A Real Hard Guy

They all adored Spike. At eighteen he was the oldest in their little gang, and the hardest. Spike didn’t take shit from anyone. If any of the kids from the estate down the road gave any of them grief, they only had to call on Spike and he would sort the bastards out. So far the only troublemakers from that estate had been under fifteen, but they were sure Spike would be just as effective when dealing with older ones. Even his own father, who had once been a semi-professional boxer, didn’t mess with him. Spike sometimes alluded to his run-ins with his dad, which Spike always won, indeed his dad was often a quivering jelly at the end of them. Spike was generous too, and often brought along cans of drink or chocolate bars when they met up. He assured them that they cost him nothing, as he always obtained them by illicit means, either shoplifting or pinching the money.
This sunny Saturday morning they met in the town centre as usual and sat on the benches in front of The Red Lion. They had some cans of coke which Spike told them he had nicked from Patel’s Mini-Mart on the way there. When Spike had finished his, he threw the can in the direction of a nearby rubbish bin but it just missed, landing on the ground nearby.

‘Do you think other people want to walk through your litter?’ said an elderly woman who was walking past.

‘Oh shut up you old cow,’ said Spike, and they all laughed. The old woman hurried on her way.

‘So what will your old man say when he finds you’ve taken that ten quid?’ asked Phil, picking up on the story Spike had been telling them. They were going bowling later, and Spike had explained to them how he had nicked the money for his share of the outing from his dad’s jacket.

‘Oh, he’ll ‘ ave a moan as usual but I can handle him,’ said Spike. Then he suddenly realised something. ‘Oh, fuck, what time is it?’

‘Quarter to twelve,’ said Marky.

‘Gotta go home for a bit,’ said Spike, getting up. ‘See you in front of the bowling alley at two. I’ve got a scam going,’ he added mysteriously, feeling an explanation for his sudden exit was called for. Before departing he momentarily forgot he was Spike the rebel and absent-mindedly picked up the can, putting it in the bin.

They watched in admiration as he walked down Tavern Street in his slightly exaggerated macho way. They sometimes tried to imitate those easy, confident strides, but they all knew they couldn’t do it the way Spike could.

Once out of sight Spike’s pace picked up, in fact he began running. He was furious with himself for forgetting the time. He was still in bed when his mum and dad had left the house at about nine that morning. They were going to see Gran and said they would be back at twelve. His plan had been to get home by eleven and finish the job he had not been able to do earlier.

To his horror he saw his dad’s car parked in front of their small block of flats. Still, there was no reason why they would have gone into his bedroom. Unless, of course, they went in to check. If his mates had been there they would have seen an expression on Spike’s face they had not seen before: panic. The moment he entered the front door he knew that the game was up.

‘Come ‘ere, Simon! ‘ said his furious dad, dragging him into his bedroom. ‘What’s that?’ he said, pointing at the bed, the duvet pulled back revealing a wet bottom sheet, the damp area covering almost the entire bed, what with the plastic mattress cover underneath. A drenched but, on this occasion, patently useless pair of drynites lay on the floor.

‘Well I can’t help it!’ Simon said, bursting into tears. He was now very much Simon rather than the Spike his friends.knew.

‘That’s four times in a week!’ his dad pursued. ‘And it’s not just that. Why didn’t you at least have the decency to put the sheets in the washing machine? Do you expect your mother to do it all the time?’

‘Well there was already a wash going when I got up,’ Simon blubbed.

‘That’s true,’ said his mother softly as she entered the room. ‘I’d put a load in before we left. Don’t cry, son, we’ll soon have it sorted.’

‘Pathetic little mummy’s boy!’ his dad said scornfully, leaving them to it while he went to the betting shop.

‘Don’t take any notice of him,’ said his mother, giving Simon a hug before helping him take the sheets off the bed.

‘Your gran was very pleased with the way you’d mowed her lawn yesterday,’ she said when the sheets were in the washing machine. ‘And you did the edges very neatly. She said it was worth more than the ten pounds she gave you.’ She put the kettle on for some tea and went to the fridge to get the milk. ‘Oh! What happened to the cans of coke that were in here?’

‘Sorry, I took them with me for the lads,’ he said. ‘I’ve put the money on top of the fridge. As well as gran’s ten quid I’ve still got a bit left over from what Uncle Arthur gave me for helping him put up his shed.’

‘Ah yes,’ she said, spotting the four pound coins. ‘I hope you don’t spend too much on those friends of yours, you always work so hard for your money, even your dad says that. Anyway,’ she added in gentle admonition, ‘you shouldn’t be drinking coke. You know what can happen.’

Simon knew perfectly well what could happen, and to his horror he suddenly realised that it had happened. He had vaguely felt it happening when his dad was shouting at him. These days the only daytime ‘accidents’ he had while at home were related to his dad’s anger. He instinctively felt himself to make sure his pull-ups hadn’t leaked. His mother, experienced in spotting the signs, noticed the movement and gave him a resigned look.

‘Sorry, mum,’ he said, starting to blub again.

.An hour later, in a fresh pair of pull-ups (this time with a pair of plastic pants over them in view of the longer outing ahead – the very thought of a public leakage terrified him), Simon set off to meet his mates, or rather Spike’s mates.

Of course, in one respect Spike was every bit as terrified as Simon, the pathetic little pisser he so despised. He knew that it was probably only a matter of time before his ‘special pants’ (as his mother called them) let him down. He visualised his mates’ bewilderment, then mirth, not only at the state of his jeans but at the sight of Simon’s tears rolling down Spike’s face, for he knew that Simon would then take over. If his mates were kind, as he knew they could be, they might accompany him home for urgent attention, ready to defend their fallen leader from derision. But when they got him home they would see him crumble before his furious father and, worse, witness his doting mother fetching a fresh pair of pull-ups, which they would forever after refer to as nappies. Even if they tried to be nice to him, the Spike they had known would be dead.

These thoughts gave him a slightly slouched, hangdog look as he left the building, but this gradually changed after he had hit the streets and the still unmasked Spike took over. The girl down the road, who obviously fancied him, waved to him and he waved back, and soon he was again the complete Spike, with all his swaggering mannerisms.

They were waiting for him in front of the bowling alley, and watched with renewed awe as Spike came towards them, so beautiful, confident and invulnerable-looking.

‘My dad found out I’d nicked that money,’ Spike told them as they were paying for their bowling session. ‘He started going off on one, but I told him to shut it!’

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