The Bridge | Part Four | Pat Black
Darren picked out a group of them at the bottom of the cul-de-sac. He recognised one or two; a short girl with purple hair, cropped close in the back like a boy; another girl with Pippi Longstocking hooped tights who would have been quite attractive were it not for the goth gear; one or two other skinny long-haired runts, most of them with trench coats. They carried plastic bags filled with bottles of beer. At the forefront of these was Dormer.
Sybil trailed far behind Darren, her voice rising sharply. “Darren. Darren, don’t.”
Darren’s voice was surprisingly level as he closed upon them. “Hey, Alan. How are you, mate? How you doing? Having a nice night?”
Alan Dormer flicked his hair away from his face. “Look, man, why don’t you give it up? I’ve told you. I’ve told everyone. I had nothing to do with it. We’re just here for the party. Give it up, man.”
Two of the girls among the crowd surged forward, squawking, as Darren turned a jog into a charge. But Dormer held his ground, giving Darren the blessed opportunity to swipe at him. He pulled back a little before delivering the blow, almost unsure of it. The collision between Darren’s fist and Dormer’s head was ugly, cushioned somewhat among Dormer’s shiny black hair.
To Darren’s shock, the Pippi Longstocking girl flew at him, the flats of her hands slamming forward right in the centre of his body, forcing him back on his heels. She stood in between him and Dormer, slapping out at him wildly. He grabbed her by the shoulder, and her sheer black blouse tore away under his hand.
Lights flickered on at windows; bodies appeared on Nellany’s porch. “Hoi!” someone shouted.
Darren backed off, Sybil dragging him by the arm. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s it. That’s for you, freak.”
Alan Dormer rubbed the side of his head. He still held a plastic bag filled with beer bottles. “Was that it?” he said. “Was that what it was all about? Is that all you wanted to do?”
At this, Darren found his fury at last; someone hit the turbo button, and he was among them again. Two or three black-clad figures, including Dormer’s, scattered across the pavement like skittles. Then there was screaming.
Back at the house much later, someone patted Darren on the back. His neck snapped up and he sprang to his feet, bottle in hand, sudsy beer oozing over his fingertips.
“Watch it,” he grunted. “Watch it, you.”
He had no idea who was gathered in the front room; friends of Nellany’s brother, maybe. Older girls; students. A bunch of them looked at him in disgust, particularly one girl with honey-coloured hair and a stud through her nose.
“You one o’… You with that freak?” Darren said.
“What?” the girl replied, eyebrows arching. “What did you just say, son?”
Nellany appeared, a steadying hand around Darren’s shoulders. “He’s fine. Hey, he’s fine. Darren, maybe it’s time you were away, mate, eh?”
“Oh, you’re Darren,” the girl with honey-coloured hair said. “The one they were talking about. The karate kid.”
“What?” Darren hiccupped. “What was… What did you say?”
“You’re lucky you’re not in the cells,” the girl said. “If I’d seen it, I’d have phoned the cops. Might even have boxed your ears for you.”
“Whatever,” Darren said. He turned to Nellany. “Where’s Sybil?”
Nellany’s brother looked on, amused. “Gone, mate. Hours ago. Don’t you remember?”
“Yeah. Headed off in a hurry.”
“After you tried to pull her into the cupboard,” the girl with the honey-coloured hair said. “Nice work. Classy.”
Darren giggled. “Lapis lazuli.”
Nellany said, “Never mind all that, mate. Let’s get you home, eh?” He tried to steer Darren away.
“Yeah,” the girl said, “he’s had a rough innings. Poor, poor Darren. About time the poor love was tucked up in bed.”
Darren shrugged off the arm. “Shall I tell you about what happened?”
The girl with the honey-coloured hair brightened up. “Oh sure. Yeah, tell us what happened. Go on.” She made a space on the couch, patting the cushion beside her. “Sit yourself down. Make a big speech of it. Let’s hear it once again.”
“What do you mean, ‘once again’?” Darren belched.
“Yeah, tell us about Mr North getting shot. In the head. You told us, daftie. Several times. Before you were sick. And once or twice afterwards.”
“He’s alright, Sophie,” Nellany said.
“Sophie who?” Darren said. “Who’s this bitch?”
“Never mind.” Nellany helped prop him up. “Come on mate. Phone you a taxi, man.”
“No, it’s fine,” the girl, Sophie, said. A terrible quiet had fallen over the room; some of Nellany’s brother’s friends, although a few years older, seemed to shrink back from him as he sagged onto the couch. “Yeah, sit down. Shall this bitch tell you who she is?”
“Whatever,” Darren said. He sipped at the bottle of beer, completely missing his face.
“I’m Sophie. I’m friends with Peter Donegan’s big sister.”
The very name was a jolt, stiffening Darren’s spine. “That freak.”
“Yes, he was a freak,” Sophie said. “So you kept telling him, anyway. You and… what were the others called? Your pals, Bernie, Tony McWhirry. The football boys. I don’t remember all the names. Plus Mr North, the PE teacher. Yes. You know, he used to talk about you guys all the time, did Peter Donegan. ‘Those football boys’, he used to say. ‘Mr North and his big fucking mouth. Jumped up twat in a shell suit.’ Quite the little wolf pack you all had, there, in the gym.”
“Took the coward’s way out, didn’t he?” Darren put an imaginary gun to his head. “Pow.”
“Right, this is heavy,” Nellany’s big brother said, standing up. “Enough. Darren, you need to leave now, mate.”
“Coward’s way,” Sophie said. “Yes. That’s probably true. It was cowardly. But so was bullying him, Darren. Were you the one who hit him and broke his nose? Were you one of the boys who waited for him after school that time? And tried to cut his hair? There was a big crowd of people watching that, Darren. I heard all about it.”
“Can’t help if he’s a freak.”
“You could, though. You could a little bit. You could have helped a lot.”
“Fuck’m.” Darren set the bottle down, carefully. Nellany immediately snatched it up. “No one made him do it.”
“Come on, mate,” Nellany said. He helped Darren to his feet.
Sophie continued, “Yeah… a thing I wondered, Darren. No one’s quite sure how you got out of the gym, you know? He had bullets left. Why didn’t he shoot you?”
“Maybe he didn’t have the nerve,” Darren said. “Freak.”
“Maybe. Or maybe he wasn’t quick enough. Is it because you ran away, Darren?” Sophie’s eyes glittered. “Did you run away screaming? Did you hide in the gym base? Under the spare crash mats?”
“I wonder what your faces looked like when he pulled the gun?”
Darren lunged, much too slowly. Hands gripped him; he was dragged back.
“Right, that’s it,” Nellany said. He tried to steer Darren out of the door. Another useless scuffle broke out.
“She looked awful upset,” Sophie shouted, from the front door, as Darren was steered into the waiting taxi. “That girl. Sybil. God knows what you tried to do to her, Darren.”