The Cup Bearer
During the lesson before lunch, Emilio tore a piece of paper from his rough book and wrote a message on it. Before he passed it over, he pushed it across the desk for Sandy to read. Sandy's face split into a wide grin as he read the words, If you can pick a base as good as you can pick your nose, meet me, lunch time, top floor music store. Bring Pinball and Vomit with you, G. Emilio waited till Miss Wayne Had turned her back on the class, and tapped the girl in front of him on the shoulder. "Pass this to Gaskin." The note passed from hand to hand till it reached Gaskin in the front desk. Gaskin read the note and twisted round in his seat, his eyes hot with threats, then passed the note across the aisle to the other two. Ball was about to pass the note to Vetch, when the classroom door opened and the Beak walked in. The class rose to their feet; MacCaffrey nodded and told them to sit down. He exchanged a few words with Miss Wayne then fixed his stony gaze on Emilio.
"Well, Gomez, have you written that essay I asked you to do?"
Someone at the back of the class stifled a guffaw of laughter. Yesterday afternoon, 5B had waited in line behind Gaskin to go into the Biology classroom in an older part of the building at the end of a narrow corridor. Choosing an opportune moment, Gaskin had thrust his hand back to do a little groping. In a voice clear enough for all to hear, Emilio asked Gaskin to "Please take your dirty little hand off my penis." The class erupted into laughter and Emilio would have got away with it except for the arrival of the Beak, who sent Gaskin to his office. The Beak also ordered Emilio to write five hundred lines on why one should not mention certain parts of the anatomy in the presence of the opposite sex; said essay to be ready by the time the Beak made his usual rounds the following morning. When Emilio protested his innocence, the words rose to one thousand. Most of the class knew what Emilio had written. Emilio stood up with the paper in his hand. The Beak came to him, took the paper and retraced his steps; glancing casually at the paper. His steady stride faltered. Emilio sat down again, aware of several of his classmates trying to keep their faces straight. He dared not catch anyone's eye for fear of losing his own poker face. The Beak paused by Ball's desk and, without looking down at the boy, held out his hand. Emilio realised MacCaffrey had probably spotted the passing of the note, through the window of the classroom door. Ball's face reddened as he dropped the crumpled message into the Beak's hand. On the way to the door, the Beak took a look at the note before looking over his shoulder at Emilio. The only outward sign of amusement was the gleam in his eyes. He nodded to Miss Wayne and made a quick exit, and a rumble of laughter drifted back to the classroom. This set the whole class off and Miss Wayne shouted at them before she regained some order.
"Will someone tell me what the joke is?" She fixed her eyes on Wendy Roper." You, Wendy!" Wendy stood up but couldn't speak for laughing and Miss Wayne dismissed her impatiently. "Gomez, this has something to do with that essay, I suppose?"
Emilio rose politely to his feet. "Yes, Ma'am"
"Then perhaps you could enlighten me as to what seems to be so funny."
"I don't think the Headmaster will find my essay so easy to read."
"And why not?"
"It's written in Spanish."
"Spanish!" Miss Wayne's spectacles threatened to fall off the end of her nose as she stared at him in disbelief. "Good Heavens, boy! Didn't anyone tell you the headmaster speaks fluent Spanish?"
"Not in the ancient Tamarigan dialect I've written it in."
"But why didn't you write it in English?"
Emilio felt the corners of his mouth tugging upwards. "I wasn't asked to, Ma'am."
For a moment, Miss Wayne looked ready to give him a verbal lashing, but her craggy features wrinkled as she too saw the joke and began to smile. And as the class finally let the laughter rip, Emilio kept his own face straight, licked the tip of his right index finger and marked one on an invisible board, then sat down.
Emilio watched Gaskin and his cronies walk towards him along the top floor corridor as he leaned against the music store door. Vetch gave Ball a nudge in the ribs. "Where is the Welsh Git? I don't see him."
"He's around, somewhere, "you can bet on that."
"Yeah!" Gaskin agreed loudly, fully intending that Emilio should hear their comments. "Like Siamese twins, those two, the way they stick together. I'm sure there's something going on between them. I don't think the spick knows what's inside a pair of panties. As for Taffy Bear, well, he's as thick as two short planks anyway." Emilio refused to let the bullyboy talk get to him. Only patience would win Gaskin over to his side.
As they moved along the corridor, Vetch said, "I think the Fairy's alone, let's take him."
Gaskin gave him a look of contempt. "And get plastered all over the floor like we were in Judo! Count me out, pal!" Emilio moved away from the door, tossing the storeroom key in the air and catching it again. Gaskin recognised it. "That's the store room key, where did you get it?"
"From the Beak," Emilio turned to unlock the door.
Gaskin laughed sarcastically, "Just like that?"
"Yeah, just like that" Emilio went into the store and looked for the light switch. Vetch knew where it was and switched it on, and the store flooded with light. Gaskin stood leaning on the door jam, trying to look bored, and Emilio guessed his curiosity made him stay. He looked round at the shelves filled with instruments in their cases, and the stacks of music on the floor.
Gaskin cleared his throat. "All right, spick, what's your game?"
"Who said anything about a game," Emilio searched among the instrument cases, opening one or two and closing them again. "And please don't call me a spick, it isn't nice. I don't suppose you even have the brains to know what it means. And just for the record, I'm British by birth." He lifted down a case, set it on a bench under the shelves and took out a base guitar. He turned to face Gaskin. "I heard you're a good base player. It must be a load of wind or you'd prove me wrong just to shut me up."
"Get stuffed! I don't do demos."
"Not even when there's money to be made?"
Gaskin eyed the guitar with longing, caught Emilio's challenging stare, and glared back at him. "I can play a base, all right."
"Prove it." Emilio tossed the base to Gaskin who possessed too much respect for a good instrument to let it land on the floor. Emilio took a lead out of the case and tossed that as well. As Gaskin caught the guitar, Vetch grabbed for the lead, and searched for an amplifier. Finding one under the bench, he plugged the amplifier into an electric socket, tested it then straightened up to plug the lead into the guitar. Gaskin rewarded him with a sneer for being so eager. He tested the tuning, and as he fingered the strings and tightened them till the low sounds were rich and sweet, he caught Ball and Vetch watching him. He turned his back on Emilio, just a little too late to hide the satisfied smile he gave his mates. An old four-piece drum kit stood in a corner. With Vetch's help, Ball pulled it forward and sat down on the stool behind it, reaching out to check the temper of the skins. Vetch helped him tighten them up while Gomez closed the door and leaned against it, taking an apple out of his blazer pocket and biting into it.
Gaskin gave him one last scornful look and began to play the base parts of some Marc Nophler hits - faltering at first, before it all came back to him; and he treated the boys to ten minutes of his favourite pieces with Ball following him on the drums. He looked quite disappointed when the last note died away. "Well, Rose Petal? What's your verdict?"
Emilio came away from the door, the apple eaten to the core. "Pretty good, but there's room for improvement."
"What! Are you some kind of musical expert or something? I haven't touched a base for two years!"
"Exactly. Look, the Beak wants me to get a band together for the school discos, and I need a small backing group of my own, for private dates he's going to arrange for me. I didn't think you'd be half as good as you are, so why don't we stop making war and make music instead. I can play the guitar pretty good too!"
"Oh, yeah?" Gaskin sat down on a stool, with a scornful smile. "Show me." He exchanged knowing glances with Ball and Vetch as Emilio searched the shelves for a guitar. Finding two guitars, one acoustic, the other electric, he pulled out a stool, sat down on it, hooking his left foot over the cross strut. He laid the acoustic guitar across his raised thigh and began to tune it. Satisfied, he treated them to a short medley of guitar styles from Classical and Flamenco to Latin American. Then he hooked the electric one up to an amplifier and Country, Jazz, Blues and Pop flowed under the eaves of the school roof.
Slowly, Gaskin's look of scorn changed to one of awe as he listened, open-mouthed. When Emilio finished, Gaskin said with genuine admiration. "Hey! You can really play that thing!"
"I never say I can do something if I can't." Emilio placed the three guitars in their cases and back on the shelves then faced Gaskin again. "Well?"
"You want us help you get a school band together?
"And back you on gigs and stuff?"
Gaskin turned towards the door, signalling Ball and Vetch to follow. "You know what they say about picking up fleas from the dog you lie with. Faggots are just not my scene, get me?" As they moved out into the corridor they bumped into someone listening just outside the door. "Well, look who's here! I said his watchdog wouldn't be too far away. Here, boy! Good doggie! Go to your master!" and the corridor echoed with Ball and Vetch making yapping sounds as they followed Gaskin to the stairs.
Sandy stepped inside the music store and Emilio frowned at him. "I thought I warned you to stay away?"
"You might trust those three but I don't," Sandy grouched. "Well; 'ow did you get on?"
"Got them right where I want them," Emilio raised a clenched fist, "right here!"
"Huh?" Sandy stared at him, mystified.
"They don't know it yet but they're going to be my own backing group."
"It didn't sound like it to me!"
"Give them time. Gaskin doesn't want to lose face, and the other two don't know how to say yes without Gaskin stomping all over them."
"And what about me?"
Emilio raised his eyebrows at Sandy. "I didn't think I'd need to ask."
That afternoon no one except Emilio understood the change in Gaskin. It was so unlike him to be moody and silent for long. Gone was his armour of bravado and bluster as he spent the time deep in thought with, a frown knitting his eyeb rows.
Sunday 24 th February, 1995
Still lost in thought after another evening at Sandy's, Emilio used his front door key to let himself into his house, suddenly aware of a rather noisy conversation coming from the kitchen. All the ground floor lights were on and by the sound of it the younger children were still up. He checked his watch; twenty past eleven and way past their bedtime. Worried that his mother might be ill, he hurried down the hall and opened the kitchen door to find the family sitting round the table and laughing at someone hidden from his line of vision by the kitchen door. The two boys were excited and wide-eyed. Perquita's eyes were fixed in rapt attention on whoever the boys were talking to, but Maria was staring thoughtfully at the tabletop.
He pushed the door further open and saw the bulky shape of a man sitting in the chair Emilio used when eating with the family. The man wore a seaman's blue sweater and worn jeans and smelled of engine oil. He twisted in his chair to look at Emilio, and they stared at each other. The man's face broke into a quiet smile that made Emilio back out into the hall, away from the nightmare. Diving for the stairs he ran up them two at a time and hurried into his mother's bedroom without knocking. His mother was in bed, huddled beneath the duvet, weeping quietly. Kneeling down by the bed he reached for her. "Mum, what's Guido doing here?"
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