An extract from Before the Storm by Jack Byrne, published by Northodox Press in May 2023.
“That’s amazing.” Vinny meant it. He had never seen or touched anything gold, not real gold like this. The whole thing was glistening. He could run his hands over it, feel the weight of it all day long. He moved his hand up and down, enjoying the sensation.
“Giz it back.” Macca didn’t want to let it go.
“Does it open?” asked Vinny.
“Course it does. We should wait for Sammo, though.”
Sammo was Macca’s sidekick. Vinny thought Sammo was sneaky. The bell from the school rang out across the road, its dull tones reverberating through the damp air.
“Why?” asked Vinny.
“He kept dixie for us. The bell’s gone, where is he?”
Vinny opened the door slightly. “Here he is.”
Macca popped his head out, too, and they could see Sammo running across the road, head down against the morning rain. His school tie flew over his shoulder. The drizzle had soaked his uncombed hair, splaying it out in all directions.
“All right?” Sammo pulled the door open.
“Yeah. What happened to you?” asked Macca, his square face set in a frown.
“Mister Thomas saw me. I had to pretend I was going in.”
“He’ll notice if he doesn’t see you all day,” Vinny said.
“Nah, we don’t have him today. He won’t know. Beep said he would cover for me if anyone asked.”
“Let’s have a look at it then,” said Sammo.
Macca kept hold of the chain but allowed Sammo to hold the watch.
“Here, let me open it.” Macca slid his thumbnail in a groove that ran around the edge of the watch. He gently pried open the cover to reveal a curved glass face that covered a white background.
“What are those numbers?” asked Sammo.
“They’re Roman numerals,” said Vinny.
Two intricate black hands pointed out the time. Inside the cover of the watch, there was an inscription. “Faugh A Ballagh.”
“Is that Roman as well?” Sammo asked.
“You mean, Latin? I don’t know. It doesn’t sound like it.”
“C’mon smart arse? You passed the Eleven Plus, didn’t you? You went to a posh grammar school. I used to see you getting off the bus with your little briefcase.”
“Piss off.” Vinny was embarrassed. Sammo was pointing out what Vinny always knew—he was different.
“Shut up, knobhead,” said Macca. “At least he knows something. What was your school called?”
“Cardinal Allen,” Vinny answered.
“And who kept dixie for you? While you screwed the house. Eh…made sure no one was coming?” Sammo answered his question. “Yeah, that’s right, me.”
“Where’s the dosh?” Vinny asked.
“I hid it. We can get it later,” said Macca.
“How much did you get?”
“Not sure, we didn’t count it. The meters weren’t that full. They must’ve been emptied,” Macca replied.
“Anyway, that school was shit. They didn’t want me, and I didn’t want them,” Vinny said. This wasn’t true, but it had become Vinny’s way of rationalising his failure.
“Okay. Right, are you ready?” asked Macca.
“What for?” asked Sammo.
“We have to swear.”
“Fuck off…Bastard…Twat—” Sammo had a lot more, but Macca cut him short.
“Not like that. Like a promise.”
“An oath,” said Vinny. “Like in court.”
“I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Sammo had placed his hand over where he thought his heart was.
“But not that,” Macca said.“Vinny, you make up the words.”
“What for?” asked Vinny.
Macca uncovered the watch again and held it in his palm in front of the other two. “We have our gold, our—”
“Treasure,” Vinny smiled. He knew Macca would like the adventure of it. Macca was always the hero in his own story.
“Yeah, treasure,” Macca said. “And we have to swear to stick together.”
“Okay, let me think,” said Vinny.
“You robbed it,” said Sammo. “I kept dixie. What did he do?”
“He’s my mate,” said Macca. “And he’s going to make our oath.”
“And I’m going to find a buyer,” said Vinny. He wanted to fit in and be a proper part of the gang.
“Okay, what do we say?” asked Macca.
“Put your hand on the watch,” Vinny directed. Macca held the watch while Sammo and Vinny placed their hands on top. Then, Macca sealed the clasp with his other hand. “I swear that I will protect the treasure, and my mates, against all enemies and obstacles.”
With their hands on the watch, Macca and Sammo repeated Vinny’s words in unison. “I swear that I will protect the treasure, and my mates, against all enemies and obstacles.”
“All for one and one for all!” said Sammo. “Like the three muscleteers.”
“Musketeers,” Vinny corrected.
“Who gives a fuck,” Sammo replied.
“And we split the money three ways,” added Vinny.
“That’s not in the oath,” said Sammo.
“It is now,” said Macca. “I’ll split the money three ways. Your turn.”
“I’ll split the money three ways,” said Sammo reluctantly.
A regular click echoed through the stairwell. “What are you lads doing here? Sagging school?” A woman came down the stairs; the wheels of her shopping cart clicked as they bounced down each step.
Macca quickly put the watch back in his pocket.
“Nah, we’re just on a message,” Sammo said. “I’ve got to get some things for me mam. My mates are helping me.”
“Well, you’d better get on with it then, or I’ll be right over to that school. You shouldn’t be hanging around this doorway. You don’t live here.”
“All right, missus,” said Sammo.
“Don’t give me any of your cheek. Go on, out.” Her wheels clicked as she came down the last few steps.
“We’re going. Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” added Sammo.
Vinny opened the door, and they stepped into the street, laughing. Heads down and blazers pulled tight, they scurried through the rain along Alderwood Avenue, towards The Parade. Even with their ties off, their blazers, white shirts, and black trousers gave them away as All Hallows students. So, the shopping centre was the worst place for three truants to hang out.
Vinny didn’t like The Parade. He existed in a state of semi-fear wherever he went on the estate, and since it was where he lived, fear was a constant. For Macca, Speke was a playground. Full of confidence and without Vinny’s fear, he swaggered about like he owned the streets. Sammo would Sammo would have been a happy-go-lucky boy if he had anything to be happy about. As it was, he made the best of everything.