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An Altercation
Ronnie James


Steven got up off the couch and took the three-quarters empty bottle with him. No one tried to prevent him leaving, they were laughing about something; Jambo had taken aim at one of the others for the nick of his trainies, big clompy blue Adidas ones, resembled basketball shoes. Most of them were laughing but one, Tidzer, had frowned, sided with Liam. 'Fuckin wrap yir pish, man,' he was saying during the others' laughter, 'Fuckin carrot top. Cunt's busy slaggin folk and husnae had a ride since the last census.'
Jambo ignored this, continued in on Liam. Liam was on the edge of the blue couch, he was chuckling good-naturedly trying not to be self-conscious or take a joke in poor form. Tidzer took the cigarette out of his mouth and, holding it down in one of the hands that draped over his knees, shot Liam a look. Steven was at the door to the living room, he'd paused and turned around during Tidzer's complaint. He leaned his back on the doorframe and held the glass bottle at his side, the cap off, lost. 'Gets away wae murder, this plank,' Tidzer said loudly. 'No real.'
'Plank, that's a good one, that's quality,' Jambo replied, barely containing a sarcastic laugh. Two of the other boys chided too. Tidzer glared at them.
'Anywiy, he can take a joke!'
'No talkin aboot him,' Tidzer replied. He was on the sun lounger someone had brought in from the back; there weren't enough seats. He pointed the cigarette at Jambo. 'But you're at it, you're fuckin at it.'
Jambo made a shocked face, leaned forward taking his back off the armchair. For a moment no one said anything - music was playing on a tidy little CD system, Young Buck. Then Dean began to laugh. He stared between Tidzer and Jambo, who were avoiding each other's eye. He spotted Steven. 'Whit are these boys like?' he asked. Steven laughed.
'Where you gaun?' Jambo asked.
'Garage,' said Steven.
'Get us a packet ay crisps, eh?'
'Flavour!' Tidzer snatched Jambo's hand - the boy had reached out to pass Steven some change - and pushed it back at him. 'Go yourself ya lazy fat cunt!'
'Whit?' Jambo looked down at him. Tidzer stood up. The pair stood in front of each other for a second; Jambo took a half-step back. Dean again laughed. Lenny, aside Tidzer on the lounger, stood and came between them. Jambo laughed. Steven said, 'Jumpin doon anyway, disnae make a difference.'
'Ta. Salt and vinegar. Any kind,' Jambo said. He kept an arm's length from Tidzer when handing Steven the money. There was no need; Lenny was covering his view. Lenny was older, about twenty-six. 'Cool the jets,' he said, sighing.
Dean asked Steven, 'Whit you gaun for?'
'Packet ay cigarettes,' he answered. 'Any more ay you lazy fat cunts wantin anythin?' He exchanged a grin with Jambo; but Tid had a point. The boy was always starting in on folk, just wee comments, insults, minor stuff. Harmless really but he had to be careful with that. It wasn't always funny, especially when it was your turn and they were all snickering at you like a gang of hyenas. He backed off a bit.
'Better down that before you go,' Jambo said, lowering his eyes to the bottle.
'Or gie me it,' Lenny offered, not even like he was joking. Steven grinned at him, opportunistic or whit, the guy was already two or three ahead of everyone else. He raised the bottle, took two large mouthfuls. A couple of voices said, 'Down it,' but he took the drink away from his lips without any hesitation.
'You're as well keepin it,' Tidzer said, looking at him. 'Case you get jumped doon that road.'
'By who?' Dean jeered. 'Nobody'll jump him. You're para.'
'They'll no jump him,' Lenny said, still looking at the bottle. Steven passed him it. Tidzer said, 'Rough crowd doon there.' 'Ach, they're wee boys though.'
'Nah, ah'l be awright, Tid,' Steven said. But he was thinking about it. Lenny offered to hand him back the booze but he shook his head. He noticed that Billy was staring at him, a bit worried. They'd come together to the party.
'Ah'l come wae ye,' Tidzer said, getting up from the lounger again. 'Canny be too careful. They wee bastards.'
'Honestly, it's fine,' Steven said, not wishing to be escorted anywhere; 'I'll take the empty.'
'Nah, ah need a drink anyway.'
'Whit d'you call that?' Steven asked, peering over at the side table where a six-pack of Stella sat.
'Ah mean a soft drink or somethin, got a drouth here.'
'Beer breath,' he said, clicking the buttons up on his North Face. Steven nodded. There were nine guys in the room right now, a couple more in the kitchen and sitting in the hall. Jambo walked over to the window and sat on the ledge, staring out. There did not seem to be anybody around in the street. Steven had a glance at the time on his phone, it was a quarter-to-midnight.
'You no puttin on a jaiket?' Tidzer asked, looking at him critically.
'No got one.'
'Canny afford it,' Jambo laughed, looking away when Tidzer stared at him. Steven grinned. 'You're like ma faither the night int ye?'
'You talkin aboot, I'm your faither every night,' Tidzer replied, picking up one of the cans and finishing it off, replacing it on the table.
'Hurry up the now,' Steven said, laughing. 'Woulda been back by now if ah went.'
'Aye and you're welcome! You finished that, Lenny?'
Lenny handed him the bottle.
'You're no bringing that are you?'
'Why no?'
'Knowin your luck you'll get huckled,' Billy said. Tidzer looked at him.
'Aye, just leave it,' Steven said. 'There's always screws drivin along that main road.'
'They're fuckin murder,' Lenny opined, lighting a cigarette, 'tried tae huckle me a couple a weeks ago, was takin empty bottles doon the skip, know in one ay they clear plastic bin liners, but the bag wis rippin at the bottom so ah hud a bottle ay Bacardi Black in ma free haun. These muppets pull over wantin tae check it's empty, made me tip it upside doon. Ah says, Whit you hink this is, party ay the century wae a bin bag full ay vodka? Silly cunts.'
'Aye,' Steven said. 'Pure joke.'
Tidzer was still holding the bottle in his left hand. He had his fingers around the neck and was swinging it a little. 'Can just imagine coshin some bam wae this, can you no?' he said, swinging it like a pendulum then bringing it in the motion of a batter's strike.
'Aye aye, Popeye,' Steven said. 'You gonny move?'
'Slow yir roll. Haud this, ah need a slash first.'
'Fuck me.'
'Whit's his fuckin agenda, man?' Jambo said when Tidzer had vacated the room. He was still sitting on the window ledge.
'Were you gonny hit him? Bobby asked from the couch.
'A minute ago.'
'When d'you think?' Dean laughed.
Jambo didn't answer. He looked back outside. Lenny gave his fag to Steven and the boy took a couple of draws before handing it back; Lenny took another draw before nipping it and coughing a little. The doors to the kitchen swung open and Lynch walked in, 'Can ah tap your lighter?' he asked Steven. He gave the boy a light and turned around to see Tidzer return to the living room. 'Hurry up ya slow cunt,' Tidzer said sarcastically, 'look at the fuckin time, whit's the matter wae ye?'
Steven put his lighter back into his pocket and followed on.
'Mind the salt and vinegar!' Jambo shouted. The pair of them pushed through the hallway. A few folk were hanging along the Artexed walls passing a joint about. It was sub-zero outside, that wet, miserable kind of cold that left the pavements looking darker than usual, hardened. The gate had been left open, creaked on its hinges when Tidzer steadied himself on it.
'You drunk?' Steven asked. He walked to his pal's left, preferred being next to the railings than the kerb edge. Tidzer took a pair of magic gloves out of his jacket pocket and slid them on. 'Nah,' he said. 'Wee bit.'
'That's got fuck all to do wae drink,' Tidzer said.
'You know that.'
'Aye. Don't get me wrang, he's a dick at times.'
Tidzer nodded. 'No half. Sure he wis no an hour ago takin digs at that whit's his face, Daniel, Daniel-'
'Aye he's a prick though.'
'So? Jambo's a prick.'
'Aye but.'
'Aye but nothin, stop stickin up for him.' The note of exasperation was plain in his voice. Steven shrugged, shivered in the skimpy fleece. The street was empty, only a car moved but that was farther along the road and indicating to turn into the main street. Steven glanced at Tidzer; they had gone to high school together. The boy was quite small for his age, but very game, with quick movements and an aura of the resilient. He had been an excellent footballer, but that was in first or maybe second year, he had fallen away from it. Shame, Steven thought, some talent, he'd skin three or four at a time before the thought of passing the ball even entered his mind. Bit greedy in that respect as well.
'You seen how he bottled it tae,' Tidzer continued, the matter stewing on his mind. They were walking quite fast, it being too chilly to dally. 'Bottle merchant.'
'Aye, he knew you'd chin him if no,' Steven said.
'True enough but you look at the size ay him compared to me. He's got tae be at least thirteen and a half stone.'
'Aye, wae a heed like a boulder!'
'D'you know whit ah mean?'
'Tell ye whit though, he's as well stayin oot the road the night.' Tidzer grinned after a moment. 'He's probably roon there sayin the same hing.'
'Nah, he's been well warned,' Steven said. He shivered again, tried to push his shoulders inwards to generate heat across the diameter of his chest. Tidzer laughed. 'You're like the Tin Man, rustin up and shit.'
'Tin Man!'
They crossed over to the other side of the road, nearing the end of the narrow street. Now they were coming around to the main street; it wasn't really a busy section, just a garage about a hundred metres walk down on the other side of the pavement. There was a half circle of grass with some plane trees planted they walked under, and on the road was heavier traffic, though still not much, mostly taxis.
'You kippin at Lenny's?' Steven asked as they waited for a breach in the traffic to cross. Tidzer grew impatient, 'Walk along a bit further. Eh, aye. Canny be fucked disturbin ma ma, she'll have locked the door.'
'An you're no workin the morra?'
'Aye, back shift.'
'No so bad.'
'Here, get this,' Tidzer said, smiling. 'This dolly mixture in ma work, right, he says to me, 'Ah've got a back shift the morrow morning.''
'Back shift in the morning?' Steven chuckled.
'Who's this?'
'Ach, this cock-eyed character works the forklift.'
'Cock-eyed as well?'
'Aye. Fat tae.'
'No very blessed this sowel is he?' Steven laughed. He raised a hand to his face; it was like touching a cold heater. He put one hand to his mouth and chewed at his nails. Tidzer said, 'Nah, he's a good source ay amusement though. Comes oot wae some crackers. Like he claimed to be seein some burd named Lindsay. Said he copped off wae her at the dancing or some crap. Two days later I asked him, 'What was that lassie's name again, the one you're wae?' An he said Tracey! He forgot his own lie.'
'God sake, this guy sounds like Mister Bean or somethin,' Steven laughed.
'No kiddin!' Tidzer held onto Steven's arm as the pair of them continued to laugh together. He scouted the road again to check if they could cross; every headlight of the motors showed up the grime and dirt of the concrete, and the synchronous rumble of engines was close in their ears, a sudden sound rush as they sped over the same manhole cover. They were near to the edge, and at a gap they sprinted to the opposite side of the street. The garage was in view, a Range Rover parked at the diesel pumps. As for the shop, it was empty, they were the only customers. A couple of electronic beeps rang out when the pair of them crossed the threshold. It was a small store with one cabinet of shelving running down the middle and fridges situated at the far side. Steven approached the counter and bought some cheap cigarettes, a ten-pack. Tidzer was casing the fridges; he picked out a glass bottle of Orangina.
'Didny know they still sold that,' Steven muttered.
There were no young ones loitering in the garage's vicinity. This relieved Steven a bit; Tidzer was handy to have as an accomplice as well. He wondered why Bobby hadn't walked him down or whether he'd have did the same if the roles were reversed. Could be he just couldn't be arsed; it was fucking Eskimo weather. They stopped to let the Rover slide past and channel onto the road again; the driver, with a raise of the hand, acknowledged them. Steven pulled out his cigarettes and took a stick out.
'Haud on man, you want tae set us alight?' Tidzer said. He stopped several metres along the pavement. 'Right, go well.'
They leaned against a wall that was erected outside of a taxi company. A couple of women were coming along the pavement. Tidzer smiled a big toothy grin at them and the main one, a wispy thing with a clutch bag, gave a snort of derision. 'Any chance!' Tidzer cried in their wake. They laughed in their group and one called back, 'You'll be lucky, wee man!' They had actually misinterpreted his comment; it was one he used when a bit annoyed or put out, not exactly a sexual query. Steven pat him on the shoulder.
'Slags,' Tidzer reassured himself.
Steven chuckled. He took a drag on the cigarette and nestled the disposable gas lighter back within his fleece. Then they crossed over. About half of the houses had at least one light on in their windows, they were mostly one-storey here on this side, but along and round the corner where Lenny's was, they were all double deckers and without the small driveways these ones had. Tidzer opened his bottle and took a slug.
'You gonny use that for a mixer?' Steven asked.
'Aye, an idea... make a cocktail.'
'Ah can see Jambo makin a joke ay that.'
Tidzer replaced the aluminium lid. 'Aye, always fast wae the tongue, no so quick backin ye up.'
Steven shook his head slightly and said, 'Know whit ye mean.'
'Aw fuck.'
'His crisps.'
Tidzer failed to break stride, seemingly taking seriously his role as pacemaker. 'Just leave it, it's too cauld.'
Steven took a step back. 'Nah, I'll dive over.'
'You sure?'
'Aye, gie us two minutes.'
Steven took off at a casual jog, running in a straight line. When the traffic lights further up prevented the cars in the closest lane from continuing, he ran across, the cigarette still jutting out of his lips, the little burning spark like a firefly in the darkness, weaving across the backdrop. Tidzer leaned on a garden railing and looked up into the sky; he held out just a single finger to test for raindrops. Across and over the opposite side of the road Steven had reentered the Shell. Tidzer noticed several boys just about fifty metres down from the garage, six of them. They were waving about some kind of long stick and, as they walked farther along in his direction, he saw that it was a circular steel bar, around a half metre long. He kept glancing down and tried to restrain the knee-jerk of a shiver, but it went through him like an electric shock. He put his arm across the bumpy metal railings, made visible the bottle. But the party had turned off and into a residential street aligned beside the garage. 'Hurry up, Stevey boy,' Tidzer whispered, kicking the heel of his right foot with the toe of the left. He set the bottle on the ground and took a packet of chewing gum out of his pocket, cramming one in the mouth. Whenever the sound of traffic waned you could hear the nearby Clyde, swollen and roaring with the rain that had fell torrential in the previous two or three days.
Steven came out of the shop, he looked edgy. A bag of KP was in one of his hands and in the other he'd nipped his cigarette, he dropped it. Tidzer hollered for him to move. Then he noticed two men, or boys, he couldn't tell, at Steven's rear. Steven turned his head to them once and when it returned to the road he appeared aggravated. Tidzer wasn't sure what the problem was; he made a face, picked up the Orangina. The pair, he could now ascertain that they were roughly the same age as himself, the bigger one maybe a few years older, walked across the road right directly behind Steven. One seemed to clip the boy's heels and Steven stared back at them for a wee second before getting briskly to the pavement.
'Whit's the matter?' Tidzer called. He sprinted down the street to meet Steven crossing the road and the boy continued his brisk pace.
'Whit is it?' Tidzer impelled him. By now the other lads were about twelve metres away. Tidzer was facing them and stood still. Steven said, 'C'mon, they're just actin it,' but Tidzer kept staring at them, whispering just loudly enough for his pal to hear: 'Come ahead then...'
Steven forcibly pulled him back the way and up the main street. He wanted to at least get back to Lenny's narrow road. It was a bad situation, a bad situation. He squinted into the road but there were no patrol cars, a bus, a panel van sliding over the uneven camber of the concrete.
'Whit they say?' Tidzer asked.
'Nuttin, just bein dicks, c'mon.'
'You know them?'
'Nah.' Steven's eyes were watching every angle, like minesweepers. He pulled at the sleeves of his fleece, glancing over his shoulder. The pair of boys were following. They continued walking and were just at the intersection, the corner of Lenny's street, when one of the strangers picked up a half brick and lobbed it at them; the brick narrowly missed Tidzer's shoulder. Tidzer turned around and the pair of boys were running forwards. He instinctively pulled his body back but before he'd adopted a combative stance the bigger of the pair had propelled his body forward and cracked him on the forehead with his own skull. Steven tackled the other boy to the ground and went toppling over, headfirst, his running shoes scraping the ground. He got in several rapid punches under the other boy's arm, in the ribcage region, and tried to pull himself upright to fire a boot in; the boy was keeping a hold of his fleece, dragging him back down the way. So he delivered more punches, some to the stomach, and in a second he'd wrestled free, slammed a heel into the guy's groin. Then he turned. Tidzer was grappling with the other lad. His bottle had fallen to the pavement but it was still intact. Steven made to retrieve it but the other boy was all over him from behind, had grabbed him around the waist and tugged him to the floor. He looked angry. Steven was now face down on the kerb and the boy was punching the back of his head. He was wearing a black hooded top and spectacles, which were crooked on his nose. Steven turned quickly and slung a sloppy right cross but the boy wasn't ready for it and it smashed a lens in his glasses. Disorientated, the boy scrambled to keep Steven on the floor but he was up and had jabbed him twice, then given him a boot right across the legs, a volley. The boy went down heavily and Steven cracked him on the face again; he heard the nose pop, red blood spurted from each nostril. Again he swivelled around. The guy Tidzer was fighting seemed bigger, a man, probably about twenty two or three. Tidzer had a hold of his jacket and was throwing wild arsewinder punches, but most were parried or didn't connect fully. Steven leaned over and hit the guy in the face and then again. This gave Tidzer the impetus to crawl from under the big guy and disentangle himself. Steven continued slamming punches into his jaw with both fists, and he was out of breath, gasping for air, feeling weak. Tidzer staggered across to the bespectacled boy pulling himself to his feet and sent him over again with a hard push, then he kicked him in the stomach several times, the boy defending his body with his arms. Tidzer spat. A few cars that drove past on the road were slowing, one rolled down their windows and called, 'Break it up!' another shouted, 'The polis are comin.' Steven had stopped punching the guy, spent, falling to his side, gasping and trying to clear his head. But his opponent had already gotten up, recovered, and kicked him right square on the face: ringing in his ears, blood rushing up to his cheeks. It felt like he'd been cracked with a horsewhip. Tidzer had picked up the glass bottle and busted the bottom off on the garden railings. He came at the guy with it thrust out at the broken, cutting end and the guy turned and sprinted down the road yelling, 'Cunt ya fuckin cunt ya fuckin...' the sound of his words receding as Tidzer gave chase.
Steven picked himself up wearily, holding the heel of his hand against his hot-blooded cheek. He felt water gathering in his eyes, a small foundation of water which wouldn't lead to crying but which only came about due to adrenaline and the high heart-rate. His heart was pounding; he could hear the arythmic beat like a bass drum and double pedal. The sound was unusually loud in the dark and with the passing cars' noise deafened by the throbbing of his face and the ringing in his ears. The boy with the specs was limping away down the road, his smashed glasses on the ground behind him. Steven choked and coughed, spat up a little vomit which turned the slick black wetness of the kerb a kind of lime green. Why had they started on him? He rolled away from the sick and felt the bag of KP burst under his back. He forced himself into an upright posture, stared after the limping boy. Tidzer had came across him and was holding him against the railings, the smashed bottle pressed against his stomach but not yet stabbing.
'Leave him!' Steven screamed. Tidzer turned around. He tossed the bottle into a driveway and gave the lad an uppercut instead, sending him slumped against the black railings. Then he sprinted forward and pulled Steven to his feet. His face was bleeding, a vertical incision on his forehead and a split lip.
'Did you get the big guy?' Steven asked.
'Nah. He's away doon Dalrida.' Tidzer was out of breath as well. He took Steven by the elbow and lifted him up. They turned into Lenny's street, sniffing and Tidzer saying 'Fuck' over and over.







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