Saturday, 13 November 2010

Chapter Thirteen

Chapters 1 - 12 in order can be located by clicking here.

Back in the library, you might remember that Aloysius had finished a flashback detailing certain points of his history heretofore unknown to us, with no regard for continuity or tenses.

The teenage girl had removed herself and her Gucci knock off shoulder bag from the counter, but this was less on his say-so and more because of events outside his control. In point of fact, if we were to be brutally honest, it was pretty much down to the drive by shooting that was going down.

You might think that libraries are quiet places, populated mainly by the very young (whose mothers need to escape the house, just for a bit), the very old (who need to escape the house, just for a bit) and students (who have missed the essay deadline and now have to do some frenzied last minute reading – just for a bit).

It is possible, too, that you may have a vague childhood memory of being asked to keep the noise down in your local library as you coloured in your Asterix picture with a particularly squeaky crayon, or turned the pages of your Sweet Valley Twins book too loudly.

This is not that sort of library.

The library of which we speak is at the centre of a community the bulk of whom are quite close to the poverty line. It is well used, but largely as a meeting place almost exclusively by the children and young people who have got themselves banned from the nearby community centre. Except of course when they are at school, at which point the aforementioned mums with under fives and older people rush in with shining eyes to pick up the latest Lee Child bestseller.

Anyway, there are a lot of kids and young persons milling about the place, and most of them are in gangs. Although I hasten to add that this is not in the way that the Secret Seven were a gang - these kids don't set out to solve mysteries. Some might be the perpetrators of mysteries, but they aren't really too excited by the prospect of finding and solving hidden clues, or unmasking criminals. After all, who wants to shop their own dad?

What makes them gang material is something of a pack instinct. They're pretty into defining themselves against who they are not, within the context of loosely defined geographical boundaries. Gangs are generally named for the couple of streets their members live on, and Thor help you if you try to say that ‘Mayfield’ isn’t big enough to constitute an area on its own and that if anything its part of the larger constituency of Newington. That’s actually a made up example, the gang around that bit is known as the EH8 Crew. I’ve seen it written on lamp posts in permanent marker.

If you aren't interested in being in the gang you are a tramp, reviled by most and treated with suspicion. As such the library, standing as it does between the stomping grounds of several gangs (and one or two groups of mates who like each other but have no official gang affiliations) can be the scene of some pretty fraught meetings.

This was one of those occasions.

The rain had come back on, so the building was busy - full of hyperactive, damp young people aged 7-17. They were mostly engaged in various non-traditional library activities that are the norm in this modern technological age - checking their social networking sites, playing on games consoles, making figures out of paper mâché, and beating the crap out of each other when they thought nobody was looking.

Aloysius has recovered from that odd, stream of consciousness style flash back – the one he had in front of a bemused girl who wanted to borrow change for the vending machine, or vendor as it is known.

Outside, the street was deserted.

"You didn't actually give
her your own money," Adric asked in dismay in a way that was more a statement than a question.

He didn't get any further, because the glass in the front door made a cracking sound and the place erupted with the overexcited, e-numbered shrieks of a metric gaggle and a half of young persons.

Everyone in the building gathered round, in spite of Adric's protestations that there might be broken glass and danger underfoot. There was a small, round hole in the glass window of the door, and cracks spread out from its centre, like a beautiful spider web. Had it been frost, Adric would have taken a photograph on his phone to use as the library Christmas card.

"As soon as someone touches that, it's going tae go," the teenager who had borrowed money from Al proclaimed, tempting fate to some extent.

Al shook his head at her, wondering if she had done it on purpose or was yet to understand the contrary nature of younglings.

"Everyone away from the door NOW," Adric boomed, choosing the correct vocal volume for the occasion for a change.

Slightly cowed, the metric gaggle and a half of kids did as they were told. Adric knew he had only seconds to act before they were all back though, pressing their fingers against the fissures in the glass like they were the cast of Jackass.

"Al," he said, "call the window fixer guy. The number's in the diary.”

He cleared his throat, in a taking charge of the situation sort of a way. “Small child," he continued, directing his attention towards a small child with a gleam on his cufflinks, "pass me that cardboard box and some sellotape."

The child did, and Adric set about flattening the box so he could cover the damage with it until such time as the window fixer – or glazier – came to sort it out properly.

This was the point at which a small purple nova drove past, and someone in the passenger side wound down the window and produced a gun.

Almost in slow motion – which would be quite helpful if this was a film that needed to be fifty thousand seconds long, but unfortunately slowing things down doesn’t pad out one’s word count in the same way – Adric threw himself to the floor, pushing the small child out of the way as he went.

The pane of glass exploded behind him as the drive by took a turn for the more. Sparkling shards flew everywhere, cutting Adric’s favourite bow tie to shrebbons and lodging painfully in various parts of his arms, legs, torso and so on.

Blood happened.

“Ow,” he said, decisively.

“You touched that wee laddie,” said one of the teenagers, presumably referring to Adric’s daring rescue of the small child from being the one to get covered in broken glass. “That means you’re gay and a paedo. GAYDO. He should sue you. Hear that wee man? You should sue.”

The small child smiled obligingly, and stuffed an entire mars bar in his mouth sideways.

Adric took that as a sign he was undecided.

With a groan, he got to his feet. There was glass in his shoes.

“Right,” he said, “I think we’re going to need to close early today.”

“What do you mean,” Smokey Jones said smugly, “it’s already quarter past five!”

Adric groaned again, in frustration and pain and vowels.

“That means I’ve missed my bus. And it’s poker night tonight! Rubbish. They won’t let me play if I’m late.”

Al raised an eyebrow.

“I play with accountants, what can I say,” he shrugged apologetically.

“OK, everyone out the fire exit way,” he announced to the room, switching the lights off to emphasise his point. “Anyone who does the ‘we’re no leaving, hide and seek’ crap tonight will be locked in until we open up tomorrow. I will not be returning from my flat at the other end of town to let you out, and my telephone will be switched off specifically so my boss can’t make me.”

It was unnecessary to go into this detail, however, as most of the kids were itching to get out and see if the drive by guys were still around.

Unconfirmed rumours circulating amongst the young people implied that it was Jimmy Bob’s youngest brother, Bobby Jim, who had been driving the purple nova, and one of his mates from The Gang Who Must Not Be Named that had done the shooting.

The Gang Who Must Not Be Named were the arch nemesis gang of Smokey Jones’s gang, who were called the Snider Boys. The reason these two were nemeses was because they were the only gangs in the whole of Edinburgh not named according to the geographical criteria laid out by the author previously. They were vying for the headlines in the Evening News, but as yet had been pipped to the post on several occasions by other, worst gangs from other parts of the city. If only they tried to work together to out-gang all those other gangs, imagine what they could achieve.

But instead they fought with one another, and whenever The Gang Who Must Not Be Named heard that any of the Snider Boys was at the library, they headed down to enact some form of justice. Often there were fisticuffs in the car park, and wars of words happened almost daily, but it was comparatively rare that the building or its inhabitants were brought into the furore.

Adric speculated that the kid with the gun was probably new to The Gang Who Must Not Be Named, and that once the full effect of his initial militant stance had been smacked out of him by an indignant parent, things would go back to normal. The teenage girl with the knock off bag, meanwhile, proclaimed the mysterious gunman totally mint by the way, even though she hadn’t seen his actual face, which might be covered in pustules or anything like that. Love takes people in that way, sometimes.

Al swept up the broken glass as if in a dream, and taped the cardboard onto the door frame without saying a word. He was looking broody, Adric felt, and not in the way that meant he wanted to have a baby.

Ironically enough, one of the things Al had been brooding about was the possibility of finding and helping with the looking after someone else’s lost baby.


It’s OK, Reader, I don’t expect you to follow the complexity of this plot all by your onesie.

“Shall we go for a pint?” He asked Adric, suddenly and uncharacteristically.

“I’d love to,” Adric replied, “but I think I had better go to the hospital first. I seem to have lost quite a lot of blood.”

And then he fainted.

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