“Baboooooos,” Rashmi called to us in a sing-song voice.
Stan rolled his eyes. “Ignore her, mates.”
“Sanjiiiiiiit. Reggiiieeeee. Eeeeeeeyan. Turn ’round y’prats.” The last didn’t sound pretty, sing-song like, or anything other than irritated and insistent. Against Stan’s orders, I turned around.
Rashmi was pointing to a car parked by the curb – and not just any car. This was the last of the great British Woodies, a Morris Minor Traveler 1000 – no more than a year old, from the look of her. A ride home in this would be the perfect end to the evening.
“Y’ can take the bus ‘um – or that! It’s Brenda’s mum’s,” she added, laughing at my astonished expression, “and she’s taking Lucy and me ‘um – you, too, if y’come now.”
I gratefully said “yes” at once, surprised by the offer. I knew Brenda Lawrence on sight, a shy brunette half a head taller than I was with a pageboy hairdo, on the continuum between attractive and “pretty enough,” who might well have been gorgeous if she exuded more confidence. But, all I knew about her was that she was a second former, a friend of Rashmi and Lucy’s, who lived about three blocks from us, and that Rashmi was at her house about as often as Stan was at mine. All of this was strictly from comments that Rashmi had made; otherwise, I didn’t know her – or her mother – at all.
Ian and Stan both said “yes” a second later. Brenda was up front in the passenger seat, but the rest of us piled in the back, Ian in the center, Stan and me on the sides, Rashmi on Stan’s lap, Lucy, somewhat taller than the rest of us, strewn across Ian’s and mine.
“Don’t think I’m being fresh,” I said, wrapping my arms around Lucy’s waist. “Jus’ don’ wan’ ye flying into the front seat.”
She tossed back her limp shoulder-length cornflower hair to shoot me an amused smile and sideways glance. “Never felt safer,” she replied.
Mrs. Lawrence went southwesterly from the Queen’s Theatre, ultimately going down Broad Street to Five Ways, and from there into greater Ladywood, to drop off Lucy.
We finally found ourselves some blocks from the Hippodrome, on a street with a handful of shabby, derelict storefronts and a plethora of dirty, dingy, ramshackle “back-to-backs,” terraced houses from the 1840s that shared three of four walls, facing into an interior courtyard.
Lucy looked mortified, too aware how homes in Edgbaston looked, and how her neighborhood – her home – compared. I told her she was cool to live so close to the Hippodrome; Ian and Stan took my cue and followed suit, obviating both awkward commentary and awkward silence.
Eventually, we arrived at the entrance to Lucy’s court. The street wasn’t well-lit, the few lamps that were there either sputtering or not working at all.
Her court’s entrance on this side was a tunnel, shrouded in shadow.
I didn’t actually need Mrs. Lawrence’s urging to know to escort Lucy to her door and be willing to do it; in fact, I’d already put on my shades, the better to see and avoid potential danger. All the same, I was glad to have her directive, relieved that Don wouldn’t think I’d come on to Lucy in any way.
I saw nothing in the tunnel, but did see a gang of eight to ten boys in the shadows, perhaps 50 meters down the street, who looked bored enough to cause trouble, just for something to do.
I told Lucy of what I saw after we exited the car, and we agreed to make it to and through the tunnel as quickly as possible.
She’d be safe on the other side – even when people in these courts disliked, detested or even hated each other, they closed ranks against outsiders, protecting any of their own against perceived danger from anybody else. If the boys trailed us into the courtyard, they’d likely learn a lesson they’d not soon forget.
© 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) and Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall are each now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be available shortly. The next novel of the series, By Good Angels Tenanted, will be available later in 2018.