(This story follows on from previous ones in the series. These are 'Runt', Chris', Living on the Verge', 'Playing Away' and 'Words and Deeds'. It is not absolutely essential to have read the earlier stories but it might be useful.)
Kenneth Spiller was in the throes of composition, always for him a painful business. He ran his fingers through his greying but still thick hair so that it stood up in tufts. His fingers tapped on the computer keys and then with a stifled curse he selected the paragraph he had been agonising over, and with one key stroke deleted it.
Dominic, his partner, both business and life, looked up from the book he was reading. "Problems?" he asked sympathetically.
Kenneth had once been a prolific author turning out novel after novel each year, but then had given writing up for some years. Later he'd returned and written a hugely successful novel which had been short-listed for the Man-Booker Prize. Now he was writing a sequel or at least trying to for the process was slow and obviously painful.
"I can't get into the main character," he said. "He won't come alive. Too many facets to his personality, I think. He seems to be three different people in one."
"A bit like Alf Leyton."
Ken's frown disappeared. "Yes, that's it. A gang leader in a rough estate, a gay guy and someone with an ordinary everyday job. That's it exactly."
He started again on the paragraph which was giving him so much trouble. All seemed to go well and then he stopped again. "I'd like to find out more about this 'Alf'," he said.
"Fancy a bit of rough, do you?"
Ken smiled. "I've led a very sheltered life."
"So what brought this on?"
"I want a lad who's gone wrong but has a softness inside. I sensed that in Alf the time we met. I need him as a character in the book."
"But we only saw him for a while, and then he was making sheep's eyes at that reporter fellow, James Drummond. All I saw was a hardness in his jeans."
Ken nodded. "There's much more to him than that."
"You ought to go and see him. Tell him you want to put him in a book. He'd jump at the chance. He thinks he's God's gift, you know."
"Do you think so? As I said, I think he's more than that. Anyway I can't traipse down to a housing estate and start interviewing people. I'd probably get beaten up."
"Arrange to meet him in a pub, like we did last time. Chris will probably be able to organise it for you."
"It's an idea. Perhaps I will."
* * * * * *
A crowd of enthusiastic kids stood around the burning car with the rapt attention as if it were a fireworks display. It was well alight now and flames were shooting out of the windows. Someone shouted, "Get back. It's going to blow." The watchers withdrew to what they assumed was a safe distance and there was a sudden pause, everyone waiting, until with a whoosh, the petrol tank exploded accompanied by a cheer from the audience.
At the same time a siren sounded and a fire engine arrived, much too late to do much to save the car. All they could do was douse the flames. Then a police car turned up to more derisive cheers. As two officers got out, the kids melted away into the darkness, disappearing into the surrounding flats of the tall tower blocks.
One young man dressed in jeans, T-shirt and the ubiquitous hoodie, stood on a third floor balcony landing looking down on the scene. His hood masked most of his face but suddenly throwing it back, he revealed a pale face, thick eyebrows, thin lips twisted into either a smile or a sneer, it was difficult to tell which. His hair was cut short. Only his grey eyes looked less than hard.
After a few minutes watching the flames die down under the stream of water from the hose and the two policemen chatting to the fire officer who was obviously in charge, the youth descended the stairs and walked across the open space between the two tower blocks where the car's skeleton still smoked and steamed. The reek of petrol and burnt plastic hung in the air.
One of the police officers hurried across to him, yellow jacket lit by the street lamps. "Oy you," he greeted him. "Can't you see there's been a fire. It could still be dangerous. Keep back."
"Course I seen it," said the youth. "I watched it from up there." He waved in the general direction from which he had come. "It's them bloody kids from Wentworth Tower." He turned and pointed to the block of flats on the other side of the space where the car stood. "They want putting away. Ain't safe for us round here anymore."
The policeman looked at him warily, suspiciously. "What's your name?" he asked.
"Alf. Alf Leyton. 325, Bailey." The answer was candid, seemed to be innocent, the eyes open, but the policeman had learned not to trust anyone from the estates.
"How d'you know that it was the lads from the other block?"
"Saw 'em," said the youth who called himself Alf. "They drove in, set it alight and then ran into Wentworth."
"You didn't do anything?"
"What could I do? Piss on it from the landing?"
"Couldn't make 'em out, too dark and they was all wearing hoodies. But it was them."
The other policeman called his partner over.
"I've got your name and address. I'll want to speak to you again."
"Be my guest," said Alf. Skirting the burnt out car, he went towards the main road. As he reached it, he was joined by another youth dressed in similar fashion. They fell into step together.
Alf's plebeian job was one which he hid from his mates at home. They knew he had a job of course; it was impossible to hide that but they didn't know what he did. Most of the others drew their weekly unemployment benefit and spent it on drink or smack. Some of them had been awarded Anti-Social Behaviour Orders which they 'wore' with pride.
Alf's second in command was called Biff. He was shorter than Alf. Like him he wore his hair cut short and it didn't really suit him. His eyes, a washed out blue, and his lips in a permanent sneer. Most of the time his drug habit kept him functioning. If he was unable to get a fix he became unreliable which was a simple way of describing the sweating, shaking, sick creature that he turned into. Alf disapproved but he and Biff had grown up together since primary school and, though neither of them had attended much secondary education, they had kept together and now, through loyalty, they were, at least in terms of the gang, inseparable.
Biff's need for smack and Alf's passion for sex meant that they were times when they went their separate ways. Neither enquired into the whereabouts of the other though Alf probably knew more about Biff's dealings than the other way around.
"What did the pigs want?" asked Biff, who seemed in a mellow, rational mood.
"And you told them?"
"I told 'em."
"Enough so they'll get onto Stan?"
"Hope so, though the police aren't all that bright. But I've got a contact with the local paper. The reporter will find out what the police don't."
The newcomer laughed. "Brilliant," he said. "Coming for a drink?"
"Not tonight, Biff. Gotta date."
The other seemed disappointed but accepted the excuse. "See ya, boss," he said.
Alf made his way through the buzz and bustle of the streets towards the centre of town. After the excitement of the arson attack, Feltenham settled down to its normal evening activities. There were people around and it seemed that Alf didn't want to be recognised. He kept the hood up and when he passed anyone coming the other way, he turned his already half hidden face away. But he met no one he recognised or at least no one who recognised him.
He moved into the fashionable area or what had once a couple of centuries before been the fashionable area of the spa town. Here elegant Regency houses formed a quadrangle inside of which were grass-covered squares with perhaps a cedar tree in the middle or bordered by a verge of graceful silver birches. Of course the houses were no longer owned by a single owner or if they were they had been split up into flats so that perhaps six or seven separate individuals or families occupied the three floors.
Alf arrived at the doorway of one such house. By the side, just under the triangular portico seven names were listed beside bell pushes and a speaker system which could be operated from the individual flats to open the front door. Alf pressed one which was printed neatly with the name J. Drummond. As if his arrival had been expected a voice immediately answered sounding distorted through the speaker.
"It's me," said Alf, gnomically.
"Come in, 'me'," said the voice and a buzzing sound accompanied the opening of the door. Alf pushed through into a hall painted light green. There were separate doors to right and left and a staircase which led upwards to the higher floors.
James Drummond's flat was at the top of six flights of stairs. The door was open and as Alf went in, James enfolded him in his arms and kissed him.
It had originally been the attic servants' quarters of the house in Cadogan Square, and, perhaps unusually, had been converted in a sensitive and attractive way. The ceilings sloped to follow the incline of the roof and the dormer windows looked out onto the grassy square invisible of course at this time of night. A bedroom, a living room, kitchen, bathroom, small but tastefully furnished.
There wasn't much reticence, at least on Alf's part. He was flushed with the success of his plan and this translated itself into sexual excitement. He grabbed hold of James' shirt, pulling it over his head. He needed the silky feel of naked skin on skin. "Slow down, tiger," said James laughing at the other's eagerness but then himself was caught up in the frenzy of lust.
Alf took the initiative, kicking off his trainers, unzipping his jeans and pulling both them and his underpants off in one movement, flinging them aside. Then, deciding that James' undressing was too slow, he did the same for his lover, pulling down his trousers, revealing the firm, flat belly, the curly spring of pubic hair into which he buried his face, smelling the clean smell of healthy sweat as well as the arousing smell of man.
Like a young animal, which of course was exactly what he was, Alf rooted in the undergrowth for his prey, found it and fastened upon it, licking and sucking, then, raising James' legs he buried himself further in the moist darkness, lubricating with his tongue the passage where he wanted to be. James understood and was willing, opening himself to probing tongue and then fingers which expanded the entrance.
Only when Alf seemed to want to enter unprotected, did James demur, insisting that he must wear a condom, putting it on himself when Alf seemed to be in too much of a hurry to unroll the thing. Once on, Alf plunged in and James, sensing his need, restrained the cry of pain and protest that the sudden entry had so nearly forced out of him.
Alf came quickly and James stopped him when he tried to wank him off afterwards. "You needed that," he said. "It was obvious. I'm all right."
They lay together on the bed but Alf was not in the mood for post-coital cuddling. He shifted nervously then sat up and said, "I want a drink."
"We'll have to go out," said James. "I haven't got anything in."
Alf seemed about to insist then sighed. "Doesn't matter."
"What was it tonight?" asked James. "You've never been like that before."
Alf turned his head to look at him. "Did I hurt you?" he asked. "I'm sorry." His almost skinhead haircut made him look hard but his eyes were soft. Suddenly he looked much younger than his nineteen years and James was moved to tenderness.
He said, "There's something wrong, isn't there?"
"Nah. Everything's good." He laid his head in James' lap and looked up at him.
"What is it then? Alf, Chris and I were down at your place the other day. It's almost gang warfare isn't it?"
For a moment Alf looked guarded. "You been spying on me?"
"I'm a reporter. It was a story."
Surprisingly Alf laughed. "There's another one tonight," he said. "Car set alight. You want to ask around Wentworth Tower block but mind yourself. They're a tough bunch. Don't go down there alone and don't go down at night."
"Wentworth? That's Stan Rackley's territory, isn't it?"
"Not for long if I have anything to do with it," said Alf.
James' reporter's nose twitched. "Tell me more," he said.
* * * * * *
The sky was a startling blue and clear. Everything looked washed clean after the night's rain. Even the square of grass between the two huge concrete blocks, grey and impersonal, appeared fresh. Only the blackened skeleton of the car which hadn't as yet been removed had a curiously surrealistic look to it.
"There you are, Chris," said James. "Just as Alf told me."
At the Wentworth Tower block a police car was parked and as the two reporters watched, they could see a couple of policemen moving along the landings, knocking on the doors and occasionally getting answers. Unlike the previous occasion there were no kids hanging around. Presumably the presence of the police had scared them off or at least made them wary that they might be questioned about not being in school.
"Shall we talk to the police?" asked Chris.
"I think we'll try Letitia Stone's mum," said James. "She tends to keep an eye on things and we've already established a sort of rapport."
"She'll be in bed. You know she works nights."
They walked up to the third landing of Bailey's Tower and knocked on the door of number thirty-seven. But it was Letitia's mum who opened the door. This time she was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and looked amiable if not over pleased to see us.
"Oh God," she said. "It's you again. What d'you want?" Though she said it with a bit of a smile.
James waved at the remains of the car. "Any ideas as to what happened down there, Mrs Stone?" he asked.
"What do you think? Spontaneous combustion?" Obviously she had had some good education. Chris wondered how it was that she'd ended up in this place of horror. Her husband's desertion? Children to support? A job which brought in little more than peanuts? What had she said last time? Working as a club hostess?
"You'd better come in." She wasn't bad-looking, thought Chris. A trifle harassed but with delicate features and unruly golden hair. If I were straight, I might even fancy her. She couldn't be much older than her late twenties.
"Give us a break," said James. "What happened here last night?"
"What you see is what you get. What do you think? Load of kids set light to a car."
"Nothing happens here without either Alf's or Stan's say so."
"Oh you know that do you?"
"We know who's in charge of the gangs," said Chris.
"He speaks!" She turned her attention to Chris. "OK. I guess one of them gave the orders and tried to blame it on the other."
James' contribution. "So if the police are going door to door in Wentworth, Stan Rackley's territory, that would mean it was Alf Leyton's idea."
"You're a mite too sharp. Could be dangerous for you spreading ideas like that."
"I know Alf. He wouldn't actually hurt anyone." Then James thought of the force that Alf had used the previous night and wondered if that was true.
"Tell us more about Stan," said Chris.
"That's one mean guy you don't want to mess with."
"OK. That's a given. What else?"
Mrs Stone hesitated. She was obviously reluctant to say too much. Did Stan's influence extend to this this tower block, or perhaps it was because Letitia was a vulnerable young girl. Then, suddenly, it burst out. "He's cruel. He enjoys causing pain to others, and they won't complain because they're all terrified of him."
"You don't mean Alf?" James remembered Alf's strange mood the previous night. Obviously something had happened to him. Could he have been the victim of one of Stan's sadistic actions? Yet there was nothing on Alf's body as evidence, no bruises, no cuts. He dismissed the thought.
"No, Alf's got his own protection. Stan Rackley, I'm afraid, tends to pick on weaker kids, or the old and helpless. The pensioners round here are frightened of him. I think he takes most of their money each week. And I've seen young kids beaten black and blue who won't say a thing about how they got injured."
"That's outrageous!" suddenly James realised he was sounding like an apoplectic colonel rather than a rational journalist. "Something should be done about him," he said in a more reasoned tone.
"Don't you think we've tried? And more often than not regretted it afterwards."
"The police," said Chris.
The expression on Mrs Stone's face said it all. Clearly the police were either in league with Rackley or as scared of him as the others in the area. They could obviously descend on him mob-handed but if they didn't have any evidence, and no witnesses were prepared to come forward, they weren't going to be successful.
"What about Rackley's family?"
"He lives with his mother. Poor woman!"
"Stan mistreats her?" asked James, sensing a story.
"Not really. It's just that she has to put up with the hatred of the people in the blocks. I feel sorry for her. I don't think she's got a single friend."
"There's not much point in trying to talk to Stan?"
"I wouldn't advise it. Any questions will probably just lead to violence, and you'll come off the worse."
Outside Chris said, "Well we didn't get too much out of that."
"We'll just have to concentrate on Alf," said James.
* * * * * *
"The police and your reporters aren't doing fucking much," said Biff later that evening.
"Patience," said Alf.
Friday night and the pub was full. Biff was agitated. He couldn't seem to sit still. His face under his cropped hair was flushed and his hands clenched and unclenched around his beer bottle.
"We ought to do something about Rackley."
Alf touched one of Biff's hands as if to steady it. "We will, Biff. We will."
"Soon." He spoke soothingly but it didn't seem to calm Biff. His fingers drummed on the table top. "I'll go and see what my reporter friend has to say. There'll probably be something in the paper tomorrow."
Biff looked up. "I'll come with you."
Alf shook his head. "No, I'll go alone."
Biff looked as if he was about to protest but then he shrugged. "Suit yourself." He looked around as if to find someone else he knew. It wasn't difficult. The pub, the Hastings Arms, was if anything a stronghold of Bailey Tower gang members. No one from Wentworth, if he was under twenty-five, would dare to come in and certainly not on his own.
"Don't do anything stupid."
"Sure you want to go by yourself?" His expression was almost pleading.
Alf said. "He'll talk to me if I see him alone." It was true though of course this wasn't the reason he wanted to see James by himself.
Biff watched him leave, saw him exchanging remarks with various people on the way.
Alf hadn't been gone much more than ten minutes when the door swung open and Stan Rackley himself came into the pub. There was an audible gasp from the drinkers but Rackley wasn't alone. He had a pair of 'bodyguards'. thick, brutish lads with fighters' noses, one on each side of him, and some more guys, not as thickset but looking as if they'd be useful in a scrap.
Rackley himself was tall, and, though not thin, looked as if he didn't have a spare ounce of fat on his body. He was dark, obviously of mixed blood, and spectacularly handsome. He could have been a model on the catwalks of any famous fashion house. He wore jeans and a vest which exposed his arms and his chest which was muscular and tightly defined.
He looked around the pub now silent as if seeking someone but failing to find the one he wanted he fastened on Biff, walking towards him with light steps, the feet of a dancer, firmly balanced yet able to spring in any direction if need be.
Biff flushed even more deeply and stood up, his thighs bumping the table so that his beer bottle toppled and the contents spread over the surface. He had to look up to stare into Stan's eyes.
No one spoke for a moment, then Biff said, his voice higher than usual, "What you doing here, Rackley? You ain't welcome in this pub."
Rackley spoke, his voice low and controlled and on the face of it polite. "I was looking for Alf but I see he's not here. Perhaps you could give him a message."
Biff didn't answer.
"Tell him, I don't like him trying to set the pigs and the gutter scribblers on to me. Tell him that, will you . . . poodle." The last word a scathing insult.
He turned and went out followed by his entourage.
Biff, in contrast to earlier had gone white. For a moment he didn't seem to know what to do, his hands grabbing hold of the top of the bottle. Then he made up his mind, spoke to a couple of his friends and all three of them went out into the darkness.
* * * * * *
That Saturday morning Chris didn't have to go to work on the Journal so he and Rick stayed in bed doing what they both did when getting up early wasn't essential (and sometimes indeed when it was) making love.
They played like puppies together. Rick rubbed his body and tickled him around the waist so that Chris was forced to squirm and respond. He could feel his lover's cock, hard and thrusting, against his stomach and knew that his was erect as well. Rick could not keep still. Like a young animal he worried and played with Chris uttering little whimpers of enjoyment. First his head was under Chris's arms and he felt a tongue licking the bushy hair, then in an instant Rick's head lay on his stomach and his teeth were gently nibbling at his skin. Meanwhile one hand was on his chest, the fingers playing with his right nipple while the other hand crawled up the inside of his thigh until it reached just below his scrotum. Chris was entranced; it was as if he were in bed with at least three people. He tried to respond by grabbing hold of him but Rick would not allow himself to be caught, first rolling aside and then almost immediately rolling back to mould to his body all the way down, lips kissing his, chest and stomach joined, Chris's legs under Rick's, Chris's cock imprisoned - happy captive - in the moist fork between the boy's legs.
Now Rick was quiet and still, his lips gently grazing and then the point of his tongue emerged, insistently probing inside Chris's, past his teeth, into the mouth and meeting the other tongue, tasting the saliva, joining the two tongues. It was as if this inspired a fresh urgency in the groin, each pushing against the other, Rick's hands cupping Chris's buttocks, the middle finger of his right hand now exploring the deepness of the cleft until it found and entered the crinkled hole. Chris gasped. He was aware of what Rick wanted and knew that this was what he wanted too. Rick was taking the initiative. Chris felt another finger inserted and both moving, enlarging the hole. He opened his legs and then raised his knees so that the access could be easier and the fingers probed deeper. Now Rick's cock had found the cleft and Chris raised himself up even further, Rick's body between his legs, his cock piercing the sphincter, sliding in, lubricated by its own clear juice.
Again there were little animal noises gradually rising to a crescendo of excited yelps and Chris pushed against him and felt the boy's tense body straining, the passion building up and then the orgasm pulse and pulse inside him. Rick shuddered and collapsed onto him murmuring his name again and again.
So it was late when they got up and had a necessary shower. In fact Chris was still in there when he heard Rick's shout from the kitchen where he was making a late breakfast. "There's been trouble on that estate you been going to. Someone's got hurt. Stabbed."
Chris wrapped a towel round himself and came out. The news was still on the radio, a reporter outlined what was known about a fight the previous night which had resulted in one teenager being stabbed and who was now in intensive care in the local hospital. Several others had had wounds, either from a knife or broken bottles, but their injuries weren't, it was thought, life threatening.
"Who's the one that was badly hurt?" asked Chris.
"Someone called Bernard Duffy, apparently."
"Never heard of him. I wonder if James has. I'll give him a ring."
Chris heard the tone which went on and on until he decided that James must be out. Then, just as he was about to ring off, the phone was answered.
"James," said Chris, "Have you heard the news? There's been gang warfare down at the tower blocks. Someone in intensive care."
"Who is it? I've got Alf here. He'll know him if you've got a name."
"Guy called Duffy, Bernard Duffy."
Chris could hear James passing the name on and then, in the distance, Alf's shout.
"Christ, it's Biff. I told him not to do anything stupid. Where is he?"
"Feltenham General," said Chris.
"I'll be in touch," said James and rang off.
* * * * * *
Alf hated the smell, the look of hospitals. Outsides were bad enough, rows of windows behind which people were sick and probably dying. Inside, all antiseptic and white paint. Staff moving around purposely on errands of dire horror or carrying vessels which probably contained body parts or worse.
The receptionist, though, who saw Alf and James was plump and sympathetic. She looked Bernard Duffy up on a computer screen. "You won't be able to see him," she said. "He's under constant supervision and you're not relatives. The last report on him was that he's stable."
"We're friends," explained James.
The woman nodded sympathetically. "You can go and see the ward sister," she said, "though I doubt she'll be able to tell you much more at the moment. De Montfort ward." She pointed to a sign which showed the way. "Just follow the signs."
They ran along corridors. It seemed a long, long way but eventually they came to a pair of swing doors and a sign over them which read, 'De Montfort Ward'. In a little room to the right there was a card which could be slipped in and out. It read: Sister Yvonne Grant.
They knocked and a woman, brisk, efficient-looking asked them what they wanted.
"We're friends of Bernard Duffy," said James.
"His parents are with him at the moment," she said. She pointed across the ward where there was another room and a window in the wall. They peered through the window. Biff lay in the bed, his eyes closed, his head enveloped in a bandage. His face under the white cloth looked much younger than his twenty-two years. His eyes were closed and around the right one spread an ugly red bruise. There was a dressing on his neck and another over the top part of his chest. Tubes came from his nose and arm and a drip stand stood beside him. A green blip on a VDU screen traced out the spidery green evidence of Biff's life. As each one progressed across there was a 'ping' audible even to them outside. It was almost all that showed he was still alive as his breathing was so shallow that his chest barely rose and fell.
"I'll get that bastard, Rackley," muttered Alf.
Outside he rushed off in the direction of the towers and though James called after him, he didn't stop.
* * * * * *
After the fight the previous night, the police were down at the blocks in force. The word had gone around and all knives and anything that might constitute a weapon had disappeared from the flats so the house to house produced only kitchen cutlery and DIY tools which either had nothing to do with the incident or had been impeccably cleaned.
An atmosphere of brooding suspicion and hatred was almost tangible. A few guys stood on corners and glared at anyone from the opposing tower or sulkily replied to police questions with comments that ranged from the 'Don't know anything about it' to 'Try the other tower block, guv'.
Alf's arrival caused a sudden stir. A few people, youngsters mostly appeared from their front doors. Some curtains, in those windows that had them, twitched. Alf didn't seem upset.
A policeman saw him from one of the lower balconies and gave a shout. The copper's face had a jaundiced look, not exactly yellow, but with a pissed-off expression which suggested that he didn't think much of the world in general and his job in particular. Too much paperwork and bureaucracy no doubt.
"Mr Alfred Leyton," he said on reaching ground level. There was more than a hint of sarcasm in his tone.
"The very same."
"I assume you know something of the fracas that happened here last night."
"I heard about it on the radio this morning," said Alf.
"Do you mind telling me what you were doing last night."
Alf appeared to consider. "Well, I was in the Hastings Arms early on, then I left about ten as I had to see a bloke about a dog."
"You left at 10.10," said the policeman. "You were seen on CCTV."
"You mean there's a CCTV camera watching the pub?" His eyebrows raised in mock amazement.
The policeman refused to be drawn. "About ten minutes later Rackley and his mob arrived and there was a bit of a 'conversation' with a friend of yours, a Bernard Duffy. Rackley went out, again observed on the CCTV and a bit later so did Duffy with some of his mates."
"Unfortunately the camera only observes the car park and the fight started on the road outside. Can you give any information on what happened next?"
"No, mate," said Alf. "I was off to meet a friend of mine, reporter on the Feltenham Journal. We had some drinks and I crashed out there. He'll confirm it. Another friend phoned us to say that Biff, Bernard Duffy, had been injured and we went to the hospital to see him. They'll confirm that too."
The policeman looked a bit baffled. "Was there any bad blood between Rackley and Duffy?" he asked.
"Looks like it, dunnit."
"Ask Rackley but don't believe anything the bastard says."
"We have. His mother says he was in all evening after the visit to the pub."
"Your marvellous CCTV show him going home then?"
The policeman shook his head.
"So much for fucking technology."
* * * * * *
But it was via new technology that Alf got in touch with Stan Rackley. Neither of them had regular mobile phones with accounts, too easy to trace, too easy for the police to find out when and where calls were being made. Generally they managed to 'find' one when necessary, either mugging a kid on his way back from school, using it for the purpose and then scrapping the SIM card.
But Stan's mother had one and Alf, through devious means, got hold of the number. So it was that in the afternoon while the sun shone outside and an opposite darkness reigned within in the minds and hearts of the majority of the Towers' inhabitants, Stan's mother handed her son the phone.
"It's for you," she said.
"Rackley," said the voice which Stan immediately recognised, "I understand you were looking for me last night. Well, I'm here now."
"You want some of what we gave Biff?"
"I don't use a knife," said Alf.
"Chicken!" Stan's tone was scathing.
"No. But we can do a chicken run."
"To prove exactly what?"
"Who's the best!"
"And the winner?'
"Takes all. Boss of both the estates."
Rackley laughed. "And the loser just gives in."
"The loser," said Alf, "will lose the respect of his gang. He'll have to give in."
There was silence as Rackley obviously considered this. "Where's the race?"
"The circuit. The ring road round Feltenham."
"In opposite directions!" said Alf.
* * * * * *
Why had he added that last stipulation, Alf wondered. It would be easier to race round in the same direction knowing where the opponent was at all times, seeing him draw ahead or drop behind and being able to compensate. Then he knew that that was exactly the reason. It would be too easy. Going in opposite directions would mean there'd be no way of knowing where the other was, except of course that they'd pass half way round, not until the last possible moment when they arrived back at the starting point and they'd know for certain who had arrived first, and who had lost.
His mind went back to his relationship with Rackley. They had never been friends. In fact one of his earliest memories was scrapping with him in the junior school they had both attended and having to be pulled apart by a teacher. And the severe bollocking they'd got from the headmistress afterwards. He remember she had forced them to shake hands and how their eyes had blazed furiously while their lips had mouthed the hated words, 'I'm sorry'.
Later Rackley in his teens had formed his own gang made up from the youths of his tower block estate and to rival it Bailey block had retaliated with their own gang, at first under the leadership of Biff. But Biff had been weak, too often incapable of making decisions and thus it was that his best friend, Alf had taken over. Shrewd, occasionally quxotic, taciturn, loyal to his mates, and dogged in his pursuit of what he thought to be right he was the ideal boss.
Words had to be got around to the Bailey boys of the Chicken Race, Ordinarily Biff would have done that but now it had to be Alf himself. A car had to be 'obtained', stolen from somewhere in town, obviously as powerful a one as possible and everything in place by two o'clock am when traffic was at its lightest on the ring road around Feltenham.
He would not tell James. James had failed him in his plan to find out enough for the police to take action against Rackley. Now it would have to be Alf on his own. And he would beat Rackley. He knew it. All he needed was a car, one that preferably wouldn't be missed until the following morning.
The car had been parked at the side of the road at a meter which still had most of an hour to run. Alf had spotted immediately that the driver had left his keys in the ignition. He could scarcely believe it. What a tosser he must be. A car like that, dark blue, sleek as a bullet, black leather seats which, Alf knew, would clasp like the embrace of a lover. It didn't need much thinking about, just a quick look up and down the road - there was no one in sight who could possibly be the owner of such a car - open the door, get in and away.
He eased himself into the driver's seat of the Lotus Elan, twisted the ignition and smiled as the engine purred into life. He let his right foot press gently on the accelerator and felt the power surge even though the tone of the engine barely rose. He put the gear lever into first and released the clutch. The car moved sweetly away from the curb. He changed up and saw how the speedometer almost immediately touched forty! What a feel. This wasn't a car. It was indeed a lover. It held him like James did from behind with legs and arms wrapped round him. And sexy too. The slight reverberations from the engine gave him an almost instant erection.
All he had to do was to hide it until tonight, and that was easy. There were garages under the tower block, some of which were empty. It wouldn't take much to break open a padlock, get one of his boys to keep watch, and it would be safe until needed.
* * * * * *
Tension was high on the estates. The word had got around as was intended and the members of both gangs (or at least all those who could escape their parents at that time of night) were out in force.
It was raining by midnight, a light drizzle which, though almost invisible, soaked anyone outside. The only way it could be seen easily was in the headlights of cars or underneath the street lamps where it shone as an almost transparent curtain.
Alf's mobile rang. It was James who was worried that he hadn't seen or heard from Alf since he had run off from the hospital that morning. James had expected Alf to come round in the evening. When he hadn't turned up by midnight he had become seriously alarmed. The news on the radio and TV couldn't have been worse. At ten o'clock it was reported that Bernard Duffy had been moved to intensive care. At eleven o'clock the report came through that Biff had died. And then finally James rang him. Alf's voice sounded strange and rather strained.
"Are you all right?" asked James. "I was expecting you."
"Things to do."
"Please, Alf, don't do anything stupid." It was the same request that Alf had made Biff before leaving him alone to be stabbed by that aresehole, Rackley.
The though prompted Alf to ask. "Have you heard anything about Biff? How he is."
So Alf hadn't heard. James wondered what to do. Should he tell him? Certainly he'd find out soon enough but he thought it would have been better to tell him face to face. Then at least there would have been an opportunity for comfort. The pause though had alerted Alf to the fact that there was something wrong. "Have you heard anything?" he repeated.
"I'm sorry," said James. "Biff died this evening. It was on the news."
There was a long pause.
"Come over, Alf. You need company."
Then came the dialling tone, the sound of a disconnected line.
* * * * * *
The gangs came out in force to watch the start. Alf drove up in his Lotus Elan to the applause of the Bailey Boys. The car engine purred quietly as they waited. Alf stared out through the windscreen while the wipers swept from side to side. He didn't speak to anyone.
A couple of minutes later Rackley arrived in a Porsche 968. There would be two very irate car owners that evening and presumably the police alert for two missing high performance, very expensive cars.
They waited on opposite sides of the road, facing in opposite directions. Rackley leant across from his driving seat and shouted something through the window, probably a taunt but Alf ignored him. The drizzle was illuminated in the beams of their four headlights and had formed black viscous looking puddles in the road. Hit one of those at speed and the car would slide out of control, aquaplaning.
No one had decided how to start the race but all of a sudden Rackley revved up his engine and shot off. Startled, Alf did the same and saw the red rear lights of his opponent grow fainter in his mirror and then disappear as the road bore round to the right.
At the moment there were no other vehicles on the road but as Alf pushed his accelerator down to the floor, he quickly caught up a car going slowly in front of him. Alf swung the car to the right and overtook. The driver realising that Alf was breaking the speed limit sounded his horn but Alf paid no attention.
Biff was dead. Biff was dead. The refrain sounded in his head, and Rackley or one of Rackley's gang had killed him. He mustn't be allowed to get away with it. Beating Rackley in the race would, he was sure bring to an end the reign of terror.
The leather seat clasped him firmly and Alf was once more reminded of James. But he mustn't think of him. He had to concentrate on the road. The street lights flashing past his head exerted an almost hypnotic influence and the dark patches in between seemed almost like a temporary blindness.
This was a dual carriageway with occasional islands and roundabouts. Here Alf had to stand on the brake and swing the car round, tyres screeching. He couldn't allow his speed to drop below an average of 60 or 70 mph. On a straight passage he coaxed the speedometer to just over 100 mph. In this car it didn't seem very fast until he tried to round a bend and found he was struggling to control the car. He found himself sliding towards the embankment on the left and only just managed to avoid crashing into it.
Even so he did not slow down, overtaking the occasional other vehicles on the road and ignoring the flashing of their headlights and the sound of the horns. He knew the road but at this speed the familiar landmarks came along unexpectedly and Alf swore as he slithered into yet another skid this time almost completely crossing the road.
For a moment, when he pulled back onto his own side of the road, he couldn't understand where he was then he recognised the large building ahead of him and realised he had travelled almost a quarter of the way round the circuit. He wondered where Rackley was. He wished he had said more to James.
But Biff was dead. Biff was dead. It beat a refrain in his head which mapped the swishing of the tyres. Only braking slightly to take another roundabout, skidding round it while at the same time overtaking another car doing the same manoeuvre, interrupted the flow.
Accelerator, brake, accelerator flat on the floor. Biff is dead. He could have saved him if he hadn't gone to James, spent the night with James, left Biff on his own to battle it out with Rackley and his gang. He was responsible. He shouldn't have left him. Biff had asked him not to.
A car coming the other way flashed its head lights. For a moment Alf thought it might be Rackley but it was going much too slowly and the flash was only a polite request for him to dip his own. Ignoring that, Alf sped past, throwing up a spray of water as he passed. Soon be half way. Then he'd know how he was doing. Foot down. Road bridge marked nearly half way. It flashed by and for a moment the rain ceased then continued as he came out the other side. Where was Rackley?
Then the twin beams of a car coming the other way lit up the sky, blinded Alf as the came towards him. Had he passed half way? It was difficult to tell. And suddenly Alf didn't care about the race. about who could win, about the gangs back on the estate.
With frightening speed the two cars closed.
Alf gritted his teeth and swung his car onto the other side of the road.
"This is for you, Biff," he said and drove straight between the headlights.
* * * * * *
Dominic looked up from the type on the screen. "So that's what happened," he said. It was almost a question.
"That's what might have happened," said Ken. "This is fiction you know."
"And we can find out?"
"Ring up Chris. Get him to ask how James and Alf are getting along."
Date started: Saturday, January 26, 2008
Date Finished: Thursday, March 20, 2008
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