George and Spider Part Five - The Spooner's Return
By Jane Hyphen
Arthur and Francis were having long, unheated discussions about football and all the world's problems. These two subjects were large enough to form the basis of almost all of their debates. Occasionally a stubborn difference of opinion would cause a light scratch to form upon the smooth surface of their relationship. However it was never sufficiently chaffed to allow seeds of resentment to germinate, put down roots and grow.
Wednesdays were rarely busy in the jewellery quarter, indeed it was often the day when Francis would go down to London, perhaps to pick a diamond for a customer or get something engraved. But today Francis had no reason to go anywhere, plus he was afflicted by a sort of physical fatigue, something which struck him from time to time, often when he was feeling emotional. Somehow this was a day for talking, there was nothing in the air to prohibit the flow of conversation.
Arthur, who was unable to do two things at once, leaned across the table with his hands laid out idly in front of him. He watched Francis, who could speak aswell as work, applying a burnished finish to the surface of heavy, silver bangle.
'Well if I was a commentator Fran, I might well think it - but I wouldn't say it. I'd keep my garden tongue inside my head!'
'Mmmmmm, I guess they forget they're on air Dad.'
Arthur blew some air out of his nose in annoyance and said, 'Thay don't know how lucky they are. Crikey! What I'd give for that job, anything - and I'd be good at it too, better than any of them, that's for sure.'
'Can you pass me that cloth Dad?'
'George is quiet today. Do you think I should go and check on him?'
George was feeling rather bored inside his shed. He'd had his CB radio tuned into the local police force all morning but nothing was happening, nothing bad anyway. He had about him his usual restless fuzz and general discontentment with life. It was not even eleven o'clock. There was no way he could sit until lunchtime, his legs were aching with tension and his head was bursting with ideas, all of them totally unrealistic. Suddenly he shot up from his chair and did forty push-ups, but that only made him feel more worked up. Crystal sensed that he was thinking of leaving the shed and going somewhere and she got up from her cushions and stretched, all the time staring up at her master. With an abrupt motion of the hand he removed her lead from its hook and clipped it onto her collar.
'Come on Crystal, lets get the hell out of here.'
'Where are you two off to?' said Arthur as they passed through the shop.
'Just out. We'll be back later,' George said without looking at his father for fear of being given some errand or other.
'Oh - can you get some figs for your nan? I believe she's running low.'
George stopped and screwed up his face. 'What? Do I have to? They don't always have them in the Co-op.'
'Mahmood's do em, they do all the dried fruit and nuts and all that-'
'But then I'll have to tie her up.'
'Someone might nick her Dad!'
Arthur frowned hard at the animal and said, 'I doubt that George.'
George opened the door halfway. 'I'll see,' he said vaguely.
Crystal was rather prone to pulling on the leash. This was partly due to the fact that she was under-exercised but mostly she pulled because she thought pulling was a good way to show George how eager she was to accompany him on adventures and how willing she was to protect him from any harm which might lay ahead.
George crossed the street. The dog started to pull with extra force, then suddenly she squatted down on the verge outside Mr Shah's shop and hastily began to expunge. George was not in the habit of carrying those little plastic bags with the tie handles. He gave her a hard tug which only caused her to drop smaller packages of excrement all over the adjoining pavement. Mr Shah's head swiftly appeared in his shop window. He was having a quiet day too and he held up his fist and waved it angrily at George.
Man and dog hurried up the road. They exited the jewellery quarter and walked a short distance along a main road before turning down an alley and onto the canal tow-path. This was one of Crystal's favourite places. The copious smells left behind by foxes and bicycle tyres made for a canine paradise. She began to pull with increased vigour. A layer of muscle, put their by genetics rather than exercise, rippled beneath the soft, tan coloured fur which upholstered her stocky little frame. George yanked her back. There was no way she was coming off the lead for he'd seen far too many decomposing dogs floated bloated in that canal, alongside the rusting shopping trolleys, Tennant's Extra cans and other urban debris. The path was man-trodden rather than man-made; in places it was nothing more than a narrow strip of dirt, flanked on one side by a tall brick wall daubed in unfathomable graffiti and on the other just still black water. George was forced to let his dog walk straight in front of him, for there wasn't nearly enough space for six legs to walk together. He clutched the lead on an awkward extended arm, trying to keep her under control without treading on her.
All of a sudden she stopped sniffing at the ground and put put her head up, staring straight ahead, her ears pointed upright and her tail began to wag rhythmically from side to side. George looked up from the gritty path. There was a figure approaching, the details of which were blacked out by the bright sunlight which shone from behind it. George sensed instantly that there was something ominous about this person just from their outline; their broad build, the way they listed slightly from side to side with each step. He lifted his hand up to his brow to block out some of the sun and saw that the approaching figure also had a dog. George's heart sank. He dreaded encountering other dogs. Crystal had never been socialised and consequently she could be hostile and unpredictable.
He slowed down and took a couple of high steps into some long grass at the side of the path to allow this person to pass by, hopefully without incident. But the figure was slowing down. George felt himself being looked at, scrutinised. Crystal began to growl. He wanted to turn and get away but there was no escape on the narrow tow-path, and to run back the way he came was just not his style.
'George Jules!' A horrid potent finger pointed at George. 'Thought it was you - and your little dog.'
It was the unwelcome voice of childhood acquaintance and bane of the Midlands, Keenan, or Keen as he was known, Spooner.
If Birmingham had been a foot; rather flat and over-walked, with fallen arches and plenty of hard, rough skin, then Keen Spooner was one of a number of stubborn veruccas. His family were dotted all over the underside of the city, inhibiting progress and causing pain to all the surrounding tissue. From time to time the authorities tried in vain to control them, usually by empowering some young, innovative council officer to concoct good behaviour incentives and social ointments. But to no avail, such was the strength and endurance of the crusty layer which protected the Spooners.
George's heart sank again, he would have been happy never to see that face again. It seemed that just as the memories of Keen were beginning to fade and the man's existence begin to feel nothing more than a myth, an horrific urban legend, their paths would cross and he would be forced to accept that the Spooners were flesh and blood, and still very present in the community.
The two dogs began to bark ferociously at each other, baring teeth and straining at their collars until they were almost choking. Keen smacked his harshly across its face with the back of his fist, yelling a jumble of foul language until the poor animal yelped and cowered.
'Er- Keen, Keenan Spooner isn't it? I hardly recognised you,' George lied.
Keen grinned silently for a few seconds then said, 'I'm bigger - been lifting weights.' He flexed his arms and shoulders in several different ways to demonstrate this fact.
George raised his eyebrows. 'It's been a while. Someone said you'd gone away - on a long holiday.'
George could see a way past Keen now, an escape. He decided to try and make a getaway and yanked Crystal out of the tall grass and quickly side-stepped onto the path. His attempts were thwarted. Keen stood in his way, spreading his thick legs across the width of the path.
'I did,' he said laughing, 'They put me back in my box for a bit. It did good, I got rested, got away from my family for a while - well, some of em anyway. Everyone needs to get away from their blood once in a while don't they? Bet you Jules's are still living in each others pockets.'
George lifted one hand a gave a little cough. 'I've moved out,' he said, 'I live with my girlfriend now.'
'Girlfriend! Never thought you had it in you George. Had you down as a queer back at school, everyone did!' Keen sniffed violently, causing foul liquid to rise audibly up his nasal chamber. 'You've got a queers body,' he looked George up and down. 'Gaybod, look at you!'
George's heart was thudding now. 'Well stuff's been happening,' he said, 'I work now and-'
Keen didn't want to hear good things about George's life and so he quickly interrupted.'Good,' he shouted, 'Stuff's been happening to me and all. I've had another kid, and I've got my proper education now - got it inside, taught by the best. I'm worldly wise, I'm back! he shouted, holding up his wrist which was decorated with a horrible tattoo of a crab. 'Stronger than ever!'
The two men stood in silence for a moment, Keen keeping George trapped upon the tow-path. Crystal was growling rhythmically now. George could feel the tension travelling up the lead as her hard body vibrated like a little engine.
'Still going down The Comet are you, with that little shit, er what's is name, the one you always hang round with coz he makes you look tall, you know, the one who don't ever speak?'
George wanted desperately to stand up to this bastard but also to get away from him, to push him aside into the black water and stride off. But his legs felt weak, he was overcome by a cloud of deep seated anger which sat heavy upon the very faculties he needed in order to be clever and articulate and hard. He looked into Keen's face, the podgy nebulous outline of it was utterly repellent, the pale freckly complexion sickening, like the surface of a cheap sausage. The man had a sort of washed out quality to him, it was as if his mother had put bleach into his baby milk and it had faded his colouring and leached the sense from his brain.
Keen had bullied Spider relentlessly at school. It happened during the time they shared a table in the special needs classes. The memory of it was still painful to George and he simply didn't want to engage with this low-life at all. He took a few seconds to compose himself by breathing deeply and looking into the eyes of his beloved dog. 'Yeah - sometimes,' he said thinly.
Keen began to laugh now, then he stopped and scratched him head. 'I've just remembered,' he said, 'How's your little problem?' He followed this question with a pathetic, childish impression of someone having a seizure.
George died a little inside. He had no idea what he looked like during a seizure but he was quite sure it looked nothing like what Keen was depicting, and if it did then it was simply unthinkable. He raised his voice a little, 'Fine,' he said, trying to sound strong but with a slight catch in his voice, 'I think of it more as a gift than a problem.'
'Kelly said she seen you and your gimp in The Comet, she works in there regular now.'
'I know she does.'
'She mentioned your old man. He's still in the jewellery game is he?'
George nodded vaguely, he was looking into the distance now, trying to put an end to their encounter. However the mention of Kelly's name jolted his memory, he had a funny feeling that Kelly was distantly related to Keenan Spooner. Despite abhorrent genetics the Spooners were a fertile lot, and they seemed to have bred into the majority of local families, degrading the whole community with each spawning.
The dogs set each other off again, barking ferociously and rising up on their little hind legs, displaying their barrel chests and wet, pointed teeth.
'Shut it Stan!' yelled Keen above the din, smacking the animals nose.
'What's your dog called?' asked George who was genuinely curious.
'Stan - Stanley, after the knife.' Keen grinned proudly, revealing the gaps between his teeth which were curiously tinged green, perhaps a legacy from his glue sniffing years. 'I don't bother to carry one now that I've got him. He's a Stanley knife with bells on he is!'
They were interrupted by the sound of an engine and the smell of dirty, polluting fumes. A white boat was approaching from the water behind where George was standing.
'Oh look, here's Uncle Clancy come to pick me up. Well it's been nice catching up with you George. I might see you down The Comet sometime.'
'I doubt that, I'm not in there that often,' George lied again.
The boat pulled up alongside them. It was quite a small vessel but it looked shiny and expensive. Painted on the side in red was the name 'Crime Pays'. George couldn't help but raise a smirk, however he was careful not to make eye contact with Clancy Spooner. The Spooners could be catagorised according to their capacity for dishonour. Most of them were minor criminals, opportunists and rather clumsy with it, but a few of them were major and had a reputation for pure, unbridled viciousness. Clancy was one of the latter. He'd turned off the engine and was staring straight ahead at the water without acknowledging either men.
Keen released his dog from its lead, the animal jumped aboard the boat as if it had done so many times before. Crystal lunged towards the beast and it took all of George's strength to hold her back.
'He's from show stock, ' said Keen, pointing at his dog as he stepped onto the boat. 'He's an Irish champion!'
George frowned and began to step back away from them. 'Really, what breed?' he said.
'Staffie, same as your's George, only your's looks like a runt.'
George glanced back at the dog and shook his head, for it was a comedy beast with an enormously wide head and chest covered with some ridiculous brass medal. All over its thin fur were little pock marks, scars, about the same circumference as a cigarette. 'That's not a Staffie,' George said, 'It's cut with something.'
Clancy started the engine up again. Keen shouted over the din, 'Cut with something? Cut with what?'
George was walking away now, down the tow-path, moving fast but trying to look cool and unflustered. 'Dunno,'he said, 'something - evil.'
As the boat passed them Keen leaned out towards George and called out, 'Well you'd better keep your scrappy little bitch away from him then hadn't you!'