seat hoping that he wouldn't be noticed. Since then he had stared at this stage as if mesmerised by his Dad's performance.
‘Maggies then, number ten.’
‘Get her out!’
‘Five and seven, Fifty-seven.’
‘Y'right Richard?' Andrew sat beside Purr-man and pushed another Kia Ora towards him. Andrew pronounced “Richard” with an emphasis on “chard” imitating the way that his Dad would stand on the doorstep to calling him in for tea. His Dad had a loud voice even without the microphone.
‘All right.’ Richard said but made no move to take the plastic carton of drink.
‘It's alright. I haven't poisoned in it or anything. Ma saw you sitting on your own and told me to get one for you.’ He paused and took a loud slurp from his own carton.
‘Okay, ta.’ Richard said and pushed the straw through the foil lid.
‘I've got a message for the fat boy.’ Andrew said and he smiled as Purr-man choked and coughed at these words. There was a trail of juice dribbling out of his nose.
Purr-man’s Dad looked over to where they were sitting but his expression was hard to read. If he hadn't been up on stage in full view of everyone it would probably have been a scowl. Andrew gave him an apologetic sort of wave and made a show of patting Purr-man on the back to demonstrate the cause of the disturbance. Richard's Dad was already announcing the next number.
Andrew realised that he was enjoying himself. This was so much better than lashing out at people. It was like giving them a thump but in a sort of slow motion. You couldn't make a slap last for days but you could with this new plan of making them worry what was going to happen next.
'You shouldn't have done it you know?'
Purr-man’s eyes were still watering and he wasn't sure it was only because of the coughing.
'You heard. But never mind about that. Tell the fat boy...' He paused to let the audience shout “Quack Quack” after the number twenty-two had been drawn. '….tell him that he is going to get it. Nobody else. Just him. I'm going to take his head on put it back on that angel's shoulders.'
Someone called “House” and in the commotion Purr-man felt a gentle punch on his shoulder. Then Andrew went back to sit with his ma.
Purr-man took a slurp of his fresh drink. There was no way he was going to be passing this message on. He smirked and tried rolling the words “fat boy” around his own mouth. Then he repeated the most important part of the message to himself under his rattling breath: “Nobody else. Just him.” At these words he slowly calmed down.
The Nuttall brothers were all sitting against the slope in the dry earth beside the swing. They would have sat on the cemetery wall but it had just started to rain and the giant tree that the swing was tied to made the best shelter in the woods.
'They're late,' Frankie said. 'I bet the Avenue gang are never late.'
‘That’s not a problem, Andrew said. 'I don't mind everyone being late anyway. It's a gang not an army. I'm not going to start ordering my mates around. What's the point of having mates if they are scared of you?'
'Martin used to be your mate today?
'Not since he joined the fat boy’s going though?'
'And he's got a different name too.' Johnny said. 'Dumbo or something.'
'Yeah they've all got stupid names.' Frankie said. 'Except the Paki, he's already had a stupid name.'
'Ah, he's alright.' Andrew felt sad in a way. Some of the Avenue gang were kids he had played with when they were at little school. It was only when they went to different schools that they'd stopped being friends. That was when the fat boy with his flash bike had taken over.
It was just a bloody bike. Andrew didn't see why that made any difference, but he knew that it did.
'What are we having a meeting for anyway?'
'Because, Frankie, I want to talk about ways of getting the fat boy back'.
'Easy!' Frankie jumped up. 'We bash him and throw him in the canal!'
'No,' said Johnny, 'we chop his head off like you said and put it on the angel.'
'Nah,' said Andrew, 'that that would be the ugliest angel ever. She'd prefer to stay headless I'm sure.'
They all laughed.
‘The best way to get it to him? Well I'm definitely gonna bash him, but that won't last. I think we should mess up that precious bike of his too.'
'Yeah!' The little brothers shouted and jumped up and down in a sort of War dance. 'Let's definitely do that.'
The rest of the Crescent kids arrived in twos and threes, their anoraks slick with rain. After about 10 more minutes of stomping around, complaining and the shaking out of wet nylon, Andrew told them to shut up and listen.
After a few more minutes of giving Andrew abuse for acting like he was their boss or something, he was able to get a word in.
'Alright you idiots. Do you want to get them back or what?'
‘How are we supposed to get them back if you keep letting them off?'
'I've got a plan.'
'A plan!' The tone was definitely sarcastic.
'Yes a plan. ' Andrew threw a stick at George - one of the older and mouthier gang members. 'And if you just shut up a minute I'll tell you about it. Then you can shout me down if you want. Okay?’ Andrew took the murmurs and nods as an agreement and carried on.
'I've been talking to the Avenue kids one by one...'
'And leaving them alone when you should have been thumping them!'
'Will you shut up and let me finish!' He paused. 'Right. I've been telling them that it's only the fat boy that we are going to get.'
'Why not get all of them?'
'Because if they stick together there's more of them than us.'
'So, we can still take them.'
'Yeah but if we can scare the rest of them off and just get the fat kid, then that's the end of their gang. Some of those kids used to be alright. It's just the posh kids have messed things up. Do you get what I'm on about?'
'I suppose.' George shrugged then he smiled. 'I think it's a great idea. He is going to cack himself!'
Andrew smiled. 'That's exactly my plan. We get him nice and worried,' he thumped a fist into a palm, 'and then we give him something to worry about.'
'So how are we going to get him then?'
'Smash him up, then do the same to his bike!' Frankie shouted
'That means we'll have to catch him on his bike.' George looked around as if their own bikes were parked under the tree. 'No chance.'
'What about if we ambush him on the hill?' Andrew said. 'Downhill our bikes are as fast as anyone's.’ He paused. 'Mainly because they've got no fucking brakes.'
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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