Over the next few days it began to dawn on me exactly how far behind I had become. Years of not doing any homework and not paying attention in class, coupled with my weeks of bunking off had left me with absolutely no idea what any of the teachers were talking about.
I had been moved into the bottom stream for most subjects but was still, inexplicably, in the top stream for English. English Language would be a doddle; you just made it up as you went along. English Literature, on the other hand was a completely different matter; they at least expected you to have read the books you were being tested on.
“Leave, Pete. Take your money, take Claire and disappear. I’ll make sure these photos end up in the right hands. I’m sure that D.I. Carter will be very interested. Of course I’ll make sure your involvement is omitted. When he has the evidence in front of him he’s not going to dig any deeper is he?”
“Don’t you see? I’ve already run away once and look what happened. Nothing changed, it never does.”
I flicked through the photos on Tim’s coffee table and lingered over one of Claire in her dark glasses.
“I have to end this once and for all. I have to end it now before it’s too late.”
“It already is too late, Pete. Things are getting out of hand, they probably would have anyway but you haven’t helped matters.”
“I never meant all of this to happen you know. Davison pushed me into it. I don’t expect you to understand.”
“Why does Davison need to be punished, because he’s a bully? Who’s going to punish you, Pete?”
Tim placed a photo of Elvis, Gilbert and Bumper in front of me. The three were in suits, laughing.
“That was Bumper’s thirtieth birthday. Look how happy they are. You have it in your head that they are permanently miserable and you can save them from all of it but you’re wrong. They’re no happier and no more miserable than anyone else. They’re just trying to get through life as best they can. If it wasn’t Davison it would be somebody else.”
“Surely getting rid of Davison would help them.”
“It wouldn’t. You would just be getting them into more trouble than they can handle.”
“I can’t just walk away.”
“Like you said, you’ve done it before. Davison’s empire is beginning to crumble around him. Leave and leave him to rot.”
“It’s something I have to deal with, Tim. It’s personal.”
“You think I don’t understand. Do you think I’ve never been bullied? We slogged our guts out at the yards and then we were dumped. Look what it did to me.”
“Fine, if that’s what you think but remember if you get the other lads involved in your vendetta you’ll be turning into exactly the type of person you claim to despise. You’ve got a chance to put this right. Disappear now before it all caves in around your ears. This is your only chance, Pete. Take it.”
“I can’t do it, Tim. I know exactly what you mean but I can’t just up and leave. I have things I need to take care of.”
“I’m never going to be able to read all of the books in time.” I was sat in the computer room with Bumper and Elvis. “If I get the Penguin Passbooks for each one at least I will be in with a fighting chance.”
“But why do you need to raise the money? Can’t you ask your parents?”
“What, and risk telling them that I haven’t got a clue what the first line is in Macbeth? I don’t think so. I tried to get my pocket money backdated. It was stopped months ago. My Mam just said that it served me right for lying.”
“When shall we three meet again?” asked Bumper.
“In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
“What are you on about, Bumper?” I said. “We’re not going anywhere.”
“It’s the first line in Macbeth, you know, the three witches?”
“You worry me sometimes.”
“You worry me. The exam is in a few weeks and you have no idea about Macbeth, Chaucer or anything else.”
“Let me worry about that. Are you going to help me?”
“It seems like a good idea but what if we get caught?”
“We won’t. None of the teachers know the first thing about computers. They’ll never realise.”
“Let’s give it a go, we’ve got nothing to lose.”
“Can’t you see, Tim? It’s not just me; it’s Elvis, Bumper and Gilbert. They had to be involved.”
“They didn’t need to be involved, you know your way around a computer system; you’re forgetting what I know about you. Why did you have to get Elvis involved when you could do it yourself?”
“I’m not the only one who needs to exorcise the ghosts of the past. I wasn’t the only one put through hell by Davison; he has affected each and every one of them.” I thumbed through the photos of my friends. “Look at the state Elvis and Bumper’s businesses are in because of him. And then there’s Gilbert, he’s never going to make anything of himself and he has the talent to do so. People like Kev need to be put in their place but more importantly than that people like us need to do it. If we don’t, the next Kevin Davison will just come along and take it all away from us.”
“There’s nobody who looks out for Gilbert more than me. That’s why I don’t want you to go through with it. I understand everything you have said but what if it doesn’t work?”
“It has to, we have no choice,” I replied.
“If it doesn’t, Davison will kill you; you do know that don’t you?”
“It had crossed my mind. His friends already know something is up and after the performance in the Whistle tonight we’re hardly going to be winning any popularity competitions. I think you should start looking after yourself. It’s not safe to stay here tonight; they know where you live. I’ve got the old lighthouse now, nobody knows about it apart from Gilbert and Claire, you’ll be safe there.”
“Thanks, you’re probably right but I’ll take my chances here.”
“The offer’s always there if you want to change your mind. Make sure you lock up properly. Anyway, what did you mean when you said that nobody looks out for Gilbert more than you, I didn’t realise you kept in touch?”
Tim fidgeted nervously with the lens of his camera, not looking me in the eye.
“Pete, I think there is something I should tell you.”
We approached David Stoker who was tapping away on his keyboard at the corner of the room.
“Fine mate. How’s the programming going?”
“Nightmare. I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing and it counts for twenty percent of the final mark. I’ve got no chance. How about you?”
“Did mine ages ago. In fact it’s a bit of a hobby of mine, I do it in my spare time. I could help you out if you wanted,” I suggested.
“Sort of. Have a look at this.” I placed a disk in the drive and ran the program. It was fairly easy for me to produce but the bright colours impressed David. “What do you think?”
“It’s great but wouldn’t that be cheating?”
“Not really. I’ve written down how it all works, in case anybody questions you. Like you said, it’s just like I’ve been coaching you.”
“I’m not sure. What’s in it for you?”
“Three pounds if you have it. But if you don’t want it, I’ll not be offended. I can sell it elsewhere.”
I closed down the program and went to remove the disk.
“No, you’re ok, just leave it there.” He fished into his pocket and handed me three pound coins. “You sure it will work?”
“Of course it will. You have my money back guarantee.”
Pleased with our first sale we headed for our next customer. Tony Evans had never quite forgiven me for beating him into second place in the end of year exams at St Christopher’s. Throughout his time at St Pat’s he had been top of the class in everything, except computers. Elvis was always the star of the show and I’m sure I would have been up there with him if I had bothered to apply myself.
“How dare you?” Tony was furious.
“How dare you suggest that you are more qualified to program a computer than me? I should report you right now.”
He was visibly upset at the accusation.
“We weren’t trying to offend anyone, just trying to help,” Elvis explained. “We know you’re going to be top in the theory we just thought you would like to be top in programming as well.”
“I will be top and without your help as well. Now if you don’t go away, I’m going straight to the headmaster.”
Dejected, we left the room.
“Who else can we try?” I asked Elvis.
“What do you mean no one?”
“That’s it. There are only four people in the whole school who are taking the exam and two of them are us. Everyone else was crap at computers.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier? I’m never going to get the money now.”
“What are you going to do then? How are you going to afford the books?”
“There’s only one thing I can do.”
Bumper and Elvis looked at each other.
“No way,” they said in unison.
Another installment to follow same time next week.
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