The Bull Singer
I had no time to think how crazy I was to put myself in this situation. Was saving these stupid pillocks worth getting myself killed instead of them? Bosun was coming for me, oblivious of my singing. My ankle burned and throbbed, and I knew it wouldn't take my weight if I had to move in a hurry. As I fought against the waves of pain and nausea, I tried to remember what Gramps had said when he gave me my first pep talk about being a bull singer. "Treat him like a baby with nappy rash, boy. He wants the pain to stop and wants to be soothed. Mummies know how, boy; their voices are soft and mellow, they know how to sing their baby to sleep. That's what you have to do, boy; make him believe you're his mummy." The bitch had never sung me a lullaby so how the hell did I know how? The gap between Bosun and I closed too fast for comfort, and I while I sang "Some Kind Of Wonderful", the love song I was supposed to sing with Cinderella in the Christmas show, I made the mistake of stepping back a pace; with my left foot. The pain multiplied, the world tilted, my vision blurred and I staggered forward. Something warm and solid collided with my stomach. Instinct made me I grab handfuls of course hair as Bosun huffed and grunted at me. Tears of relief burned my eyes as I realised Bosun remembered me as a friend. He lowered his huge head still further, lowering me gently to the ground. I sank to my knees and received a triple dose of morning breath as Bosun's tongue swiped my face. As I landed face down between Bosun's front legs, I heard Gramps calling to me in the distance. Bosun moved forward to stand over me, and the last thing I knew before I passed out was Bosun bellowing a warning.
"Joey… Joey lad…. Come on boy… wake up." I opened my eyes and wondered why my bed was covered in grass. I rolled over and saw Bosun's belly above me. My ankle hurt like crazy and I remembered. "Joey," I heard Gramps call to me, "can you crawl to me?"
"No, I've…" I had no breath, and I gasped for air. "I've…hurt my…. ankle."
"Bosun won't let us get to you. He seems to be guarding you. Talk to him, get him to move. Can you do that?"
Bosun? Guarding me? What on earth for? I raised an arm and touched his belly. "Bosun; here boy; good boy, Bosun." The beast backed up and I had a heavy snout snuffling at my face. I grabbed the ruff of his throat and hauled myself into a sitting position, and managed to ease him away until I could roll over and kneel, but he wasn't going to leave me just yet. He just had to examine me all over. He flattened me to the grass and I had to endure more blasts of bad breath until he was satisfied I was okay; and boy was that head heavy? One nudge of that head and I'd be out for the count. At last he let me sit up and I rewarded his attention by scratching him behind his ears then he allowed me to use him as a crutch until I was standing on my good leg. I heard Gramps begin to sing, his voice a warm baritone singing of an old Negro spiritual. Then Bosun amazed me by moving slowly forward, supporting me as I hopped towards Gramps. I felt myself floating, and the world spun, then someone had hold of me as Gramps eased Bosun away. A pair of strong arms lifted me up and carried me to the gate at the north corner of the paddock. The jolting of the walk brought a protest from my stomach and I managed to mumble, "Gonna be sick."
I came to, lying on the front lounge settee with a lot of arguing going on around me. All the boys were there, looking pretty sheepish as Pete raised my head to help me take a sip of water. The pain in my ankle returned with a vengeance; my guts won at last and last night's supper ended up in the bowl Jimmy had ready. As I sank back against the cushions, I noticed the way the boys turned their heads away to prevent them being sick as well. Well, sod them! I closed my eyes and covered them with an arm, and wished everyone would go away. Jimmy moved my arm and wiped my face with a damp face cloth. "You're going to be okay, mate. Dad's on his way with the doctor. Your Granddad thinks your ankle's broken, thanks to these idiots."
"We didn't mean anything," someone said, "it was just a bit of fun."
"Fun, was it?" I heard Gramps roar. "You think enraging an animal is fun? You might think it fun to copy the cruelty of the Spanish bullring but you almost got yourselves killed along with my grandson. Because of your brainless act I'm banning you from Home Farm. You will not set foot in this house or on my land again."
At this, I struggled to sit up, "No, Gramps; please. We've nowhere else to practise."
"That's too bad, son. Mr. Mitchell will be here shortly with the school minibus to take them home. I suggest you lads get your things packed."
Seeing all our efforts last night going to waste, and the vision of Aunt Millie's show in pieces, I felt my own world falling apart. I still hadn't got over Mags leaving and now it looked like I was out of the show with a busted ankle. I felt so wretched. "No Gramps, please no."
Jimmy put his arms round me and hugged me close, shushing me softly. "Don't worry, we'll sort something out." Poor Jimmy, he was trying his best to make me feel better but he didn't know the real reason for my distress. I had strived all these years to be in a show like this, and now it was all over. And I wanted Mags too. I felt chilled and began to shiver. In the distance, the front door bell ring. Pete offered to go and answer it and a moment later Jimmy's dad appeared with a man I hadn't seen before. As soon as he saw me, he knelt down, opened his bag beside him and reached out to examine my ankle. As soon as he touched it, the pain increased. I yelled and gasped as I felt myself going under again. I'd had sprained ankles before; what kid hasn't? But I didn't remember a pain as bad as this. I came round to voices talking above me, and I heard the word 'dislocated'. Oh great! That meant torn tendons and muscles. My right arm felt tight; I looked and saw the doctor taking my blood pressure. "How do you feel now?" he asked me.
"Not good; cold and faint."
Stupid question. "Yes."
"Never mind, I'll give you something for that and we'll get you to hospital and have your ankle X-rayed." I watched him dive into his bag for a hypodermic syringe and a vial of medicine. I hated injections so I turned my face away while he shoved the needle in my arm. "There we are, son; all done. I'll wait until it takes affect before I splint your ankle. It's only a light dose, just enough to get you to hospital, okay?"
I looked up and saw everyone gathered round me; as I started to feel sleepy, I saw Gramps lean over me, so I grabbed his hand and pleaded with him again. "Please, Gramps. Let them stay. They need the…pl…ace…to…"
Mr. Mitchell had lowered the backs of the two rear seats of the bus to make a bed and, after the doctor injected a local anaesthetic into Joey's ankle and splinted it, Pete and Jimmy carried him to the bus and made him comfortable. With glum faces, the boys piled in, and Pete and I followed the bus to the hospital in Mags's BMW. I was still angry with that lot; for two pins I would have made them walk home and be damned to them. It was just our tough luck that the A & E department at Fordage General was dealing with the overflow of a motorway accident near Oldham, and Joey had to wait an hour before he could have his ankle X-rayed. I admired Mr. Mitchell. He stood no nonsense from the boys and warned them he was determined to speak to their parents. While we waited, Joey came round and begged and pleaded with both of us to let them use Home Farm. He ended up getting so stressed the staff nurse warned us we would have to leave if he didn't calm down. The only way to settle him was to let him have his way. While Pete sat with Joey in the X-ray department, Mitchell and I went out to the main foyer where Jimmy and the boys were waiting. The boy rose to their feet when they saw us approaching. To be fair to them, their fear that retribution was about to fall upon them with a heavy hand showed in the downcast expressions on their faces.
"Right lads," I said as sternly as I could, "Joey has persuaded me to be lenient with you. You can use Home Farm and the mirror room in my cottage, but not until Joey is released from hospital. That does not mean you are getting off lightly. Mr. Mitchell is still going to have a word with your parents; and I have my own form of punishment for you. I won't tell you what it is yet, but just be warned, you'll need Wellington boots and some old clothes the next time you visit Home Farm. Is that understood?" The boys nodded. "Right then, get back on the bus and Mr. Mitchell will take you home."
Mitchell made to shepherd them outside when Jimmy came to me. "Sir, if you don't mind I'd like to stay with Joey for a bit, if that's all right with you and Dad. As the manager of The Paper Dolls, I feel responsible for what happened. I let everybody down."
I frowned at him, trying to fathom out what he was trying to say. "How do you make that out, son?"
Jimmy blushed deep red. "Dad said I was supposed to watch the boys while they were at Home Farm and make sure they didn't do anything stupid. I didn't do that."
"Why?" His dad asked him. "Where were you?"
One of the boys sniggered and Jimmy glared at him. I caught the angry look Mitchell gave his son and I realised what had gone on. "Oh, so you weren't with the boys when they decided to have their fun?"
"No sir." By this time Jimmy's face was beetroot red with embarrassment.
Bernard, the boy who sniggered, said, "He was having fun of his own upstairs."
At first, the other boys stared open-mouthed at Jimmy then one of them turned and landed Bernard a smacker in the mouth. "Perhaps that'll teach you to keep your gob shut."
Bernard held a hand to his mouth. "I'll get you for that."
"Oh will you? You know the rules of our group. We never make remarks about each other."
"All right, boys," Mitchell said as he stepped forward to prevent more hassle. "What Jimmy does is his own business, and if I hear any tattle round the school we'll know who started it, won't we? Jimmy, go and see Joey, the rest of you get on the bus." He turned to me and whispered, "It seems your grandson has an admirer!" He winked at me, letting me know it was all right with him, and I relaxed at last.
I turned to walk back to the X-ray department to find out the extent of Joey's injury, already dreading having to tell my sister her show was just about to go under, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned back to find all but Bernard standing behind me, looking very shamefaced. One of them said, "I think we ought to stay too. Joey's our mate and Jimmy wasn't to blame for what happened to him, we were." I gazed at each of them, looking them straight in the eye, and I saw nothing but remorse. I warmed to them and was prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt; except Bernard who stood to one side, glowering at them. Now there was one who would likely cause more trouble for these lads and their efforts to keep Paper Dolls going. What was his beef, for Heaven's sake? Ah! Could it be he was jealous of Jimmy's and Joey's interest in each other? If that were the case, Joey had stirred up a load of trouble for himself. With a wave of my hand I invited the boys to go with Jimmy then I looked straight at Bernard and rewarded him with a look of impending doom. To my surprise, he lowered his gaze and followed the boys to the X-ray department.
We arrived to find that Joey had been taken into the inner sanctum. Pete noticed the glum faces and raised an eyebrow at me. I winked at him and sat down on the chair he had vacated. There were no more chairs here in the outer corridor so I had the pleasure of watching the boys shuffle and squirm in their continuing discomfiture. This went on for several minutes until the sound of hurrying feet came to our ears, not from X-ray but from the direction of the hospital foyer. My jaw dropped when I saw my sister Millie charging towards us with a face like thunder, followed by Mags with an equally angry expression on his face. Millie glared at the boys, then at me. "Where is he, how bad is it?"
"We don't know yet; he's still in there." I indicated the radiology room. "How did you get to know?"
"I told her," Mags spoke up. "I had a few hours to spare so I thought I'd come over for a short visit. You weren't at the cottage so I went to see if Joey was at rehearsal. We phoned Mabel and she told us what happened." He looked at the boys. "I hope you're satisfied with the result of your prank." The boys muttered their apologies but Mags wasn't going to let it end there. "You're not kids; you're all over fifteen, and supposed to be responsible young adults. And what you did doesn't just affect Joey; you've put the Christmas show under threat. My aunt tells me Joey is her only hope of pulling it off with any success this year, after your lead left last week." He would have said more had the doors not opened and a porter drew a gurney out with Joey lying on it. The duty doctor came out with him, carrying his X-ray plates.
Everyone moved towards the gurney but the doctor held up a warning hand. "Hold on, please. Not so fast. We're taking him to have his ankle put in a cast. You can see him after that." But Mags wasn't listening. He pushed the doctor to one side so he could get to Joey.
As soon as Joey saw him he looked ready to burst into tears and tried to sit up. Mags flung his arms round him and hugged him tight. "It's okay, kiddo, I'm here now. Don't cry."
The doctor made to remonstrate with Mags but I caught his arm and drew him away. "It's all right, that man is my son. Now, what's the damage, doctor?"
"It's not broken. He's just dislocated it. He'll be in a cast for about two weeks and no walking on it for at least a week. What I'm more concerned about is why he keeps on fainting all the time. I can understand him fainting initially from the pain, but once we gave him something for the pain that should have been it. Just to be on the safe side, I'd like to have a colleague of mine have a look at him while he's here." Shocked, Millie and I stared at each other, then at the doctor.
Seeing the boys crowding round Street's gurney, and the old man and his sister keeping the doctor occupied, no one noticed me as I took out my cell phone and made as if I was making a phone call, when in fact I was taking some very interesting pictures. So this hunk was Street's uncle was he? I remembered him coming to the theatre and being introduced as a member of Billy Junior. From what I saw he was pretty cosy with his nephew, too cosy in fact; and my faithful camera recorded it all. Satisfied, I tapped Jimmy on the shoulder. "I have to phone my dad to let him know I'll be late home, but the reception in here is awful. I'll be waiting outside."
Jimmy nodded. "Okay, mate. If my dad is still there, will you tell him to come in, it looks like we're in for a long wait."
Once outside the front doors, and Mr Mitchell had gone inside, I was free to make that all important phone call. "Hi, Dad, you can tell your boss she was right. There's something going on with that uncle of his, and with the head teacher's boy, I caught him and Street in bed together this morning."
"Really?" My dad sounded disbelieving. "Do you have any proof?"
I grinned to myself. "Of course I have. Just like you taught me, Dad; chip off the old block, that's me. I've also got some juicy pictures of him and his uncle right here at the hospital, and I'm sending them ASAP."
"Good lad! I'll see you later."
I sent the pictures to my dad's email address then slipped my phone back into my coat pocket. I went back inside to see what other tit-bits I could find; I hadn't a clue why my dad was so keen for me to keep tabs on the kid but it beat being bored.
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