by Alan O’Gorman
The summer was coming on quick. A few of the lads had got jobs on sites with their dads or uncles and were talking about booking a sun holiday but I hadn’t a penny to my name, never mind a dad or an uncle.
The days were warm and long and I was bored out of me head with no one around and being too broke to do anything. If I was going to go to Santa Ponsa or Benidorm I had to stop sitting around doing nothing so I called over to Carey’s gaff. His mam was at work and he was glued to the couch watching Spongebob Squarepants in Irish. We had a smoke and I started going on about how we had to stop arsing around and make some cash. He wasn’t even listening though and he never looked away from the telly so I called him a lazy bastard and he told me to feck off and get a job for myself. I said I wasn’t messing. After a while he said “Why don’t we do what the tinkers do and rob kids in town after they make their confirmations?”
I thought that was hilarious, and we both got the skits then for ages, but the next day I didn’t laugh at all when he called over with a massive knife he pulled out of his tracksuit pants. Was the size of my forearm. “I got it off my uncle last year for my birthday,” he said.
“Mad,” I said.
“That’ll scare the shit right out of those little cunts.”
The reflection off it made his ugly little mug look spottier than normal, big manky red lumps just above his lip there la, sticking out from under his fluffy knackertash. “Is that a machete?” I asked.
He was studying the blade, turning it over and over in the light of my bedroom.
“This would do some damage,” he said.
I found out online that some posh little pricks from a primary school in Rochestown were making their confirmation on the first of May. May the second we strolled over Patrick’s Bridge about eleven in the morning. Carey had the machete strapped to the inside of his leg with an elastic hairband he stole off his little sister and it was making him walk with a serious limp. His right hand was pressed to his groin so the knife wouldn’t slip and he was swinging his left arm in the air like a fool, probably for balance. “You look like some fuckin eejit,” I said.
We were fairly stoned, I suppose. The morning was warm enough and the sun was making my eyes sleepy. There weren’t many people out and about, some older fellas in suits, women with buggies and that. The only person who paid attention to us was a beggar leaning his back against the wall of the bridge, asking for money. Carey had to stop a couple of times to fix himself. He’s small enough, like, compared to me, and the tip of the knife reached his kneecap, holding his leg hostage.
We headed down Patrick Street. Town being so dead, we knew it would be easy to spot a load of twelve-year-olds coined up to the gills on a Tuesday morning. I wanted to grab a whole bunch of them at once and get the fuck out of town quickly. Still though, I couldn’t help getting excited when we passed three young fellas whispering closely to each other. Two of them had braces in their mouths and one a cross hanging on a chain outside his t-shirt. I watched all that metal sparkle in the sun and imagined yanking it from his neck. Carey stopped dead in his tracks and I thought he was fixing himself again but he looked back at them and nodded, his hand clutching the fabric of his tracksuit pants with all five fingers. It looked to anyone else like he was holding his knob.
“No,” I said, and we walked on.
By the time, we got to Grand Parade we’d not seen any proper groups. Carey was moaning in my ear about the knife down his pants and saying he was going to head home. I was half-thinking it myself till I had a sconce down Oliver Plunkett Street and saw what we were looking for. Seven boys with fresh faces, smooth from mammy’s moisturising cream, laughing and having a wonderful time altogether. Some of them had McFlurrys in their hands and others were drinking fizzy drinks through straws. One of them actually had a wad of notes out and was counting how much money he had, no wallet or nothing! They were coming towards us. We stopped on the footpath outside The Bróg and waited. An old man walked around us and looked over his shoulder. I squinted at him until he looked away. I rolled my neck and cracked my knuckles. Carey stood next to me with his hands in his pockets.
The young fellas saw us and walked into the narrow street, but I moved out onto the road ahead of them and Carey limped after me. I made myself an obstruction and ploughed through the centre of the group. They burst around me and kept walking. “C’mere a sec,” I said. “I want to ask ya something.”
Carey ordered them over with flicks of his head and three hushed whistles let out through his teeth. One of them stopped for a second and looked back. “What?” he asked.
“Come on Gary,” his friend said.
“C’mere Gary,” I said and went to grab his arm.
He dodged my grip and hurried after his friends. The one with the money was looking back, coaxing him forward. I moved quick and pushed Gary aside and as the whole group scattered I grabbed the one with the cash by the hand, squeezing the shit out of it until I heard his little bones make a noise and he dropped the money on the ground and in my rush to gather the notes before the wind took them I screamed at Carey to get the knife out, but they were well gone while he was still fumbling with the laces on his tracksuit pants.
“Thirty euros,” Carey said. “Thirty fuckin euros. I thought these fellas were loaded?”
“Well, if you’d a bit a cop on we woulda got more.”
“They were gone.”
“That Gary made a fool o’ ya.”
“Just gimme the knife.”
We were down an alleyway. People were passing by on either side now and then. “Fuck sake,” he said.
He pulled down his tracksuit pants while I kept sketch. The whole place stank of piss and there was some dodgy-looking shit smattered low against the wall to my right. He pulled off his pants over his shoes and gave them to me. He dragged the hairband down to his ankle and handed over the machete, standing there shaking on his scrawny chicken legs. He had a small rash where the point of the blade had been poking at the inside of his knee. He gave me the hairband finally and I pressed it to my nose and inhaled. “Mmm, smells like your sister.”
“Smells like my balls ya mean.”
He shook out his newly freed leg and put on his pants again. I got my pants off and strapped the knife to the outside of my leg. “Why didn’t ya do this?” I asked.
“What?” He asked.
“Strap it to the outside.”
We came back out onto Oliver Plunkett Street. The hairband was pure awkward, cutting off the circulation in my leg a bit, but I was walking a lot easier than Carey had been. Without the knife to concentrate on, he loosened up, scanning the street like a hawk. We saw some packs of two and three but decided against it. “If we catch someone again,” Carey said, “I’m gonna hang them upside down by their ankles.”
I was focused on measuring my steps, keeping the knife in place, when Carey put out his hand and gently stopped me. “There la,” he said.
There were five of them, turning the corner onto Parnell Place. They all had shopping bags in their hands. We sped up and turned the corner to see them crossing the road towards the back of the bus station. “Catch ‘em before they head home,” I said.
Carey ran across and got up ahead of them, waiting on the opposite footpath. I had to stall for a couple of cars to pass. I saw him talking to the lads. They were stopped shoulder to shoulder in front of him. I hobbled over when it was clear and came up behind them.
“So, gis your money or my friend is gonna cut ya,” Carey was saying.
Their heads shot back at me and they were all pale as ghosts. One of them had tears in his eyes. They fished in their pockets and came out with little Pokémon and South Park wallets, or with bundles of crumpled notes and coins, handing it all over to Carey. “That’s it,” he was saying. “No one gets hurt. You, don’t be shy.”
“I don’t have any left,” one of them said.
His voice was quivering and high-pitched, his balls yet to drop. “Don’t be fuckin stupid,” Carey said.
“He doesn’t, honestly,” his friend said. “He spent it all.”
“Yeah. I’m paying for his bus.”
“I swear,” the kid said, crying now.
Carey pressed his forehead against the kid’s. He wasn’t that much taller than him. “Don’t you fuckin lie to me,” he said.
The kid stepped back and then looked up at me with tears in his eyes. I stepped forward and bent my neck down. “Are you lyin to us?” I asked.
“No. I swear.”
“Right, then tell us where the resta your friends are and you can fuck off home.”
“Merchant’s Quay shopping centre.”
The others were nodding. I looked down at the Virgin bag in his hand. “Shouldn’t spend all your money on shite,” I said.
As we passed Londis, an old fella outside was running a coin over a scratch card but he was looking at us and shaking his head. I couldn’t tell if he’d seen what we’d done or if he just hadn’t won any money.
Coming around the corner, we could see a whole pile of them outside the entrance to the shopping centre, a sea of paper bags and expensive jeans and jumpers. There was a hum of whiny posh accents filling the street. They were taking their new stuff out and showing it to each other and being all hyper and annoying.
There were a lot of other people around, flowing in and out the main doors or waiting for buses. Two old one’s smoking fags in their Marks & Spencer’s uniforms looked at the boys with their noses turned up. A fat security guard came out, his hands behind his back, and told them to clear off, lazily letting go of his wrist to wave them away. A little stump of a tongue came out and licked the corner of his horrible black moustache.
They did as he said and moved towards the traffic lights. Two of them split from the group here and went straight on. The rest, about ten, went back over Patrick’s Bridge. We followed them. The security fella’s eyes passed over us slowly and then rolled back inside the shopping centre, followed by his feet.
My leg had long gone numb. The blade wasn’t cold anymore, it was clammy and sticking to me. I was dying to whip it out. Carey bit his fingernails and stared at their backs. The same beggar asked them for money and they ignored him. He asked us too. “We already told ya we’d nothing,” Carey said.
When they reached the end of the bridge, they turned left on the quay. We closed in and circled around the front of them, stopping on the narrow footpath. They were wedged between parked cars on their right and the railing on their left. I watched a Punto roll past in the street and didn’t speak till it was gone. The boys were looking at each other, around, at Carey, not up at me.
“Listen here. Look at me,” I said. “I want ye to reach into ye’re pockets and ye’re bags and take out everything ye have and give it to us.”
Carey crossed his arms. “Do what he says,” he said.
The boys started to go into their pockets. They looked confused. One of them handed me a twenty, another forty euros. “That’s all I have.”
“I don’t have anything,” one said, “patting his jeans.”
“Neither do I,” said another.
He was digging into his pockets and turning them inside out. I just stood, looking back and forth amongst the ten of them, squashed into a little triangle in front of me. I sighed and reached into my pants and gripping the handle, slowly came out with the knife, every inch of it emerging thicker than the last. You could tell from their eyes they thought it would keep coming forever. As the point came clear of my waistband, one of them took off running, back towards the bridge. He had a rucksack bouncing on his back, weighing him down. He ran like an injured, heavy bird. Carey was after him in a shot and caught hold of the bag firmly. I turned back to the nine remaining and pointed the knife in the air before their faces. Two of them were crying. I wondered if any of them would piss their pants.
“I don’t give a shit what kind of excuses ye wanna come out with. See this knife? I swear to God boy, I’ll ram this into ya so hard it’ll come out the other side. Give me every fuckin cent ye have on ye. Now!”
Their hands came flying out with notes and coins, every one of them. They were digging deep in those pockets. They’d have given me their underwear if I wanted it. “Phones too,” I said. “Gimme that bag.”
Only twelve years old and they all had mobile phones. I was shoving them into the paper bag when I heard a wailing ahead of me. I’d forgotten about Carey and the runner and when I’d a sconce over, it took me a second to understand what I was seeing. They looked joined together, but then I saw. Carey had stuck the kid headfirst over the railing and he was facing down on the river, screaming. He had the boy’s legs over his shoulders in a kind of piledriver and was holding him loosely behind the knees, shaking him left and right. The backpack was leaping with him noisily. As I ran over, the young fella’s friends took off.
“Gis your fuckin money,” Carey was saying.
He sounded exhausted. “Have you gone mad, boy? I said. Put him down.”
He stopped shaking the boy and looked at me, puzzled, but he didn’t argue. He almost seemed relieved. With a sigh, he adjusted his hands, moving them up towards the kid’s waist, but the boy kicked out suddenly. He thrashed his legs and caught Carey right on the chin. Carey let go and held his face. “Ya bastard,” he said, with a voice like he’d bit his tongue.
I watched as the boy’s legs balanced in the air for a moment above his head and then came down in a full somersault. His hands grabbed at the rail but weren’t strong enough. He slapped his back off the wall beneath the bars and then he fell like a dummy, feet first, into the river with a crash.
He surfaced, his bag popping up behind him, bobbing there like a second head. We watched as his little arms came out, clutching at the air, moving in weird jerks, like. The bag must have been keeping him afloat. There were dark circles forming on the water. Carey was still holding his chin, watching quietly.
The boy was speaking in hoarse coughs and trying to make his way towards the steps on the opposite wall but he hit a current moving down the centre of the river and it took him up easily and swept him away. He started screaming like a girl. So loud, when he wasn’t swallowing mouthfuls of water. The sound rebounded off the walls, and headed down the river with him. They seemed like separate things travelling together towards the bridge, growing more distant, him and that sound.
The beggar had stood up and was peering over the low wall at the boy coming towards him. He looked across at me. I shrugged my shoulders and slowly put the knife back in my pants. The boy kept on floating. He vanished under the bridge where we couldn’t see him for the shadows. The beggar looked down at the footpath as if he could see through it and then turned and watched the river on the other side. All three of us kept our eyes on the water, waiting for him to reappear.