INAPPROPRIATE PHYSICAL CONTACT
There was only an hour to go until the ballots opened, and Kenny was starting to worry that perhaps he wasn't quite as sure a thing to take over as the new Editor as he'd previously thought. He was sure, he told himself, that none of the newsroom would be swayed by Colin's vague implications about sordid elements to Kenny's private life… whatever they were supposed to be. Kenny did wonder a little what sort of misbehaviour Colin could have even dreamed up for him. In a way, it was almost flattering that his rival could so much as imagine that anybody else would believe that he really was a dark horse. Which, of course, they wouldn't. He was Kenny. Nobody ever suspected him of being even vaguely interesting… although, Kenny had to admit, a few of the less academic staff members had been looking at him strangely since Colin's speech.
No, it was the other aspect of Colin's address that had worried him – the promise of easier work and fewer hours. If he had learned one thing about journalism in his six months as Assistant Editor of the Junior Gazette it was that the fastest way to get to a Hack's heart was through their Lazy Bone. And that went quadruple for teenagers. It didn't bode well. You could say what you liked about Colin – and people usually did – but he knew his target market all right.
'Penny for them?'
Kenny almost leaped out of his skin. Colin was suddenly right next to him, his jacket glimmering with campaign badges, wearing a smile that Kenny supposed was supposed to be friendly, but just looked as though he was wondering whether to eat him alive with barbecue sauce or ketchup.
Kenny composed himself quickly. 'They're not worth a penny, Colin. Not to you.'
Colin shoved his hands into his pockets. 'Oh, I wouldn't know about that…'
'Do you know why they're not worth a penny to you?' Kenny added. 'Because they're boring. They're not about any salacious scandal, not about any skimpily dressed women or drink fuelled nights of anarchy. My thoughts right now are purely, purely about how we can carry on with Lynda's good work in making this paper the very best that it can be.'
Colin raised his eyebrows, innocently. 'Did I ever doubt that, Ken? Did I ever doubt you? At the end of the day, aren't we both just trying to do what's right by everyone?'
Kenny narrowed his eyes at Colin. There was a strange expression on the other boy's face. Kenny couldn't be sure, but it almost looked like sincerity.
'Then why are you pestering me, Colin? Shouldn't you be off campaigning?'
'Pestering? Kenny, I'm hurt. I just came over here to say Good Luck.'
'Oh.' Kenny wondered how both Colin and Lynda could have perfected the same sad eyed gaze that always fooled him into forgetting quite how sociopathically insane they were. He crumbled. 'Oh, well… of course.' He patted Colin on the shoulder. 'Best of luck.'
'May the best man win,' added Colin with a grin.
And then he did something that made Kenny freeze. Long after Colin had ambled off, Kenny still stayed rooted to the spot.
Had… had he just… had he just slapped him on the bum? It had certainly felt like it. What, Kenny asked himself, in the world could have persuaded Colin to do that? Colin had never even so much as shook hands with Kenny before. What was it… some sort of friendly gesture, like football players in the changing room? Or was it some new trend that he still wasn't party to? Or… he didn't mean…?
Kenny shook the worrying thoughts to the back of his head and focussed on Tiddler, standing in front of him with an arched eyebrow.
'I'd check your trousers if I were you,' advised the girl with a sly smile.
Mortified, Kenny looked down at his flies. They were zipped up neatly, as they always were.
'Wrong end,' added Tiddler.
Kenny reached behind himself and felt a big piece of paper stuck to his recently slapped buttock. Muttering under his breath, he pulled it off and looked at it. It was neon pink, with thick black lettering.
'DON'T BE LEFT BEHIND', the sticker said, 'VOTE COLIN MATHEWS'.
So, that was what A Buzz felt like.
Kenny sat down on the hot, empty stage and breathed deep. The air smelled of sweat, and kicked-up dust, and stage lights and excitement. His fingertips were in agony. His throat was raw. He had never felt so marvellous before in his whole life.
There was the sound of footsteps coming around from backstage through the now empty auditorium, and a cheerful whistle. Kenny grinned. After a moment, Colin Mathews walked happily into view, carrying a very heavy looking moneybox.
'How did it go then, Col?'
Colin stopped in his tracks and looked up at Kenny on the stage. 'I shouldn't have to tell you, Champ. You were there.'
'Money wise, I mean.'
Colin rattled the moneybox. It made a deep, full sound. 'You're a star, Kiddo.' He sniffed. 'What are you still doing here anyway? I thought you were going to the bar to let all the chicks buy you drinks. You need to enjoy it while it lasts, you know. Fame's pretty fickle.'
Kenny shook his head. 'That's not what tonight was about. Tonight was about… about this. This stage. Standing in the spotlight. Once I leave I'll be Lynda Day's go to guy again and sort out all that business with Kerr and Sullivan. Right here, I'm… I'm Kenny The Kid. I'm happy. I'm really, really happy just here.'
Colin considered this, then nodded. 'Fair enough.' He turned to walk towards the auditorium's exit.
Kenny breathed in deep again, and smelled the adrenaline in the back of his nose. 'Can I ask you something, Colin?'
'The excitement, the attention… the madness… the buzz… is this what it feels like to be you?'
Colin didn't reply, but gave him a strange smile before carrying on towards the exit.
Kenny dangled his legs off the edge of the stage, watching him.
Mad little guy, Kenny thought to himself. How does he do it?
Kenny continued to watch the young man pick his way through the auditorium with his oversized suit and big steel safe box. There was, Kenny decided at that moment, not enough of Colin to conceivably hold all the Colin inside. Here was this powerhouse that had forced him, kicking and screaming onto a stage, who had taken drab old Kenny Phillips and turned him into a Rock Star, albeit temporarily. One small figure wandering alone up an auditorium aisle. An 18 year old boy. That was all.
Kenny cocked his head at him. The adrenaline still rushing through his body pushed a mischievous thought to the top of his mind.
I bet I could lift him up, easily, this formidable Colin Mathews. There's nothing to him. I bet I could. I bet I could swing him around like a little girl.
Kenny Phillips wouldn't have dreamed of doing it. But he was still in the auditorium, so he was still Kenny the Kid: Rock Star. Before his conscience could talk him out of it, he'd pushed himself off the stage and sprinted up the aisle. It was as easy as he'd supposed it to be – Colin couldn't have weighed much more than Jenny had, and was so taken by surprise at being scooped off his feet and hoisted over Kenny's shoulder that he didn't have time to struggle. Kenny span around three times with Colin over his shoulder before giddily placing the young man back on his feet. Colin blinked at him, dizzy and bewildered.
'What was that?'
Kenny grinned as he strove to get his breath back.
'I just wanted to thank you.'
Colin frowned, still swaying a little. 'Next time, Kenny? A Postal Order'll do.'
'You must have the metabolism of a humming bird'.
Colin barely looked up from his lunch and managed to mutter a full-mouthed 'mmnuhm?'
Kenny sat down opposite him. 'You're seriously going to eat all of that in one sitting?'
Kenny looked from his own limp tuna sandwich to the gargantuan boxful of cake that Colin was rapidly working his way through. 'What are you – half python?'
Colin didn't even dignify that with a response other than a confused shrug of the eyebrows.
'I've never seen you stop for lunch before,' Kenny explained. 'Now I'm glad I haven't… where are you putting it all? Are you storing it all up so you won't have to eat again until the year 2000?'
Colin swallowed, licking jam off his fingers. 'Nana made cake,' he told Kenny, curtly.
'Ah.' Kenny smiled in understanding. 'The old cake baking matriarch. No huge, sprawling family is ever without one. So I'm told.' He looked at his own sandwich again. 'Good, is it?'
Colin nodded, cutting himself another huge doorstop of cake. It did look good. And smell good. Kenny chewed at his bottom lip.
'I'll give you a quid for a slice.'
Colin looked up at him for a moment, thinking, then shook his head and tucked back in.
'Bloody Hell!' Kenny blinked in astonishment. 'It must be good!' He fished in his pocket and felt a worn note amongst his loose change. He slapped it on the table. 'All right then, a fiver.'
Colin stopped chewing. He looked from the five pound note to Kenny to the cake and back to the note again. His mouth still full, he screwed up his face at the agonising decision. He swallowed, and sighed, and quickly pocketed the five pounds. Grudgingly, he cut a thin sliver of cake off onto a sheet of paper and pushed it over to Kenny.
'Don't go telling everyone about this,' he hissed, 'this is a favour. Because you're a mate.'
Kenny bit into the cake. It really was delicious.
'Mmm.' He savoured the thick, sweet, sticky taste. 'I tell you, this is worth every penny of a measly fiver.'
'Really?' Colin tutted in annoyance. 'Should have charged you more. You owe me one after this… Maybe two.'
'Whatever you say, Colin.' Kenny grinned, polishing off the last of his slice. 'Thanks for tha…'
Colin wordlessly reached out his arm like a striking cobra, pushing his outstretched thumb against the corner of Kenny's lip.
Colin pulled his thumb away carefully and presented Kenny with the large crumb of cake that he had rescued. Kenny had only ever seen the look on Colin's face once before, when Sarah had accidentally dropped the tea kitty down a manhole.
'Don't,' he told Kenny intently, 'waste it.'
'Um… OK.' Kenny held out a finger for Colin to scrape the last crumb onto before popping it in his mouth. 'Thanks, Col.'
Colin watched Kenny leave, shaking his head as he stuffed another huge chunk of cake into his mouth.
'Mnstly,' he mumbled, 'fum mebul.'
It was overcast. Kenny tried to concentrate on that slate grey sky instead of what was going on around him. He didn't want to make eye contact with any of the other members of the entourage. Spike and Lynda were in worlds of their own, Colin trebly so. Even if Lynda had felt like talking, Kenny wasn't entirely sure that he felt like talking to her for making them all go along with her plan to such an extreme. Kenny certainly didn't want any other members of the funeral procession to strike up a conversation with him. Kenny had spent the last few days listening numbly to earnest relatives talking about what a nice young man Donald was, if only he could get over his shyness, about how it had always been such a pity that he'd never had many friends, and how lovely it was that, before his life was cut short, he had made such wonderful friends at the paper – friends that he was willing to sacrifice himself for, and of course those friends simply had to ride with the procession to the church… Kenny wanted to disappear. Of course they deserved to be shielded from the truth, those tearful, sincere relatives. It was just… Kenny knew something about it was wrong. Really, really wrong. He just couldn't put his finger on it.
A sad faced older man stopped by the trio and cleared his throat, gently.
'Um,' he stuttered. 'Is that your friend, in the Gents?'
'Hmm?' Lynda blinked at the man. 'Do you mean Colin?'
'Is he all right?' asked the man. 'Only, he sounds in a bad way.'
'He's still shell-shocked,' Spike told him, with an almost unperceivable accusatory glance in Lynda's direction.
The man patted Spike on the shoulder. 'We all are, Son.'
'No,' attempted Spike, 'I mean, clinically, he's… never mind.'
The man nodded, pretending to understand what Spike was talking about, and ambled away from them.
Kenny went back to studiously pretending he wasn't there. He folded his arms and looked down at the ground. Another man came out of the toilets and met up with an old woman, waiting outside.
'There's a lad crying in there,' he announced solemnly as he passed.
Kenny carried on looking at his shoes. He knew that, next to him, the other two were doing the same, wishing that they hadn't heard what they'd heard. One of them should do something. He knew that. He sighed. He knew full well that that person was going to be him.
Without a word to the others, he began to walk over to the men's toilets.
Colin was hunched over one of the sinks, red eyed and retching. He gave Kenny a short, sideways glance.
Kenny shook his head. 'You shouldn't be here, Colin.'
'None of us should be.'
'You shouldn't even be out of hospital yet.'
Colin looked up at his pale reflection in the mirror over the sink. 'Lynda wanted me here.'
'Sod Lynda!' Kenny gave a little hysterical giggle. 'When have you ever done what Lynda Day wanted you to do? Now, I got dragged here because if she told me she wanted to gouge my eyes out and wear them as earrings I'd go to the shops and buy her the spoons to do it with. What's your excuse?'
'I…' Colin sighed. 'I didn't have the strength not to.'
'Well,' Kenny conceded, 'right now you don't have the strength to walk from one end of the room to the other without hanging on to the walls, so I think you can be forgiven that.'
'What am I doing?' Colin tried his best to bite down fresh tears. 'What am I doing?'
Kenny shuffled, uncomfortably. 'You're telling a little lie, to protect some nice, unhappy, vulnerable people.'
Colin shook his head. 'I mean, generally! Who the Hell am I trying to kid?'
'Don't talk like that…'
Colin cut Kenny off with a loud sob.
'Oh, Col.' Kenny felt intensely stupid, dithering by the door, lost for words. 'Come on, mate, this isn't you.'
'Of course it's me!'
'But you never let yourself get like this…'
'Don't I? Oh well, I must be somebody else, then…'
'No, what I mean is…' Kenny scratched his head. 'You've just had a scare, that's all. You'll be back on your feet in no time, back to being the real Colin Mathews that we all know and, er… know.'
'The real Colin Mathews,' echoed Colin, hollowly. 'Ha.'
'Mate, I…' Kenny slumped his shoulders. 'What do I say? What do you say to somebody who's having to pretend that the person who recently hospitalised him out of sheer spite was a close friend who saved his life?'
Colin shrugged, wiping his eyes. 'I think they might have left that one out of the staff handbook.'
There was nothing he could say, so Kenny said nothing. He simply stepped forwards and pulled Colin into a silent hug.
'I was so scared,' Colin sniffed eventually. 'I was just so scared.'
'I wasn't exactly Errol Flynn myself, you know.'
'Did your life flash in front of your eyes too?'
'Yes,' replied Kenny. 'It was beige.'
Colin drew a breath to reply, but was cut off by a beeping horn outside. Gingerly, painfully, he pulled out of the hug.
'They must be about to head off,' Kenny told him, unnecessarily.
Colin nodded, and began a slow limp towards the door.
'You're allowed to ask for help, you know,' added Kenny.
Colin gave him a small, grateful smile. 'I know.'
And he carried on walking, unaided, to the car.
Lynda opened the curtains briskly, flooding the hotel room with daylight. She turned and looked at the two men in the double bed.
'Oh my God.'
'Before you start, Lynda,' muttered Kenny, groggily, 'there was a mix up with the hotel. They didn't have any twin rooms left, and neither of us wanted to sleep on the floor, so…'
'You didn't have to spoon each other, though,' snapped Lynda.
Kenny and Colin looked at one another, and then down at the position that they'd ended up sleeping in.
They both shot out of the bed as though it were on fire.
'I take it there was more alcohol involved after I went to bed,' Lynda added.
'Lynda!' Colin exclaimed, hastily dressing. 'We barely touched a drop. Really, it was a drop-ette.'
'How much?' Lynda asked Kenny.
'About a half a bottle of whiskey,' Kenny admitted. 'Each.'
'We were just celebrating,' Colin added. 'We're allowed to celebrate, aren't we? It's a happy occasion. And I've missed me old mate Kenny, besides.'
'You're supposed to celebrate tonight,' Lynda replied. 'You'd better not be hungover today, or so help me…'
'Hungover?' Kenny scoffed as he started brushing his teeth. 'Lynda, please. I do live in Australia. Last night was nothing.'
Lynda turned her accusatory, pursed lipped glare to Colin.
Colin snorted. 'Think I could close half the deals I do without being able to drink any client you can throw at me under the table? Water off a duck's back, Kid.'
'It had better be,' warned Lynda. 'We don't have long now.'
'What time's Spike turning up?' Kenny asked from the bathroom.
'Eleven.' Lynda looked at her watch. 'And it's half past eight now.'
'Plenty of time,' shrugged Colin.
'Isn't your hair at 8.30?' added Kenny.
Lynda looked at her watch again, swore, and headed for the door.
'Did you go with that girl I recommended?' Colin asked Lynda, brightly.
'You mean your Auntie Noreen?' Lynda paused briefly at the door. 'Funnily enough, Colin, I didn't.' She made to leave, then turned back to them again. 'Don't screw this up, Guys. I mean it. I only intend to do this the once so it had better be right.'
She swept out of the hotel room, slamming the door behind her.
'Honestly,' sighed Colin, squeezing paste onto his own toothbrush. 'Like we'd screw it up for her.'
'She's just nervous.' Kenny spat his toothpaste into the bowl. 'That's all.'
'I mean,' added Colin, 'what is there to screw up? We walk her down the aisle, hand her over to Spike, Bob's yer Uncle.'
'It's still an important job,' Kenny replied.
'Do you think the Priest would be interested in a bulk load of communion wine?' continued Colin, 'only I know this bloke…'
'The ceremony's probably not going to be the best time to bring it up, Col.'
'Well, what other chance would I get?'
'You are aware that I've been given special dispensation to shock you with a cattle prod if you do anything to disrupt the proceedings today, aren't you?'
'Lynda did mention that, yeah.' Colin spat into the basin. 'Probably best if I leave it.'
'I can always just leave my card and call on him tomorrow, after all.'