Pizza Face ducked his head down when he took a drag on a fag and hid it behind his leg when he wasn’t smoking. He’d stolen a dout, almost a full Regal King Size, from the ashtray last night and planked it. He’d come in for me to go out and play, but there was nothing to do. We stood inside the close mouth, and waited for the rain to go off, not really watching the traffic on Dumbarton Road, eyeing up a green van and motorbike parked at the kerb. Him nearer the entrance, rain splashing in at his feet and I’d my back to the wall beside him. I’d seen The Great Escape in the La Scala and fancied I could handle a Norton motorbike, as long as it wasn’t too hard and there wasn’t any Gestapo about shooting at me. Pizza Face had already been outside, showing off, patting the low-slung seat and pretended he was going to swing his leg over and sit on it, but a woman with a brolly had stopped and he’d scuttled back inside.
‘You want twosies?’ He held out what was left of the fag.
‘Nah,’ I shrugged. ‘You’re alright, not after you’ve been slobbering all over it.’ I’d already tried smoking and didn’t like it much.
He pursed his lips, screwed his face up and took a few drags before flicking it out onto the pavement.
We heard a door slamming and the staccato of feet running, pausing at the landings above and then growing louder as someone whooped down the stairs. Angela appeared jumping off the last step with a thud. She was ghost like glimmering in the growing darkness in her dirty white, print-dress.
‘Hi Tony,’ she said in her sing-song voice. She smiled at me, but no smile for Pizza Face. As she ran the other way towards the back court, she limped because her left sandal had lost the buckle and her left leg couldn’t keep up with her right as she bashed the heel to keep shuffling feet on course. I managed to get in front of her, near the jagged remains of a wall, grab her shoulder and haul her backwards.
‘Where you goin’? It’s bloody freezin’.’
‘I seen a dog, from the windae.’
I’d a quick look about. ‘No you didnae. You’ve got dogs in the heid.’ She was shivering with the cold, but her face hot from excitement of petting a dog. She loved dogs in the way other wains loved ice-cream cones. Any mention of a stray and that was her off and running down the stairs to rescue it.
Pizza Face stepped up beside us. At our backs some of the lights in the kitchens and bedrooms that looked out onto the backcourt glimmered in the rain. He tilted his head sideway to get a better look, his thin neck stretched out of his duffle coat, his eyes started and mouth grimaced showing the greenish tinge of his teeth. ‘That’s Blodger’s dog. You better no’ go near it. He eats cats for a living and snacks on rats.’
It glanced round at us with lazy eyes, before sniffing the buckled washhouse door, following a trail of broken bricks and lifting its muscled head like a connoisseur of bin to bin dining, pausing to vigorously claw at its arse with a thumping sound like the beating of a carpet. The reek from it alone made you itch, scabby legs like stilts. A dog with bloated belly and more foul teeth showing than a rabid beast. When its head whipped round and it growled we were already retreating back to the safety of the close mouth – apart from Angela.
‘No. No. It likes me.’
She made a bee-line towards it with the flat of her hand out, as if to pet it, making clucking noises. ‘C’mon son. I’ll no’ let them hurt you.’
Pizza Face, for once, did the right thing. He picked her up like a goose. ‘Nobody likes you. Not even your ma.’ Doubled back towards the close with her struggling in his arms. ‘You’re a cheeky wee bastard.’
‘Put me doon,’ she howled. And when that didn’t work and he kept hurrying. ‘You’re hurting me.’
Blodger’s dog was already upon us. It barked and snapped at my ankles, the denim flare fooling it, saving my leg from being gnawed. I squealed and kicked out, catching it a blow in the mouth and it let go. It looked up at me before cutting off my retreat by circling in front of me, and it made another foray. I feigned to go one way and went the other. Blodger’s dog snapping at my heels I ran faster than I thought I could overtaking Pizza Face and Angela, brushing against them.
Pizza Face stumbled and they fell. He turned his body so that his shoulder got the worst of it, and he’d kept hold of Angela so she seemed unhurt. She was first to recover her feet and spring up. The dog lost interest in me, and about-faced to make a dishrag out of wee Angela. Eyes-a-blinking in the waning light, dark stains round the fur of its jaw and throat it thrust forward, angled its head to get a grip of her skirt and leg.
I was scared, holding my breath, nearly greeting, praying that somebody, an adult might appear to save us. Pizza Face scrambled back up, dancing round the outside of Angela and the dog, his eyes desperately searching for something to defend himself with.
‘Stop it Blodger.’ Angela slapped the dog on the snout. ‘Behave! Be a good dog and stop your carry on.’
She held the flat of her hand out. And Blodger’s dog sniffed it, then licked her palm, holding its neck up so she could stroke it. I stepped towards them and the dog turned and growled at me. I backed off sharpish. Pizza Face took a more circumlocutory route, up towards the bins and coming back with a bin lid for a shield and a piece of stick. Angela kissed the dog on the nose. It was tucked in to her side, tail wagging, until Pizza Face came closer. Then it lunged towards him. The bin lid clattered as he ran and used one of the bins to spring up onto the washhouse wall.