I was surprised we made it back to James's house, the way his brother Aden drove after picking us up from some rich-kids' party. James showed me his father's new shotgun, a blued under-over with a sick dorsal rail. Epic! He switched on the outside lights and grabbed a box of 12-gauge cartridges. Aden freaked.
"No fucking way are you guys gonna fire that gun when Dad's not here!"
"I'll tell him you drove like a maniac coming back from the disco..."
That silenced Aden. Unlike his flaxen family, he had red hair and it was a family joke/open secret that his trophy-wife mother had conceived him with the florid postman. Paternity notwithstanding, I was slightly in awe of Aden. He smoked Red Leb to crazy vinyl. Hawkwind's 'Sonic Attack' blew my tiny mind.
James propped a traffic cone on the patio. Blew it in half and checked my reaction, smirking as smoking red tubes ejected over shoulder. Shotguns are just pure kicky. Like the Pringles chips ad, Once you pop, you can't stop!* A year later I would come within a metre of blasting my best friend from behind by accident.
"Let's go lamping."
James gave me a strong light and I played the beam around the surrounding fields. Anything that gleamed got sprayed. But no confirmed kills; we got bored. James thought it prudent to conserve ammo lest incur the wrath of his father, a taciturn nouveau-riche serial-bankrupt. Dude claimed to be an ex-racer; his intoxicated driving was even more reckless than Aden's. On one terrifying ride, after overtaking on a blind bend James asked his Dad what would happen if the reverse gear was theoretically engaged by mistake. The reply was heavily slurred.
"I would never be so stupid, son."
Next day we boys stalked the woods armed with high-powered airguns, shooting at birds and rabbits and whatever. Frogs and snails and puppy-dog's tails...that's what we were made of. It got greasy when we nailed a hare. Tough majestic creature which took many shots and long chases. Finally we stood over its twitching body in blood-stained snow. James persuaded me to finish it, since he didn't want to be the final vision of the murdered or some shit. Whatever...I did it although sure enough it's eye-ball was awful. But I should've reproved James: don't shoot if you can't kill. Truthfully, he was a coward and a pussy. A bully and a braggart. It took an inordinately long time for me to actually realise this, and more.
By that time James had gone to another school after a long absence. He had victimised a boy whose father owned a lucrative chain of garages near the airport. The kid was a clown and a misfit, but at some point he turned on his persecutor with desperate sustained ferocity. I don't know what went down exactly; just witnessed an inconclusive Mexican stand-off in some classroom, a fight with fossil-bearing geology sample stones. But the worm had turned and James was scared.
Years later I passed James on a garage forecourt. He towered glossy-topped and suited, smirking still. Gassing-up a risible red flash-fast car, go-go skirts and spoilers. We said no words; I recalled bizarre but plausible rumours that James was now in the wizz business, kept a pistol in the glove box. Real or not, I well believed this craven cookie craved bad-cat kudos. Maybe all those props made him feel safe and strong. But this place, that scene, can be sudden harsh on those who fail to walk their talk. Don't shoot if you can't kill...
James, you bring to mind a line by 50 Cent: Youza pop-tart sweetheart, you soft in the middle.** But whatever became of you (tempted to invent a neat narrative closer but not this time) I don't wish you ill. Despite the stiletto to the dome, blood dripping from my hair. An accident; it all could've been worse. Guess I must've been worth impressing; your hang-out groupie, lie-ally, double-dare collaborator, ante-up enabler, shock-trooper, percipient bystander. You might be forgiven...so I can be too.
* Procter & Gamble. 2007
** 50 Cent: Back Down. 2003