The Red Alfa
by Alison Prince Chapter Six
The policemen came back to the car and asked a lot of questions about how the accident had happened and why the boys were there. Kevin answered "yes" or "no" mechanically, but seemed hardly to understand what was happening and soon the policemen gave up trying to find out why he had been standing by the road. "Bit shocked, I think," said the tallest one who had spoken to them before. "Better get them back to school. Have a word with the Head."
There was nobody in the yard as the police car drew up, for dinner playtime had long been over, but Robbie saw faces peer through classroom windows as he and Kevin and the tall policeman walked towards the main door.
The red "Engaged" light was on outside Mr Andrews' office and there was a faint drone of voices from within. The policeman rapped on the door with his knuckles, but there was no answer.
"We'd better ask Mrs Bailey," said Robbie. "She's the secretary."
But before the policeman could do anything about this suggestion, Miss Pickard came briskly round the corner with a pile of papers in her arms. "Oh, dear!" she said on seeing the policeman, "What on earth has happened? We've been terribly worried about both these boys. I do hope they've not been getting into trouble?"
"There's been a slight accident," said the policeman. "Nothing to worry about, but I would like a word with your Headmaster, if possible."
"An accident?" repeated Miss Pickard. "A road accident?"
"Oh, you silly boys. Was anyone hurt?"
"Well yes, there was this cyclist. . ." began Robbie, then stopped uncomfortably. He didn't want to be the one to tell the story, specially in front of Kevin.
Miss Pickard pursed her lips and glanced from one boy to the other then, instead of scolding them as Robbie had expected, she tapped on Mr Andrews' door and, without waiting for an answer, opened it and walked in.
"I'm so sorry to interrupt you," they heard her say, "but I thought you'd like to know the boys are back. They're with a policeman."
There was a flurried sound of papers being pushed aside and chairs being scraped back, and Mr Andrews appeared at the door. "Come in, come in," he said. "My goodness, lads, we're glad to see you back, even if it is with a police escort. Come in, officer. I do hope these two haven't been causing trouble." He ushered the little group into his study and closed the door, revealing a short, stout, dark-haired woman sitting in the armchair. "Oh, do excuse me," said Mr Andrews. "I haven't introduced Mrs Delaney, Kevin's mother."
Mrs Delaney ignored the policeman completely. She got up from the low arm chair with a little grunt of difficulty, went over to Kevin and said comfortably, "Lovey, what have you been doing?"
Kevin stared at her numbly for a moment, then, all at once, the fight was over and there was nothing left to struggle for. He ducked his face into his hands and gave a great coughing sob.
"There," said his mother, hugging him, "there, lovey, don't cry. It's all over now, it's all right, there's nothing to cry about."
She was hardly any taller than Kevin. Robbie stared hard out of the window, where the police car stood in the road. There was nothing for him to cry about, and yet, as Kevin sobbed and sobbed, Robbie felt a terrible hardness in his throat and an ominous prickling of the eyes.
"Have you lads had any lunch?" asked Mr Andrews, his voice reassuringly normal.
"No," said Robbie.
"Miss Pickard, I wonder if you could persuade Mrs Green to find these two something to eat? The kitchen staff won't have gone home yet. And a cup of tea wouldn't come amiss, either."
"Of course I will," said Miss Pickard kindly. She put down her stack of papers on Mr Andrews' desk and went out of the room.
Mrs Delaney sat down again in the armchair. Kevin heaved a shuddering sigh, rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and groped in his pocket for a handkerchief. His mother gave him a Kleenex and he blew his nose and then moved, rather stiffly, to sit on the arm of the chair.
The policeman, who had not attempted to say anything until now, cleared his throat. "About this accident, sir," he began. "Putting it briefly, this lad here seems to have run out on to a crossing in the absence of the patrol man, causing a car to brake sharply and hit a cyclist, who is now in hospital. As far as we know there are no serious injuries, just concussion and bruises. And, of course, shock. But you'll understand, sir, that we have to make certain enquiries. What we really need to know is why the boy was there in the first place, and why he ran across the road."
Everyone looked at Kevin and Mr Andrews said, "Well, I can answer the first part of the question - which can wait until later, officer - but only Kevin can tell us the second. What was it, Kevin? Why did you run out?"
There was a long pause. Kevin sniffed and glanced up at Mr Andrews. Then, staring at the carpet, he muttered, "It was an Alfa. Red one like mine. I wanted to see it."
"It went round the corner," said Kevin rather desperately, "and I just wanted to see what its number was. I didn't know there was another car coming. I just wanted to see the Alfa." The policeman was writing in his notebook. "What d'you mean, 'like yours'?" he asked.
"It's a sort of game," said Robbie loudly, seeing that Kevin was struggling with tears again. "Not-not a silly game. I mean - well, mine's a Lotus."
It was dreadful to talk about the cars. It was all being spoilt and he, Robbie, was standing here spoiling it, making it seem stupid.
Mr Andrews sat back in his chair, suddenly looking satisfied. "I used to have an aeroplane," he said. "A Hawker Hurricane. They were just that bit faster than the Spitfires."
The policeman looked at him with raised eyebrows over his notebook and was obviously about to ask something further, when Miss Pickard came in with a laden tray.
"Mrs Green's bringing tea in a moment," she announced. "This is for the boys."
"Right," said Mr Andrews, sweeping papers off his desk. "Now, you two can have your dinner here with Mrs Delaney to look after you while we sort out the rest of this business in Mrs Bailey's office. That all right, officer? You don't want to ask these lads anything more just now, do you?"
"Er - no, I dare say that will do," said the policeman rather reluctantly. Mrs Green came in with the tea and when it was poured out and sugared and stirred Mr Andrews took the policeman into the adjoining office, leaving Robbie alone with Kevin and his mother.
The lunch was meat pie and potatoes and carrots, followed by jam tart and custard, and Robbie realized that he was very hungry.
Kevin did not eat very much, but he looked better when he had finished as much as he wanted and drunk his cup of tea.
"Well," said Mrs Delaney at last, "what a palaver. D'you think he'd mind if I smoked?" She lit a cigarette, waved the match out and found an ash tray to put it in.
"You should have given me that note, love," she said to Kevin. "Grace found it when she was putting the washing ready for the launderette. I suppose I should have asked you about it really, but I didn't think I'd see Mr Andrews so soon, only I had the afternoon off from the shop to go to the doctor."
"About your back?" asked Kevin.
"Yes, it's such a blooming nuisance. Come to think of it, Ill have to go in a minute. I'm supposed to be there at half past three."
"But what did he say?" asked Kevin.
"Mr Andrews? Oh, he was ever so nice. He wanted to make sure I knew about free dinners and that-not that we can't manage to pay our way, I told him that-and they're going to have a sale of second-hand school uniforms. And then of course, he told me you weren't here-frightened me to death, that did. But I still don't see why you didn't give me the note. You couldn't have forgotten, because you'd opened it and read it, hadn't you?"
Robbie wished he was somewhere else.
"Yes," said Kevin.
"Then why?" persisted Mrs Delaney.
"I thought they'd send me away," blurted Kevin. "Like Arthur Field."
"Arthur Field?" Mrs Delaney stubbed her cigarette out in the ash tray, wincing as the movement caused a stab of pain in her back. "But he was a thief! He stole the tyres off motor cars and all sorts of things, then he and some other boys knocked an old lady down and stole her handbag. Yes, you didn't know about that, did you? But that's why he was sent away, and right and proper too! So don't you ever talk to me about being like Arthur Field!"
Robbie saw that Mr Andrews had come quietly into the room.
"What d'you mean, anyway?" went on Mrs Delaney. "What have you been up to, thinking you were going to be sent away? You must have done something."
Kevin shut his eyes. "I took some money, he said.
Mrs Delaney half stood up, then sat down again. "Oh, no," she said. "Oh, no. Don't tell me it's come to that. Look, Kevin, we're not that short. We can save up for the things we need. What did you want it for? What did you do with it?"
"Gave it to Marjie," muttered Kevin. "It was only a few pennies. She wanted a lolly sometimes."
"Little beast," said Mrs Delaney. "Just wait till I see her."
"No!" said Kevin, agonized. "You mustn't. Please don't tell her."
Mr Andrews gave a little cough to announce his presence.
"It's all right, Mrs Delaney," he said. "I knew about this, but I thought Kevin should tell you himself, and I'm glad he has. It's all over now, but he's worried in case the other boys think he swiped a lot of coat badges - and that's a little mystery we haven't cleared up yet."
Kevin gaped at him. "You knew?" he said weakly.
"Oh yes." Mr Andrews smiled rather sadly. "I knew the minute I asked you. You told the truth about the badges and lied about the money. In this job, you can spot a lie a mile off-specially a king-size lie like that."
"Oh dear," said Mrs Delaney. "There seems to be ever such a lot to talk about, but I must go. I've got this appointment at the doctor's and I'm going to be terribly late."
"I'll run you along in the car," said Mr Andrews. "Take Kevin with you. What about you, Robbie? Will your mother be in?"
"I expect so," said Robbie. "She's always in except Thursdays when she plays bridge, then I go to Mrs Arrowsmith next door."
"Then you'd better come as well," said Mr Andrews. "Ill drop you off afterwards and have a word with your mother. There's a bit of explaining to do."
"Yes," said Robbie. "I'll get my coat."
There would be some explaining to do when he saw the other boys in his class, too, thought Robbie. He was glad that it could wait until tomorrow.