Bridge Walk

“Oh, very sporty,” said Helen as she cast her eyes over the bleary-eyed and slightly dishevelled looking Ferdy who had appeared in the open doorway to the kitchen where she was setting the plates for breakfast. “Well, chop-chop then! Twenty push-ups, fifty star jumps, and then go and run round the block!”

Twenty-one year old Ferdy Acton grunted in reply without even meeting his brother’s girlfriend’s eyes and shuffled over to the breakfast table. He was well aware that his new standard-issue blue and yellow tracksuit looked good on him, showing up his slim torso and well-rounded contours, and the “Salt Bay Harbour Bridge Walks” logo on the left breast made him feel self-important too, but the headache resulting from being hung over from last night’s party put him in no mood to respond to Helen’s irritatingly jolly early-morning humour.

“Well, you may be earning less than Ian but you look hunkier in that tracksuit than he does in his salesman’s suit and tie, I can tell you,” said Ian’s partner of two years as Ferdy plumped himself down in his place.

Ferdy hid his self-satisfaction at Helen’s compliment behind a disinterested facial expression. “Isn’t he up yet?” he queried, referring to his older brother Ian who would also be required at work that morning, albeit not on his first day at a new job as Ferdy himself would be.

“I left him trying to button up his shirt. It was almost like he’s never dressed himself before. He certainly didn’t seem too with it. Nor do you, come to that. What time did the two of you get in last night?”

Ferdy sighed and reached for the orange juice carton. “About half past two, I think. We tried not to wake you.” Ferdy glanced briefly at Helen’s face to judge if she had been aware of the lengthy task, which Ferdy had felt forced to take on, of helping his totally inebriated older brother get himself sorted out before finally going to join Helen in bed and leaving Ferdy to get a few hours sleep in the spare room before his first day at work.

“Well I did hear you come back in, but it was okay, I didn’t really wake up. Did you have a good time at Craig’s party? Were all your clubmates there too to give him a good birthday? Ian seemed too far-gone this morning to talk about it.” Ferdy made no reply so Helen chatted on. “Well, it was nice to see you and Ian going out together. Also I’m really pleased my friend Maggie managed to get you a job at the harbour. She says it’s nice easy work and she’s looking forward to working with you. Anyway, you know you can stay with us as long as you need to before you get sorted out with somewhere permanent to live. Ian thinks the same. I think he likes having his little brother here to look after, actually. It brings out the caring nature in him.”

Ferdy merely snorted slightly in reply as he took a few gulps of the orange juice and then reached for the coffee pot. His hangover required serious rehydration before he set out to his new workplace, and this took priority over any possible sarcastic reply he might have made to Helen to the effect that the previous night it was actually his older brother who had needed looking after. Ian would not have thanked him for mentioning that to Helen in any case.

A footfall on the stairs followed by the opening of the door spared Ferdy from having to respond to Helen’s chatter in any more detail. The atmosphere changed abruptly as the door opened. Ian was still fumbling with the knot in his tie as he headed for his place at the table. He glanced briefly at his younger brother who completely ignored him. “Oh, for goodness’ sake,” said Helen as she got up from her seat and advanced towards twenty-six year old Ian, her hands stretched out to attend to the top button of his white shirt and the ineptly tied knot in his blue tie. “It’s like getting a child ready for school. Your brother’s managed to dress himself properly in his new working gear without any help. Why can’t you?”

Ian submitted to his long term girlfriend’s attentions briefly and then sat down at the table and grabbed a couple of slices of bread from the packet.

Helen poured him a cup of coffee and then continued: “You hung your smart party clothes back in the wardrobe, I hope? Or are they lying in a heap under your side of the bed?”

“‘Course I hung them up,” muttered Ian.

“Yeah, ri-i-ight,” said Ferdy as he refilled his glass of orange juice. His tone of voice was more eloquent than his words.

Helen looked at Ferdy quizzically. “Huh?”

“Shut your face,” said Ian with a glare at his brother.

“Shut yours!”

There was a pained silence for a while as Ian munched on a piece of bread and Ferdy downed the rest of the orange juice, tossed the empty carton into the bin and then headed for the fridge to grab a new full one, venting his annoyance with his brother on the fridge door by slamming it shut. Helen regarded the obviously bad atmosphere between the brothers impassively for a short time, then she stood up. “Well, I can see Craig’s birthday party has done wonders to your spirits, both of you. I don’t know if you’re just nervous about starting your new job, Ferdy, but you’re both a right pair of miseries this morning.” She picked up her mobile phone, selected a number from her list of friends, and headed for the door. “I think I’ll go elsewhere and chat to someone who doesn’t make me feel like going back to bed and starting the day again.” As she left the room the first part of her telephone call was audible to the brothers. “Hi Maggie, it’s Helen, how’s things? … Yeah, he’s already in his uniform trackies and raring to go…”

“Don’t drink it all, leave some for me,” said Ian when his girlfriend was out of earshot. “Give it here.”

Ferdy shoved the carton brusquely in his brother’s direction, then he spoke his mind. “Well, you made a fine impression on the way home last night. How am I supposed to explain to my clubmates how my brother managed to…”

“Leave it out! It wasn’t my fault. Just shut up and get the hell out of here. Aren’t you supposed to arrive early at work on your first day?”

“What do you mean it wasn’t your fault?” demanded Ferdy. “I don’t think Robbie and Steve see it that way.”

“Steve understood. He had to get out too when I did, didn’t he? And while we were both pissing in the gutter he told me the beer had gone straight through him…”

“I can’t believe you pissed yourself! You should have seen the look on Robbie’s face when…”

“Sssh! Keep your voice down. Helen will hear…”

“…you and Steve got back in and he saw it was all down your leg. He’ll tell Craig and Bradley that you pissed your pants in the taxi instead of waiting until it stopped, and then the whole club will know about it. And then I’m supposed to show my face there again on Thursday after I told them how my brother was such a decent, cool bloke!”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll cope at the club. As I said, it wasn’t my fault!” Ian’s attitude was defensive in his attempt to calm his brother down before Helen might overhear him.

“Was it my fault, then? Was it my punishment to have to virtually carry you through the door here and then pull your pissy wet pants off you because you’d drunk so much beer you couldn’t even get undressed without falling on the floor and…”

“If you’re looking for someone to blame, try Craig,” interrupted Ian. “He’s the one who chose to invite twenty-five people to his house when he’s only got one toilet! There was still a queue outside the bathroom door when our taxi showed up. What was I supposed to do? Piss in Craig’s driveway?”

Ferdy raised his voice again. “Plan ahead beforehand, perhaps? Or at least tell the taxi driver he’s got to stop before it gets so bad that it’s already too late and you’re piddling in your…!”

“Ferdy, will you please shut the hell up before Helen and all the neighbours hear you!” interrupted Ian.

This time Ferdy obeyed his older brother and the two of them sat in stony silence for a couple of minutes. Ferdy drained his glass of orange juice and then refilled his cup with the last dregs from the coffee pot. The only sound in evidence was the muffled voice of Ian’s girlfriend talking on the phone upstairs to her friend Maggie.

Finally Ian attempted to lighten things up. “How are you feeling about your first day?” he enquired. “Do you know what you’ll be doing? Will you be taking some of the groups on the bridge walks?”

Ferdy was still angry with his brother and responded sarcastically. “What the hell do you think I’ll be doing at Salt Bay Harbour Bridge Walks? Umpiring a tennis match?”

“You’re right, sorry,” said Ian. “I’m not really thinking straight at the moment. This morning I’ve got to head out to a really difficult customer in North Gainsbury and I’m not looking forward to it.”

“Well, don’t forget to go to the toilet before you leave, will you?”

Ian sighed and gave up his attempts at a civil conversation. Aside from Ferdy probably being hung over after the party, not to mention being nervous about starting a new job, Ian knew from experience that when Ferdy had a bee in his bonnet about something, as he did at the moment following the incident in the taxi in front of two of Ferdy’s clubmates on the way home from the party, it would take a bit of time for Ferdy to lose his attitude over it. But after another short silence, during which Ian could hear his girlfriend descending the stairs and entering the utility room where their washing machine was located, a sudden thought gripped him.

He looked up at Ferdy again and spoke urgently. “What did you do with my clothes last night?” he asked, referring to the smart-casual but streaked-wet pair of trousers and the dripping wet boxer shorts which his younger brother had peeled off him the previous night before pushing him into his and Helen’s bedroom where he had collapsed naked on the bed beside her.

“What do you think I did with them?” replied Ferdy irritably. “They’re are on top of the washing machine. You didn’t expect me to keep them in my room, did you? They were stinking of your piss.”

Ian swore furiously under his breath. “You stupid prat! She’ll find them!”

Ferdy drained his coffee cup, muttered an obscenity in response, got up from his seat and left the room to get ready to leave for work. In the hallway he passed Helen who had a frown on her face and was carrying Ian’s still wet pair of chinos as she headed purposefully towards the room where they had had breakfast, but Ferdy was now determined to banish the embarrassing incident involving his brother from his mind and just leave the couple to argue about it by themselves. His mind was now on the day in store for him, and he could already picture himself up in the trelliswork of the Salt Bay Harbour Bridge, roped together with other bridge walkers, but this time as a responsible member of staff rather than as a customer, and he relished the prospect. His headache following the previous night’s partying was already fading and disappearing as the copious quantities of juice and coffee, which he had consumed with his breakfast, did their work. His white training shoes felt comfortable on his feet, and the blue and yellow uniform, one of two tracksuits which he had been issued in preparation for his new job, supported him snugly as he gathered up his wallet and keys and headed for the front door.

Twenty-one year old Ferdy Acton, Leisure Activities Staff Member, was ready to start work.

***

Ricky Johns grimaced slightly, clenched his sphincter, shifted his weight onto his other foot, and continued to half-listen as the young woman in the blue-and-yellow uniform tracksuit, adorned with a logo reading “Salt Bay Harbour Bridge Walks” and her name “Maggie Hill” on a badge, continued with her instructions. She was starting to repeat herself to an extent, thought twenty-five year old Ricky in some irritation, as he prevented what without his intervening clench would have been a high-pressure squirt of pee shooting straight out into his boxer shorts and jeans. Maggie had already covered the importance of following all instructions from the two members of staff to the letter during what would be two hours of clambering through the turrets and trelliswork of the bridge, with the cars and pedestrians up to twenty metres below them and the water of Salt Bay a further forty metres below that, so Ricky could not understand why she had returned to that rather obvious requirement now. A glance at the clock on the wall indicated that is was only five minutes before their group’s appointed time to start their crossing too, and if the young woman did not wind up her repetitive spiel soon there would be no time to do what Ricky obviously needed to do before he and the other seven members of the “eighteen to thirty” activities group would rope themselves together with Maggie and another bridge-walk staff member and set off for their crossing. Ricky had heard of emphatic safety pep-talks, but this one was getting a bit ridiculous.

By now, on this fourth day of the week’s package holiday with “Burston’s 18-30 Action Vacations”, and following a minor disaster on the first day for which he was still occasionally being ribbed by two of his fellow holidaymakers in particular, Ricky was well aware of the tendency of his bladder to be over-active in the mornings even if he avoided drinking any tea at breakfast at Burston’s headquarters before the group set out for its daily activities, and this same morning he had consciously planned ahead, ascertaining beforehand the length of the ride in the minibus to the coast (it would be just under two hours) and making sure he peed in the five minutes before getting into the bus with the others. Peeing before the journey and then again on arrival at the harbour bridge would be sufficient to set him up for the two-hour bridge walk on an empty bladder, Ricky had calculated. The calculations had been accurate with little or no margin for error this time, thought Ricky, as he grabbed his crotch momentarily while he waited for the young woman to finish her lengthy instructions. A glance at Justin and Mike to his right revealed that neither had noticed his quick fumble between his legs, Justin flicking through some pictures on his smartphone and Mike and Sarah both looking at them.

“You lot need to listen to this,” admonished Ray, the Burston’s staff member who had driven them out to the coast, to the threesome who were engrossed in Justin’s phone. “Put that phone away, please.”

As Justin quickly found the picture for which he had been searching, flashed it in Sarah’s and Mike’s direction for a couple of seconds, and then obeyed Ray by turning back to the staff member Maggie who was still holding forth about the importance of not detaching the hooks of the safety rope at any time until they were all back on solid ground, Ricky felt confident that the picture which Justin had just shown to Mike and Sarah was not the one of Ricky himself from their pony trekking day three days’ earlier, standing at the stables after returning the horses, his sweatpants wet all over the groin. The expressions on Sarah’s and Mike’s faces now were of the sort where you see something for the first time, not the kind where you share a well-worn joke about something you have seen countless times already. The amusement about his little accident on the horse had hopefully worn thin by now, thought Ricky, and if this young woman from the Bridge Walk staff could finally wind her safety talk up so that he could run into the men’s room which was prominently situated right by them, there would be no need for Justin and the others even to know that Ricky was at this moment almost as desperate as he had become on that horse.

Today, of course, Ricky would not be able to call out to the staff during their activity that he needed help to get down so that he could relieve himself, even if he did not leave it slightly too late before making the embarrassing shout to the front of the line as he had done on the pony trekking day. You could get down off a horse to pee, but you could not get off the trelliswork of a bridge sixty metres above the sea inlet. Ricky grimaced again as he waited for Maggie’s spiel to wind itself up so that he could relieve his bursting bladder. The memory of the sudden panic he had felt sitting on that horse, plodding along in a line with his fellow eighteen-to-thirties on their respective steeds, when a squirt had suddenly come out in his pants and he had realised that his intended strategy of waiting until the group returned to its base was not an option, returned to Ricky now as he fought back the feeling of being desperate to go and clenched his bladder shut once again. The threatening pressure he could feel now made him recall the several involuntary squirts which had come out both as he was being helped down from his horse and while he was sprinting to an area where he could pee out of sight, the yells of laughter from several of his companions ringing in his ears.

This morning, three days later, the incident had still not been forgotten. “Hey, Peewee, are your pants still dry!?” twenty-year-old Justin had called out in Ricky’s direction towards the end of the journey to the harbour bridge, despite the fact that Ricky had been keeping his fast filling bladder secret from everyone in the minibus.

“Ray, you’ve got to stop for Ricky!” Mike, who was barely a year older than Justin, had added. “He’s on his last pair of jeans. If he pisses in those he’s got nothing to wear for the rest of the week!”

Fortunately for Ricky, Sarah and Lynne, the only two female vacationers in their group, had not responded to the immature remarks of the two youngest males with any amusement whatsoever this time, the humour surrounding Ricky’s little accident on the horse having worn thin during the intervening three days, and since Justin and Mike were both specifically trying to impress the girls with their witticisms at Ricky’s expense they dropped the subject at once. Ray, too, had limited his response to a weary “Time to drop that, guys, it isn’t funny anymore”, leaving Ricky to continue concealing the fact that his bladder was starting to get worryingly full and to concentrate on holding it all in until they arrived without having to submit to the embarrassing indignity of asking Ray to find somewhere to stop.

Now, here in the headquarters of Salt Bay Harbour Bridge Walks, some attention spans had reached their limit. “Sorry about this,” said Ray to the Bridge Walk staff member Maggie who had stopped her instructions on hearing a muffled female scream and had then been treated to the sight of two young males and one female from the group running outside, the girl Lynne being pursued by the boys Justin and Mike. “They’re a bit high-spirited. You wouldn’t believe they’re grown adults, would you? Hold on, I’ll go and get them straight back here.” Ray made to run after the errant threesome.

“No, it’s okay,” replied Maggie. “Let them blow off a bit of steam. I’ve just about finished anyway. Unless anyone has any questions at all? Oh, wait, before you all get roped together, there is one other thing I should mention…”

“Oh come on…” muttered Ricky to himself under his breath in frustration as he shifted his weight between his feet a couple of times. The imminence of the moment when he could dive into the adjoining men’s room seemed to squeeze his bloated bladder giving him the feeling that he could not wait any longer.

Maggie pointed to a notice prominently displayed on the wall behind her, one which Ricky had already read and which for him was a superfluous warning, pointing out as it did that the bridge walk would last two hours during which time there would be no bathroom facilities available. “Please read this and take note. The toilets are there on your right. See you all back here in five minutes.”

Ricky was vaguely grateful that neither of the two youngest group members Justin and Mike were around to witness his hasty plunge into the men’s room, although out of sheer necessity he would not have taken it any slower even if they had been there. Presumably still chasing Lynne around the corridors of the building or outside by now, neither Justin nor Mike were around to make any fun of Ricky in his obvious hurry to pee. Only Phil, Marcus, and the staff member Ray, none of whom had teased Ricky in any way following his small accident at the pony trekking, followed him to the urinals. Marcus in particular had befriended Ricky in the few days of holiday activities which the group had been enjoying, and he started up a conversation with Ricky as the two of them released the pressure, standing side by side. Ricky shut his eyes in relief as the urgent pangs from his bladder, which had built up over two solid hours since leaving their holiday base, subsided to be replaced by sheer relief. The two friends lingered behind and chatted inside the men’s room for a while after Phil and Ray had departed.

When Ricky and Marcus finally rejoined the others, the errant threesome comprising Justin, Mike and Lynne had been rounded up by Ray to join Phil and Sarah, and Maggie was busy roping everyone together in a line just outside the building. The two friends slotted in behind Mike at the back, and Maggie handed them their safety harnesses, threading the rope through the rings around their bodies in the same manner as she had done for the rest of the group.

“Just wait there for a minute, guys and girls,” she then instructed. “We’ll be clear to set off onto the bridge in a moment, but I just need to go and find my colleague who should be joining us at the back of the line.” She re-entered the building and called out: “Ferdy!”.

***

“Oh, that was quick. I think they’re ready for you!” said Mrs. Cook, the manager at Salt Bay Harbour Bridge Walks, as Maggie’s voice rang out from the corridor. “Well, I think you’re all set to take your first group. We’ve covered the main safety requirements and you’ve given me good responses to the test questions. As I said, just let Maggie do her thing, watch how she does it, and help her out by keeping those young people in line. Remember, no-one detaches their safety belts at any time on the bridge. Reprimand them politely but firmly if they try to. And everyone sits properly inside the boat on the crossing back here: no leaning over the side. Further to that, just make the customers feel welcome and try to answer any questions they may have. Good luck, Ferdy. See you back here in a few hours’ time, and this afternoon you’ll get another group to take on.”

Ferdy smiled at his new employer, hastily downed the remnants of his cup of coffee, and then stood up just as Maggie appeared in the doorway wearing a blue and yellow tracksuit which was identical to Ferdy’s.

“Oh, sorry,” said Maggie as she saw that Mrs. Cook was still sitting with Ferdy. “They’re all roped up. Can Ferdy come now?”

“Yes, he’s all set,” replied her boss. “See you both later.”

His heart pounding with anticipation, Ferdy pulled on his own safety harness and accompanied his brother’s girlfriend’s best friend outside where a group of eight casually dressed people in their twenties, six men and two women, were all roped together in their harnesses. Two of the group, a couple of males who looked somewhat younger than the rest, were pulling boisterously at the rope and forcing the two young women in front of them in the line to move in response in order to keep their balance. But it all seemed good humoured.

“This is Ferdy,” said Maggie as she grabbed the end of the rope behind Marcus and Ricky and attached it to Ferdy’s harness. “He’ll take up the rear. And when I’ve got myself roped in at the front, we can all set off.” She then admonished Justin and Mike in a friendly but firm manner: “Lay off now, you guys. We’re about to climb the bridge, and from that moment you must behave responsibly. Remember, safety first!” She turned to Ferdy. “Keep an eye on that pair, will you?” she muttered quietly. “They’re being a bit childish. If they do anything dangerous up there, reprimand them at once.”

Mike responded to Maggie’s admonishment by turning his attention away from Lynne and Sarah, who he and Justin had been pulling around with the rope, and looking at Ricky behind him. “Hey, Peewee, how’s it going?. Are your pants dry?” he enquired loudly.

Ricky ignored Mike’s question, but Marcus, who was positioned between Mike and his friend Ricky, made a movement as if to slap Mike in the face. Ferdy, keen to start exercising his function of making the customers feel welcome, turned to Ricky. “You’re Peter, then?” he said. “Hi, I’m Ferdy.”

Mike corrected him at once. “Not Peter. Peewee!”

“It’s Ricky, actually,” said Ricky, dealing with his irritation by ignoring Mike completely and smiling at Ferdy.

“And I’m Marcus,” said his friend. “Hi Ferdy.”

Ferdy started up a chat with Ricky and Marcus, asking them about their “18-30” activities group and about what they had been doing earlier in the week, while Maggie got the group in motion one behind the other, opened the locked gate which would lead to the adventurous trek high up inside the bridge structure, led them all through and waited while Ferdy secured the gate behind them. As they all started to climb on the narrow wooden sloping platform, the chat between Ferdy and the two rear customers died while they all concentrated on where they were stepping and exerted themselves in the sometimes steep sections, sometimes downwards but more often upwards, as they all gradually approached the first of several turrets in the higher reaches of the bridge.

Ferdy smiled to himself as he followed his customers in their line. He had enjoyed this breathtaking walk a few times before as a paying customer, once with his brother Ian and a couple of times with friends. But it was a new and welcome experience now to be actually in charge of the group, wearing the snugly fitting uniform tracksuit which only the staff members could wear, and being paid a modest wage to chaperone the customers and keep them safe and happy on their walk.

But Ferdy’s enjoyment of his new role did not last much longer than about twenty minutes. As he followed behind Ricky, clambering along the now familiar route up into the trelliswork, Ferdy suddenly clenched his sphincter as he felt an unexpected urge, stopped what would have been a lengthy blast of pee from coming out and wettening his underwear and tracksuit, and then shivered with nervousness. Surely he couldn’t need to pee already? Surely it wasn’t really as bad as it felt just then? Most of the two-hour trek still lay ahead of them, all roped together in single file, and if he really needed to pee then he had a serious problem. He would have to hold it in until they reached the other end of the bridge, no matter what.

The young man in front of him turned his head at this moment and glanced back at Ferdy as they walked. “That’s Kelly Island there on the right, isn’t it?” Ricky asked, his head jerking in the direction of a small piece of land which had become visible in the bay below.

Ferdy gulped, put the stomach-churningly frightening thought which had just entered his mind aside, and answered his customer professionally. “No, Kelly is further over out to sea. We should be able to see it when we reach the top of the first turret since it’s clear weather today. What you’re looking at is Rungley Peninsular, part of the town.” Ferdy’s throat was dry as he spoke, but he hid his anxiety successfully.

Ricky followed up with a few more questions to which Ferdy responded appropriately, then the two of them fell silent again as they climbed through a narrow section of the walk, following behind the others. Ferdy, left to deal with his own thoughts again, swallowed nervously and clenched his bladder shut while he trudged along. As he followed behind the slow-moving convoy of young people, he sighed and whispered a futile sentence to himself under his breath: “I am absolutely frigging dying to go to the toilet.”

***

Ricky enjoyed the feeling of the warm sun on his arms and neck as he followed on behind his friend Marcus. The group had already passed three of the five turrets on their clambering trek through Salt Bay Bridge, and the views all around remained impressive and gratifying. Ricky was especially pleased that his frequently overactive bladder had remained virtually empty after the earlier uncomfortable, worrisome journey in the minibus to Salt Bay in which he had come close to having to ask Ray to pull over and let him out. The current relaxed state of his bladder stood in contrast to the previous day’s outing being led around a group of caves with his uncomfortable filling bladder spoiling his enjoyment, and even more so to the first day’s pony trekking during which he had actually had a small accident in his sweatpants prompting both Justin and Mike to tease him ever since. In complete contrast to those days, Ricky was now able to relax and enjoy the bridge walk experience on an empty bladder.

Ricky was pleased to have Marcus in front of him to talk to as well. The young staff member behind him, Ferdy, had become strangely aloof and progressively more stilted in his responses to Ricky’s questions about the geography of the bay, so Ricky had rather given up on Ferdy by now and was using the time in between admiring the view of the bay to get to know Marcus even better. Even Mike and Justin, the two normally boisterous lads in front of Marcus, had gone uncharacteristically quiet by now, so Ricky no longer felt any need to be on his guard over their teasing comments and references to Ricky’s wet pants on the pony trekking day. Meanwhile Maggie, the staff member at the front, was in conversation with the Burston’s 18-30 guide Ray, Phil was walking in silence, and the two girls Lynne and Sarah were chatting to each other behind Phil. Meanwhile the opposite shore of the bay was gradually becoming more prominently in view as the party of ten made its tortuous way through the bridge supports and trelliswork.

The next interruption was sudden and completely unexpected. “Can we stop somewhere for a pee?” It was Justin who blurted out his request loudly in the direction of the front of the line.

Mike immediately agreed. “Yeah, I need a pee too!” he called.

Lynne and Sarah laughed loudly. Phil turned and remarked: “Weren’t you two listening before? You can’t pee till we’re off the bridge!”

Maggie looked back at the two youngest members of the group without slowing her pace. “I hope you’re joking, guys,” she replied. “I did tell you all to go before.”

Ray sighed in exasperation. “Those two ran off without listening to your final instructions,” he remarked to Maggie. “I don’t think they even went before we started. Well, they’ll have to wait now.”

A pause while they all continued walking, save for a few more giggles from several group members, was followed by Justin’s voice again. “Look, I really need to go. Could I just unclip the rope and move to the side, the rest of you carry on and I’ll catch you up in one minute!”

Maggie’s response was polite but firm. “I’m sorry, but no. No-one unclips themselves from the rope. That is extremely dangerous. And no-one pees here on the boardwalk of the bridge. Pedestrians on the road below will not thank you if they get your urine raining down over them, and if they complain about it then my employer can lose the licence to operate these bridge walks and both Ferdy and I will be out of a job. There is a toilet available at the other end of the bridge. You can use it as soon as we’re down there in about half an hour.”

Justin seemed to resign himself to this prospect, but Mike spoke up again about ten seconds later. “I’ve got to pee. I can’t wait half an hour,” he whined.

Ray raised his voice and spoke firmly. “Now look! You two have only yourselves to blame for not peeing before we started. You’ve heard what Maggie said. Stop behaving like a pair of spoiled kids. Just hold it in until we’re down there. I don’t want to hear any more about it from either of you. I hope I’ve made myself clear!”

Marcus turned and met Ricky’s eye as they continued walking. The two of them shared a knowing grin. There was no need to voice the obvious, which was that Justin and Mike were now clearly suffering a serious come-uppance after three days of teasing Ricky about wetting his pants on his horse on their first day. While Ricky could not really believe that either Justin or Mike would suffer quite that indignity, he still felt that the humiliation of having their requests denied and having to hold on to full bladders, together with the amusement which Lynne and Sarah were obviously enjoying at the two lads’ predicament, would be quite enough to stop the teasing which Ricky himself had been enduring from Justin and Mike.

***

The final stretch of the walk, which involved several steep drops downwards as they returned to the level of the bridge deck, was taken at a snail’s pace, the whole line having to pause as each member of the group negotiated the particular hazard which they had reached. Maggie had her hands full, partly in checking that no-one missed a steep step which could break their leg if they fell, but also in giving an increasingly agitated Justin and Mike directions to the public toilet which, she said, was located round the corner to the left as soon as they reached the locked door to the bridge deck.

Ricky’s enjoyment of the final stages of the walk had been slightly marred by the spectacle of both Justin and Mike going into physical contortions while they paused for people ahead of them, or behind them, to clear the obstacles safely. Both young guys were by now providing an extraordinary spectacle as, continually forced to stop, they clamped their legs together, squeezed their crotches and muttered audible obscenities as they were forced to continue holding their bursting bladders. Ricky had no desire to see either of the guys wet his pants, which from the sight of the pair of them did not seem an impossibility any more, and their obviously desperate struggles were making Ricky feel nervous for them. The slowness of the final progress down towards the gate did nothing to help the situation.

No longer willing to watch Mike in front of him and Marcus as he panted heavily, his hands in his groin, and his weight continually swapping from one foot to the other as he pee-danced, Ricky redirected his gaze downwards at the ground beneath them while they were stationary, waiting for Ray and Phil ahead of them to negotiate another steep drop. To his surprise, Ricky noticed that the wooden slats of the walkway under his feet were wet, despite the sunny, dry weather. More water seemed to be added to the ground as Ricky watched, collecting slightly in a pool around his training shoes.

Glad of a chance to divert his attention from the two teetering, crotch-squeezing lads ahead of Marcus in front of him, Ricky moved his feet away from the mysterious, expanding puddle and then turned round to look at Ferdy for the first time in quite a while. “Any idea where that water’s coming from?” he asked, pointing downwards at the evidence. “Is it coming from somewhere up…?”

But Ricky cut his question off abruptly, did a double-take as he looked at the staff member behind him, then turned back abruptly and, in his embarrassment, blanked what he had just seen from his mind.

Then Justin called to the front. “Can I get loose now and run for it?” he gasped, referring to the rope to which he and everyone else was still attached. There was no need for him to elaborate further on what he meant: he and Mike had made their respective predicaments so obvious to everyone in the previous ten minutes that hardly anyone had been able to think about anything other than the fact that two of their group were so desperate to pee that they might not make it.

Mike immediately agreed. “Yeah, let me go! I’ve got to go! I’ve got to go now!” He stressed the last word “now”.

Maggie, who was just as concerned as anyone else about Mike’s and Justin’s situation, now broke the strict safety rules imposed by her employer, undid her own belt, moved back to the middle of the line and quickly released the two offending young customers from the safety rope. “You’ll need me to open the gate!” she called as the two young men took off ahead, scrambled down the final two drops and sprinted towards the door to the bridge deck, only to stop and double over in agony as their attempts to open the final barrier were unsuccessful. Mike appeared to be about to unzip the fly of his jeans as he stood there with Justin in front of the locked gate, but Maggie jumped briskly and athletically down the final obstacles, grabbed her key from where it was hanging from her belt, and efficiently let the pair through the door.

Half a minute later, as Ricky followed Marcus through the gate onto the pavement of the bridge. He could see that while Justin was no longer anywhere in sight, having presumably followed Maggie’s previous directions to the public toilet, Mike had merely moved a few paces to one side, turned his back to everyone else, and was now in the middle of a noisy and copious micturition, his pee stream cascading straight onto the road surface. He was being observed in this by Lynne, Sarah, Phil, and probably various members of the public. Ray was shaking his head and apologising to Maggie for both lads’ behaviour. No-one was paying any attention to the other group members at the back and what was going on there.

As Ricky turned away from Mike’s noisy, embarrassing display in the road and the large puddle he was producing on the ground, a powerful image suddenly entered his mind, one which he had ignored and banished about a minute earlier. Now this image returned with a vengeance as Ricky realised what he had seen and what it meant. When he had turned back and started asking Ferdy about the apparent leakage from above, he had encountered a weird expression on the staff member’s face. Ferdy had met his eye, but Ferdy’s face was like a mask, frozen in its expression, as if Ricky had been pointing a gun at him. Ferdy was additionally standing motionless like a statue, his legs clamped unnaturally together, and his blue and yellow tracksuit bottoms were displaying a large and expanding wet area all over the groin and extending downwards from his bulge. Ricky had also spotted the source of the puddle which, rather than coming from the huge construction above them through which they had spent two hours of climbing, was emanating from the bottom of Ferdy’s right leg. The entire image, which Ricky had at the time banished as being too embarrassing and too difficult to deal with, now returned forcefully and poignantly to the forefront of his mind.

At this point Marcus turned round and looked at Ricky. Ricky met his eye, gave him a serious and lingering look, then turned round and looked back in the direction from which they had come. It was evident that Ferdy had not followed them through the still open gate at the time when they had all removed themselves from the safety rope. Ricky and Marcus could see the staff member still standing on the other side of the door, his back to them and his body turned to the side. Ricky met Marcus’ eye again, jerked his head towards the motionless young man whose back they could partially see, and then headed back through the gate with Marcus following.

“Hi,” said Ricky gently as he touched Ferdy on the arm to get his attention.

***

Maggie pressed the button cutting off her call, replaced her mobile phone on her belt and walked back over to where Marcus and Ricky were sitting on a bench next to her colleague Ferdy and well out of sight of all other members of the group who were enjoying a complimentary drink and snack in a sandwich bar on the quay. Maggie addressed Marcus and Ricky first. “Are you sure you two don’t want to join the others for your lunch?” she asked. “I have vouchers here for a free drink and sandwich for you both if you want them.”

“No, it’s okay, thanks,” said Marcus. “I’m not really hungry.”

“That’s right, we’re fine,” agreed Ricky. “We’ve been having a good chat with Ferdy. He’s been really great, you know. You’ve got a fine new colleague here.”

“I know,” smiled Maggie. She turned to the third occupant of the bench who was seated slightly awkwardly in between the other two, his hands self-consciously covering his groin but the long wet streak down the right leg of his tracksuit nonetheless betraying what had happened. “How are you doing, Ferdy?” she asked.

“I don’t know what to do,” he replied in a monotone. His face, which had been anguished for some time following his disaster at the end of the walk, had since taken on a dejected, dispairing expression, despite the efforts of Marcus and Ricky to reassure him and cheer him up.

“Well, I do,” said Maggie. “I’ve been talking to Helen. I hope you don’t mind, but I thought I’d better tell her what had happened. She said something about it now being quits between you and Ian. Maybe you know what she meant? Anway, she was really helpful. She put me on hold, called Ian, and arranged for him to get over here immediately. He’s just finished with his customer, and he’s coming to pick you up from here in his car and take you home to get changed into your spare uniform.”

Ferdy stared at her for a moment. “So I don’t come back on the boat?”

“Not with this group. I’m putting you on an extended lunch break, and you’re going to join up with the next group when they finish their bridge walk in an hour. Our colleague Stefan will be in charge of that group, and I’ll call him to let him know you’ll be joining him. Don’t worry, I won’t tell him what happened. Mrs. Cook doesn’t need to know either.”

“Okay,” muttered Ferdy.

“There you are, I told you,” said Ricky to Ferdy. “You don’t need to worry about losing your job, or even about your boss or anyone except Maggie finding out what happened to you.” He turned back to Maggie. “Ferdy’s been worrying that he’s lost his job, just because he’s had a little accident,” he continued. “Marcus and I have been trying to reassure him.”

Maggie smiled. “Great,” she said. “Well, you three are obviously best mates now, so I’ll leave you to chat here if you don’t want any lunch. The boat back across the bay will leave at quarter past, so could you two please make sure you’re down there on the quay by then. See you down there.” Turning to her colleague in the wet tracksuit, she added: “You take care of yourself, don’t worry about what happened, it doesn’t matter. I’ll see you this afternoon when you’re in your spare uniform.”

***

As their skipper pulled the mooring rope aboard and opened the throttle of the motor to ferry the group back across the bay, Ricky turned to Marcus and nodded towards the quay. Marcus followed his eye, and the two of them observed Ferdy finally standing up from the bench a short distance away where all three of them had sat chatting for nearly an hour. They could see him briefly adjusting the soaked tracksuit material around his groin and then walking uncomfortably towards a car which had drawn up and stopped a little way off. A young man in a business suit could be seen getting out of the driver’s seat and walking over to meet Ferdy.

“That’ll be his brother, Ian,” said Ricky.

As Marcus and Ricky watched from the boat, Ian and Ferdy were seen to meet each other half way between the car and where Ferdy had been sitting, speak to each other for a short time, and then embrace each other with a long hug. Marcus drew a sigh of relief. “That’s nice. Ferdy said he’d had a row with his brother this morning. Ferdy needs his brother’s support now, and he’s getting it.”

Ricky nodded. “Yep. Ferdy will be okay now.”

Ricky smiled at his friend, then glanced across at two of the occupants of the bench opposite them in their boat. Justin and Mike were both quiet and withdrawn which was in marked contrast to their normal behaviour. Ricky locked eyes with Mike, then dropped his gaze downwards to the crotch of Mike’s jeans where a wet area the size of a small hand was prominently displayed. It was a slightly smaller wet patch than the one which Ricky had ended up with following his little accident at the pony trekking, but Ricky still felt that he was on equal terms now with Mike in the embarrassment stakes and would be unlikely to be teased any more by either Mike or Justin during the rest of the holiday. Mike had quite obviously started wetting his pants just before his earlier display of peeing in the road the moment they had left the boardwalk of the bridge.

Mike instantly covered his groin with his hand as he saw Ricky looking, then glared at Ricky when their eyes met again.

“Don’t worry about it, mate,” said Ricky to Mike. “It happens to us all.”

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