Tony dashes up the stairs without meeting anybody, but Bruno, who has been searching for him, spots him from the lobby and clunks up the stairs after him, with the usual jaggy grin on his face. Tony dives into their room and looks for a place to stash the bottle. He kneels down and scans under the beds. The musty stench of dried in pee, disinfectant and rubber from his roommate’s bed hits him more, because he’s grown used to it. He stashes the bottle under his bed, pushing it against the far-away leg nearest the back wall and window. Rolling over, he sits up, as Bruno slopes in the door.
‘Whit you been doin’?’ Bruno drops his shoulder, angles his head to one side and peers at him, reading his face, but squinting past him and under the bed.
‘Nothin.’ Tony quickly stands up, toe to toe, getting in his way.
Bruno takes a step back and smirks. ‘You’d something up your duke. I seen you. Whit is it? Bottle of ginger?’
‘Whit then? You don’t need to gee me a drink if you don’t want tae.’
‘Is it whisky?’ Bruno whoops. ‘I’ll no’ tell anybody. My da’ made me drink whisky once, but I didnae like it and he said I was a wee poof.’
‘Mind yer ain business.’
‘I can drink beer – but prefer Irn Bru.’
‘It’s nothin’ for nosey pokes.’
Bruno chortles, tries to dodge past Tony, but a hard dunt on the shoulder, stops him and he takes a step back. Flummoxed. The hurt is in his eyes and face and he’s close to greeting. Tony is his roommate, only pal, and never raised his voice to him.
‘It’s no’ that I don’t want to tell yeh,’ Tony says, in a conciliatory tone. ‘It’s just that you always blab about everything and yeh cannae keep a secret for toffee.’
‘Honest, I’ll never tell anybody. Never-ever-ever.’
‘Say, Dib, Dib. Cross my heart and hope to die.’ Tony picks at the grit on his elbow.
‘Dib, Dib,’ Bruno slaps his hand against his striped blue T-shirt and bony chest. ‘Cross my heart and hope to die.’
‘OK then. I believe yeh, but first you’ve got to tell me a secret. So that’s us even.’
‘Eh?’ Bruno’s features become an empty whiteboard, devoid of any marks of recognition. He screws his face up to help him think and knows he’ll not be able to think of anything and that pains him. ‘I stole money,’ he finally blurts out, ‘and a lighter and fags out of Bob’s pocket in the staffroom’. Colour flushes his cheeks as if he’s been running and he lets out a sigh of relief.
‘But you don’t smoke. Whit did you dae with the fags and lighter.’
‘Gave them to Carrot.’
‘Whit did you do that for?’
‘So-es he’d like me.’ Bruno is quick to correct himself. ‘I’d have given them to you first, but you don’t smoke either.’
‘Aye, that’s true. But you could have gave me the lighter.’ He pushes the pillow on his bed to one side and sits on the bed. ‘You can huv a look, but if you tell anybody—’
Bruno doesn’t wait until he’s finished speaking before he’s fallen to his knees, wriggling and crawling under the bed. He surfaces holding the bottle of poison, the beaming smile once more in place, their old intimacy re-established. . ‘Whit is it?...is it poison?’ He sniffs the lid and begins to unscrew it.
Tony grabs it off him. ‘Whit yeh daeing? It’s no’ for playing wae.’ He holds it in his lap, not sure what to do with the thick brown bottle and the liquid sloshing inside. Bruno flings himself onto the bed beside him. ‘Mind noo, you’ve no’ to tell anybody,’ he warns him. ‘You swore on it.’
‘Aye, but whit are you gonnae dae with it?’ He edges away and springs up. ‘You could kill everybody in the world, by putting it in their pudding.’ He holds his throat and makes gurgling noises through his nose and crosses his eyes sinking down into the corridor between the beds and closing his eyes. Death doesn’t linger. He springs up, racing driver posters behind his head and he leans over and his fingertips brush against the bottle.
‘Don’t fuckin’ touch it.’ Tony pulls it away. ‘And stop playin’ the ass. We need to find somewhere to put it. Somewhere safe?’
‘If you’d a wooden leg, you could stick it inside it.’ Bruno clumps about in half circles to show what he means.
Tony bites the inside of his cheek. ‘Somewhere outside,’ he says, as if speaking to himself. ‘It wouldnae be safe in here. Staff are always rooting through your stuff. Kiddin’ on they didnae mean to. And when you catch them oot they say it’s for your own good.’
‘I maybe know somewhere.’ Bruno is silent, the way he usually goes after he’s been blubbering and kids on he hasn’t. ‘It’s where I keep my stuff.’
‘OK.’ Tony gets up off the bed tugs out his T-shirt, unbuttoning his trousers top button, unzipping, and wriggling his hips to make a gap to hide the bottle without it slipping.
‘Let me do it,’ Bruno says. ‘People notice you, but whenever they see me, they look the other way. I’ll get you outside by the tree and I’ll show yeh.’
Tony waited impatiently for a few minutes his scalp tingling, wondering why he’d taken the poison from the kitchen. He heard a faltering laugh coming from one of the rooms, nearby. It sounded like Carrot messing about. And then a crash. He went to look out the window. Bruno trudged along close to the wall, bent back, a darting shadow next to overgrown bushes. He tiptoes outside and down the stairs.
Julie is crossing from the telly room to the office and waits for him. ‘Where’re you skulking off to?’ she says, smiling.
‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.’ Her pretty face shows mock concern. She pats him on the shoulder and heads off into the office.
Bruno is waiting for him, sitting behind the tree. The bottle is in his hand and he’s unscrewed the lid. ‘I tried a wee bit on the weeds, over there.’ He nods his head towards some yellow buttercups, ‘but it didnae dae anything’. He sounds aggrieved.
‘Gee me that.’ Tony grabs the bottle off him. ‘Where were you gonnae show me?’
‘It was only a wee bit,’ says Bruno. ‘Keep yer hair on.’
They both check they can’t be seen from the road or any of the windows in the home. Bruno burrows into the corner of the garden. In the corner past sharp Pampas grass, despite the heat in the ground, it feels slightly damp. Tony follows and underneath lilac, ivy has taken grip of the wall. Bruno pulls the curtain from the bottom and reaches in and pulls out a Barbie doll. ‘There’s a brick missing,’ he whispers, stroking the doll’s golden hair. ‘That’s where I keep my stuff.’
‘That’s Carla’s doll. You stole it, yah fucker.’
His eyes flicker away and he caresses Barbie’s face. ‘She didn’t need it. She’s got one already.’ This is his place. He’s sure of himself as a feral cat in the gap in the garden with the muted noise of traffic and nobody watching him. ‘You want to keep it here, or not?’
‘Aye,’ Tony slips him the bottle to stash for him.