Angela stands sulking in the driveway, near the dining-room window, anorak brushing against the wall, out of sight of everyone, poking at something with the toe of her shiny shoe. The postman doesn’t look at her. He’s red faced and flustered, jogging up the hill, scrunching red chips underfoot, serge of his sack pushed onto his hip and letters bundled in his right hand to deliver, but the front door is ajar. He hesitates whether to push them through the letterbox or reach through and drop them into the lobby. He opts for professionalism, the letters fluttering to the floor just inside.
Bruno picks them up and takes the mail through to the office. Tony brushed past him to join Angela outside. ‘Don’t worry,’ he says, referring to the cook. ‘She’s just a fuckin’ cow.’
‘I liked the other woman. She was nice.’
‘So did I. Maybe she’ll come back.’
‘Maybe she will.’
He drifts closer to Angela and puts his hand on her shoulder. The postman hurries down Risk Street. Opposite him and turning the corner Pizza Face wobbles on the razor seat of his bike as he tries to brake and change gear. Tony raises he arm, caps his fingers over his eyelashes against the glare of the sun.
‘Look, it’s Pizza Face.’ A hesitancy, note of awe in his voice, about the way that a newish looking Raleigh racing bike has grown out of the frame of his pal’s wiry bones, looped handlebars and a delicate arrangement of oiled cogs and gears crafted, despite his huffing and puffing, with infinite patience.
Pizza Face wheezes to a halt outside the gates in front of them. His hand hot and hard holding onto the handlebars and looking slightly embarrassed. ‘Jaz bought it for me,’ he explains. ‘It’s twelve-speed gear.’ He crouches down to show them, his long trousers tucked into grey socks and black sannies the uniform of a professional cyclist.
‘That’s a bumper,’ say Tony. He comes closer, squats down beside Pizza Face to get a better look.
‘It’s rubbish,’ says Angela.
They both ignore her, delighting in the way Pizza Face can pick up the frame with one hand and spin the front wheel, the way the gears are arranged and squeezing the brakes the way that the bike comes to an instant stop on the hill.
‘Can I get a shot?’ asks Tony.
‘It’s maybe a bit too big for you.’ Pizza Face’s breathe is sour and smells of fag smoke.
‘But I’m bigger than you.’
‘Aye, but you’ve got wee-er legs – and it’s my bike.’
Angela disappears round the side of the home and appears wheeling the old bone-shaker bike through the red chips and lets it topple to the ground in front of them.
‘I’ll go this bike and you got that one,’ she says. ‘Help me on it, Tony. And we can have a race.’
They exchange bemused glances, slow to snigger, but look at her kindly.
She has trouble, wrestling the handlebars, getting the bike upright and Tony helps her prop it up against the weathered stone wall. Her hand grips a rod of the rusted iron fence and steps up onto the wall. The attempt to bridge the gap and straddle the bike almost leads to a fall.
‘Whoa,’ says Tony, slender fingers grabbing her and the bike and keeping both upright.
‘You’re fuckin’ nuts,’ says Pizza Face, with a whiny of laughter.
‘Push me,’ she says, her face solemn.
Tony holds her and the bike. An anxious gasp escapes from her mouth as the wheels slowly turn and she clutches onto the bar and smiles awkwardly.
‘Faster,’ she says, even as they’re picking up speed on the way down the hill.
Pizza Face follows behind, on his bike, in slow arabesques nips in front of them on the other side of the wide road, outside their juddery run.
A red Ford sped past on Duntocher Road on the curve of the hill, followed by the roar of an SMT bus and Tony scuffs his shoes and slides, grapples with the handlebars and pulls the bike and Angela sharply towards him. Angela, the bone shaker and Tony end up in a slow-motion heap
‘The brakes don’t work too well,’ he says, looking up at Pizza Face.
‘You alright?’ he asks Angela as she wiggles from under him and stands up.
‘No,’ she says, whimpering and greeting. ‘You made me hurt my wrist.’ She clutches her wrist with her left hand to show what she means, hands and fingers lying limp.
Pizza Face abandons his Raleigh in the middle of the road and hurries across to get a closer look. ‘You’ll be alright pet.’
Tony scrambles to his feet, his mouth slack and a guilty look in his eyes. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll kiss it better.’
She holds her floppy wrist out, but it is her large wideset eyes he focusses on as he makes smacking sounds with each kiss, dotting her arm from the pale beat of blue veins to elbow.
‘I want to go hame.’ But she lets herself be comforted, drawn in, hugged tight. She clutches onto him and a smile grows on her lips.
‘There, there,’ Tony says, stroking the top of her head.
‘That bike’s a death trap,’ Pizza Face says.
‘No, it’s no’ that bad,’ says Tony. ‘She’s just too wee to go on it.’
‘Well, you go on it,’ Pizza Face says. ‘And we’ll see.’
He’s brisk with Angela, brushing her aside, guiding her towards the high kerb and pavement. Picking up the boneshaker. Overhanging laurel leaf, soak up the sun, rustle and shine, giving the determined look on his face a late bloom of renewed colour. The front wheel of the heavy bike angled toward Parkhall shops.‘Up and back,’ he says. ‘And we’ll see who wins.’
‘You goin’ on that thing?’ Pizza Face picks up his bike. ‘Up and back? First back here?’ He wheels his bike up beside Tony’s, he toes on the road, holding it upright. He studies the gears, as if memorising them.
‘Right,’ Tony says. ‘Angela will say, one, two, three, go.’ He needs to shuffle his body and bike and turns his head, neck and shoulders as if spliced together. ‘Won’t you?’
‘No,’ she says, folding her arms.
‘Fuck it,’ says Pizza Face. ‘You dae it.’
‘One, two, three, go!’ Tony gets an early lead with his bluff tactics and he stands upright like a jockey, arse in the air, pedalling for all he’s worth. The bikes heavy on his legs and after the initial momentum his bum falls back and settles on the saddle. He hears Pizza Face’s ragged breathing behind him and just before the shops the Raleigh bike with his rival streamlined, clutching the ram’s head shape of the handlebars, his wheel to the side and front, overtaking him.
An Austin horn blares and brakes with a screech, the smell of rubber, and the car swerves away from Pizza Face’s bike, but carries on, accelerates along Duntocher Road, without stopping. But it spooks Pizza Face, his face as pale as the car’s paintwork. His Raleigh cuts in front of the boneshaker as he darts towards the safety of the side of the pavement, his back wheel being clipped by the old bike’s front wheel. And he breaks and wobbles and falls off. Tony’s bike skids, he puts a foot down, easies into it and makes the turn across the road, without looking back. It’s all downhill and the weight of the boneshaker is no longer a hindrance and with a streak of wind in his face gets to corner of Risk Street and turns sharply into the cobbles, tickertape is in his head and he gets to the gate first. He watches Pizza Face peddling up the hill behind him. A smile consumes his face and body.
‘You fuckin’ cheated!’ Pizza Face slumps over the handlebars of his bike.
‘No, I fuckin’ never.’
‘We’ll race again.’
‘Where’s Angela?’ Pizza Face asks turning his head, looking back down the hill, sweat on his face making his birthmark a deeper plum colour.
‘Dunno.’ Tony rubs his sticky forehead. ‘She might be inside. You want me to check. I’m goin’ in to get a drink of water, anyway. He looks at his pal. ‘You want a drink?’
Pizza Face hums and haws, ‘Nah, the wee buggers probably away. You know whit she’s like. I’m just goin’ down the road tae, maybe catch her at the Cressie stairs.’
He balances on one leg and tap-dances his way around until the bike is turned. ‘See you.’ He holds his hand up as the bike picks up speed.
Tony wheels the boneshaker around the side of the house and leans it against the wall. The cook is outside the kitchen door having a smoke in the sunshine. She looks over his head, pretends not to notice him, until he stomps up and stands in front of her.
‘Just gonnae get a drink of water,’ he tells her and angles his body so he can step past her.
‘The kitchen is out of bounds,’ she says in a bored tone. ‘You want a drink of water, go to one of the toilets, or ask a member of staff to get you it.’
She doesn’t move and their bodies almost touch and they recoil, stand staring at each other.
‘You only work here – you’re a fuckin’ rotten cook. I live here.’
‘You’re just a wee bastard. No wonder your parents dumped you here.’
He brushes past her. The kitchen is dim the blinds pulled shut and it takes his eyes a second to adjust, but the two sinks are piled with dishes and pots and he can see she seems to have used every cup and plate in the cupboard and let them pile up rather than wash them. He dips his hand into the scummy water and pulls out a green glazed mug, running it under the hot tap to clean it, and then filling it with cold water. He downs the first cup and fills a second and it saddens him to think how clean the old cook had kept the place. Reaching down into the gap between the sink and cupboard he fishes for and pulls out the bottle of poison. He sticks it down front of his trousers, covering the bottle with his T-shirt. The keys hang in the door and he unlocks it and makes his escape through the dining room.