Best Served Cold

by PeterG09

I hated Wednesday afternoons. Games. Bad enough in the Summer when you were not wet and cold at the same time. But in the Winter it was beyond description. I hated games in any case and I would have preferred to take part in orchestra practice or something like that. But we were herded out to play rugby. I never did understand the rules and anyway I could not run. The only time I ever scored was when I could not work out why, having picked up the ball and run for the line, no-one tried to stop me. I scored, for the other side. Partly it was that I was not interested, but mostly because I simply did not care. Go through the motions, run there, stand here, pray for it to be over.

Sometimes it was too muddy even for rugby so we were sent on a cross-country run. This particular refinement of torture was patrolled by Masters who would drive to various strategic points on the course in order to ensure that no-one bunked off. We almost always used the same course which went through some woods on the side of the Downs. At one point there was a crater about forty feet across apparently the result of a bomb load being dumped by a German aircraft heading back across the channel. This crater, even now around twenty feet deep, had steep sides overgrown with brambles and scrub. At the bottom was a muddy bog. The path we ran on skirted the upper edge. It was often quite muddy there and so before a run someone would go out to put markers at the worst spots to show which way to go.

One sodden grey afternoon as I reached this feature I heard sounds of distress. At first I took it for a trapped wild animal. On investigation I found Les, from my Form, crouched at the bottom. There was blood on his face, scratches and more blood on his arms, and his clothes were filthy. He was sobbing. I scrambled down to him. Apart from his scratches he was apparently unhurt. What I had taken for distress was incoherent fury. I sat with him, my arm over his shoulder. We were brothers in adversity.

I eventually got to the bottom of it. He had been running on the track and was aware that there was someone behind him. No surprise there because like me he could have been overtaken by a dozing tortoise. But this was Guy from the Lower Sixth. Guy, the macho would-be he-man. The school thug. Too stupid to be a prefect or head of school, even though his Father had tried to make it happen. And his Father was Chairman of the Board of Governors. This ape had timed his attack so that he caught up with Les just at the top of the track around the crater. He then pushed past, sending Les crashing through the undergrowth, and ran on.

Les and I had a sort of bond since we were both regularly persecuted by Guy and his proto-human cohorts. Les had it stacked against him. Nature dealt him a scrawny frame, left-handedness, freckles, and red hair. His parents completed the package by naming him Leslie. They might as well have given him a birthmark spelling out 'Victim'.

I have never before or since known anyone so angry. The word incandescent is sometimes used to describe this state, but it was not really powerful enough. Ice-cold white heat would be a better description. I have seen my Father angry, but that was nothing compared to what I saw now. When he was able to speak in actual sentences I heard him say over and over "I'm going to take him down".

I worked out the shortest route back to school. Since we were almost last on the course the various masters at their lookouts had gone back to the warmth of the Staff Room. We got back to school and Les and I got our kit together and headed off for our homes. He was still muttering about 'take him down'.

I was frightened that Les would do something stupid, or at worst criminal. He had clearly reached the point where he had taken all he could cope with. I tried suggesting reporting the situation to he school.

"What would they do? They'll side with him. They always do".

"But what about the zero tolerance policy?" I said, quoting from the school website.

"Means nothing. Its just bollocks to look good for Ofsted"

"What about your parents? Shouldn't they be told?"

"My Dad'll do nothing, says it is character building whatever that shit means. My Mum will do what my Dad says".

"The police?"

"They'll never believe a kid. Any way they've got better things to do like not investigating crimes."

"Well what are you going to do?"

"Like I said, I'm going to take the bastard down. I'm going to make him want to get off my back. I'm gonna make sure he leaves me alone."

I had an idea there was no actual plan yet. But clearly when it happened it was either going to be a disaster, or it would work. Les was in a very strange place all that week. It was obvious he was thinking of nothing else. Every time I tried to talk to him, or at least find out what he planned to do, he shut down. When I tried to get him to understand the possible outcomes of revenge I got the same response: "What've I got to lose? And he was right. If he did something seriously damaging at best he would be expelled, at worst treated as a young offender. Either way he would have got away from Guy. He had nothing left to lose.

Our school was a fairly ordinary state Grammar school. It had been founded by some City Livery Company back in whenever to provide an education for the sons of the deserving poor. Only about ten miles away the same Company founded a big posh Public school. Our headmaster had a considerable inferiority complex about this relationship which is why we had a House system, played rugby instead of football, and even had a school song. We got lectured at regular intervals at school assembly about a code of behaviour and conduct. What we heard was a world away from what the school actually delivered. In this context Les' revenge, whatever it was, was highly likely to end badly and be dealt with equally badly.

Les co-opted me in to his plan before the next run. Rain had fallen almost continuously over the past few days and the course would be a quagmire. As Les explained his plan I was at once appalled and fascinated. It could work, but would take two of us.

Les and I were not exactly best friends but we were comrades in adversity and circumstances had thrown us together. I was not only expected to take part in the plan, it would have been the ultimate betrayal to have refused. So, understanding that I could go down with him if it all went wrong, I agreed. Les went through his idea, beautiful in its simplicity. We got together the few things we needed and made a clandestine visit to the crater on the Tuesday. We hid the equipment behind a bush and went to our homes. The fuse was lit.

On the Wednesday the run set off as usual, but Les and I contrived to take a short-cut which led to the crater. Here we turned the marker arrow to point to the crater path. Then we positioned ourselves and waited.

Guy ran along the course and as he neared the crater he saw Les running about a hundred yards ahead of him. Without wondering how Les had got so far ahead, he followed his quarry. This was going to be a literal re-run of the previous week.

As Guy entered the copse around the bomb-hole he saw Les standing in the middle of the path, facing him. He charged forward and fell heavily as the tripwire brought him down. Immediately I leapt out and dropped a rope noose with a slip-knot over his shoulders and pulled it as tight as I could, to pinion his arms by his side. Les had another length of rope to tie his ankles together. Guy started to roar and thrash but when he saw Les advancing holding an open pair of scissors he shrank back and started to babble about not doing anything silly. But Les had his plan. With the scissors he cut Guy's T-shirt open from hem to neck so that his chest was bare. Then he cut off the running shorts and underpants. He rolled the pants in to a ball and stuffed it in to Guy's mouth. Then we dragged the oaf to a sapling, propped him up and tied him to it. The last part of the plan was the simplest. With a large marker pen Les wrote LOSER, COWARD and BULLY across Guy's chest. The final part of the plan was perhaps the most satisfying. The photographs Les took were already on the Cloud. Full frontal, the words clearly readable.

Les had evidently planned his little lecture. "Get off my back. Stay away from me. Leave me alone. If you try to do anything to me the pictures go to your Father and the Head and the rest of the Governors and will be on the Staff Room notice-board. Think about it, if you can."

Then Les turned to me: "Feel like a bit of a run?" I nodded. "Let's go then." We left the route marker pointed to the crater so that Guy would be found.

It was some of Guy's gang who came on him a few minutes later. They untied him and got the gag out, but Guy had to get back to school naked. I just wished we had been there to see that bit.

Guy never tried anything on, nor did his gang. Or at least they tried briefly until Guy opened his locker one day and found an enlarged print of the incriminating photo on the inside of the lid for all to see. Of course by then the story had gone around the whole school. Guy discovered what it was like to be on the receiving end of ridicule. Les got the peace he wanted. I still hung out with him and basked in the reflected glory of the taking down. The matter was never addressed publicly. The school reviewed its zero-tolerance policy and found it sadly lacking in substance.

Guy's Father made a protest and even talked of getting the police involved but something, or someone, persuaded him that it would be a really silly idea.

One thing everyone learned was that indelible marker pen ink on skin takes weeks to completely disappear no matter how hard you scrub it.

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