I Escaped, But Only Just - Part 8: A Dangerous Person
'Oi', an older boy shouted one evening when Robin and I hurried past the road near our home after supper. The boy was with a gang. 'Oi, come back here.'
They made towards us, chasing us down an alleyway at the side of the row of terraces, to the clearing at the back. They grabbed Robin, lifted him in the air and started giving him the bumps, letting go and catching him in mid air.
'Stop that,' a slim tall lad with fair hair called. He seemed to appear from nowhere, with a freckle-faced girl. 'Go on, stop it.' The lad ran over to the gang. 'Let him go.' Putting Robin down, the gang wandered away, laughing among themselves.
'Are you okay?' the lad said.
'A bit winded,' Robin said.
'Thanks for helping out,' I said.
'You shouldn't have to put up with that. It's not right.' The lad extended a hand. 'My name's Les'.
'Trudie,' the girl said. 'Les is my brother.'
'We live over there, 'he said, pointing over to a house on the clearing.
'We've seen you about, 'Trudie said.
The four of us spent a while talking by Les' back garden. Over the next few months, Robin and I hung around with them a lot, visiting them often. Les would come to ours sometimes and play with the dog.
'A lot of people think I'm gay,' he said as we walked passed the old factory chimney one afternoon.
'The way I talk. And walk.' Keeping his eyes fixed ahead, he added, 'But I'm not. Are you?'
'No, 'I said, not tellingl him about the crush I had on a girl at school a couple of years older than me. I didn't think it was any of his business.
We continued walking in silence.
'I'm trying to listen to a record,' I snapped a few months later when Robin came bounding into the dining room with a huge grin on his face. 'What do you want?'
'Nothing,' he said, dissolving into a fit of giggles.
Robin and I had got to the stage where we annoyed each other a lot. Sometimes, I'd be reading and he'd keep interrupting with stupid comments. I'd swing round and say, 'Can I read? ' And he'd reply, 'I don't know. Can you?'
I tutted and followed him to the lounge where Les was sitting on the sofa, a smug smile on his face. 'What do you want?'
'Why are you ignoring us?' Les said.
'I've already told you, I'm listening to something. Now leave me alone, both of you.' Ignoring their laughter, I strode away.
Increasingly, I was finding Les' presence overbearing, although I couldn't fully work out why. He'd helped Robin when the gang had gone for him. He and his sister had welcomed us into their home. He'd taken us along to his grandmother's for lunch. Anyone observing the situation would have viewed him as a good and loyal friend.
And yet, things about him disturbed me even then...his possessive nature, his voice and mannerisms, his goody-goody attitude that struck me as being a bit too good to be true at times.
'I don't have many friends at school,' he told me out by the corner shop a few days later. 'I hang around with this boy....and well, people think he's gay.'
He'd mentioned something similar once before, I remembered.
'He's a bit camp,' Les went on. 'That's why the people at school don't like him. They think I'm camp as well because I'm his friend.'
I didn't comment, just continued walking towards the playing fields, trying to block out his voice.
'What about you?' he said.
'What do you mean?'
'Are you gay?'
'I've already said, I like this girl in my class.' Smiling to myself, I added, 'And the school music teacher. She's gorgeous but moody.'
'Trudie likes you.'
He nodded. 'She likes you.' There was a pause. Then: 'Wouldn't it be nice if we could all live together in a big house you, Robin, Trude and me?'
That summer, Robin and I hung around with Les. When we didn't, we went on picnics, walking up the narrow lane with cottages set back from the path, across the stile close to the brook. We took the trail over the rough dusty surface, past farmhouses, walking on to the local village.
'Isn't it nice without Les and Trudie?' I said as we ate lunch in a field.
'Yes, it's a peaceful,' Robin said, munching his roll.
'Don't you think they're strange?'
Robin nodded. 'He's a bit strange, but he's okay most of the time. However...' his voice trailed off.
'Has he said anything weird to you?'
'No, but him and Trudie were playing this funny game yesterday. A fainting game.'
'What do you mean?' I said, more sharply than intended. 'What fainting game?'
‘Les, Trudie and a couple of their mates. Les and Trudie were trying to make each pass go out by pinching each others' noses and cutting off the air supply.'
'And did they?'
'Trudie nearly passed out, but Les stopped just in time.'
'He's f*** crazy,' I said. 'You can't go around making people faint. He's mental.'
'I hope you didn't take part in the game.'
'Of course not,' Robin retorted. 'What do you take me for?'
Some huge problems were in store.