THE HUNTING SEASON
by Pink Panther
Hi everybody! The story's really rattling along now. And we're nearly there. After this, there will be one more chapter, two at the most. A great deal happens in this chapter. What it doesn't contain is very much sex. There are several references but hardly any detail. There simply wasn't anything I could have included that I haven't described before.
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A few days later, school finished for the half-term break. On the Monday evening, Alex received a telephone call.
"Good evening," the caller said. "Is that Mr Faulkner?"
"Yes," Alex confirmed. "And you are?"
"Julian Temple-Reid; I'm a friend of Gordon's. I'm the music master at Austerley. I understand that you've got an interview next week and might like to know a bit about the place."
"Ah, yes!" Alex responded. "Gordon said you might call. Good to hear from you."
"Rather than discuss things over the telephone, I wondered if we might meet one evening for a drink. The Rose and Crown in Austerley village is okay, and it's pretty quiet during the week."
"Yes, that sounds fine," Alex said. "When would suit you? Preferably not tomorrow; I rehearse with the local choral society on a Tuesday."
"Let's make it Wednesday, then. Say half past seven?"
"Yes, that's no problem. How will I recognise you?"
"Just ask for me at the bar. They'll point you in the right direction."
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
On the Wednesday evening, Alex drove the twenty-five miles to Austerley. He had no problem finding the Rose & Crown, which was located in the centre of the village. After parking the car, he made his way inside and ordered a half of shandy.
"I'm meeting a Mr Temple-Reid," he said to the barman. "Do you know if he's here?"
"At the table by the fireplace," the barman answered.
Alex strolled across.
"Julian?" he said. "I'm Alex."
"Good to meet you," Julian said, standing up.
They shook hands. At around five feet nine, Julian was a little shorter than Alex, with a trim, athletic-looking physique. Alex judged him to be in his early thirties. He was sporting an MCC tie.
"You're a cricketer, then?" Alex said, smiling.
"Sort of," Julian conceded, resuming his seat. "Not bad, I suppose. I can hit the ball pretty well."
"I was always more into rugby," Alex said, sitting down to Julian's right.
"And you're still singing?"
"Yes, I joined the local choral society a few months after I started at Woodchurch."
"Excellent! You could be a great asset to our choral performances."
"So tell me about Austerley."
"I've been here for four years," Julian said quietly. "It's developing into a first-rate school. Academic standards are on their way up, and there's none of this ruling by fear nonsense. The boys are treated well and are expected to treat others in a similar manner. Potential bullies are put in their place and repeat offenders are expelled, though that's only happened twice since I've been here. Sport is important as it is in any prep school, but it's not the be-all and end-all. The school is very supportive of the arts. As a music teacher, other than one of the cathedral schools, I'd be hard pressed to find anywhere better."
"I see," Alex said. "That all sounds very positive. Tell me about maths."
"That has been something of a problem. Jim Gould never got enough work out of the boys. The Common Entrance results were okay, but he did nothing to stretch the most able boys, and even less to help the ones who found the subject hard. Well, last year, after he became unwell, the Common Entrance results went right down. I doubt that they'll be any better this year."
Alex nodded sagely. The situation was not unlike the one he'd encountered when he started at Woodchurch, although that had been confined to a single class.
"One of the problems was that he used to give the rugby players an easy ride," Julian went on. "If they made an excuse for not having done prep, he'd let them off."
"Well that has to stop," Alex said firmly. "In my view, it should be just the opposite. Boys who represent the school should set an example in terms of attitude and effort. That's what we were expected to do."
"I quite agree," Julian said.
"Well thanks for letting me know," Alex said. "If I do get the job, it's the first thing I'll sort out." He lowered his voice. "Gordon also told me that you're of our persuasion. How does that work?"
"Oh, it's the most civilised place I've ever come across. If one of the boys in Upper Fourth wants a younger friend, he first has to get the school captain's agreement. First and second year boys are totally off-limits, so his next step will be to ask someone in Third Year or Lower Fourth. If the boy agrees, he'll ask the school captain to make the necessary arrangements.
Once he's found a younger friend, he's expected to stick with him until he leaves. He's expected to look after the younger lad, and the younger boy is expected to support him. So if he's playing for the school at rugby, for example, his younger friend will be on the touchline cheering him on."
"I see! And what about us?"
"Much the same. I can't just go and have sex with any boy who takes my fancy. As it goes, Parkinson's been with me for nearly three years. It's been wonderful. Of course, it's nothing like what Gordon gets away with, but you must admit, that is pretty outrageous. I take it that you've applied for the housemaster post as well?"
"That will make things easier. You'll pick a boy from your house, which will be Marlbrook. If you do get the job, I should be able to help you out with that."
"You may be able to get a bit on the side; for example, a boy who's not in your house that you get close to because he's very good at maths. But if you do go down that road, you'll need to keep it very quiet."
"Yes," Alex acknowledged. "I understand. Anyway, we'll have to see how the interview goes."
"Yes indeed! I wish you the best of luck!"
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
For the boys, the half term break passed off much as it usually did. For the most part the weather was cold and damp. Chris and Mark still went running together. Russell played football when he could and went out on his bike occasionally. Other than that, they tended to stay indoors. Inevitably, the three couples had sex as often as they could, including the four older boys meeting on the Friday afternoon for a four-way at Michael's house.
Alex also had plenty of sex. Mainly he saw Bradshaw and Pennington on alternate days, but did allow himself a day off before having a threesome with the two horny thirteen-year olds. In between times, he prepared for the upcoming interview. As part of the process, he would have to give a thirty-minute class to a group of eleven and twelve-year olds, all of whom were expected to be good candidates for the Common Entrance exam, or at least that was what the information said.
He'd decided to give a class on percentages. As requested, he'd informed the school so that they could ensure that the candidates would all do different topics. He'd received an acknowledgement, stating that they were happy with his choice. With his preparations completed, he set work for the classes he was scheduled to teach on the day of the interview.
The following Monday, when they returned to school, Alex informed each of his classes that he would be out of school the following day "as he had something to attend to," and gave them details of the work that they would have to do. Finally, he gave the same details to Neil Fleming, together with copies of the worksheet that he'd prepared for his fourth-year top set. He was ready to go.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
The following morning, Alex arrived at Austerley Preparatory School at 9:15, fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. Having parked his car, he took in the sight. He could see what Gordon meant about the trustees having spent money on the buildings, which looked far better than they had when he'd been at the cathedral school. Making his way into the main reception area, he rang the bell. The secretary showed him into a waiting room. Another man was already there, another candidate, Alex assumed.
"Good morning, Alex said brightly, extending a hand. "I'm Alex Faulkner."
"Groves," the man responded in a superior tone, accepting the handshake in a manner that suggested that he thought he was doing Alex a favour.
Sitting down, Alex looked the man over. Probably early thirties, he reckoned, about the same height as himself but slimmer, the man's dark hair plastered to his scalp with the aid of a considerable amount of hair-cream.
"So where are you teaching at the moment?" Alex asked.
"St Barnabus," Mr Groves responded. "It's easily the best school in the area, but it's small. I'll earn a much better salary here."
Alex felt his hackles rise. The man was acting as though he'd already got the job. `Maybe he has,' Alex speculated. He quickly dismissed the idea. If it was going to be a shoe-in, Gordon, who always had his finger on the pulse, would have known, and wouldn't have told him to apply.
"What about you?" Mr Groves demanded.
"I teach at Woodchurch Boys' Grammar," Alex answered. "I've been there two and a half years."
"Not really the background you'd need for this job," Mr Groves said dismissively. "You need to understand what prep schools are like."
"Well, I understand it to the extent that I attended one. I was at the cathedral school. I was one of the choristers."
"But you haven't taught in one. Teaching eight and nine-year olds is quite different from what you've done. What made you apply?"
"My mentor from my time at the cathedral school suggested that I should. He thought I'd be a good candidate."
"I can't imagine why he'd have thought that."
"Well, when I started at Woodchurch, I had some fire-fighting to do. I was given a third-year class who'd been badly let down the previous year; their maths master was taken ill and they brought in a temporary teacher who couldn't cope. I did quite well, turning that around."
"Oh, but standards in the independent sector are so much higher than they are in state schools. But I suppose they felt they had to invite some outsiders for interview. To be honest, they're just going through the motions."
Alex felt like telling the man that he was talking though his arse, but decided it wasn't worth the trouble. He was happy that they'd have to teach a class for half an hour. He was sure that Mr Groves would talk down to the boys in a way that he never would. If that was what the school was looking for, he wouldn't want the job anyway. His instinct, however, told him that it wouldn't be.
The waiting room door opened and the secretary ushered in another man.
"You're all here now," she said, smiling. "I'll go and tell Mr Cornick."
She disappeared, closing the door behind her. The latest arrival introduced himself as John Cartwright. He seemed pleasant enough, Alex considered, though perhaps a little too quiet. Moments later, they were joined by the Headmaster.
"Good morning, gentlemen!" he said warmly. "Welcome to Austerley. I'm Brian Cornick, the headmaster here. Let me explain the plan for today. I'm going to give you a brief tour now, during which you'll be free to ask any questions you want. We will then begin your demonstration lessons. We'll be going in alphabetical order, so Mr Cartwright will be first. Then after morning break, it'll be Mr Faulkner followed by Mr Groves. While that's going on, rather than have you sitting around twiddling your thumbs, some of my colleagues will show you more of the school and be available to answer questions, so you'll be able to hear it straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak."
He paused for a moment, as though sizing up the three candidates.
"That will take us up to lunchtime, when you will be welcome to join us in the refectory," he went on. "Interviews, in alphabetical order again, will begin at half past one. Are there any questions?"
As there were none, the tour began. Alex had already taken to Mr Cornick, who despite being in his mid-fifties, had a lively, engaging manner and clearly believed passionately in what the school was trying to achieve. They looked in on three different classes. In each case, the atmosphere was purposeful but relaxed, the boys busily engaged in whatever it was they were doing.
Alex was impressed, quite excited to find an institution so in tune with his vision of what schools should be like. There had also been some cute boys in each of the classes they'd visited. That was a definite bonus.
As they walked around the school, Alex asked several questions, which Mr Cornick answered with characteristic enthusiasm. He also sneaked a few glances at Mr Groves. The man looked thoroughly bored, as though the process was somehow beneath him. After half an hour, they returned to reception.
"Right, gentlemen," Mr Cornick intoned. "It's time to move on. I'm just going to collect the chairman of the trustees, who's waiting in my office. When I return, Mr Cartwright, it will be your turn to give your lesson. You'll be observed by myself, the chairman of the trustees and my deputy, Reg Pearce, who's with the class at the moment. His specialism is languages, but to be honest, he could teach just about anything at this level."
A couple of minutes later, the Headmaster took Mr Cartwright away, leaving Alex and Mr Groves in the waiting room. Almost immediately, the door opened and Julian appeared.
"Good morning," he said, giving no indication that he and Alex had met before. "I'm Julian Temple-Reid. I'm the music specialist. The Head has asked me to show you around a bit more. If you've got any questions, feel free to ask and I'll answer as honestly as I can. Right," he finished, leading the way into a well-appointed suite of rooms. "This is my empire."
"A nice set-up you've got," Alex commented, looking around admiringly.
"Very much so," Julian agreed. "The trustees are very keen to support the creative subjects."
"It doesn't help with the Common Entrance results, does it?" Mr Groves said dismissively.
"Over the four years that I've been here, it's got us two music scholarships," Julian countered. "And I'm hoping we'll get another one this year."
"At St Barnabus, we concentrate on the subjects required for Common Entrance," Mr Groves said smugly. "That's what the parents pay for. The boys don't need too many other distractions."
Alex avoided looking Julian in the eye, knowing that if he had, he'd have burst out laughing. They moved on to look at one of the new boarding houses, Alex noting how light and airy it was. The ground floor comprised two four-bed dormitories, two six bed dormitories, a large recreation room, a sleeping-in room, showers and toilets.
"This is where the first and second years live," Julian explained. "When the housemaster has a night off, whoever takes charge in his absence uses the sleeping-in room. Have either of you applied for the housemaster post?"
"Certainly not!" Mr Groves said dismissively. "I'll see quite enough of them during the day. In any case, I live not far from here."
"I have," Alex said quietly.
"This is Marlbrook," Julian informed him. "If you do get the job, this will be your empire. Let's go upstairs."
The upper floor had a further three four-bed rooms, three six bed rooms, more showers and toilets and the housemaster's apartment.
"This where the older boys live," Julian said, smiling. "Sorry I can't show you the apartment. Phil Stamp has all his stuff in there."
They wandered into one of the dormitories. It had been personalised far more than the ones that the younger boys used, with posters and photographs adorning the walls.
"We encourage them to make it feel like home," Julian explained, "which it is during term."
Alex nodded his understanding, noting the disapproving look that Mr Groves was giving the place. They strolled back to the main building, arriving just as the bell sounded for morning break. As the boys began to emerge from their classes, Alex was impressed by how calm the place was. There was no running or shouting. Without anyone barking at them, they youngsters moved quietly out onto the playground. The atmosphere seemed very relaxed. Better still, there were cute boys wherever he looked. They returned to the waiting room, where tea and coffee was waiting for them.
"I'll leave you here," Julian said. "Best of luck with your demonstration lessons!"
Moments later, John Cartwright reappeared.
"How did it go?" Alex asked, smiling.
"Okay, I think," Mr Cartwright answered. "Nice group of lads, fairly bright, nothing exceptional as far as I could see."
As break ended, the headmaster bustled in.
"Mr Faulkner, it's your turn now!"
Taking a deep breath, Alex stood up, picked up his briefcase and followed the Headmaster. He didn't talk. With thirty minutes to make the best impression he could, he needed to focus. They entered a classroom where a group of fifteen eleven and twelve-year olds were under the supervision of a wiry man with bright blue eyes who, like Mr Cornick, appeared to be in his fifties.
"Right boys," the Headmaster announced. "This is Mr Faulkner. For the next half hour, he's going to be doing some work with you. Please give him your full attention."
Alex strode to the front, his eyes homing in on the chalk and the blackboard duster. He had spares in his briefcase, but it appeared he wouldn't need them.
"Good morning boys!" he said. "This morning, we're going to do some work on percentages. Who can tell me what the expression `per cent' means?"
A forest of hands appeared. "Out of a hundred," one boy called out.
Alex looked the lad right in the eye.
"And your name is?" he demanded.
"Well, Jackson, is it normal practice to call out when asked a question?"
"I'm pleased to hear it," Alex said pointedly. "If you know the answer, put your hand up and wait to be asked, the same as everyone else." He turned to another boy. "Well, `per cent' means?"
"Out of a hundred, sir."
Asking a different boy each time, the rapid-fire questioning continued, Alex asking the boys to make a series of mental calculations. His energy and enthusiasm were infectious. Within a few minutes, the youngsters were eating out of his hand, just as he'd hoped they would.
With the boys fully engaged, they moved onto solving problems, including a type that the boys hadn't met before. The room was buzzing, the energy level not dropping for a moment. Finally, Alex reached into his brief case. Removing a sheaf of worksheets, he handed them out.
"Begin these now," he instructed, "You can complete them for prep. I'm sure Mr Pearce will be happy to mark them for you."
Without a murmur of protest, the boys set to work. Alex checked his watch. He'd been going for a little over twenty minutes, plenty long enough for boys of that age. As he invariably did, he began to patrol the room, checking the youngsters' work. After around five minutes, Mr Cornick tapped him on the shoulder.
"I'd better take you back," he said quietly. "We need to see what Mr Groves can do."
Picking up his briefcase, Alex followed the Headmaster out of the room. Once again, there was no conversation, Mr Cornick giving no reaction to what he'd just witnessed. With interviews taking place after lunch, that was to be expected, Alex concluded. He'd had fun, and it was obvious the boys had enjoyed it. He was unable to glean whether it was what the school was looking for.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
While Mr Groves gave his lesson, John Cartwright and Alex were given a tour of the sports facilities by Mr Kingsman, the master in charge, a real enthusiast whom Alex judged to be not much older than himself. Since he'd last visited the school some twelve years earlier, everything had been completely refurbished. It was all very impressive.
With the tour at an end, they returned to the waiting room to find Mr Groves already there. A few moments later, the bell sounded the end of morning school. Almost immediately, Mr Cornick reappeared and accompanied them to the refectory.
Once again, Alex was struck by how calm and relaxed everything seemed. Although the boys were not being regimented in any way, their behaviour was everything he could have asked for, a sure sign that they were happy to be there. As well as that, there were plenty of cute ones, and a good number of others that he would have been happy to get to know.
This was, he decided, a school in which he'd be delighted to work. He wouldn't be able to entertain visitors or take the boys out, the way that Gordon and Martin did, but he could live without that. What he would be able to do was to build some real relationships, which despite his best efforts, he'd found so difficult to sustain at Woodchurch. He could definitely do the job. All he had to do now was to persuade the Head and the trustees to appoint him. But not at any price, he told himself. When it came to the interview, he'd say what he had to say, not what he thought they'd want to hear.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
A few minutes after the end of the lunch break, the interviews began. Mr Cartwright was called first. As he left the waiting room, Alex took a book from his brief case and began to read, but found it hard to concentrate.
He'd miss teaching at Woodchurch, he reflected. He'd miss Bradshaw especially, even though their relationship hadn't lived up to expectations. And to some extent, he'd miss teaching A-level and the challenge which that represented. On the other hand, he wouldn't miss the huge quantity of marking that he was currently having to do.
After a little over half an hour, Mr Cartwright returned. A couple of minutes later, Alex was called in. After making the introductions, the chairman of the trustees began by questioning Alex's lack of experience at teaching younger boys, and those of average or below-average ability. Alex responded confidently and concisely, explaining how he'd deal with the challenge.
The Headmaster followed up by asking why, rather than teaching for the full thirty minutes, he'd taught for just over twenty minutes before giving the boys some work to do. Alex was in his element. With passion and enthusiasm, he explained exactly why he'd done it, and how fundamental it was to the way he worked.
"You've also applied for the housemaster post," Mr Cornick went on. "This is a forward-looking school. Our housemasters are expected to look after the personal development of the boys in their charge. What could you bring to that?"
"When I went to prep school," Alex explained. "It was like I was entering an alien world. Neither of my parents had been to boarding school, so they couldn't really prepare me for it. I was very fortunate. My housemaster was Gordon Milward, the renowned choirmaster. He helped me to settle in and to feel part of the school community. Later on, he helped me through the difficult bits when I started growing up. That's what I'd do."
"We see from your application," the chairman said, "that you will not be available to take up the post until September. Wouldn't you be willing to compromise on that? I'm sure you understand that we need to get someone in post as soon as possible to make the improvements that need to be made."
Taking a deep breath, Alex explained why no such compromise would be possible.
"Were we to offer you the post starting from September," the chairman followed up, "would you accept it?"
"Yes," Alex responded. "Definitely."
The chairman looked at the Headmaster and the other trustee, who indicated that they had no further questions.
"Well, Mr Faulkner, do you have any questions that you'd like to ask us?"
"Yes," Alex said evenly. "In some prep schools, boys who excel at sport are given an easier ride in class than I would be happy with. I believe that boys who represent the school should be expected to set the standard for the others in terms of their behaviour and their attitude to their studies. Headmaster, could I ask where you stand on this?"
"As far as I'm concerned, that's absolutely fine," Mr Cornick said firmly. "We're trying to raise standards. What I would ask you to do is to make it clear right from the start so that the boys know what's expected of them."
"Absolutely," Alex confirmed. "In each class, I'd get together all the boys who either played for the school or hoped to do so, and explain it to them. I'd also discuss it with Mr Kingsman, whom I met earlier on."
"On that basis, I can assure you of my full support," the Headmaster assured him.
With that, the interview was over. Alex returned to the waiting room, happy with the way it had gone. He'd done it on his terms. If they gave him the job, it would be because they wanted what he had to offer, not because he'd performed well at interview.
He returned to his book, finding his concentration no better than it had been earlier. He had too much to think about. Taking up a position at Austerley would be a big step. How would he deal with the youngsters who came to the school hating maths? Turning that situation around would be his biggest challenge.
Would he teach all the boys in the school? With two classes in each year, that probably wouldn't be possible. Teaching the lower group in first and second year would be one of his priorities. If he could help them to improve their number skills, they'd become more confident. Everything else would flow from that. Who would teach the boys he didn't teach? Would whoever it was be willing to do things the way he wanted them done? That would be crucial.
The waiting room door opened. Alex looked up to see Mr Groves come back in. He looked as smug as ever. The interviews were now over. Alex wondered how long the panel would take to make a decision. With a choral society rehearsal to attend in the evening, he hoped it wouldn't be too long. After about twenty minutes, Mr Cornick appeared.
"Mr Faulkner," he intoned. "Would you come in, please?"
Getting to his feet, Alex glanced at Mr Groves, who looked horrified. Resisting the temptation to smile, he followed the Headmaster back to his office.
"Mr Faulkner," the chairman said, smiling. "We have decided to offer you the job. From what you told us earlier, I assume that you will accept."
"Yes," Alex confirmed. "Thank you very much. I'm confident that you will not regret this decision."
"Welcome to Austerley!" the man said, beaming and extending his hand. "We look forward to having you working with us."
"Thanks," Alex acknowledged, accepting the handshake. "I'm sorry I'm not able to start as soon as you'd have liked, but as you understand, I have important commitments to deal with first. Once I've got them out of the way, this is where my focus will be."
"We believe this can be one of the best prep schools in the country," the chairman went on, looking Alex right in the eye. "Your appointment is an important step in helping us to achieve that." He paused. "Right! We're going to leave you with Mr Cornick. I'm sure that you'll have plenty to discuss."
He and the other trustee left the room.
"Well done!" the Headmaster said, grinning from ear to ear. "I knew you were the man we wanted from the moment you got in front of the boys. You were like the Pied Piper. You had them eating out of your hand."
"So why the question about only teaching for twenty minutes?"
"I wanted to give you the opportunity to explain how you work, and you did it brilliantly. The passion, the enthusiasm! You could feel it! That's what'll make the difference."
"When I refused to start after Easter, I thought I might have lost it."
"On the contrary," Mr Cornick said. "That was what secured the job for you. I asked the chairman to press you on that. I wanted to see how strong your commitment actually was. You never budged. That's the sort of determination we need to take the school forward."
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Alex returned home, his head spinning. It had all happened so quickly. Moving to Austerley would be a big change for him. Although he'd live at school most of the time, he'd keep the flat. It would be a refuge for him during the holidays and on his days off, and if he left Austerley at some point, it would give him somewhere to live.
There were still lots of details he needed to sort out, but that was for the future. Mr Cornick had suggested that after the Easter holiday, he should visit them a few times after he'd finished for the day at Woodchurch. He'd have supper with them, meet some of his new colleagues and discuss what he wanted to do. Until then, he had plenty to keep him busy.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Returning to school the following day, he informed Neil Fleming and Headmaster Mr Cope that he'd be leaving at the end of the school year to take up the post at Austerley. They were both disappointed; telling him that they thought it was a bad move. Of course, he was unable to explain what his real motivation was.
Several boys asked him why he'd been out of school the previous day. He batted off all their enquiries. Both his fourth-year class and his Lower Sixth A-level group would expect him to be teaching them the following year. He'd have to tell them at some point, but this was not the time. It was far too early.
He'd need to tell Bradshaw too. That would be hard. Despite their relationship not being quite what he'd hoped it would be, they were still pretty close. On the other hand, the lad was very resilient. Neil Fleming and George Brett would make sure his mathematics was looked after, so there were no concerns on that score, and, even if he'd been staying at Woodchurch, their sexual involvement was unlikely to have lasted much longer. But there was no point in telling him yet. He'd deal with it after the lad had done his Additional Maths exam.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Another two weeks had gone past, things having continued much as they usually did. It was Thursday morning break. Russell Bradshaw strode out onto the playground, looking forward to a game of football. As he headed towards his friends, he noticed three other second-year boys; a big lad called Purnell, who had a somewhat unsavoury reputation, and two associates, Lee and Fletcher. They appeared to have a first-year boy boxed in by the wall.
While the other two were around his size, at 5'4" and weighing around 140 pounds, Purnell was around three inches taller and at least forty pounds heavier. He wasn't actually hitting the younger lad, but was terrorising him by pretending he was going to.
Russell might have ignored it, but something prompted him to take a second look. As he got closer, he saw that the boy they'd trapped was Robbie Newton. He was incensed. He needed to deal with it. He was about to march right in. Fortunately, wiser counsel prevailed. He wasn't scared of Purnell, much less the other two, but realised that confronting them on his own would almost certainly end up in a fight. Then they'd all be in trouble. He trotted over to his friends.
"Hi lads," he said, a note of urgency in his voice. "I need some help. Purnell and his mates are picking on this first-year kid I know."
"Purnell's an arsehole," Sanderson said. "Come on, lads. Let's sort him out."
With Sanderson and football captain Wade taking the lead, they strode across. They were both as big as Purnell, but far more athletic. Grabbing Lee by the collar, Sanderson nonchalantly dragged him out of the way, while from the other side, Wade did the same to Fletcher.
"Think you're hard, do you?" Sanderson demanded, putting himself right in Purnell's face. "Picking on kids half your size? Well try picking on me. Then we'll see how hard you are!"
Purnell looked around. On the one side, Fletcher was being guarded by Wade who was cracking his knuckles as though preparing for a fight. On the other, Lee was faced by Bradshaw, who, though not all that big, was known to be as hard as nails. Several more footballers were standing a few yards away, watching what was going on. He was completely out-muscled.
"We were only messing about," he bleated. "We weren't hurting him."
"Well you're going to stop `messing about' right now," Sanderson told him, his eyes locked onto Purnell's. "And you're not going to go near him again, or any other first-year kids for that matter. D'you want to make something of it?"
Purnell didn't reply. Suddenly, two prefects appeared. Russell and his friends recognised one of them as Jarrett, a big, powerfully built lad who played centre half for the first-eleven football team. They didn't know the other one, who was much smaller and slightly built.
"What's been going on here?" Jarrett demanded.
"Nothing," Sanderson told him. "Just a little misunderstanding. We've sorted it out now, haven't we?"
"Yeah," Purnell agreed.
Jarrett clearly wasn't buying it, but right at that moment, there wasn't too much he could do.
"Name and form!" he demanded, turning back to Sanderson.
Over the next couple of minutes, the two prefects took down the details of all the boys involved. Finally, Jarrett turned to Purnell.
"You haven't heard the last of this," he growled, jabbing his index finger towards the bully's throat. "Not by a long way!"
Then he and his friend strode away.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It was lunchtime. Alex was in the staffroom when Neville Dryden approached him.
"Just the man I was looking for," the Deputy Head said quietly. "At the end of break, prefects Jarrett and Davies came to see me. While they were out on the playground, they noticed a confrontation between two groups of second-year boys, Sanderson, Wade and Bradshaw on the one side, Purnell, Lee and Fletcher on the other. There was a first-year lad there too, a boy called Newton. Now it transpires that back before Christmas, Purnell and his cronies made the mistake of picking on Davies's brother, who's also in first-year. Jarrett spoke to him about that. Their suspicion was that Purnell had found another victim to terrorise, but when they asked what had been going on, they were told that it was just a misunderstanding, and the matter had been resolved, you know how boys are. Now teaching him on his own, you know Bradshaw better than anyone. Please could you ask him for me. He'll say things to you that he wouldn't tell anyone else."
"Yes, I'll do that," Alex said, smiling. "I've got a tutorial with him after school. I'll let you know what he's got to say."
In reality, he didn't even need to ask. He could envisage what had happened. He was just grateful that Bradshaw had had the good sense to take back-up with him, rather than confronting Purnell on his own.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
With afternoon registration completed, Alex sent 3-Green to their afternoon classes.
"Newton," he announced. "Would you wait behind for a moment. I need a word."
When the other boys were safely out of the room, he quickly outlined what had happened at morning break.
"You know Bradshaw, don't you?"
"Yes sir. Last summer we used to train together."
"Did he ever visit your house so you could run from there?"
"Well, if anyone asks, I suggest that you tell people that he did, a number of times in fact, which is how he knows your brother. Are you happy with that?"
"Perfectly, sir! When we get home, I'll tell Robbie. Sir, please would you thank Bradshaw for sticking up for him. Robbie's a bit soft. I was worried he might get picked on."
"Yes, I'll do that. If it's any consolation, I don't think it'll happen again. Mr Dryden's dealing with the matter. The boys concerned won't want to run up against him a second time."
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
With classes over for the day, Alex sat in his classroom, marking exercise books. Just after five to four, Bradshaw appeared, freshly showered after his games class. Sitting in his usual place, he got out his maths books and other equipment.
"Right," Alex said, looking the boy straight in the eye. "Before we start, you'd better tell me what happened at morning break."
"Nothing really, sir."
"That is not what I've heard. So let me tell you what happened. You went out to break, planning to play football like you usually do. Only you happened to notice that Purnell and his two cronies had a first-year boy trapped against the wall. It turned out to be Newton. Showing commendable presence of mind, you collected Wade and Sanderson and he three of you faced down Purnell and his associates. How am I doing so far?"
"Sir," Bradshaw acknowledged.
"Then two prefects, Jarrett and Davies, arrived and wanted to know what it was all about. You batted it off, or rather Sanderson did."
"We'd dealt with it, sir," Bradshaw explained. "We didn't need them getting involved. I mean, Purnell was never going to take Sanderson on."
"Fair enough, but what you wouldn't have known is that before Christmas, Purnell and his gang picked on Davies's brother, who's also in first-year. Jarrett had words with Purnell about that, so he was not best pleased to find him bullying another boy. He and Davies reported the matter to Mr Dryden, who asked me to investigate. So I'm asking you, and I expect you to tell me the truth."
"Well, it was just like you said, sir. Purnell wasn't actually hitting Newton, just scaring him by pretending he was going to. Lee and Fletcher were just stopping him getting away."
"I have to say I'm pleased that you didn't go in there on your own."
"I nearly did, sir, but I realised it wasn't a good idea. We'd have ended up having a fight."
"And you would have got into trouble."
"Yes sir, especially as I'd have had to fight dirty. I mean, Purnell's a lot bigger than me."
"Well, as far as I'm concerned, you did exactly the right thing," Alex responded, not wanting too many details. "I've informed Newton's brother, who asked me to thank you for intervening."
"Well sir, I couldn't just leave him there."
"Of course you couldn't. Has anyone asked how you and Newton know each other?"
"Well, if anyone does ask, you tell them that you and the older Newton trained together during the summer, which you did. In the course of that, you went to their house a few times and ran from there. That's where you met the younger one. The Newton brothers are more than happy to play along with this little deception, and it'll avoid you having to answer any awkward questions."
"Yes sir. Thank you!"
"The important thing," Alex said quietly, "is that when he needed you, you didn't worry about the consequences. You stood up for him. That'll do for me."
"The thing I don't understand," Bradshaw said, "is that those three went to one of those posh junior schools. You'd think they'd know better."
"You would," Alex said sadly. "Unfortunately, it doesn't always work like that."
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
The following morning, Alex arrived at school early. He headed straight to the Deputy Head's office to relay what Bradshaw had told him.
"Excellent!" Mr Dryden said. "Leave it with me; I'll deal with it from here."
It was lunchtime before Alex saw Mr Dryden again.
"You'll be pleased to know that the matter has been dealt with," the older man said. "I began by talking to Newton, who told me that this was the third or fourth time these second-year boys had picked on him, always when he was on his own, without his friends with him. I then spoke to Lee and Fletcher, individually of course. I explained to them that the biggest mistake any boy in this school can make it to insult my intelligence by trying to lie his way out of trouble. With that warning ringing in their ears, they each confirmed what Newton had told me. I explained that in legal terms, their part in the bullying counted as `aiding and abetting'. I couldn't allow them to get away scot-free, but as a result of their cooperation, their punishment would be lighter than it would have been otherwise. I gave them one stroke each on their non-writing hand and warned them that if there was any repetition, the punishment would be far more severe.
Finally, I got hold of Purnell. Fortunately, he's not in the same form as the other two so he didn't know I'd already dealt with them. Having got all the evidence I needed, I asked him to explain what had gone on. Of course, he lied through his teeth, and with him quite clearly being the ringleader, well, I'm afraid boys like him do bring out the worst in me. He will not be sitting comfortably for quite a while. And I explained in very simple English what would happen if he tried to take reprisals, either against Newton or against his two accomplices. I think he understood."
"Well, thanks for cracking down," Alex said.
"I do wish that Bradshaw had called the prefects to deal with it. That's what they're there for."
"To be realistic, that's not what boys do, is it?" Alex countered. "I'm pleased that he had the good sense not to intervene on his own. Instead, he took along enough muscle to deter Purnell from trying anything. Even without the prefects, they managed to extract Newton without a blow being struck. I think that's a good outcome."
"Yes," the Deputy Head replied, nodding sagely. "You're probably right."
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
At twenty past four, Robbie arrived at Russell's house. After locking his bike, he rang the bell. A moment later, the door opened. He stepped inside.
"Thanks for rescuing me," he said, throwing his arms around Russell's waist.
"All I did was bring the cavalry along," Russell responded, grinning. "Purnell and his mates were never going to take the three of us on. If Purnell had said anything, Sanderson would have flattened him."
"But it was you that asked them to help. You could have pretended you hadn't noticed."
"I'd never have done that," Russell said firmly. "Once I saw what was happening, I was going to get you out of there. I wouldn't have cared what it took. Anyway, those two prefects told Dryden about it. From what I've heard, he cut Purnell's backside in half."
"I hope he doesn't try to get back at me," Robbie said, looking worried.
"He won't." Russell assured him. "Purnell's obnoxious; he's not suicidal."
They headed up to Russell's bedroom. After sensuously undressing each other, they snuggled up on the bed. Robbie was even more attentive and affectionate than usual. Russell wasn't just his boyfriend; he was the hero who'd rescued him from the bullies when nobody else had seemed to care. Robbie would have done anything that Russell wanted him to.
Over the next twenty minutes they kissed and fondled each other, they caressed each other's nipples, licked each other's balls and sucked each other's penis.
"So what can I do for you now?" Russell asked, looking the younger boy right in the eye.
"Give me a good hard fucking!" Robbie told him.
"Sure!" Russell agreed, smiling. "One good hard fucking coming up!"