This week’s story comes to you in five parts. You can read one episode a day until we’re done. Or binge read.
The Bridge | Part One | Pat Black
Three weeks later, it wasn’t news anymore, and St Martin’s began to look like a school–sound like a school–once again. The reporters had long gone, and you couldn’t see the plainclothes police officers or the grim senior staff, arms stiff behind their backs and bicycle clips holding up their shirt sleeves, unless you knew where to look.
At twenty to nine, Darren breezed passed a couple of giggling first years and joined the boys sitting on the wall by the red ash pitch. Peter Nellany nodded at him along with some of the other football guys.
“No’ bad,” Darren said, hoisting himself up easily beside the others. “Anybody up for a quick game, then?”
The others looked at each other uneasily. “Nobody brought a ball,” Nellany said.
“Just as well I did, then.” Darren unzipped his holdall. “Come on. Let’s get a game going. Christ’s sake. Bunch of pussies, man.”
He hurled the ball hard into the pitch; by the second bounce, several of the boys were chasing it.
They began a scrimmage at the goal posts nearest the building. Darren surveyed the scene as more boys joined in the game; the science block just ahead of them, a stolid concrete annexe, and hidden behind that, the games hall, still bound by yellow police tape and heavily guarded.
Out of all the milling children, shouting, screaming and running, he picked out a single figure moving along the playground, tall and thin but frail looking in her shirt sleeves.
“Good day for the talent,” Nellany said, although he was looking elsewhere, at another girl.
“Too right,” Darren muttered. “I like the white shirts.”
Another boy said, “You have got to be fuckin’ kidding.” He pointed towards a figure making his way through the car park. This figure was accompanied by a police officer, but his clothing was darker than the cop’s uniform.
The game stopped. The boys glowered, and began to snarl.
Darren, who had been in the gym that day, took off. He ran up the stairs and pounded along the concrete, past the startled faces of the younger children, the girls huddled in the smokers’ corner, the police at the doors of the main building.
Alan Dormer’s police escort had dropped him at the door to the staff entrance, leaving him alone with a scrunched-up little woman whom Darren took to be his mother. Space opened up between Alan Dormer and Darren, entirely unguarded. The boy looked up, only one eye visible through a long, trailing black fringe.
Darren drew in breath to shout, to scream, and tensed himself to fly forward. He would collide with Alan Dormer at speed, crashing into him and through him, obliterating him as a jumbo jet might. And it might have happened, had a firm, strong hand not clamped down on Darren’s upper arm.
It was McBrierly, the techie teacher. A good cunt; well liked if not fully respected. One of the big beasts of St Martin’s, a broad, strong man filling out a blue jersey with a livid red tie knotted tightly at his throat. His impassive smoker’s face might have been a woodcutting as it leaned into Darren’s.
“MacLean. Come with me.”
Darren tried to twist free, but the hand was insistent. Finally, as McBrierly led him to one side, Darren turned towards Alan Dormer and let the breath explode from the diaphragm up. “You’re dead. You hear me? Fucking freak!”
Two other teachers appeared, grim-faced, to help drag him off.
“You’ll end up in the same place as your freak mate! Get off me!” Darren’s scream became inhuman.
Alan Dormer held his ground, and did not look away. The single eye visible through the long black hair did not blink, shocking blue amid that pale frame. The boy’s mother reacted for him, eyes shimmering with tears and laying a hand on his thin, sloping shoulders.
McBrierly did not blink, either, in the techie teachers’ base at the end of their department.
“Noone can tell you how to feel, Darren. That’s not my job.”
The boy fidgeted in the seat opposite, nerves thrumming.
“I mean, God knows… I was there, too. I saw it all, son. But you’ve got to leave that boy alone. He had nothing to do with it.”
“He had everything to do with it,” Darren said. His face twitched, alarmingly. “Everything.”
“You know that’s not true. He was friends with… the other lad. But that was it. The police completely exonerated him. I know you’re angry. We’re all angry. We all want someone to blame. This kind of thing… it shouldn’t happen in this country. It shouldn’t happen anywhere. But you can’t blame Alan Dormer for what happened. It’s not fair.”
“Why is he even here?” Darren’s eyes filled with tears and he blinked to clear them, ashamed. “Who let him come back?”
“He’s got exams to take, the same as you. He’s got a right to come here and finish his schooling.”
“He doesn’t have a right to anything!”
Mr McBrierly sighed. “Here’s the official line, Darren. We’re going to overlook what happened. You’re not going to be punished. Things are very sensitive right now. We understand that. We’re making allowances. But if you harm that boy Dormer, or you give him a hard time, you’ll be out. If you lay a finger on him, it’ll be the police you speak to, not me or the headmaster. Do I make myself clear?”
“You knew Mr North, didn’t you?” Darren asked.
“Darren, I worked with Brian North for sixteen years. My wife is best friends with his wife. We went out for a drink together many times, and I was pleased to call him my friend. I also spoke at his funeral. You may remember.” Mr McBrierly steepled his fingers, and seemed to coil in on himself. “That doesn’t change a thing I said to you.”
“Of course it does! How could you think that freak had nothing to do with it?”
“He didn’t. Those are facts. The police are taking no action. And you’re to stay away from him. Do you understand?”
“This is a joke.” Darren leapt to his feet. “A joke.”
“Leave that boy alone, Darren. You hear me?”
Darren slammed the door.