GANG AFT AGLEY
Swim in it, piss in it, leave it to the ducks, no pool had ever been a feature of the Hub. But thanks to drainage choked with gems of Eldorado glass the miracle came due. That morning was a summer one, the blue shorn clean. Two boys had been on the swings nearby, kicking up corners on the turf. One had sly aims in bringing his friend there and was only half on task—as much as half, that was, until he saw the puddle laid broad and deep. Skimming stones, a.k.a. thrawin shite—this was the new regime, though all they had to shy was any slag they could worry up off the tarmac. Tar could not bounce and the dabbles from these flop dives barely echoed off the tower blocks. Loud enough, though, for here were the wee schemies—all of them, a gushing litter birth—come down to aid in the murder of the day. Rafts made of fast food bags were set on fire, and those that Mcbeef had left see-through far outshone the rest. Trolleys from the Extra ran to plumes of water. Souse glass had shown up in the weeds, always welcome for a lob and a shatter. Where resources ran short fists were inevitable, even three bouts. The children were too soft yet, flyweight, to crack bone, and since all were under twelve none but Psycho Hamish carried a chib. “Keep it doon,” from a mother, one at the tables near. Back to talk, fags, a circle facing inward.
“Chaos,” Rab said, and not without a smile. “Chaos.”
But then he came back to why he had come with his new friend. Such a ruckus was never any good for a stakeout. The future timeline was at risk. Thinking fast—up quick for a change—he came back in wellies. A whistle left on the pitch had gone around his neck. This Rab blew, to a shriek and to nothing. Another scrap was underway. Two trolleys overturned in the joust, and on a wrenching crash a third caught air. But his friend stood aside him, and he tried again—double toot, extra shrill, for a penalty. The public eye was on him, or close enough.
“Nae runnin,” Rab said. “An nae fire.” Weegie Scots—off school grounds such was the default.
Just unhorsed, Davy stood up, sleeves draining. “Whit’s at noo?”
“A sayt nae fire an nae runnin by ra pool.”
“Did ye aye! An wha are ye tae say it?”
“A’m ra lifeguard.”
Of course Davy Duncan would be the one to jam the works. But laughs came hard all around, eyes to his friend but not with caution, as before. Rab bent a neck, to no sign.
“Did ye make a face?”
“Chan eil agam ach an tè.”
“Pal, pal, ye must commit. A’m ra smairt talk here, no ye.”
“Tell me about the rabbits, George.”
The friend had two means to poke, both just shown. Catchphrase, accent, dopey register—for Rab these were the worse. At least with Gaelic he could not fault himself. Nobody should expect to get through cluck from the North Atlantic, not in Maryhill.
“Whit fuckin rabbits,” to himself. To the crowd, “Listen aw ay ye. A was ra furst wan here, furst tae see water, and at gies a say. Craic is craic but how long afore ra auld yins notice? They’d shut us doon tight as a boulder’s erse, so they wid.” A sweep to the senga mums facing inward, yet in their envelope of nicotine.
“Cho teann ri de?”
Rab began to lay out pool rules. But the mob’s two up ye was still hooking baws. Eyes began to roam. Time was wasting. Bags to burn, carts to butt.
Shug, late. On coming close he did a take, and Rab felt better. Shug had been away for a week to see a grandparent in Dundee. Feast yer specky eyes.
“Wha’s ra newbie? A had him fur a grup.”
“‘Bonk bonk oan ra heid, grup, bonk bonk oan ra heid!’”
“Ra hell ye oan aboot?”
“Aw, at’s from—”
A throaty burr, /r/s in a tumble. Cnut Mag Amlaíb had only just moved from a far and spumy rock. There life was different. Vikings in cable knits doffed hats to ewes. Friday nights saw a wicker man go up. Druids were new money and street signs were in runes. Call it the Isle of Nob. The name, and more, was a guess. Cnut had told little yet, though he had the human speech for broad strokes. He, too, was ten, even two months younger than Rab. Yet he stood a thumb above a meter eighty and weighed more than thirteen stone. None dare have a go, even for the outfit—breeks, hose, and a bluidy woolen gilet, all thirdhand. Like a sheepshagger husbandman from a telly countryside.
“This is Teuchter Cnut,” Rab said.
Bait untaken, as always, but you could see how the hook weighed in the eyes. Shug said, “Good tae meet ye.”
“Star Trek is braw! Ever play Doongeons an Dragons?”
“Ye are Dungeons an Dragons.” Shug caught himself. “A love a twel-sided die.”
“Ootrolls a caber,” said Rab.
“The toss?” Cnut said. “Och, that’s wummin’s work.” Joke and truth were too close a call. Plus nerd shite was not in the script, so Rab struck it. He would have to mind Shug and his reverse Midas touch.
“Hey! Hey Baywatch!” Davey was in the pond. “A’m drownin!” Angel motions for a churn and a go. Stuck to one ankle was a condom, fished out on a kick, flabby and yellow. “Baywatch! A’m fuckin drownin!”
Laughter again—and the weans took up the chant, stomping in the puddle.
“That’ll stick,” Rab said.
But here at last the agenda came into view. The ned dwarf. Led by Rab’s eye, Cnut and Shug watched him, too. The dwarf was local. Cut and colors aside he looked a lot like the best Lannister. Five years back, while in school, he had gone by Noser, and the tale there was cautionary. But that prendre pisse was not au courant. The dugs on lead had brought the change—each a wedge head, fawn and white, big as the man himself. A lone blung hand kept chains taut at two blung collars. Neither dug sped the pace. The dwarf was a big deal. He had graduated from the ranks of the Shawpark Young Team to the network that had no name. Rab had as much from Brace. That a “dinklage” could move up, and not his brother, made for whinges. Brace was away on a DTO. This freed up couch space and the PS4 and made home a wonderland.
The dwarf felt eyes. Rab and Shug found sky and earth. Children of Maryhill were no different from the grups, bonk bonk. They knew not to know.
But not Cnut Mag Amlaíb of the Norsedick clan. No, he lent a stare, and Rab a swat.
“Whit? Wha’s that noo?”
“Sledge. On’t-dae ucking-fae ook-lae.” Cnut had none of the vulgate. Rab put it in the best of teuchter terms. “Ra world behind ra world—ra Unseelie Court.”
Sledge had come to a halt. The wedge heads did the same. His face was wan, eyes pink, and both were on Cnut. A night’s fun—that would explain the late pickup.
“So e’s a drug dealer?”
“No so loud. An naw, e’s no a dealer, unless it’s iron ye want.”
“Snog,” Cnut said.
What could be more Nob. Saying snog did not break the stare. That could be trouble. Wee did not enjoy a gawk, muckle should have known.
But Sledge lost interest and the dugs led again. Hedge, rock, paper sack, all per custom, by the community center doors. Sparse leaf could not hide it. The rafters were not as numpty as Rab had feared. In went the free hand, and off went Sledge.
“That bag,” Cnut said. “A wonder whit’s in it.”
“Wan warm can ay Irn-Bru. Sugar Free. Tae make weight.”
Rab heard the irony as he said it. Funny. But his was the only smile.
“That wis specific,” said Shug.
Up came the hoodie, waistband made bare, and Rab basked in the reveal.
“Ye nickt it?” Shug said, eyes on. “Ye nickt a fuckin drop?”
“Too loud,” Rab said. “An anyhow A only found ra cunt.” Wink. “Whoever’s rightful owner cannae be happy but.” Shug whitened to an eerie translucence. “Drop a pair,” Rab said. “It’s ra call tae adventure.”
Cnut was less fretful. “Whit is it?”
Both hands free, hoodie safely down again, Rab made air quotes to nock the syllables. “Ta-ser. Like a phaser, fae ra anorak show ay Shug’s, but wi a tee instead ay ra pee aitch an ye cannae set er tae kill.” The syllables again.
“Tell me about the Rabbits, George.”
“How’m A fuckin George here,” Rab did not ask. Instead, “Mind ye A don’t know why, right enough. A taser’s polis, an rare—no ra style, no at aw. Nor is ra transfer ay black market arms ra most commonplace use ay ra middleman scenario. But taser, aye.”
Shug turned to walk away but stopped cold. Rab and Cnut were distracted by the abrupt appearance of Psycho Hamish. For him such contraband had a scent.
“Ooh, whit goodies huv ye goat therr?”
“Aye, boeys—whit?” Even more abrupt. A sip from the can of Irn-Bru. The dwarf made a face and read the label. “Sugar free?” Left and right the dugs were off chain.
Rab watched himself bolt, and Cnut. Psycho Hamish kicked a leg from under Shug and ran his own way. Rab could marvel at the ingenuity even as he saw the dugs’ scrum onto his nerdiest friend. “Bastard,” he heard Shug say, scarcely a whisper.
No growl, no scream—as boy killers went the wedge heads were first-rate.
Sledge shouted, “Might we no skip ra middle?” The pool party had gone silent and a senga mom aired her grief. For the sprinty gust in his ears Rab heard no more.
Even after he had come to a stop, hunkered at bins on Towie Place, his heart was a bell. “Never felt so alive,” he said to himself, clamping back a panic shite. Cnut was no less out of breath but had enough for a hairy eye. Gaelic came in bursts. Rab understood the pitches if not the words. “Don’t gies that,” he said. “Ye were starin oan like a cow. A waanted ye tae see him, no tae thraw a fuckin searchlight.”
“Whit do ye mean ye waanted me tae see him?”
Very tall and very short should gain a rivalry. Such a scheme to things was only right. Capers would go on for years, neither side with the upper hand until the epic showdown. But Rab only shook his head. Tending to the field was his own calling. No one else could understand. And here came a wedge head—trotting up to haunch before them.
A panting threesome. None moved. Gone cold in the dug breath, Rab drew the taser.
“Naw! E’s a good boy.”
“Ra cunt just ate Shug.”
But Cnut put out a hand. The wedge head took the invite and got close. No red on the muzzle, Rab had to admit, nor guts for garters. Cnut fell to petting, and the dug flagged lickings with a tail.
“It’s oan oor side!” Rab said.
“Fuckin hell,” said the dwarf. “Nae mair dash, all right?”
The taser had gone up in a two-hand grip, the trigger clicking tinnily.
Sledge gave a scoff. “Pal, at wad’s shot already—cartridge is emptit oot—an ye’ll never want yer traces oan it noo, trust us.” Yet catching breath, he held out a hand. And so the prize was surrendered. “A’ll admit, though—ye’ve goat neck oan ye, daein at.”
The first wedge head had gone belly up, and the second had come around the bins for more of the same. Rab had never seen a dug happier than those very two. “Whit’s it fur?” Cnut asked, petting with both hands.
“Funny ye should ask,” Sledge said and on that matter no more. “Yer pal back therr, e had a spill but e’s fine. Maybe a bit kissy yet from ra pups. Rom and Rem here, how they love a wean. Ye shouldnae play wi bastards like at Hamish boey.”
Cnut said, “Ye ever play Doongeons an Dragons?”
Rab felt a blush but Sledge said, “Dungeons an Dragons is pure gallus! A used tae run a tabletop campaign wi me pals. Planescape! But A only play online noo.”
Cnut perked up. “Em em oh are pee gees?”
Sledge shared a platform and a username. No good would come of that. “Ye’re no mad at us?” Rab asked.
“Mate, ye’re only a wean. Young’s a stupit ye graw oot ay.”
Years ahead, deep in the new timeline—and S6—Rab went home from school. On his passing a close a voice said, “Tell me about the rabbits, George”—a voice grown to a boom, all Gaelic shed along with thirdhand woolens. He who spoke was Team and fated to rise in the world behind the world. Rab kept on. By then he knew who George was and all about the rabbits, and he prayed that stupid was not a young he never would.