The first punch took me by surprise, the second I saw coming but I could do nothing about. By the time I hit the floor the kicks had started, each one aimed with precision on my temples. Curl into a ball, curl into a ball. I kept telling myself but it was too late, my senses were going. I knew I was bleeding but I didn’t know where from. The last thing I remember before I passed out was the fire; the bastards had set me alight. For fucks sake. My Mam is going to kill me.
I heard the bells as I was coming round, the Police? The Fire Brigade? No, I remembered, the dinner bell, dinnertime’s over.
“GOD, I HATE SCHOOL!”
Foolishly I had thought that Kev would have forgiven me. For a brief moment at St Christopher’s we had been friends. Then I threw it all away by setting fire to the bushes. It was all an accident but there was no reasoning with Kevin Davison. From day one at St Patrick’s I had been public enemy number one. We had all mistakenly thought that Kevin Davison was going to Maplewood, the special school over the road. We were wrong. Kev’s Dad had died during the summer and I think the authorities must have taken pity on him. The rumours had been flying around but Elvis had heard his Mam telling the woman next door the story. The whole thing did his reputation no harm whatsoever.
I thought about the meeting in the Whistle. Why had all the main faces in the shady, Sunderland underworld got together now? All except Davison that is. It bothered me that they could be planning something that could ruin my plans. I needed to speak to Ingham to find out what they were planning. I took his business card out of my wallet and rang the number. A young female answered.
“Outlaw Entertainments, how can I help?” I smiled when I noticed the name of his company.
“Could I speak to Mr Ingham please?”
“Who should I say is calling?”
“I’m not sure if he’s in, he’s a very busy man,” she obviously didn’t recognise the name and was trained to treat anyone she didn’t know with suspicion.
“I appreciate that he’s busy. Would you mind checking anyway please?”
The phone went silent for a moment then a voice appeared on the other end.
“Pete, how are you doing mate?” He then proceeded to have a side conversation with his secretary. “This is the man who saved the bairn’s life. Don’t ever put him on hold again.” I heard her apologise in the background.
“Sorry about that Pete, that’s what happens when you give barmaids a bit of responsibility. What can I do for you?”
“Look it doesn’t matter if you’re busy.”
“I’m never too busy for you. What are you after?”
“I was planning on going out for a spot of lunch. I’m a bit out of touch with the restaurant scene in Sunderland and I was wondering if you could recommend anywhere.”
“Why don’t you come over to the club at lunchtime? I’ll show you around then take you out for dinner.”
“Don’t expect much of the club mind. It’s a bit of a dump during the daytime. About one suit you?”
“See you then.”
“What do you reckon,” I asked Elvis, “hearts and flowers or something funny?”
“You’re wasting your time. She’ll never look at you.”
“She smiled at me the other day,” I argued.
“She didn’t smile at you, she was laughing at you; exactly the same as everybody else.”
Elvis didn’t understand. Claire Pearson felt exactly the same about me as I felt about her. This Valentine’s card was going to cement our relationship.
“Love or laughs, what do you think a girl goes for?”
Elvis shook his head.
“If you must get one, get something funny. Girls like a laugh.”
I ignored him and bought the soppiest card I could find.
I’d been at St Patrick’s for nearly four months now. I was still trying to find my feet and Kevin Davison wasn’t making it easy for me but most other people seemed to be leaving me alone. Everyone was giving out Valentine’s cards, it seemed like the thing to do at the time. If I started going out with Claire I would be accepted by everyone in the class.
“Can you give this to Claire please?”
I handed the card over to Karen Walker. She was Claire’s best friend and sat next to her. The message read ‘All my love P’. I wanted to be a bit mysterious but not too much. After all I was the only lad in my class whose name began with a P except for Paul ‘Elvis’ Morris and he was far too immature to have an interest in girls. Claire would definitely know who it was from.
“Are you sure you want to give this to Claire?” asked Karen.
“Of course,” I replied.
“Okay then, if you’re sure.”
I’d fancied Claire since St Christopher’s but hadn’t quite built up the courage to tell her. She was beautiful, a perfect specimen. I knew that I was taking a big risk but Claire was always nice to me. I thought I could be in with a chance.
How wrong could I be? She waited till the class was full before standing up and tearing the card up right in front of my eyes.
“Why on earth did you think I would want a card from you?” Everyone was pissing themselves by now, laughing at me. It was the first and last valentine’s card I ever sent.
Ingham had been right about the club. I rang the buzzer on the main entrance and a young girl in shorts and T-shirt opened the door. There was a strong smell of bleach where the cleaner had sluiced the steps down to get rid of the smell of vomit and piss. She took me up stairs and we walked across the dance floor to the back of the club. The lights were all on and Radio 2 was playing out of the PA system. The carpet was almost black with a combination of spilt beer, chewing gum and cigarette ends.
“Depressing isn’t it?” Ingham came out of his office and shook my hand.
“I’ve got to admit, it isn’t what I was expecting.”
A cleaner was vacuuming in the far corner trying to see if she could find a pattern on the carpet.
“We’ve tried to have them steam cleaned but it doesn’t work. They’re just too filthy. We wait about eighteen months then replace them; it’s all tax deductible. Or at least that’s what my accountant tells me. Come on, I’ll show you around.”
It was all as he predicted, pretty dull although I couldn’t help but be impressed by the DJ stand. He had to be an engineer to operate it. There were two P.C’s, a huge mixing desk and also the controls for the lighting.
“The lighting is automatic but the DJ can override it if he likes.”
He flicked a couple of switches and the strobe lights streaked across the floor. The rest of the place was as expected. I could tell Ingham was just humouring me by showing me round. I made enough agreeable noises to look like I was interested but I wanted to get the conversation around to Sunday’s meeting and Kevin Davison in particular.
“Do you fancy lunch then? I have a friend with a restaurant. He doesn’t normally open at lunchtime but he makes an exception for a few close friends and me. You’ll love it.”
Another installment to follow same time next week.
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