The Red Alfa
by Alison Prince Chapter Four
The next morning was mild and damp, and Robbie went to school in his blazer.
Kevin was waiting on the bench as usual but as Robbie approached he jumped to his feet and rushed ahead of him down the path with a snarling roar of his super-charged engine which left Robbie miles behind.
"Wait a bit, Kev!" shouted Robbie.
Kevin throttled back, swerved, lurched, nearly came unstuck on the corner then settled to a hard, head-down run straight into the school yard.
Robbie trotted gently the rest of the way. What was the matter with Kevin? He wanted to arrange where to meet him after Assembly to see Mr Andrews - or perhaps they'd go from the classroom. But you could never tell with Kevin. It could be suspension trouble with the car - or perhaps he was upset about yesterday's fight.
After Assembly Miss Trotter gave Robbie a little nod as they were walking back to the classroom. Understanding that this was the time to go and see Mr Andrews, Robbie fell out of line and glanced round for Kevin who was, as usual, last, wandering along with an absent-minded air. Yesterday's bruise had developed into a hugely swollen black eye.
Kevin made no response to Miss Trotter's friendly nod and wave so she said rather sharply, "Run along, Kevin. Mr Andrews is waiting to see you.
"Oh!" said Kevin in mock surprise. "Right you are, Miss." Robbie shot him a disapproving glance but he took no notice and they walked along the corridor in silence.
As he knocked on Mr Andrews' door Robbie felt a faint twinge of nervousness, even though he wasn't in trouble himself. It was something to do with being in a part of the school which he hardly ever saw.
"Come in!" called the Headmaster's voice cheerfully.
Inside, Robbie stared about him. There was a carpet on the floor... an armchair... photographs of two children and of a woman holding a baby-it was almost like home. Mr Andrews was talking.
"... so I decided to see you both together so nobody feels got at. I think you two are friends, aren't you-black-eyed Pete and Scarface Mallone?"
"Yes," said Robbie at once. After a fractional pause, Kevin nodded.
"Good," said Mr Andrews. "Because people who are friends - who like each other - ought to be willing to help each other. Right?"
Both boys nodded.
"Now, l could do with some help," went on Mr Andrews. "And so could you. If I understand rightly, Kevin, the other lads in your class are accusing you of all sorts of terrible crimes. And it's my job to sort it out, otherwise things will get worse and worse.
Mr Andrews sighed and sat back in his chair behind the big desk. "Now, there's a question I've got to ask, isn't there? You know what it is. Robbie, did you take those badges?"
Deeply shocked by the unexpected attack, Robbie coloured violently. "No!" he said.
The Headmaster smiled. "It's all right. I believe you. Kevin?"
"No, sir. Honest."
"Right. And did you take the money?"
"No," said Kevin in a higher, aggrieved voice.
Robbie shook his head, not surprised this time. "No, Mr Andrews."
"Fine. That's all I want to know. Just one last thing. Would you show me what you carry about in your pockets? I shan't insist if you don't want to."
Bobbie had two rather withered conkers, a handkerchief, a stone from the seaside in France where they went in the summer, and a Matchbox model of an E-type Jaguar.
Kevin had two screwed-up pieces of Kleenex, a handful of assorted stubby pencils, a penknife, a piece of much-folded paper, the front door key on its long string, some toffee papers and a fifty-penny piece.
Mr Andrews looked at the coin. "That's a lot to carry around, Kevin. Why do you need so much?"
"Got to get fish and chips," said Kevin. "It's late shopping night, Friday. Mum won't be back."
"I see. w4l, perhaps Miss Trotter would look after it for you. What about the pencils? Are you a budding artist?"
Kevin managed a faint grin. "I like drawing cars." He and Robbie started to put the things back in their pockets while Mr Andrews unfolded Kevin's scrap of paper. It was a drawing of the red Alfa.
"Oh." Mr Andrews looked thoughtful. "Tell me, did you create that rather splendid thing on the wall of the boys' cloakroom?"
"Mr Burgess thinks it's quite the wrong place for art. He's going to scrub it off, I'm afraid. Look-if you want any paper to draw on, come and see me, Kevin. I can always find you a bit from somewhere. OK?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you.
Mr Andrews took a sheet of paper from his desk drawer and wrote on it. "You're not on the 'phone, are you, Kevin?" he asked.
"I thought not." He folded the paper, tucked it into an envelope and sealed it, wrote a couple of words on the front and pushed it across to Kevin.
"Give that to your Mum for me. And don't worry - it's nothing to do with badges."
"Yes, sir." Kevin pushed the note deep into his trousers' pocket.
The boys walked back along the corridor.
"I think Mr Andrews is great," said Robbie. Kevin made no reply and, with the closed- up, black-eyed side of his face towards Robbie, it was difficult to know what he was thinking.
"Don't you?" pursued Robbie. "Kev?"
Kevin shrugged his shoulders and Robbie stared at him, perplexed. He was certainly very odd today.
At mid-morning break, Kevin was so gloomy and cross that Robbie gave up all attempts to cheer him up and so, at playtime after lunch, he joined a game of football with Paul and Allan and Billy. Billy's nose looked slightly swollen but otherwise showed no signs of yesterday's damage.
One of Allan's ferocious kicks sent the ball hurtling across the playground to land by the wire fence and Robbie, running to fetch it, came level with the untidy figure of the old man, seated once again on the wall and staring as usual through the wire fence into the playground.
"Cold," said the old man as Robbie approached. "Cold today."
"I'm not cold," said Robbie cheerfully, picking up the ball. "But then, I'm running about."
"Run," said the old man. "I used to... when I was a boy. Run. Climb trees. No trees in there. Only fences. Not such fun, climbing fences." He banged at the wire netting with his stiff fingers.
"You can't climb a fence like this," said Robbie. "It's too wobbly."
"Ah, ye can," said the old man with sudden eagerness. "One boy did. Saw him. Up like a monkey he was. Over there." He extended a shaking hand, indicating the corner of the yard half-hidden by Mr Burgess's store shed. "Like a monkey..." he began to cough. "Oh, drat it."
"Come on, Rob!" The others were getting impatient. Robbie drop-kicked the ball back to them and ran across the yard after it, before the old man could start to talk again.
Miss Trotter had a quick system for calling the register. Instead of calling out the names to be answered, she simply shouted "One!" which was for David Ascott, the first one on the list. Then they would all call out their numbers in order while she ticked them off.
This afternoon after "Five!" which was Cynthia Dawson, there was a pause. "Six?" queried Miss Trotter, looking up. "Kevin Delaney?"
"Not here," said Margaret.
"Did he have lunch?" asked Miss Trotter. "Yes, he did," said Robbie, "but I didn't see him afterwards."
"Perhaps he had a dentist appointment or something," said Miss Trotter, marking an '0' in the register. "But he should have told me."
Robbie's mind flew back to the old man and his story of a boy climbing over the wire. "Like a monkey," he'd said. Robbie was certain that the b6y had been Kevin. He was tempted to tell Miss Trotter, and then decided not to. Whatever Kevin was up to, it was his own business. But it did seem funny.
The afternoon felt very long. They were doing something about Leonardo who invented a lot of very interesting things years before it was possible to make them and in the ordinary way Robbie would have been fascinated.
As it was, the thought of Kevin climbing over the wire kept intruding itself. Why had he run away like that? And why had he been so gloomy and cross all morning?
"Now, somebody suggest a machine you'd like to make," said Miss Trotter. "Never mind if it seems crazy. Come on, now. Think about it."
Hands shot up. Robbie glanced at the clock. Ages to go yet. He groaned to himself.
At last school ended. Robbie grabbed his blazer from the cloakroom and rushed out into the yard. Marjie was waiting outside as usual, but he ran past her across the playground and out of the gate. She might make a fuss if he told her Kevin wasn't at school - and Robbie didn't want her tagging along. He was sure, now, where Kevin would be.
Without hesitation, he ran across the Park, through the gates to the swimming pool car park and stopped, panting, at the top of the steps which led down to the disused workshop Kevin had shown him.
"Kev!" he called. "You there?"
There was no answer. Robbie went cautiously down the steps and looked in. Kevin was standing there, surveying the floor with a look of cheerful triumph.
"Hi!" he greeted Robbie. Then he said, "I done that re-spray.
"Oh." For a moment Robbie was taken unawares.
"It looks great," Kevin went on. "Told you this was the place. Out of the wind, see."
"Super," said Robbie. An uneasy silence fell. Then Robbie asked, "Why did you go?"
Kevin avoided the question. "Was Miss Trotter cross?" he enquired.
"No. She thought you'd gone to the dentist or something."
"I wanted to do that re-spray."
Kevin's obstinacy began to annoy Robbie. "The old man saw you climb over the wire. He told me."
"And you told Miss Trotter, I suppose," said Kevin.
"I didn't! Of course I didn't! Look, you are stupid, Kev. When they find out you ran away, everyone'll think you took those badges. And the money, too. That's what they'll think."
"Stupid yourself," snapped Kevin. "And anyway, they'll be right, so there. I did take their money. Not their rotten old badges; though. Who wants badges?"
Robbie stared at him, horrified. "But you couldn't, Kev."
"Yes, I could." Kevin's dirt-streaked face was flushed and he scowled ferociously as if he was trying hard not to cry. "Mr Andrews knows I took it. He'll tell my Mum. I might get sent away like Arthur Field did in our block. So I'm not going back any more, I'm just going to stay here until they find who took the badges, then they'll stop thinking it's me."
"But why?" Robbie was utterly bewildered.
"Oh, you wouldn't understand." Kevin leaned against the dust-covered bench dejectedly, his hands thrust deep into his pockets and his shoulders drooping.
"It's Marjie," he went on. "She doesn't get much. I mean, the other kids' mums come and meet them and buy them sweets and things."
Robbie nodded. He thought the situation over carefully. Kevin was being silly about Mr Andrews. Things could always be sorted out by talking about them.
"I think you ought to tell Mr Andrews," he said firmly. "About the money and everything, I mean. He's all right. He'd understand."
Kevin shook his head. "It's all right for you, he said. "But this bloke Arthur Field, he was like me - took a few bits from school, then weekends he used to have tyres off cars, that's when he was a bit older, and the police caught him and sent him away to some place where he can't come home hardly at all. I mean, I got to be at home, haven't I?"
"How old was he?" asked Robbie.
"I dunno. About fourteen I think. But it's all the same. Look."
Kevin thrust a crumpled piece of paper at Robbie. Unfolding it, Robbie recognized it as the letter Mr Andrews had written to Kevin's mother. "Dear Mrs Delaney," he read aloud. "Gosh, Kevin, you shouldn't have opened this - I wonder if you could spare me a few minutes one day to come and dis - what? dis-cuss Kevin's progress and one or two gen-er-al-oh yes, general, matters. Please telephone my - something or other. It doesn't say anything about the money, Kev."
"It doesn't have to," said Kevin darkly. "Don't you remember what he said when he gave it to me -'it isn't about badges.' He didn't say it wasn't about money. And I don't want Mum to know, so she mustn't go and see him."
Robbie shook his head. It was no use arguing. And it must be getting late. Oh dear- he'd meant to be home specially early today.
"I must go," he said. "I promised I wouldn't be late again."
"Me too," said Kevin. "The girls'll be waiting outside the door."
They scrambled up the steps and rushed across the carpark, then ran side by side across Monk's Meadow Park.
"See you tomorrow!" panted Robbie as they reached the road.
"OK," said Kevin automatically. But as he took to his heels again there was still no sound from his engine and Robbie knew that things were not right.