“I’m frigging cold here,” said Ollie. “What did you want to meet out here for, this weather.”
Ollie was right. But then you always expected Red to be a bit of a nutter.
“Because my friend, we need a bit of privacy for this.”
“Go then. Explain what you mean. Then we can go somewhere warm.”
“Right then.” Red pulled Archie and Ollie towards him. “Into a scrum, lads.”
They huddled together, arms around shoulders, heads bent. “I propose,” said Red, “that we swear on the bones of old Jeff Astle that we shall not let women come between us. That we shall go to the Hawthorns every Saturday afternoon that the Baggies play at home. And if we’re away, we watch the footy on the telly.”
“What about the summer?” asked Ollie.
“Tell ‘em we’re off to Edgbaston, even if we’re not.” Red took a deep breath. “That at least two nights a week we let them go wash their hair and do other girly things while we have a men’s night.”
“What about homework and stuff?” asked Archie.
“Do it while you’re trying to get into their knickers. In fact it might help. They might be more willing to, you know, if you show them you’re serious about learning. They like that, the girls.”
Archie actually enjoyed doing his homework with Amanda. It was less boring somehow. And it took his mind off the constant frustration. God, even Red saying the word “knickers” was getting him going.
But Red’s idea was quite good actually. And it would make being with Amanda all the more exciting when he did see her. More frustrating as well. But there were ways and means. He’d cope.
“Well then, chaps?” said Red.
“Yeah, anything you like. It don’t really apply to me,” mumbled Ollie. “Now, can we get inside?”
“Okay. We’ll sort you out. I promise. You in, Archie?”
“Okay then. Pool?”
“Yes!” Archie and Ollie exchanged a glance. “Me balls are dropping off,” said Ollie.
It was nice and warm inside Freddie’s. It was deserted as well. Only Old Chuffy was there. “I shouldn’t really let you in now,” he said. “We ain’t open. And you’re underage.”
“I come here with me dad. You know I do,” said Red.
“That’s different.” Chuffy sniffed and then wiped his nose on his sleeve.
Archie and Ollie tried not to titter as they saw the green streak on Chuffy’s already dirty brown overalls.
“You dirty bastard,” said Red. “I’ll tell my dad. He wants you to keep this place spotless.”
“That’s enough of your lip, young man. Okay. You can use the old table in the back room. It’s waiting to be recovered. I don’t suppose you can hurt it.”
“Thank you Chuffy. Oh, and can you bring us half a pint each?”
“No I can’t. I ain’t the barman. We ain’t open. And you lot’m underage.” Chuffy shuffled out.
Ollie shrugged. “Oh well, I tried.” Then he grinned. “But look what I got here.” He fished two cans of beer out of the pockets of his hoodie. “We’ll have to share and we’ll have to keep them under the table. Daren’t let my old man find out. But lads, it ain’t a dry day today. Cheers.” He handed one can to Archie and pulled the ring off the other.
Archie took a sip of his beer. It was strange drinking at this time of day. Before tea. But by God, it tasted good.
“Give us a sip,” said Ollie, as he took up the cue.
“After you’ve had your go!” Archie didn’t like to think of him and Ollie drinking out of the same can. He could just hear what Granma would say now. Don’t you go drinking out of the same bottle of any of them friends of yours. You know them funny boys can get the horrible disease. We don’t want none of that here.
Well, Ollie wasn’t a funny boy for sure. Not if he fancied Millie. He wasn’t either – not the way he felt about Amanda. And Red was always going on about the girls. No, he was all right here. He took another swig of the beer.
“Oy,” said Ollie. “Leave some for me.”
“Well get on with it then,” said Red, also drinking some of his beer. “Me against you two.”
Red always had to have the red balls and they always let Ollie break first. He was the worst of the three of them. Sure enough, after a couple of hits the cue ball went into the pocket, missing the yellow ball just a few centimetres away.
“Blooming Aida. We’ll have to get you lessons.” Red took his cue and lined it up with one of the red balls.
We’m never going to get another go, thought Archie as he watched Red pot five red balls in succession. He took another swig of his beer.
At last, though, the cue ball came to rest without touching another ball.
“Right, me old lovelies, you can catch up a bit. I’m going to have a ciggie,” said Red.
The first shot was all right and Ollie managed to pot a yellow. But it left the table in a bit of a mess. There wasn’t any straight line between the cue and any of their balls. He’d have to move a red.
“Can you do it?” said Ollie.
“If I can concentrate,” muttered Archie. He wished he hadn’t had so much of the beer. It really made him light-headed if he hadn’t eaten. He was glad to see that Ollie was tucking in.
The door suddenly burst open. Red, came in, still smoking.
“Bloody freezing out there,” he said. “Oh,watch it.”
But it was too late. The red ball was rolling towards the far pocket. It was a home goal.
Suddenly the smoke alarm started ringing. Chuffy appeared at the door. “What the fuck?” he said.