Authors: Robert Leeson
Collins Modern Classics
Illustrated by Jason Ford
ONDAYS ARE BAD
enough, any week. But this one broke all records. Alec knew, because he kept a score every day in his head with triumphs on one side and disasters on the other. Today disasters were away down the field while the other team was still in the changing room.
Late as usual, Alec trundled into the schoolyard to join the tail end of line-up. He found himself next to Sam Taylor, which was not a good start to the day. Sam was as thick as a plank and nasty with it, but today he wasn’t interested in Alec. His spotty face gleaming, he was studying someone in the line-up, a new lad, tall, broad-shouldered, with a boxer’s nose. His face was brown but his short, bristly hair was light red.
“Hey, Ginger,” said Sam Taylor.
The boy looked away and said nothing.
“I’m talking to you, Ginger.”
The boy turned.
“My name’s Wallace, Spotty.”
“Oh, beg pardon, Mr Wallace.” Sam’s voice took on a painful, affected accent. “Tell me, Mr Wallace, how does a gentleman from your part of the Commonwealth come to have ginger hair?”
This time there was no answer. The boy’s back was turned once more.
But one of Spotty’s mates muttered, “Must have been a red-headed sailor in port.” Before he could stop himself, Alec started to snigger. He caught a ferocious look from the red-headed boy and covered up his mouth. Sam and his mates were looking away.
“Very funny, eh?” said Ginger.
Alec began to protest when someone loomed behind him.
It was Monty Cartwright, senior master and keeper of the punishment book, famed for his black beret and habit of ranging the schoolyard as though planning military manoeuvres.
“Quiet in the line-up, Bowden. For someone your size you make an awful lot of noise.”
Alec went glumly into school. He knew it was not his day, and he could feel more trouble on the way. He was right: by half-time, disasters had one in the net.
As he wandered into the yard at break, his way was barred by Ginger Wallace.
That hurt even if it was true. Alec looked from side to side. There was no escape and no support in sight. He fixed his eye on Ginger’s half-knotted tie, because looking up into his face made him feel smaller still.
“I’ve seen you down Boner’s Street, haven’t I?”
“Yes,” Alec replied before he could stop himself. “My mate lives down there.”
“Does he? What number?”
“No, he doesn’t!
live at Number 85.”
“Well, he used to, but he’s moved out to Moorside.” That was true, worse luck. Moorside was six miles away and Alec felt friendless.
“OK, so listen, Skinny. You don’t come down Boner’s Street any more, see?”
Alec swallowed. “I’ll…”
Ginger interrupted. “You come down Boner’s Street, Skinny, and you’ll get thumped. It’s as simple as that.” Ginger walked away, hands in pockets, leaving Alec half scared, half angry.
Later that afternoon was double History and Mr Bakewell let Alec work on his Crusader project. It was nearly finished and Alec had got a lot of fun out of it, but today his mind wasn’t on the Crusaders. It was grappling with this latest disaster.
It certainly was a disaster. Boner’s Street was his secret short cut home. Everyone else thought Boner’s Street came to a dead end by the railway arches, but Alec knew differently. There was more to his secret than just a short cut. No, Ginger Wallace could take a running jump! He was going home down Boner’s.
“Hey,” whispered Ronnie Carter who sat just in front of him. “That’s a sign of old age, talking to yourself.”
“Oh, belt up,” said Alec.
“Less noise at the back there,” warned Mr Bakewell.
Alec gritted his teeth and returned to the Third Crusade. A thought struck him. It was about one hundred yards from the school gate to Boner’s Street along School Lane and, if he got away from school sharpish, he might be able to get through Boner’s before Ginger Wallace put the barricades up. It was worth a try. He began craftily to slide his books and his project folder into his school bag.
When the pips sounded over the tannoy for the end of school, Alec was away like a rocket and across the schoolyard with the first leavers. At the gate into School Lane he screeched to a halt. Ginger Wallace was already there, sitting on a wall.
“Hey, Skinny,” he called. “Don’t forget what I said. You stay away from Boner’s.”
“Oh, leave him,” said a tall, bronze-haired girl who was standing next to Ginger.
“Ma wants us home early,” she added. Ginger shrugged and they walked away down School Lane. Biting his Up, Alec watched them go while around him the hordes poured out of the schoolyard into the road. Soon Ginger and his sister were out of sight.
Alec waited a few moments, then with his school bag swinging he launched himself across School Lane into Upshaw Street. He ran until the street ended by the high canal wall, then he turned left into a narrow lane, slowing his pace.
This alley, lined with derelict houses and broken-down workshops, led back into Boner’s Street. Above him loomed the railway arches. Most of them were boarded up solidly, with thick tarred planking, which gave the streets a gloomy look. The whole area looked grim, with some parts pulled down, and other parts falling down. Only Boner’s Street was more or less intact, with two rows of old three-storey houses, stone steps down to the road and battered stone ornaments on the parapets.
Like Billy the Kid sneaking out of jail while the Sheriff’s back is turned, Alec paused by the corner of Boner’s and looked round. There was no sign of Ginger Wallace or anyone else coming from the School Lane end. The way seemed clear.
But no. A sudden whistling, squeaking sound made him jump back. He skipped over a low wall at the street corner and crouched down while the squeaking noise came nearer. He peeped over the wall. An old lady was pushing a broken-down pram along the pavement. Alec breathed out. It was only Miss Morris with her load of washing. She was Boner’s Street’s oldest inhabitant and they had both seen better days. She trundled along dressed in a bright green turban, plastic mac and workman’s boots, murmuring to herself. Alec kept out of sight. Miss Morris was an inquisitive old lady and she could easily mention to Mum that one Alec Bowden had been spotted lurking in a suspicious manner near the arches. That could be disastrous.
As she disappeared, Alec got up to cross Boner’s Street but flopped down again. He flattened himself to the ground. This meant getting brick dust all over his school trousers, but that was just too bad. He had to stay hidden because the front door of Number 85 opposite had opened and Ginger Wallace stood at the top of the steps, looking up and down the street.
Something was digging into Alec’s stomach, half a brick or a can. It hurt, but he dared not move because just then, Ginger crossed the street and stopped only a couple of yards away on the other side of the wall. Alec tried to make himself smaller but whatever was digging into him was killing him. He wriggled a hand under his body and pulled. The object moved and the pain eased. Ginger Wallace, whistling, charged off down the road.