Tony’s social worker, Marie, arrives on an official visit. She waits for him in the office. Dayshift-staff circle around, Julie flustered, leaves her sitting alone, because there’s nothing in the dairy and they aren’t sure where Tony is.
‘If you wouldnae leave everything at your arse,’ Bob bawls at some kid in the hallway, looking for Tony in the bottom landing of the house.
Marie paddles through the contents of her bag, pulls out her perfume, sprays her wrist and sniffs, turning her head sideways to check that nobody has seen her. She pulls out a pad and makes a detailed list of the things she has to pick up for dinner tonight on the way home.
Cloudless, blue skies, the fragrant smell of newly cut grass and the heat are soporific. Tony yawns, legs dangling, biding his time until lunch sitting with Bruno in the branches of the tree, his roommate yawns too.
Bruno grins and points, holds index finger to his lips. ‘Shssh.’
Down below them Angela’s blonde thatch of hair leads the way and behind her the bristle and fringe of Pizza Face as he kicks through grass shavings. They watch them sneak through the bushes below and to the right of them. Bruno giggles as he monkeys down as if each branch is a wide step on a ladder. Tony is cagier.
Bruno doesn’t wait for him, crouching down and burrows into bushes and up behind Angela, who squeals when he jumps out on her. Pizza Face has the bottle of poison in his hand and nearly drops it.
Tony bends and weaves under branches and joins the huddle under the canopy of leaves. ‘I thought I told you no’ to tell anybody.’
‘I never,’ says Angela. ‘I only told Pizza Face, and he wanted to see.’ She sticks her tongue out. ‘So there.’
‘I thought she was kiddin’ on,’ says Pizza Face, his squarish head turning one way then the other, not meeting his pal’s eyes, batting his hands as a daddy longlegs darts across him. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll put it safely back where I got it.’ He slinks away and puts the bottle back in the hole in the wall, carefully replacing the brick.
‘I’m bored outa my box,’ announces Bruno, rocking on his heels and sitting down. ‘I wish we’d something to dae.’
Angela ignores him and edges beside Tony who winks at her and Pizza Face half crawls the last stretch, a droning insect rising and falling in his wake.
‘I heard about whit happened,’ Tony says.
He examines the lines of black stitches and the new routes they create across the florid splash of birthmark and the way they extend across his other cheek and bisect his left eyebrow which has been shaved. The boys’ sad puppy eyes circle and swerve around each other’s. Pizza Face’s head drops, chin onto his chest. He ganders out of the shadows of the den, beyond the terraced houses into a stretch of road with an intense concentration as if trying to make the hum of traffic visible. Tony pulls himself across close enough to smell the acrid smell of sweat from his friend’s Ranger’s top. His friend flinches when his fingertips lightly touch the knot of black thread and trace a line of x-x-x-x. Tony snivels at first. Then great gulps of air ambush his lungs and heaving chest and he wails and cries for his best mate and for his mum and for his da and all the things that were wrong with the world. Pizza Face’s arm goes over Tony’s shoulder, pulling him in close, a brief hug, before he lets go, but he has also caught the contagion. Pizza Face’s eyes redden and he begins blubbering too. Angels crowds in to be comforted, sobbing.
Bruno glances across, digging a stick into the ground and grinning. ‘Watch it,’ he warns them. ‘Somebody comin’.’
The boys wipe at their eyes and Angela pushes against Tony’s leg. A crash of heavy footsteps and snapping of brittle twigs and waft of perfume. Norma comes out of the bright light. Her pretty face dark with the sun, a bit of greenery sticking to plaited black hair, as she ducks in to join them in the shade, breathing heavily.
‘They’re all goin’ nut in there looking for you,’ she says to Tony. ‘You runnin’ away?’
‘No, not really,’ he says. ‘How did you know we were here?’
‘Can see you lot sneaking about from my room. Always wondered what you were up to.’ She looks about and seems a bit disappointed that they’re not up to much. ‘I’ve got some Irn Bru, but it’s a bit warm.’ She flashes the bottle in her hand. Pizza Face takes a quick dekko at her colt-like legs in fraying, cut-down, denim and small breasts in a V of white cheesecloth. And he is impressed, although his expression doesn’t change, the way she flips the lid off and swallows a drink straight from the bottle without wiping it before passing it around.
Pizza Face is last of them to take a drink and he hands her back the empty bottle. ‘That was great.’ He rifts and blushes, her gaze unrelenting as she inspects him for a minute.
‘What happened to your face?’ she finally asks.
‘I got attacked by a gang of bad men.’ It’s a line Pizza Face used a number of times and it has a rehearsed tone.
‘Dunno,’ she says, peaking at him again, making her mind up what she thinks. ‘It’s pretty cool. Nobody will mess with you now.’ She lobs the bottle, but not very far.
Bruno pounces on it. ‘You get money back on that,’ he says. ‘I’ll take it to the shops.’
‘That’s a reddy.’ Norma turns her head as if there is someone behind her. ‘I better go.’ She seems suddenly shy and awkward. ‘What happened to the men that did that?’
Bruno answers for Pizza Face, and repeats what Tony had told him: ‘his brother killed them. Bang! Bang! Bang!’ He hoots with high-pitched laughter and crooks his fingers into the shape of a gun. ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’
‘Saw his picture in the paper?’ It’s Norma’s turn to blush as she admits looking and kinda knowing somebody that is somebody. She swats midges away as it gets a little colder. ‘He’s quite cute. You look a wee bit like him. Has he got a girlfriend?’
‘Nah,’ says Pizza Face. ‘But he killed two and wounded another three. And they took him away and put him in Barlinnnie. And I’m gonnae go up and visit ‘im.’’
‘Got to go,’ she says. ‘My wee sister will be lookin’ for me.’ She looks down at Angela, and holds out her hand, an offer to come with her, ‘you want to come and play?’
Angela screws her face up, shakes her head and kicks out, ‘Na. Don’t like her.’