Well, here we are at the final chapter. For most of this last section the centre of the universe is going to be a semi-disused car park at the back of the Hyde pub in Poundford Spa. But it looks as if the most important person in the whole story might not even be there...
“You’re not going,” said Adolf.
“I want you to stay at home this afternoon. It won’t do you any harm to have a Sunday indoors for once.”
“Yes, but why this week?”
“Well, it’s been five weeks now since you last saw that coloured boy. Maybe if you can get through the whole summer without seeing him you might realise that you don’t need friends like that.”
“But…” Jeremy forced himself to shut up: he hadn’t got around to putting the rope and a spare set of clothes back into the spare room yet, and that meant that if he got locked in for the afternoon he’d be stuck there. By keeping quiet he at least left himself the possibility of sneaking out later. Though at least part of him was inclined to stay at home anyway, as a means of postponing what were likely to be difficult conversations. And Tony couldn’t complain about it if he didn’t turn up now, because he could genuinely explain that Adolf had forbidden him to leave the house.
“Well… okay, then,” he said. “I’ll go and listen to some music in my room.”
He went upstairs, turned on his radio and lay back on the bed, trying to decide if he really wanted to go and face Bilal or not. At about quarter past two he went downstairs and collected a can of Coke from the kitchen, taking it back up to his room and then closing the door once more. The previous day he had been clear in his mind as to what he should do, and he still felt much the same now, except… it was going to be really difficult to face Bilal, even if he did simply intend to apologise to him.
About ten minutes later Adolf called up the stairs for him to turn the volume down, and he stuck his head out of the door long enough to yell “Sorry!” before lowering the volume a bit. He wasn’t to know that Adolf was simply making sure he hadn’t left the house, of course.
Finally Jeremy made up his mind: this had to be resolved, because it had been dragging on for far too long, making Tony’s life a misery, and probably Bilal’s, too. It was time to stop chickening out.
He opened his bedroom window, climbed out onto the porch and lowered himself to the ground. He couldn’t risk going to the shed to get his bike in case Adolf looked out of the window and saw him, so he set off for the Hyde on foot. He might get there a little late, but that wouldn’t matter, as long as he got there.
“He’s not going to turn up,” said Tony, looking at his watch.
“”It’s only just half-past,” Kam pointed out. “Give him a chance.”
“No, he’s bottled it,” insisted Tony. “I knew he’d do this. I’ll bloody kill him next time I see him.”
“Maybe he’s had a row with Adolf and got grounded again,” suggested Uzzy.
“Well, maybe,” conceded Tony. “In fact, he might even have done that deliberately, just to get out of coming.”
“Why would he want to do that?” asked Neil, who obviously was unaware of the background.
“Well… never mind, it’s a long story. Shall we get on with it? He can always join in when he gets here – if he gets here… Anyone know if Miguel’s coming today? Jeremy said he was going to call him, so he should know about it.”
But nobody had seen or heard from Miguel, so in the end Tony said that they might just as well start with a three-a-side game for now while they were waiting for the other two to turn up.
“I’ll ref the first game, if you like,” he said. “We haven’t got Jeremy’s cards, so the rest of you pair off and do rock-paper-scissors, and the winners can go on one team and the losers on the other.”
They did that and were just about to start the game when Jeremy arrived, slightly out of breath.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “Adolf didn’t want me to come, but…”
He looked at his friends. Tony looked a little surprised, but was smiling nonetheless, which was promising. Bilal, on the other hand, looked much less happy.
“Look, Bilal, I…” began Jeremy, but Bilal backed off, holding up his hands in a warding-off gesture.
“Sorry, Jeremy, but I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “In fact, it might be better if I went home… maybe we shouldn’t…”
They spun round, thinking that the owner of the pub had arrived to complain about them playing football on his property. But instead they saw six boys approaching them from the other end of the car park.
“Oh, shit,” muttered Neil, who recognised three of them: Edwards, Wells and Atkinson, in full skinhead uniform of tight jeans and big boots. He didn’t know the other three, but they were dressed the same way and had identical shaven heads, and that told its own story.
“We want a word,” said Wells. “We don’t like Pakis stinking out our town. And what the fuck are you white kids doing hanging about with shit like this? Anyway, it’s not you we want, so you can all fuck off – except you, Carter. You and the Pakis can stay for a chat. The rest of you, get lost.”
“I don’t think so,” said Tony. “I’m staying put.”
“Suit yourself,” said Wells. “Fucking hair like that, you’ve got to be some sort of hippy or something, and we don’t like that sort, either. What about you?” he said to Jeremy and Sim.
“I’m staying,” said Sim, moving to stand in front of Uzzy.
“Me, too,” said Jeremy.
“Well, in that case…”
Lunch at Kenji’s house had lasted a bit longer than expected, and so Kenji and Miguel didn’t get away from the house until after two-thirty. Neither was particularly worried about this: Miguel knew that they’d be able to join in with the game as soon as they arrived, and Kenji was just looking forward – albeit a little apprehensively – to meeting all Miguel’s friends, so neither was looking at his watch. They reached the path, walked up it as far as the car park, and stopped dead: the rest of the Collection was there, facing up to half a dozen skinheads who were all a year or two older than any of them.
“Oi, Rob, here’s another one,” said the skinhead nearest to the path as Miguel and Kenji appeared.
“God, this town is full of Pakis, isn’t it?” commented Wells.
“I am not a… not from Pakistan,” said Miguel. “I am Spanish.”
“You look like a fucking Paki to me,” said Wells. “Go on, then, say something in Spanish.”
“¡Maricón!” replied Miguel, confident that the skinhead couldn’t understand him. “¡Hijo de puta!”
“Sounds Spanish, I suppose. Okay, then, you can fuck off – and take your Chink friend with you – we’re only dealing with Pakis today.”
”I’m Japanese,” Kenji told him.
“Chinese, Japanese, I don’t give a fuck. Now piss off, before I change my mind.”
“Come on, Miguel,” said Kenji, in a low voice. “We’d better go.”
“I am not going. These are my friends.”
“Yes, but… if you stay, you’re going to get hurt. It’s obvious.”
“I know. But… I cannot leave. You should go – this is nothing to do with you. Go and call for the police.”
“Sorry, but if you’re staying, so am I. We’re friends, remember? And you know that I hate bullies…”
“Well… okay, then. We’re staying,” he told the skinhead, in a louder voice. “These are our friends.” And he walked over to join the rest of the Collection, and Kenji followed him.
“Your choice,” said Wells. “I don’t care how many I have to kick as long as the lesson gets across.”
“Lesson?” said Bilal, who was in no mood for this: his emotions were all over the place to start with, and suddenly being confronted with a bunch of stupid racist thugs was all it took to push him over the edge. “Who the hell are you to give anyone lessons in anything? You’re so bloody thick it’s a miracle you ever get those stupid boots laced properly. Why don’t you all just sod off and leave us alone?”
“What? How… fuck!” spluttered Wells. “Who the fuck do you think you are to talk to me like that? Why don’t you just fuck off to where you belong?”
“I belong here,” Bilal told him. “I was born here. We all were. And your ancestors didn’t start here, either – they came from Germany or France or Denmark or somewhere originally, so you’re as much immigrants as we are.”
“Don’t talk shit – we’re white.”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“Everything, innit? This is a white country!”
“God, you really are thick, aren’t you? I…”
“You boys! What are you doing?”
Everyone turned to look at the man who had just appeared at the end of the path. Five minutes after Jeremy had slipped out of his window his mother had gone up to ask whether there was anything special that he wanted for tea and so had discovered that he had gone, and as soon as she told Adolf he had realised that Jeremy was almost certainly going to the car park – which was exactly where Adolf didn’t want him to be, of course. So he had jumped into the car and driven straight round to the Hyde, only to find the pub empty (it was Sunday, of course, when pubs had to be closed after two p.m.) and the car park gate shut. He’d known there was another way into the car park and had just found it – and apparently just in time, because it looked as if nobody had been hurt yet.
But Wells didn’t know who he was and nor did he care: he was incandescent with rage that some fucking Paki bastard had just called him thick, and nothing was going to stop him dealing with it. So he turned to face Adolf.
“Fuck off, granddad,” he spat out. “Just piss off before you get hurt.”
Now it was Adolf’s turn to turn purple. “Do you know who I am?” he managed to say.
“I don’t give a fuck who you are, just get lost.” And Wells pulled out his knife and flicked the blade open.
“But… you stupid shit, I’m the NF branch secretary.”
“I don’t care if you’re Adolf fucking Hitler,” responded Wells, stepping towards him and flourishing the blade. “If you’re still here in five seconds I’m going to cut your stupid ears off. One, two, three…”
Adolf had never been so furious in his life. He could hardly speak in his rage – how dare this stupid yob speak to him like that? And actually threatening him with a knife… it was unthinkable! It was…
And he was suddenly aware of a pain in his chest, and his left arm was tingling… and the pain got worse… he stumbled off to the left, leaned against the fence and slid down it onto the ground.
“’Ere, do you think he’s okay?” asked Edwards, looking worried.
“Fuck him,” said Wells, dismissively, turning back to face Bilal. “Now you, you little shit: if you don’t get down on your knees and apologise, I’m going to fucking kill you, right? So kneel.”
“Go wank a donkey,” said Bilal, clearly.
There was an amazed silence. Wells’ jaw literally dropped open in shock, and so did those of his friends – and, indeed, those of the Collection, who had never seen Bilal in this mood. It was hard to tell which of them was most furious: Bilal, for being confronted with a thick racist thug when he wasn’t in a mood for anything like it, or Wells, for finding a Paki brat at least three years younger than him who actually dared to give him lip. But Wells had the knife, and he had been pushed past any restraint. He drew back his arm and hurled the knife at Bilal.
Jeremy saw it was about to happen: he’d seen the same brand of racist nonsense day in, day out, of course, and he knew how Wells would be likely to react to Bilal’s defiance. So he tried to put himself between Bilal and the skinhead, confident that Wells wouldn’t try to knife a white kid, no matter how angry he was. But he hadn’t counted on Wells throwing the knife instead of advancing and using it to stab, and so he was too slow in starting to move. As Wells’ arm came back Jeremy spread his own arms and shouted “No!”, but it was too late: Wells hurled the knife. If Jeremy hadn’t tried to get in the way it would have hit Bilal squarely in the chest, but instead it thumped into Jeremy’s right arm just above the elbow.
It didn’t hurt much at first: it just felt as if he had been punched. But after a couple of seconds the fact that there was a knife blade right through his arm and sticking out the other side sank in and he cried out and dropped to his knees.
The skinheads had never heard of the Sacred Band of Thebes, of course, and neither had Jeremy’s friends, but the Band’s principle (‘if you hurt someone I love you're in deep, deep shit’) governed what happened next: the Collection were all devoted to Jeremy, who was fundamentally the reason they were all friends in the first place, and seeing him hurt like that sent them berserk. And while Kenji didn’t know Jeremy at all, he hated bullying in every form, and so when the rest of the Collection charged, he didn’t hold back.
The skinheads were all fourteen or fifteen years old, except for the thirteen-year-old Edwards, but that didn’t bother the Collection at all. Tony and Bilal took one look at each other and charged at Wells, screaming with rage, and the older boy didn’t have a chance – he got one kick in and was then hurled to the ground. His friends didn’t do any better, though they might have got the upper hand if it hadn’t been for Kenji, who for once was able to put his training into practice without holding anything back. He put two skinheads on the floor in quick succession, and the third one he squared up to had the sense to run.
Edwards managed to avoid Kenji and decided to try to get some blows in against the smaller kids, but unfortunately for him he picked on Miguel, and once again Kenji’s training paid off. He was a little too enthusiastic about the follow-up hold, and Edwards screamed as his elbow was dislocated.
The last skinhead standing decided he’d had enough, too, and fled down the path. Bilal stood up, finally calming down a little, and looked around. Wells and one of the other skinheads seemed to be unconscious; one was sitting on the wall looking pale and holding his arm; two had disappeared completely, and the last one was pinned down beneath Kam and Neil. On his own side, everyone was still apparently okay except for Tony, who was sitting on the ground rubbing a sore leg, and Sim, who had taken a fist in the face and whose mouth was bleeding. And Jeremy, of course…
“Oh, shit,” said Bilal, seeing that Jeremy had just pulled the knife from his arm. “You should have left it in, you idiot…”
He got there in time to grab Jeremy as he fell over, blood pouring from his arm. “Someone run up to the pub and call for an ambulance,” he said, pulling his shirt over his head. “Neil or Kam, one of you would be best – they’d be more likely to listen to someone a bit older. Tony, can you use that leg?”
Tony nodded. “Just a dead leg,” he said. “It’ll be okay in a minute.”
“Then run back to my house and get my dad. Tell him to bring his bag. Uzzy… no, it’d better be… Sim, can you go and check on Jeremy’s step-dad? I don’t think there’s a lot we can do, but maybe he’s carrying some pills he needs, or something. Uzzy, Awais – if blood doesn’t bother you, come here and help me. Mig, you and your friend…”
“Kenji,” Miguel supplied.
“Okay – well, can you two keep an eye on the skinheads? If they look like waking up, hit them again or something.”
Bilal folded his shirt up and put it over the two wounds on Jeremy’s arm, getting Uzzy to hold it in place while he pulled the belt from Jeremy’s jeans and then used it to keep the shirt tight against the wounds. By now Jeremy was almost unconscious, lying on the ground with Awais supporting his head, and Bilal was getting worried about the amount of blood he was losing: the shirt he had put over the wound was already turning red.
Tony returned a few minutes later with Dr Khan, who took one look at the scene and assessed that there were at least three patients here that would need hospital treatment. He took a quick look at Jeremy and checked that Bilal was doing all he could to apply direct pressure to the wounds, recognised that a dislocated elbow might hurt but could wait until the ambulance arrived, rapidly checked that both unconscious skinheads were still breathing and not apparently in any danger, and then turned his attention to Adolf, who seemed to have suffered a heart attack. He was still at work when the ambulance arrived (the pub owner had opened the gates to let the emergency vehicles into the car park).
He spoke to the crew, who radioed for reinforcements, and a second ambulance arrived just as the first crew had finished loading Adolf into their vehicle. The second crew got Jeremy onto a stretcher.
“Can I go with him?” asked Bilal.
“There won’t be room. We’ll go in my car,” his father told him. But they had to wait, because at that point the police arrived – the pub owner had insisted on calling them when Neil had told him why they needed an ambulance – and they had to stay to explain what had happened.
Jeremy woke up in bed. For a moment he wasn’t sure where he was or why his arm was hurting, but then he remembered what had happened. He turned his head… and there was Bilal sitting in the chair beside the bed. And he was holding Jeremy’s hand.
“Hi,” said Jeremy. “What happened? Is everyone okay?”
“All except you. They’ve been pouring fresh blood into you for a while… why did you pull the knife out, you moron?”
“Because it hurt. Look, Bilal…”
“Later,” said Bilal, though he didn’t let go of Jeremy’s hand. “We can talk about it later.”
“No, we should talk about it now. Is… is Tony here?”
“He went to find something to drink,” said Bilal. “He’ll be back in a minute, I should think. And your mum’s here, too, but she’s with Adolf at the moment.”
“Oh. Is he here as well?”
“Yes, but he’s in an adult ward. He had a heart attack, but my dad says he’s probably going to be okay. Not that we should care – except he did try to stop the skinheads, I suppose.”
“Yes… except… how did he know where I was? I’ve never told him where we play football.”
Bilal shrugged. “It’s not important, is it?” he said. “You’re okay, and that’s all I care about.”
Jeremy was about to respond to that when Tony came in, carrying two cans of Coke.
“You’re awake, then,” he said. He seemed uncomfortable.
“No, this is my ghost,” said Jeremy. “Look… sit down a minute. I need to talk to both of you.”
“It’s okay, I’ll just go,” said Tony.
“No, you won’t. Sit down, or I’ll never talk to you again.”
Tony hesitated, but then came and sat on the second chair next to Bilal.
“Look, I’ve been really stupid about everything,” Jeremy began. “I’m really sorry – especially to you, Tony. And… Bilal, I’m sorry I embarrassed you before I went to America. Although… you haven’t actually changed your mind about girls, have you? Only… well, you’re holding my hand, that’s all.”
“I’m holding your hand because you’re my best friend, not because I want to marry you, okay? And because you sort of saved my life this afternoon, of course…”
“Okay. Well, in that case… Tony?”
“I’m really, really sorry about the way I’ve behaved since I got back home. And… well… see, it’s just… if you’re not completely pissed off with me, I mean… could we…. I mean, do you think…”
”Oh, for God’s sake, Jeremy,” said Bilal. “Tony, Jeremy wants to know if you still want to go out with him.”
“Is that what you want to know?” asked Tony, looking at Jeremy with an unreadable expression on his face.
“Yes,” said Jeremy, not daring to meet Tony’s eyes. “I don’t deserve you, but… yes. Please?”
“Oh, God – yes, obviously, you moron! Of course I do!”
And Jeremy’s face lit up in a big smile, and Tony came round to the other side of the bed, where Jeremy’s good arm was, helped him to sit up in bed and then hugged him. And then Bilal leaned in from the other side and hugged them both, and then, to Jeremy’s absolute astonishment, kissed him on the cheek.
“I should say sorry, too,” he explained. “I’ve thought some bad things about both of you. But when you nearly die and only don't because a friend sticks himself in the way it sort of makes you start thinking about what's important and what isn't. And I reckon what's important is the three of us being together. So I've decided that I don’t care what you decide to do together, because you’re my two best friends, and I don’t want that to change, so… if you two don’t mind hanging around with a weird boy who likes girls… well, can we go back to how we were before?”
“I’d really like that,” said Jeremy.
“Me, too,” said Tony.
“Then that’s settled. And nothing’s going to come between us again, right?”
The hospital kept Jeremy in overnight to check that his blood-count was more or less back to normal and then let him go home. They let Adolf out at the same time, so Jeremy’s mum drove them home together and then parked them in the living room while she went to make them something to eat.
“So?” said Jeremy, once they were alone. “How does it feel knowing that a Paki doctor saved your life?”
“I’ve already spoken to… to Dr Khan. But it doesn’t really change anything. After all, if the Paki kids hadn’t been there none of it would have happened.”
Jeremy gaped at him. “They were just peacefully minding their own business playing football,” he said. “How can that be an excuse for knifing people?”
“That wasn’t supposed…” Adolf shut up suddenly in mid-sentence.
Jeremy stared at him. “That wasn’t supposed… to happen,” he concluded, in disbelief. “You knew! You knew those skinheads were coming – that’s how you knew where we were! I couldn’t work it out before, because I’ve never told you where we play – but you knew – you had to know to send them round. Who told you? Was it the pub owner?”
“I didn’t send them. But… yes, I knew. That’s why I wanted you to stay at home: I didn’t want you getting hurt.”
“But you don’t care if my friends get murdered, do you?!”
“I didn’t know they’d do anything stupid like carrying knives. They were just supposed to rough the Paki kids up a bit… look, Jeremy, I explained it to you before. They shouldn’t be here. We thought if the boys shook them up a bit their parents might decide to move away, that’s all.”
“And where are they supposed to go? To somewhere else in England where the local whites don’t want them, either? Or are they all supposed to get on a boat and sail off to a country most of them have never seen – all the Asian kids I know were born here: this is their home! This is… oh, hell, I give up. What would the police say if they knew?”
“Nothing. It wasn’t official in any way, just some kids acting on their own. Okay, we didn’t stop them, but that’s not illegal – and we really didn’t know they’d have knives.”
“And what does mum think?”
That made Adolf sit up. “She doesn’t know. That I knew about it, I mean. And it wouldn’t do any good if you told her, because I’d have to deny it – and she’d probably believe me, because he knows you don’t like me. She’d think you were making it up.”
“Really? Shall we find out?”
“What’s the point in upsetting her? Look, Jeremy, whether you like me or not I’m doing my best to make a decent home for you. And, okay, what happened shouldn’t have happened, but it doesn’t alter the fact that I’m right, and immigration is damaging the country. One day you’ll see that for yourself. So… let it go, okay?”
“But why should I let it go?”
Adolf sighed. “Okay,” he said. “Like I said before, I suppose you’re old enough to make some of your own decisions now. And I can tell you really like the Khan boy, even if I’m sure he’s not good for you… so, if you agree to not bother your mother with this, I’ll stop trying to prevent you from seeing him. And you can invite him round, if you absolutely insist – but only to your own room, okay? From now on, your room is your territory, and you can invite whoever you like there. But… if you misbehave, I can still suspend that right, understand? I’m still responsible for teaching you good behaviour, after all. So – do we have a deal?”
“That seems fair,” agreed Jeremy. “Thanks. But if any more of my friends get threatened I might change your mind.”
“Don’t push it, Jeremy. I’ll give you my word that I won’t have anything to do with that sort of thing in future, and if I find out that anyone else in the Front is thinking about it I’ll try to change their mind. But that’s because this is going to give us some very bad publicity, not because I think it’s wrong. And I can’t give you any guarantees – you saw for yourself that those boys didn’t take any notice of me, after all.”
“Well… okay. Then we have a deal.”
Jeremy spent the rest of Monday recuperating, but on Tuesday morning he felt well enough to go round to Tony’s house, and Tony took him up to his bedroom and closed the door.
“So, how are you feeling?” Tony asked.
“Not too bad. The arm’s a bit sore, but I’m managing to do most things. Look…. I meant what I said at the hospital, Tony: I’m really sorry for messing you about like I did. You’ve been a brilliant friend, and I really don’t deserve you.”
“That’s true,” said Tony, grinning, “but you’re stuck with me anyway, because I’m not letting you go now, not after all the trouble I’ve had getting you. So even if Bilal suddenly comes over all queer, you’re sticking with me, okay?”
“I promise,” said Jeremy, hugging him hard.
“So, what would you like to do today? I don’t suppose you can play tennis with that arm – it gives you an even better excuse than usual for being crap. Though it had better be working properly by the weekend, because now we’ve finally got ten players we’re definitely playing football this week. And if that friend of Miguel’s can play football half as well as he can fight, he’ll be amazing.”
“You don’t think the skinheads will be back, then?”
“God, no. Bilal’s dad says they’ve got the leader for any number of things, including GBH and even attempted murder, if they decide to go after that – so he won’t be back for years. And one of them’s got his arm in plaster, and Kam says he’s going to put it all over the school that it was done by an eleven-year-old. And the rest got their arses kicked by a load of little kids – at least, that’s how Bilal’s dad put it. They’ll be so ashamed they won’t show their faces for ages, and even then they’ll leave us alone in case we do it again. So football is definitely back on at the weekend.
“In the meantime, though, what do you want to do?”
“Could we just stay here for a bit? See, I’ve got a serious problem: with my right hand out of use it takes me forever to get undressed, and I wondered if you’d like to help me.”
“I expect I could do that,” said Tony, grinning, and proceeded to prove it. For good measure he took his own clothes off, too.
“Is there anything else you normally use your right hand for that you’d like me to help you with?” he asked.
“It’s funny you should say that,” said Jeremy, lying down on the bed and grinning at him. “Come and lie here beside me and let’s see if we can think of anything…”
…and there, I think, we can safely leave them.
Author’s note: support for the NF began to decline rapidly after the election of Mrs Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1979, and since then it has split more than once. It still exists today, but is politically insignificant. Other right-wing parties grew out of it, however, and the most important is now the British National Party, whose candidate for Mayor of London in May 2008 polled nearly 70,000 votes, so there are still those around who share Adolf’s point of view - though it should be pointed out that the 70,000 votes were actually less than three per cent of the total votes cast, which means that – fortunately – it is still very much a minority position.
This would be a good place to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who has written to me in response to this story – when things get sticky and the muse goes on strike, it’s knowing that there are people out there who are following and enjoying the story that keeps me going. Thank you, one and all. And I’d really like to hear your final thoughts on the story (and that goes for people who have not written to me previously as well). What worked for you, and what didn’t? What can I do to make the next one better? New mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m not sure when I’ll be starting the next one – there are a couple of other projects I am working on, including a mainstream (i.e. no sex) story I’m hoping to try for publication with (well, we're all allowed to dream, aren't we?). But I’m sure I’ll be back at some point. I’m thinking I might possibly write about the boys Sim and Uzzy met in Chapter 16, which would mean an inner-city background instead of the more gentrified atmosphere of Poundford Spa. What do you think? Is there anything else you’d like to see me write about? Write and let me know!
Copyright 2008 – all rights reserved. Please do not reprint, repost or otherwise reproduce this or any part thereof anywhere without my written permission.