We stood by the back entrance of the ABC Edgbaston, in a pied alley, made so by vandalism and neglect, not design, and all the shabbier for it.
Rufus grinned at us sadistically, the way bullies do when they’re certain what they’re about to do is beyond the scrutiny of anyone but themselves and their victims.
“Well, well. Here you all are: Pretty Poncey Pansy Stone, Little Sappy Sambo Gupta and Spasticus Fantasticus, Lardasticus Tippins. Larry, Moe and Curly, together again for one more dreary encore. How very touching. How’d you get out of the cemetery that night – whine the demons to death?”
I knew what Dad would do and followed his lead. I pursed my lips, otherwise declining to show any emotion. “We saved your collective arses, dint we?” I said, in as matter-of-fact a voice as I could manage.
“You got us arrested, y’ faggoty little bastard – that’s what y’did,” he snarled at me.
I closed my eyes to keep them from flashing at him, shook my head and generated what I hoped was a reasonable facsimile of a chuckle.
“Having a Humber and driver waiting for you three outside the wall of a closed cemetery? Doof, ol’ boy, I’d say you did a right good job of cluing in the coppers on y’own. Then, for an encore, you left the fuel intake valve to Ian’s Bunsen burner inside your pocket
“– no wait, not your pocket, it was in Lennie’s pocket, wasn’t it? Pure genius.”
Call it nerves, call it giddiness of the moment, or maybe call it a nascent sense of irony, but I thought about the title characters in The Boys — all well-dressed Teddy Boys, contrasted them with Rufus and Quasimodo, and got an attack the giggles.
Doofus and Tiny – heaven knew why – were trying to play Teddy Boys in their school uniforms, attacking Stan, Ian and me while we were dressed in our thrift shop specials. But no self-respecting Ted would have been caught dead in anything remotely resembling a school uniform. At best, they looked like wannabes who’d fallen way short; at worst, absurdly incongruous, such as mice chasing cats, people scaring ghosts, or masked bandits handing out money as they held the recipients at gunpoint.
It was weird – ridiculous enough to make me laugh.
Rufus’ eyes narrowed to slits as he stared at me.“You think it’s funny, Stone?” he snarled, cutting a button from Ian’s shirt. “Guess what? You’re next! Let’s see what your cute little angelic face looks like after I get finished with it, pretty-boy.”
Did I hear Rufus the Goofus right – the way he snarled “pretty-boy?” He’d said it often enough, but I’d never noticed his tone before.
Had it changed, or had I been too obtuse for its full hostility to register?
There’d been others over the years who’d said that I looked girlish, more fetching than handsome. It had happened enough in my toddler years, of course, but it had continued even after I’d started school and my long locks had been cut off. Indubitably, I was diminutive, with something of a baby face. I’d even caused one would-be wag to toss out the old chestnut, “He’d make a very pretty girl, and I doubt he ever will.”
But did Goofus the Gorgeous – who, at age 11, already radiated classic aristocratic good looks, complete with its cheekbones, jawlines, and magnificent profile, even if he had nothing else to offer – feel threatened by me and my looks?
No, that couldn’t be right. Someone had to be playing with his head – preppyish Bobby Vee coif and all.
Well, I certainly wasn’t going to let Rufus the Doofus buffalo me as easily as all that.
I chuckled – a real one this time – and smiled. “Y’know, Doof, there aren’t too many advantages to being suspended from school with criminal charges pending, but one of the few y’do have is you don’t have to wear this bloody uniform – you’re free of the monkey suit for the duration. And here are you two geniuses, not only wearing uniforms whilst you’re both suspended, but on a Saturday, no less. If you think you’re dressing to impress here you’ve picked the wrong crowd. Y’look like a bigger pair of prats than ever.”
Quasimodo slammed the back of my head against the wall, and the lights went out for a few minutes.
© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
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