PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Cover illustration: Roger Curtis
Caleb marching down the main school drive dressed in his finest regalia. Polished riding boots and yellow breaches. Scarlet Grenadier coat with gold braided epaulettes flashing on his shoulders. Round his waist a Bristol Rovers scarf. Must show support for the local team. He's fully aware he's being observed by the Nice and Nasty W.Cs. Acting on a tip-off from the Bloke/Girl Lyn. He can feel their eyes burning into his back. Questions poised on their lips. Where does the silly sod think he's going? Dressed like that? Caleb dares them to run out and ask him! Stop him now when he's in full stride would be like stirring up a hornet's nest!
Caleb stamps to attention at the Main School gates. Turns to face an imaginary sentry box and salutes the guard on duty. Spins around to face Williams and Rees. Unbuttons his yellow breeches. Out with the todger and waves it at them. A couple of flicks of the wrist and a shout of defiance. Drugs giving him the confidence to do it.
'Had yer eyeful! Suck 'ee if you like!'
How dare they sit in their office all day passing judgement on the likes of him. They ought to get out more into the classroom. Do a bit of teaching!
Caleb experiences a wonderful feeling of peace and solitude walking the other side of the high prison walls. Sampling a taste of what real freedom is. Away from the maddening crowd. Keeps his head well down to enjoy every second. Crash! Straight into a pram.
'Oh, I'm awfully sorry. I didn't....... Bogey Greenham! What the fuck you doing here? Why aren't you down the Feeder with the others?'
The little sod's been caught in the act. A thing the police have failed to do. Caleb pulls back the blanket that covers the pram to reveal a load of scrap. Brass taps, copper tubing and a nice drop of lead. Greenham stands humiliated before him. A green bogey bubble swells out of a nostril then vanishes quickly again. Under pressure.
'Where's this little lot come from then Bogey?'
Hangs his head shamefaced and embarrassed. Mutters his reply.
'From the pisser down the church hall sir.'
'That's where the old folk meet! How fucking tight can you get! What are they going to do now when they want a pee?'
'Ain't got a clue sir.'
Caleb angry at this lack of consideration.
' 'Course you haven't! You don't give a fuck do you? You were just thinking about the money. Eh?'
'Yeah. Fair comment.'
And that's what Caleb does as well.
'So how much do you reckon you'll get for it?'
'About twenty sir. Give or take a few bob.'
Caleb rubs his chin. Could buy more drugs with that.
'Right then Bogey. Listen. When you get your twenty quid you bring it to me down the Feeder! Any fucking about and I'll hand you over to Sergeant Torrington!'
Bogey's face is a portrait of pleasure. Beaming bright. Got off lightly. Twenty quid is a cheap price to pay for his freedom. Not that he has any fear of 'Tosser' Torrington. He's often been invited by the policeman to beat his backside with a cane. At three quid a time it can't be bad. He's done other things too for a tenner but he won't tell anyone what they are. Not even his best mates Shitty Shearn and Pater. Ranked 47 and 51.
'Okay sir. You're on. It's a deal.'
Caleb watches him push the pram away. His skinny little arms knot tight with the effort of getting the weight of the wheels underway. Strains to gather momentum. A ragged-arse ranger if ever there was one.
Caleb heads towards the Feeder Canal. Wanders through the district that surrounds his prison. A proud land once fit for heroes. Now beaten and bowed into total submission. Guts ripped out by political cruelty. Thatcher wielding the knife. That woman ought to be impeached for crimes against the country! Did what Hitler and Napoleon both failed to do. Broke the spirit of the nation. Brought the country to it's knees!
Past derelict buildings that now house squatters and psychopathic druggies. Dossers and crusties the lot. Cut through the giant shadows of the high rise flats built by sixties loonies when Social Realism was at its height. Cribbed Eastern European tenement blocks. Scramble over the rubble of once neat and tidy terraced houses whose occupants formed the backbone of the British Empire. A complete family unit. Cosy and secure. Front doors left open for neighbours to call. Brass doorsteps polished bright. But all that vanished. Evaporated away. Just memories cherished by the Elders of a long forgotten caring age when the church hall had a toilet.
Caleb stands on top of a high green embankment that forms the natural boundary of the catchment area. He looks down on the Feeder Canal. The kids are lined up along the near bank. Looking down into the water. Caleb immediately senses something's amiss. Confirmed when Maria runs across to him laughing her head off. So deliriously happy she can hardly speak.
'Sir. Shitty Shearn's driven the bike into the water. It's at the bottom of the canal!'
'Tell me you're fucking joking Maria!'
She shrieks with laughter at the look on my face.
'No I'm not sir. You ask Errol.'
Caleb charges down to the side of the bank. Generates a good head of steam. Nobody looks in his direction. All eyes are fixed on the scummy water and the long piece of rope that Errol is holding that dangles into it. He stands on top of the wooden lock gate. Caleb screams at his Second-in-Command.
'Sergeant Perkins! What the fuck you doing?'
His eyes roll white. Dart quickly left and right. There's no escape. He has to answer.
'It's Shearn sir. He's lost the bike.'
The brand new scooter! Presented to the school only a week ago as part of a massive road safety campaign. Jesus! Caleb storms towards Errol. Pressure mounting. Searing pains inside his skull and funny noises like interference roaring through his ears. A bee maybe has crawled inside? A wet trickle down the inside leg.
'Where's Shitty Shearn!'
Errol's head stays down. Ignores the gaze. Concentrates. Pulls in the slackness on the rope.
'He's looking for the bike sir.'
'What do you mean he's looking for the fucking bike? Where is he?'
Caleb edges along the gate towards him. Fists clenched and ready for action.
'He's on the other end of the rope sir.'
'What! Jesus Christ boy! Haul him up!'
Hand over hand he brings the rope in. Nearer to the edge of the lock gate. A body slowly emerges out of the water. Limp and lifeless. Huge pieces of masonry tied round his waist. Caleb races down to be there. The children show their great concern by laughing and cheering at Shitty Shearn's plight. They've never seen anything quite so funny. Caleb turns on them viciously. Face purple with rage.
'Shut up! You ignorant fucking bastards!'
A hush descends immediately. Broken only by a periodic giggle from Maria. The lifeless figure of poor Shitty Shearn is dragged out of the water and onto the bank. Lies still and lifeless at Caleb's feet. New school outfit ruined.
'If he's dead Errol I'm going to kill you!
Quick as a flash Caleb's on his hands and knees pushing hard on Shitty's stomach. Pumping his chest with the flat of his hand to get his heart beating once again. A gurgling noise like a drain being emptied. Water gushes out of his mouth but still no beating heart. Only one thing left to do. Much as he's loathe to do it. No time to think about who's lips he's kissing. He feel the lungs inflate. Removes his mouth and lets them expire. Again and again he repeats the action. If only he could feel a pulse. Another thump in the place his heart should be and a groan comes sweetly from the mouth. A noise like a sudden rushing wind wells up from deep in his trousers. The new ones he had on this morning. They fill with air like a barrage balloon. A continuous hissing sound. Wider and larger they inflate till they're lifting the lad off the ground. Then from every orifice of his body he splutters and farts into life. A rich aroma fills the air causing Caleb to turn away and puke. Shitty Shearn rides again. Ok?
Sergeant Perkins feels he has some explaining to do. Gesticulates wildly with his arms. Pleads for mercy.
'Boss, you gotta believe me! It ain't my fault. You ask Maria sir!'
'What's Maria got to do with it?'
'Shearn tried to touch her up! He did what you said sir but she wouldn't let him have it! So he ran off and got on the scooter sir. We all started chasing him sir and he looked behind him sir. Laughing at us sir, and he rode straight into the canal. I got him out sir and tied some stones around his waist sir to make him sink quicker sir. I told him to go in and get the bike back sir because I knew you'd be mad sir.'
'You TOLD him to go back in Errol! You mean you asked him didn't you? Politely. You said can I throw you in Shitty? And he said yes please Errol. Put some fucking great stones around my waist! Please Errol it'll be a lot quicker!'
Caleb looks his Second-in-Command straight in the eye. He doesn't want any lies.
'Is that what really happened Sergeant? Answer me!'
He's completely shamed up in front of the others. Feels bun. The excited rabble of Caleb's army all wait in anticipation. Not a whisper. Here's a confrontation they're going to relish. The top man in Colditz versus the crazy Mr Duck. His flies undone and his thing's fallen out. Errol adopts the hang dog look. Totally submissive. He offers no resistance. Knows when he's beaten and stands no chance.
'So what happened then?'
'I mashed him up sir. Put the stones on him and threw him in. Told him to look for the bike.'
Caleb clasps both hands tight around his head. A darkness clouding his mind. Tries to think calmly and rationally. Makes a swift adjustment to the front of his trousers. If he's to establish authority over his troops he must be seen by them to be in total command. Even over Errol. Struggle desperately for self-control. Odds against that happening. His heart misses several precious beats. Highly dangerous according to Stockhausen. There's a clammy mess about his feet. Looks down in shock and horror. Masses and masses of worms. Heaped upon each other in their thousands. Covered in snot and heading South. The voices he hears are a long way off and have a hollow echo sound to them. Like a seaside cave. The pain he feels on his bleeding knuckles serves only to drive the fury. A violent swishing of arms and pistons. Steaming out of control. There's a madness in his rage that's pure inspiration. As if God himself wants to test his greatness. And Caleb doesn't let him down.
When the calm descends he studies his knuckles. The skin has vanished in several places and blood flows freely from the cuts. A bruise on his forehead where the nut went in. A splashing sound attracts his attention. He turns and sees Errol floundering in the water. Screaming. Yelling for help. A dark crimson patch spreading all around him. Backwheel is hauling him into the side.
Caleb surveys the scene. Looks at the ranks of frightened soldiers crowded along the bank of the canal. Staring at him like he's a nutter. In silence. No doubt in their minds he is now the gang leader. Just proved himself in battle. Now he must lick them into a fighting unit just like Telly Savalas.
With the scooter lying at the bottom of the canal Caleb has to kill some time. A game of war seems most appropriate. The Nazis versus the Council Taxpayers Liberation Army. He puts the skinhead Kowalski in charge of the Nazis and gives them a five minute start. Sergeant Perkins should captain the C.T.L.A. but he's in no condition to take command. Sulking. So Greenwood is chosen to be their leader. An opportunity to find out if he's officer material.
Caleb and C.T.L.A. watch in admiration as Kowalski drives his army onward. Leading from the front. Across the Canal by the dangerous means of two giant sewer pipes that shoot out from the Paper Mill. There's the natural stamp of a leader about the number 14 ranked Kowalski. Bullying some and persuading others until finally they're all safely across. Greenwood shouts their time is up. Orders the C.T.L.A. to charge the sewer pipes shouting all kinds of obscenities across the water. 'Let's get the Nazi cunts!'. Shitty Shearn the loudest of all. Back to the Shitty they all know and love. Soaking wet and filthy dirty with poo running down his leg.
Errol stays behind. Sullen and soaking. A split lip and badly swollen nose and face. A right eye that's completely closed. Still doesn't understand what he did was wrong.
'You didn't have to shame me up like that man. Not in front of all them pricks. That was fuckin' tight man!'
'What would have happened if you'd killed him Errol?'
'Don't give a fuck! You shouldn't have done it. Ruined my fucking coat!'
'Fuck your coat Errol! If Shitty Shearn had drowned you would have gone to prison for twenty fucking years! I'd be fucking court-martialled! Can't you see that?'
He shrugs his shoulders. He doesn't. Caleb has to explain.
'That would have been the end of it! No money from your insurance business! No money from crisps! No escape from the tunnel! Nothing! Fuck all!'
'But you didn't have to shame me man!'
'But what if you'd killed him? Can't you see?'
'I can see but......'
Caleb doesn't allow him to finish his sentence. That's all he wanted to hear. Puts two arms around Errol and gives him a mighty hug.
'Good lad Errol! Brilliant! As long as you can see! Now we can move on together as a team. With you on my side we can be out of I.S. before the cricket season starts! I need you Errol. Listen. For all the inconvenience you've suffered I'll promote you to the rank of Major and make you into a prefect. I can't be fairer than that!'
An eyebrow slowly climbs up his forehead. The idea appeals to him. Caleb drives the point home with an extra inducement.
'I could even put you on a little wage. Nothing special because you get enough already and you've got the flat rent free. How about it Errol? You and me together?'
Being made a prefect satisfies his ego. It would look good on paper when he applies for a job. A responsible lad who can certainly be trusted. A twinkle returns to his one good eye. Only pride prevents him coming across.
'Look Errol I'll say it again. I'm sorry okay? Now come on. Shake hands and we'll forget all about it.'
A look of resignation on his face. Slowly he accepts Caleb's outstretched hand. They smile and embrace again. Male bonding at its best. Pat each other on the back and make their way across the sewer pipes towards the Paper Mill.
Caleb feels terribly guilty about the way he's behaved and tries to think up more ways to repay Errol. If this boy's going to be his strong right arm he needs some academic clout. Stand up to media scrutiny.
'What GCSEs are you taking this summer Errol?'
As if Caleb didn't know.
'I ain't taking none sir.'
'Well you is now! Maths, English, History, Design and Technology and Art. And you're going to pass!'
Winces as the cut on his lip breaks open. But laughs all the same and gives a little jig.
'Hey that's great! Boss man! But what about Science? I'm ace at that! I got more worms than anyone else last week!'
Caleb only to happy to oblige.
'You can have Science as well if you want it Major Perkins. Just leave it to me.'
Errol flicks his fingers Afro-Caribbean style and erupts into a spontaneous display of uninhibited pleasure. Legs twitch and stretch to the beat of techno coming from the grassy bank. The Master I/C Music lays stretched out on smack. Syringe at his side. Yellowhead living on a different planet to the one ordinary mortals share. Mortals like Bogey who runs up to Caleb with twenty quid clutched in his grubby hand.
Caleb knows it will be easy for Errol to pass his exams. He'll nick the coursework off the keeners in the Main Block and whisper the answers in his ear. An amazing achievement for a boy from I.S. to take six GCSEs and pass. A cap in his feather.
In his book 'Anatomy and Physiology Made Easy' Stockhausen claims that from conception all humans are allocated a fixed number of heartbeats by the Supreme Force. This sadly, he's discovered, may be as low as one, or gladly be as high as a trillion billion billion and two. Stockhausen has recently been working on genetically modified cheese taken from the male and female praeputium to see if he can discover what this unknown number is. He sees the commercial potential in making such a service available to the general public. He claims once you can unravel the mystery of the heartbeats you will be able to determine the very year, month, day, hour, minute and second of your death and thus make all the appropriate arrangements. E.G., go shoplifting or shoot the wife and her lover.