Football boots for Christmas (Revised Version) – Part Three


Bobby Findlay who was 12, and his very best pal ‘Spug’ Getty who was 11, were hanging about on the tarmac apron in front of the Post Office – the village’s very hub where every half hour or so the Broxburn bus clanged and spluttered into view like an auld steam engine. It then reversed onto the side of the apron before taxing forward to a full stop back on the main  road, facing the way it came a minute or two before.

Then, as often as not in the better weather, the driver would drop out of his cab to pose beside his machine like he was of ‘The Few’, ready for yet another RAF sortie; having already carefully bashed his hat into the selfsame shape as Errol Flynn’s in ‘The Flying Tigers’.

Them modern men of action tended to walk on eggshells like Robert Mitchum, and half smiled with their mouths crooked and open like John Wayne. Was said some of the more roguish ones were even divorced, or at least considering it. The Broxburn SMT garage had a deliciously wicked reputation then, just after Hitler’s War.

Sharing centre stage on the kid-on film set would often be the pilot’s crew – a smouldering steely-eyed peroxide blonde maybe, or else some buxom Jane Russell in a straining tunic with a smouldering Navy Cut at her luscious cherry lips.

Was Saturday forenoon and the late again 11.35 had just headed back to where it came from and Bobby and Spug were discussing their latest heist and how to share the loot, when Baw, Bobby’s despised wee brother, wandered round the corner into focus and centre stage, as usual.

Bobby, the first cowboy in Winchburgh with a tied down holster, immediately saw himself in his mind’s eye as ‘Wilson’ in ‘Shane’. Baw was the young sod-buster who lacked proper respect in Rycker’s saloon – via Broxburn Regal the previous week. Poor Baw had to be taught a lesson, yet again.

“What you put in your pocket?” demanded Baw, who tended to talk first and rue it later. Had never seen Shane, but more than enough of Bobby’s temper. Stayed just outside the arc of his big brother’s cobra-like reach.

“Beat it punk“, sneered Bobby through his nose in best Jack Palance mode.

“Sweetie coupons?” countered Baw. “No as green as Ahm cabbage lookin! Money as well? Our mother know?”

The outlaws glanced at each other, deeply worried, then at Baw the intruder who was easing back further out of range, and at long last biting his tongue.

“So” snarled Bobby, getting half a step nearer his hated blood brother, “nuthin to dae wi you.” Baw kept his distance by hurriedly falling a couple of steps backwards before regaining his balance. Bobby’s fists were tightly clenched, ready to assert themself. The thin wire legs of his NHS specs were cutting into the back of his ears, and forby, hadn’t got the wee tollie back for taking the last slice of roasted cheese the night before.

“Beat it!” barked Bobby. Baw was still backing off, but not as far or as fast as Bobby would have liked and his pride needed.

“Telegram in your pocket,” explained quick-witted Spug, glancing at Bobby and nodding vigorously and flapping his elbows about like a kid-on duck as he moved in between the two brothers. “Better get going, had we no Bobby? Be back in time for that next one. Oh, shouldn’t have said.” Spug was winking vigorously, his back to the hapless Baw.

“Right enough, better be back in time”, said Bobby, smirking at such inspired guile. “Ay, better make tracks.” “Ay, we better.” “Less we give him this one an just hang on here. Six an half a dozen. What you think?”

Baw’s mouth was gaping as he glancing quickly from one suspect’s face to the other, then back again. Nothing was ever straight forward when dealing with them aulder than yourself; looked at them again and again, yet remained clueless. Was this bluff, or maybe double bluff? Knew all about stuff like that from reading about the Faceless Men in the Rover, in the ‘V for Vengeance’ serial; faceless and fearless from being tortured to an inch of their lives by the SS.

Now the Faceless Men were having their personal revenge, and at the same time were well on their way to freeing mainland Europe once and for all of the scourge of Nazism. Was all true. the whole of Winchburgh P6 and p7 knew that. Big school as well. That very week in the serial The Faceless Men had assassinated General Henkell in Paris. The leader of the Faceless Men was Von Reich, second in command of the Gestapo, but really an English spy named Aylmer Greyston who had been double-bluffing Himmler and the rest of them for years.

Baw wasn’t right sure where he stood with Spug, but had long since given up on Bobby. Not too sure of the Faceless Men neither. They dressed all in grey from head to foot including their grey masks to hid their hideously scarred faces. Hundreds of them. The wonder was the Gestapo hadn’t caught on and rounded them back up again.

Couldn’t all have been snappy dressers like Bruce Kent with handy telephone boxes. And them with hideous scarred faces and masks and so on were things that folk noticed, specially if there was reward money on the go. People generally weren’t near as stupid as ‘Trip-wire’ made out.

Earlier that week Jake Corstorphine claimed to have heard Von Reich being interviewed on the wireless. The week afore it had been Alf Tupper on the Home Service. At the school Christmas Party the previous year afore Jake had told the teacher he could play the piano . Hadn’t mentioned he only needed the one finger, and only now and again when it wasn’t poked in his ear or rubbing his chin. Everyb’dy in the class had been embarassed bar Jake. The Corstorphines had Radio Luxemburg and hundreds of boiled eggs in big glass jars under the sink and the bed, and relations across in Broxburn above a pie-shop. Granny Moffat said hard boiled eggs constipated folk.

Jake was car daft and could tell every make and model, foreign as well as British, from the minute they appeared round the school corner, or the bank. Mrs Corstorphine was ready with her eggs just in case Churchill and his crowd got back in and cut the wages again.

“Think we should jist deliver that telegram in yer pocket Bobby,” replied Spug, nodding as he did so, like he was sensibly thinking things through, bit by bit.

“Think so tae,” replied Bobby.

“Her in the Post Office said its guid news.”

“Bound to get a good tip,” added Bobby.

“Come on, let’s get goin. A guid distance to the Myre ferm.”

“The Myre ferm!” snorted Baw. “Tuppence each! Ay, so I would! That McCabe will give you nuthin extra an it’s miles to go!”

“Ken that,” retorted Spug.

“Wouldn’t give you the dung aff his boots, says ‘Pidgy’”, added Baw, “even if you scrape it off yersel.”

“You want the telegram like?” asked Bobby, softly, like Shane when he first met Wilson in Ryker’s saloon, after thon wee sod-buster guy lost the place and then his life. Him that looked like Joe Stoddart.

“Come wi you,” said Baw stepping forward like volunteers did in the army pictures. “Better get goin, the Royal Mail must get through!” His wee joke fell flat.

“No, no, Dog-face” retorted Bobby raising his palm like he was a policeman holding up oncoming traffic. “Make up yer mind. Take this yin I’ve got in ma pocket or wait yer turn. Mind though, the McCabe’s have still got thon daft demented dug.

“Was put doon,” retorted Baw. “Attacked ‘Binkie’ the postman last week. Was in the Courier!”

“That was the wee yin, wasn’t it Spug. The pup.” Was Bobby’s turn to nod to Spug to let him know things were under control and that he could take the water out of Baw just as easy as he could.

“We’re talkin aboot its big brither, the one that went fur McMaister the gemme-keeper, aren’t we Bobby? The wan that slavers an chewed through its steel rope.”

“That yin!” added Spug.

“Bite yer skinny wee leg aff in a oner, wee feartie!” said Bobby.

Bobby and Spug were leering at each other over their shoulders. Baw was white about the gills.

“Could go yersel Bobby,” whispered Baw. “Yer feart fur naeb’dy! We ken that. Spug an me could wait here fur that next telegram. Could pool the money. Who’s it fur?”

“The Tally Ho, she said,” said Bobby. “Suppose to be guid news. It’s what they cry a wire. Due onietime.”

“Come on Bobby, let’s go,” said Spug turning away “Maybe back in time tae get that yin tae.”

“Ay, jist do that,” agreed Baw, nodding his head even more vigorously, and thinking about the money that with any luck could be in store for him. Things hadn’t been going his way of late. “Just hang about here in case you two don’t make it back.” They dashed away across Main Street.

If it was really good news for the Tally Ho Wullie Menzies might give him a whole sixpence tip, reasoned Baw. Maybe even a shilling if he was short of change.

Maybe a busload of American tourists were coming to byde in his hotel for a fortnight. Winchburgh was handy for the Forth Bridge and Linlthgow Palace and only twenty minutes by bus back into Edinburgh. (Regular paperboys like Bobby were first preference for delivering telegrams at tuppence/village four pence/countryside when Binkie the postman wasn’t on duty. If there were no paperboys about then other laddies could fill in)

Then it dawned on Baw that the Tally Ho had a phone. Them with phones had no need for telegrams! Had been a double-bluff Spug had played. That Von Reich was lucky the likes of Spug hadn’t been in Himmler’s jackboots.

By the time he had stopped thinking things out, the reprobates were out of sight making for the auld railway station, but then round Haig’s Bakery along the back of Duntarvie View once they were out of sight. Now they were watching Baw from their hiding place at the far end gable further down Main Street at the corner of Scott’s Building.

While they waited to see what Baw did next, Spug asked Bobby if he’d heard the one about the paper shop;  blew away.

A few minutes later, once Baw had wandered away out of sight they made further down Main Street to Smith’s shop at the School Corner and stood feasting their eyes on the window display.

“Fast thinking that Spug,” laughed Bobby, “minding telegrams are the same colour as sweetie coupons. Put the wee tollie right aff, so it did.”

Would have loved to have called Spug ‘partner’ like a right cowboy, but just wasn’t prepared to risk being laughed at.

“Mother no miss thum, the sweetie coupons?”

“Naw. Don’t use half what we’re entitled tae Same with claes coupons. Oor mother sells them to Mrs. Buchanan to buy even mair shoes.”

“Is that her auld green yins that Baw wears?” They both laughed.

“No accordin tae him,” said Bobby. “Heard him tell a wee lassie oor mother sent fur thum special doun to Sheriff’s of Nottingham; a shoe shop. Claims its pairt of his Robin Hood costume thit oor Uncle Jimmy bought aff a drunk actor doun in London. His lies are that guid believes them himsel.”

“Ay, that’s whit he telt us. That an that your grandpa doon at Ayton has got a tame fox without teeth that lives on oatmeal an catches rabbits for him withoot a mark on them, an sometimes even trout oot the burn.”

“Aff his heid!”

“Says your granpa’s got a pet otter that herds the troot aboot the River Eye like a collie wi sheep. Mind Bobby, your due me a penny.”

“Ken. Dinnae believe a word that wee tollie tells ye. Ahm fur two cake o fMcGowan’s toffee, plain an chocolate. Whit aboot you? We’ve the right money.”

“Here’s ma four pence tae go wi yer tanner. Better tear oot the coupons afore ye go intae the shop. Nellie Smith no say oniethin tae yer mother?”

“Wur in the clear. Naeb’dy saw us comin oot the back of the Tally Ho. You go in for the toffee; oor mother gets her breid in there. Mind, we got the beer bottles doun the dump.”

Their faither would skin him alive, thought Bobby with a shudder, if he found out that they had broken into the shed round the back of the Tally Ho and taken beer bottles, then they got tuppence each on them from the barman in the Star and Garter. Glanced furtively up and down the street for anybody liable to betray them.

Imagined himself Frank James on the lookout, with Spug as Jessie in there holding up the bank in Dodge. Took off his specs and carefully put them into his pocket in an attempt to more look the part.

When Jessie reappeared they high-tailed it across the wagon trail, through Apache territory and into the Badlands; locals called it the Greenshale.

Sat on the wooded slope just above their hame-knitted football park, their jaws working overtime. Bobby imagined the park moving with shorthorns and him and Spug on the Chisholm Trail just outside Abilene.

When he started smoking he would roll his own just like the cowboys, with one hand. If only they’d had matches they could have built a campfire. For the umpteenth time wondered what coffee tasted like out of a tin can, or even a cup.

One of these days was going to buy a wee tin of beans, heat them then eat them out here on the open prairie under the stars in the early dark. Coffee and beans were what cowboys lived on.

The thought reminded him of what he had been desperate to tell Spug. That morning when he was sorting out his papers in the Post Office for his New Raws delivery run, Binkie the post-man had come in. The only others in at the time were the two women who served behind the counter.

‘Would you look at that’, Binkie had said as he pointing to the floor at the side of the door.

‘Dog’s dirt!’ shrieked one of the women.

‘Sure?’ asked Binkie as he stepped forwards and stuck his finger right into it, then into his mouth.

One of the women near fainted. The other one looked like she was going to be sick.

‘Dinnae think sae’, said Binkie as he bend down to scoop up a big lump for another taste.

Big Andra Pettie, Haig’s baker, was outside at an angle looking in the window laughing fit to burst.

Wis it chocolate cream like?” asked Spug.

“Ay, milk an plain, an a bit coffee cake, sittin on a clean bit paper,” laughed Bobby. “Nae wunner the women wur taen in. Taken in masel.”

“Mind thon woman near took us in Bobby, mind, the minister’s wife doun at Abercorn? Thon wis hairy wis it no!”

“Stealin her aipples?”

“ Wisnae hauf!”

“ Ye near landed in her basket when ye came ower thon wall heid furst.

Then ye run intae her claes rope. Near throttled yersel.”

“ Must hae thought we wur escaped loonies.” Bobby was laughing fit to burst.

“Ay, bit mind, threw oursels back ower the other dyke on the ither side intae the graveyaird. Mind?” retorted Spug.

“ Landed on thon fresh earth at the side o the open grave.”

“Wid hae been a goner if I hudnae been there.”

“ Guid joib nane of the mourners kent us.”

“ Would have got borstal!”

“Ay, I ken. Oor faither wid have went gaga.”

“Hope ye never let on tae Baw.”

“Think Ahm daft?”

“Yer faither wid hae hud it in the Courier long afore this.”

“Wid hae bounced me aff the wall; dine it afore.”

“Dinnae like yer faither, dae ye Bobby?”

“Who does, or his uncles?” Was examining the grass he was sitting on, wondering if he could start a fire using his specs as a magnifying glass. “Aboot time fur the arnuts?”

“Must be,” agreed Spug. “Baw thinks the sun shines oot yer faither’s arse.”

“So does oor faither. No comin tae the matinee? A cowboy film. Gary Cooper, aboot the time efter the civil war.”

“Naw, the Albion’s playin at hame. Taken the hamper wi Baw. No come?”

“See mair than enough o him an oor faither in the hoose.”

“Right then, see ye efter. Better away hame an get ma denner.”

“Mibbe go tae Wee Jock’s billiards the night?”

“Guid idea. Be in ma granny’s. She’ll gie me money.”

Bobby lent back on his elbow as he watched Spug gallop across the Greenshale prairie and then disappear under the canopy of trees that skirted the bottom of the Auld Raws and that hid the Oil Works beyond.

There were arnut plants further down the slope. Bobby looked round about himself for something to burrow into the earth and follow the white slender roots to their larder, but nothing was at hand.

Maybe feel more in the mood later on, once he had the rest of his McGowan’s toffee.

This week had been the last episode of ‘The Pony Express’ in the Wizard. Had been a cracker, about the Rocky Ridge section bossed by J.A. Slade, the deadliest gunman in the West and this heroic wee rider cried Wal Loader. Were bitter enemies but still had sworn a truce till the telegraph lines reached the Pacific coast, and the mail service disbanded.

The week before Walt had battled through fierce mountain blizzards in and out of Ruby Valley. There he had learned Sheriff Hawkins and two deputies were on their way to Rifle Falls to arrest Slade for the murder of the sheriff’s brother.

Even though Rifle Falls was fifty mile away, and the blizzard fiercier than ever and having just completed a treble shift, Walt just had to get back and warn Slade and he did, losing his precious pony in a ravine in a white wilderness in the mountain top when he was at it, and so having to walk the last six miles carrying heavy saddle bags of mail. Got a row for being late.

Walt had just got word to Slade about Sheriff Hawkins when word came through that the stagecoach the sheriff and his deputies were on had been ambushed by Piute Indians a couple of miles short of Rifle Falls. Slade made a bee line for the sound of gunfire.

Thirty redskin braves were on the rampage. The guard of the coach had been taken out in the first volley of arrows. One passenger killed, another was wounded and four of the horses were cut down. The sheriff  was keeping his last bullet for himself when he heard revolver fire; Slade was attacking the Piutes from the rear, riding straight at them with his six guns blazing; took out ten right away.

While the rest of the Piutes were watching Slade, and backing off in wonder at his bravery, the sheriff and his party where tidying up the stagecoach and the last of the horses ready for the off, but first of all the sheriff just had to see who their saviour was.

Found Slade in a bad way; only thing keeping him upright was the arrow pinning him to the tree he was leaning on and the handle of the tomahawk lodged in his head was caught in a low branch – didn’t stop Slade drawing on the sheriff and killing him plumb dead. Next day Walt buried Slade. Bobby shook his head in annoyance at Slade’s lack of sense. Should have gone with his new Springfield rifle. Could have taken them out before getting into tomahawk range.

Them and their stupid Albion, thought Bobby, as he looked around himself again, unsure of his next move, even of what direction to take to fill in the next hour or so till it was time for the matinee. A regular problem for them who spent time on their own, not having a herd to follow. ‘Shane’ had been much the same.

Spug, Baw and the rest dreamt of making their name at the football; standing out from the rest. Far better blending in with the background, like the poachers down at Granpaw Moffat’s. Bobby stuck a stalk of grass in his mouth. Him and Frank James just wanted peace to be themselves.