“You alone?” said the voice stepping out of an alleyway that ran between two iron-shuttered shops.
Again, Podrall felt the crackle of fear running along his spine. Had Flowers been reading his thoughts? He hoped not. Even though he had not been thinking anything remotely seditious, he was still aware that any thoughts were dangerous. Not for the first time, Flowers had sprung out of nowhere just at the moment when the thought of him had entered Podrall’s mind.
“I said, are you alone?”
“Yeah. There’s nobody with me,” and saying this he was aware how alone he was. “I’m on my own.”
“Good, come with me.”
As usual, Podrall didn’t question. Apart from the stronger boy’s temper, he was incapable of standing against his suggestions and had never found a way to do so. It had quickly dawned on him that it was dangerous to stand against his leader. Flowers had the ideas, Flowers laid out the plans, Flowers was the only voice to speak. Daring to question, even thinking of questioning, could only lead to a bloody conclusion.
Before Flowers came to the school, the gang had been led by Watson. Watson had been the hardest kid on the estate. He’d come from a family of unforgiving savagery, big drinkers and fighters who ruled the world around them through beatings and arsons. Nobody stood in their way and the youngest brother had grown up believing that his birthright was to lead and intimidate all around him. This was the benefit of having irrational power. Until Flowers turned up, Watson was the absolute and nobody dared to question.
In the past, the gang would be just a collection of kids who hung around together after school. Many of them were officially recorded as truants, but their records were so extensive that the authorities had chosen to ignore them. Even in school, their presence, or absence, was regarded with a level of indifference that was defeat. When the group met up, it was boredom that prompted their anti-social activities. Their actions were loaded with the vague intentions created by boredom, drugs, drink or some vague feud that was more imagined than real. Flowers was so very different.
“Why don’t you ever drink?” Watson had asked.
“Because it makes you stupid.”
“You saying that I’m stupid?”
“You already know the answer to that, don’t you?”
Without a monosyllabic response, Watson was knocked back a little. His huge features puzzled over the sentence.
“So, I’m stupid? I’m stupid? You’ve got some bloody balls.”
“I’ve got balls and I am not stupid. I think your little reign has come to an end.”
Watson didn’t know what reign meant although it did sound like something that teachers would say. Watson hated teachers so he ran at the other boy with the intention of flattening him and his big words. He charged at his detractor like a deranged bull, his legendary fury suggesting only one outcome.
Although Podrall had taken towards the newcomer, had been drawn towards him and his sharp wit, he moved away not wanting to get caught up in the fallout. Anyone seen to have been too close to the loser of this particular contest would most probably suffer the same fate.
Podrall had been sharper since Flowers turned up. His participation in recreational drugs had previously rendered his view of the world somewhat hazy. Without them he learnt to see things with more clarity.
That night he was able to not only watch the fight unfold, but make a mental bet on its outcome. He watched, entranced by the movements of the antagonists. Watson was blunt power and ill-directed force whereas Flowers seemed to be performing some type of dance. He appeared to disappear for the briefest of moments allowing the aggressor to fall upon the empty space where his intended victim ought to have been. At almost the same moment, Flowers was there punching hard into the stomach causing the bulk of the onrushing Watson to crumple and drop.
In his moment of triumph, Podrall saw the glint of a blade flicker in the light thrown from the streetlamp. Their new leader had risen and in him was an intent so sharply drawn that none dared to defy him. With the contest over in moments, Flowers grabbed the hair of the vanquished and ran the blade along his forehead. Podrall could have sworn that he was about to witness a scalping. At the last moment the blade carved out an ‘L’ that quickly filled up with blood and ran down and into the eyes, that now appeared so very white, of his opponent. Opponent was a very strong word, Podrall thought, and just as he thought this a flash of understanding shoen from Flowers’ own eyes. He looked at his new follower and winked. It was a gesture of omnipotence and Podrall again wondered how that word had jumped into his head.
Any expectations that the Watson clan would seek revenge was extinguished with the last of the flames that licked their homes later that night.
The lad who had joined their gang was no longer recognisable as the figure who now spoke to him. This one had undergone a startling metamorphosis and had changed into something much grander. Yes, that was the word, he was bigger from within and this emanated from him, encircling those who followed. There was the paradox of having safety and danger wrapped together in such a tempting embrace.
Now, as they walked along the estate that had proved to be such a good training ground, there was something new once more. He had changed again, a subtle veil of mischief had fallen around him, whistling as he went, his step raised with a jauntiness that was part swagger and part devious enjoyment. At such times their footfalls, splattering through the dark puddles, would have been lost amongst the other noises of the hour, but these appeared to drop away as Flowers marched onwards.
“Home sweet home,” Flowers announced with a spurt of a giggle.
Flowers was strange at the best of times, but tonight that was put into sharp relief. Just being next to him brought about the feeling one sometimes got when standing next to a big electricity pylon. The power not only coursing through the wires, but taking to the air and alighting on anything that was nearby. Podrall felt the charge as it coursed towards him and was pulled along as the other bounded up the steps, two at a time.
The lights in the stairwell had long since been smashed and it all smelt of urine, and worse, and this made him think of the old woman who lived in the flat next to his. She was a sad old cow who only came out to pick up her pension or take in the milk. He’d once followed her down the stairwell wondering if he should knock her on the back of her head and take her purse. In the end, he did neither. She reeked of piss and this acted as the deterrent that she was unaware she needed.
Podrall never wanted to get old. As soon as he got to fifty he would take a gun and blow his own brains out rather than live that type of life. Flowers had said that old people didn’t deserve to live, that the government should do them all a favour and gas them. He was caught on the idea of gassing. In Religious Studies, he’d laughed through a lesson on the crucifixion, had laughed in the face of Mrs Bowden, who was losing it. He had laughed at the Head Teacher and had suggested that stupid gits like him should be put on a cross as well. He was excluded for a week, but came back a hero to his mates and a few others as well.
Not for the first time, Podrall wondered where all of this would lead. Flowers continued to stride out until they reached the second floor. Once there, he walked businesslike to the end of the landing, grinning at the way people had attempted to place flimsy barricades and locks on their doors and windows. His grin told of the futility of their exertions. When they got to the last door, he pulled out a key, placed it casually into the lock, turned it, then turned towards the other with a smile and walked in.
The smell hit Podrall first of all.
“Jesus, smells like a rat’s died in here.”
Flowers tittered to himself in the darkness.
“Come in, we don’t bite.”
And that was another odd thing about his leader, he sometimes (more frequently these days) spoke in the plural.
With the familiar jolt that came from touching the live wire that was Flowers, Podrall entered the flat. Somewhere in the darkness, Flowers stood. Somewhere else, there was another thing that Podrall tried hard not to think about.
“So, your boy didn’t get the better of the new ones?”
Podrall was not surprised that Flowers knew. He seemed to know everything that happened and, sometimes, before they had even taken place.
“Yes. The younger one is as hard as nails. We didn’t know. Teally didn’t know what hit him.”
“So it is them. That’s interesting.”
Again, Podrall sensed that he was on the edge of something, standing on the verge of a precipice that led to a chasm which had no ending. Flowers had given orders to test these new kids out. He had talked about a welcoming party, in public, where his theory could be put to the test. Podrall didn’t know that his theory was really one belonging to another, yet even if he had known, it would not have diminished his complete and utter admiration for Flowers. At times, he even started to think about Flowers in the same way that he would have thought about a father, if he had ever had one.
“You see, my old chum, they have been sent to stop us. They don’t like the fact that their meekness is not going to be rewarded. They envy us and are afraid.”
Not speaking his thoughts, Podrall thought about how unafraid they appeared to be. He also thought about the strange fact that he understood the word ‘meekness’ and how such a simple word unplugged a deep hatred he had within him.
“Now the thing is, we’ve got to teach them a lesson and the way that we teach is through disciplining others. We will make a beacon to tell our little world that we have arrived. There will be a sacrifice and that will make us happy.”
A smile crept along his general’s face.