CHAPTER 3

Jim Dunbar stood on the train, watching the English countryside steam past him, trying to ignore the constant jostling and prodding of the people around him. His friends were around somewhere, he knew Brick was behind him, someone had to keep the big fella out of trouble. A man behind him thumped into his back yet again. Jimmy sighed and started singing softly to take his mind off wanting to punch the man in the head.

"In Dublin's fair city, where the girls are so pretty

I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone

As she wheeled her wheelbarrow

Through streets broad and narrow

Cryin' cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o

Alive, alive-o, alive, alive-o

Cryin' cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o

She was a fish-monger, but sure 'twas no wonder

For so were her father and mother before"

Jimmy turned and smiled as he heard Brick's voice join in with his. The two men sang softly and companionably, watching the green hills and fields roll by.

"And they each wheeled their barrow

Through streets broad and narrow

Cryin' cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o

Alive, alive-o, alive, alive-o

Cryin' cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o

She died of a fever and no-one could save her

And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone

But her ghost wheels her barrow

Through streets broad and narrow

Cryin' cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o

Alive, alive-o, alive, alive-o

Cryin' cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o."

Spotting Selly, Brick poked Jimmy in the side and gestured to where the black man was standing, before moving away to talk to the other docker. Jimmy stood alone on the packed train, his rucksack between his feet, keeping his feet easily, the rocking motion of the train just like the gentle swaying of the ships in the dockyard. He felt slightly apprehensive, he was going to war after all, but for the most part he was excited beyond all reason. The furthest away from home he had ever been was Southport with his parents when he was eight. The rest of his life had been spent in Liverpool. He grinned broadly; he was going to see the world.

"Well, that's an evil grin," came Kitten's deep voice, cutting into Jimmy's thoughts.

Jimmy turned and crossed his eyes at his friend before noticing that the cheeky twinkle normally found in Kitten's slate grey eyes had faded and worry lines had appeared in its place. He frowned, peering at Kitten before the black-haired man turned and moved away, walking with an easy grace towards the wall of the railcar. Jimmy turned with him, sliding his rucksack along with his feet, moving with the swaying of the train, light on his feet, but not nearly as graceful as Kitten. He gently tapped his friend on the shoulder.

"Kit? Y'a'right lad?" Jimmy asked, his blue eyes darkening with concern.

Christopher Bettancourt reluctantly lifted his face to stare into the concerned gaze of Jim Dunbar. Jim's head reared back. Kitten looked utterly terrified. Jim swung his head round the railcar, catching the eyes of both Brick and Selly, jerking his head and indicating that they both needed to come over here, now. The other two dockers moved with the same ease as Jim through the railcar, stopping in front of Kitten. Christopher Bettancourt tilted his head up to look at all three of his best friends. As one, their eyes widened when they saw the fear and discomfort in his eyes. Brick's eyes narrowed, darkening with anger and he swung round, searching the railcar for the frelling bastard who had dared to hurt his mate. Kitten's hand darted out, catching the big man's wrist. Brick turned and looked questioningly at him; Kitten shook his head. That wasn't what was wrong.

"Kit-lad? Y'a'right?" Selly asked, squinting at Kitten as he took off his glasses and cleaned them on his shirt.

"M'fine," Kitten answered, his head still bowed and his back still firmly pressed against the wall of the railcar.

"Can't give us that shite, lad, what's the do?" Brick asked him, keeping his voice low.

"M'fine…" Kitten replied unconvincingly, lifting his head to answer his friends, seeing their disbelieving looks and letting it flop back down again, "M'not fine."

"We know, lad. Now why isn't ya fine?" Selly asked, pushing his glasses back up his nose.

"You'll laugh…"

"When was the last time we laughed at you when it was this important, Kit-lad?" Selly asked, Jimmy and Brick staying quiet, offering their support silently, Selly was better at this sort of thing than they were.

Christopher Bettancourt sighed, reaching up to push his wavy black hair out of his face. He pushed himself off the wall and stood at his full height, looking his friends in the eye for the first time since the conversation had started. He gave his fellow dockers uncertain looks before sighing again and starting to speak.

"You fellas know hows I don't like crowds much, yeah? Well, this is like that, only its different… if youse get what I mean…" here the tall Liverpudlian blushed, hoping against hope that he wouldn't have to go into any more detail.

The other dockers looked confused, "Sorry, lad, we got no frelling idea what you mean," Selly answered apologetically, realizing that Kitten didn't want to have to say what was bothering him out loud.

Kitten buried his face in his hands, "Mmmhhmmmm," he moaned into his hands, "A'right," he said, his voice lowering, "You lads know I ain't a ladies man, aye? Well, this frelling train ain't full of boobies now, is it?"

Realization dawned on the dockers' faces and Brick and Jimmy both blushed. Selly winced but moved forward to stand next to Kitten. He elbowed the other man gently in the ribs, making the grey-eyed man lower his hands to glare at him. He looked at the complicated mess that was one of his best mates, Christopher Bettancourt, and he sighed before speaking.

"You're a braver man than me, Kit, that's all I gotta say."

Kitten smiled at his friend, giving him a gentle shove with his shoulder. Both men's heads snapped around as they heard an obnoxious bray of laughter from further down the railcar. Two men stared maliciously back at the black, bespectacled man and his tall, grey-eyed friend. Obviously the more intelligent of the two, a squinty-eyed, rat-faced looking man, grinned viciously at the two men, moving towards them purposefully. The other man, a dim-looking, barrel-chested man with a face only a mother could love, followed his friend. Neither man noticed Jimmy and Brick standing by the other two dockers, ready to jump in if need be.

"Well, lookit, Harry, we got ourselves a fruity and his pet Sambo," the first man crowed, his accent showing him to be a Leeds native, waiting for his friend to bray obnoxiously, before turning to grin evilly at Christopher Bettancourt and Tom Selway.

Jimmy's eyes narrowed, his fists clenching and his shoulders bunching. Brick snarled and took a step forward. Jimmy put a hand to his chest and shook his head. It wouldn't do to let the big fella loose if these two were all mouth and no trousers. Brick growled low in his throat, but stayed where he was. Selly and Kitten were the more tolerant of the four anyway. At the Geordie's words, Tom Selway raised an eyebrow, his anger only betrayed by the tightening of his mouth and the cold glint in his eyes. Kitten gracefully eased himself off the wall, even his tendency to stoop slightly letting him tower over both men. He smiled at the two, the smile never reaching his eyes.

"D'ya kiss ya ma with that mouth?" Selly asked the rat-faced man.

"Shut yer damn face ya stupid black bastard!" the rat-faced man snapped back.

Brick took another step forward. This time Jimmy had to forcibly haul him back. This was for Selly and Kitten to deal with, if the two Leeds tossers threw punches, they would jump in, but not before. Jim Dunbar didn't start fights, he finished them. The two men from Leeds still hadn't noticed the other two furious dockers behind Kitten and Selly. Brick shook off Jimmy's restraining hand. Jimmy let him go with a shrug. It would be fun to watch the big man beat the bejeezus out of a few lummoxes like these. Jimmy began rolling up his shirt sleeves. He pushed his blonde bangs out of his face and followed Brick.

"Y'know," Kitten said slowly, his voice deep and soft, belying his anger, "That's not really a very clever thing to do."

"What's not, fruity?" the rat-faced man said, causing his otherwise silent friend to snort with laughter.

"Pissing off a bunch of Liverpool dockers, that's what," came Brick's snarl, right before the big man's fist connected solidly with the rat-faced man's ribcage.

The barrel-chested man let out a startled yell, before launching himself at Brick, throwing punches and kicks as hard as he could. The rat-faced man picked himself up and threw a punch at Kitten, who until then had been grinning at the stunned look on the Leeds native's face. The punch was off-centre and only caught Kitten a glancing blow on the chin, but it was enough. The grey-eyed man launched himself at the other man, ducking and weaving with a dancer's grace, throwing punches, his booted feet darting out to kick the other man's shins or sweep his feet out from under him. Neither one the kind of man to stand back while their friends where fighting, Jimmy and Selly exchanged a look, heaved a long-suffering sigh and threw themselves into the fray.

Punches and kicks flew as the four Liverpudlians hurled themselves into the two Geordies. Grunts and yelps came from the fight pile as the six men beat the stuffing out of each other. The barrel-chested man managed to worm his way out of the fight and took off towards the back of the train, leaving his friend at the bottom of the docker pile. Jimmy and Selly watched him run, pulling Kitten to his feet and making sure he was ok. Christopher Bettancourt grinned at his friends, wincing as his lip split. The three looked over at Brick who was still punching the rat-faced man. They looked at each other, sighed and half-heartedly tried to pull the big man off the moaning, bloodied man beneath him.

"Come ahead, big fella, he's had enough," Kitten said, hooking an arm around Brick's shoulders, trying to pull him off.

Brick growled, his eyes flashing angrily and threw one more furious punch, before allowing himself to be pulled off the Geordie who'd been stupid enough to insult his friend. The rat-faced man lay on the floor of the train, moaning, one hand curled protectively around his bruised ribcage and the other holding his bloody nose.

The four dockers moved away from the groaning Geordie, picking up their rucksacks and heading towards an empty corner of the railcar. Standing in the corner they checked out the bruises and scrapes they'd received during the fight. As usual, Brick was barely scratched, his only injury a small bruise on his chin where the barrel-chested Geordie had gotten in a lucky punch. Kitten had a split lip that was swollen and bleeding sluggishly. Selly was nursing a set of bruised ribs, his glasses crooked on his bloodied nose. Jimmy had a black eye and was cradling his hand to his chest. Kitten frowned as he saw the blonde man's hand. His own hand darted out and caught Jimmy's by the wrist. The three remaining dockers hissed in sympathy as they caught sight of the dislocated finger that was rapidly becoming purple and swollen.

Jimmy glared at his friends, he knew his finger was dislocated and he knew that someone was going to have to pop it back in, but it didn't mean he had to like it. Kitten looked at him, gently tugged Jimmy's hand towards him, nodded to Brick, who moved to stand behind the blonde man, gripped Jimmy's dislocated finger and yanked it back into place. The blonde docker's eyes widened, he let out a strangled yelp and he buckled slightly, only to be caught by Brick, the big man making it look like Jimmy had stumbled as the train moved.

Breathing deeply, his head bowed, Jimmy waited until the throbbing in his hand had faded to a dull ache, before looking up at his friends. The other three dockers were looking at him with concern in their eyes. He nodded at them and gave them a small smile. His friends favored him with answering smiles. No words were spoken between the four, because none were needed. The four Liverpudlians knew each other well enough to know when to speak and when to stay silent.

The train shuddered, causing everyone, not just the four dockers, to look up. The train began to slow, its brakes squealing. The four dockers looked at each other, grinning. Nervousness settled in their bellies and excitement bloomed in their hearts. The train came to a stop and the doors were thrown open, the sunlight temporarily blinding the train's occupants. Calls of 'Move it along now!' and 'Grab your gear and shift it!' were heard up and down the platform. Trying to avoid being jostled by the crowd, the four Liverpudlians gathered their rucksacks, hauled them onto their backs and slowly began to make their shuffling way onto the platform, following the endless line of young men in front of them.

Their adventure had begun…

Authors Note: The song used in this chapter is not mine. It is an old Irish song 'Cockles and Mussels'.