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Authors: M.J. Trow

Maxwell's Point

BOOK: Maxwell's Point
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Maxwell’s Point

M.J. TROW

To Tali, the original Nolan.

Zicker, zicker.

The nonsense stopped as soon as he entered the room. He let the door crash back and stood there, watching Tasha Whatserface smear lipstick all over her cheek. A look of panic came over Tall Chloe’s face as he caught her in mid-text on her mobile; that wasn’t going to help win any spelling bees, was it? Jade quickly unwrapped herself from Dale’s clutches, stuffing what passed for a breast back into her blouse. Dale himself looked suitably blank, so there was no change there. Even Laura looked sheepish, aware as she was that she had a black, non-regulation top on under her white Leighford High blouse; the mark of the beast. Martin, he of the weasel-eyes and uncertain temperament who hovered on the fringes of autism and glue-sniffing, reached surreptitiously down to replace his outlawed trainers with his black school shoes,
lace-up
, for the use of. Why, oh why, did those kids go to the unholy lengths of carrying them all day in carrier bags? Could it possibly have made their lives easier?

The hubbub died down as he crossed to the desk. He flipped open the laptop carelessly, with a nonchalance born of years at the chalkface. His fingers hammered on the keys and a PowerPoint presentation, beloved of Ofsted inspectors the length and breadth of the UK, burst onto the screen in
glorious Technicolor. Words spun and rotated, interspersed with wild images of the world we have lost: Winston Churchill ordering the troops
out
of Tonypandy; Joe McCarthy hugging Joe Stalin; history like it really was. He felt rather than heard someone stick a piece of chewing gum on the underside of a desk. He twirled slowly, still writing the lesson’s objectives clearly on the whiteboard – Aim: to knock some sense into a band of misfits before it was too late – handling the board-marker as smoothly as Napoleon used to handle his cannon.

There was a new boy in the corner, a face he didn’t recognise, but he knew the signs; could read the attitude. The lad wore a pale-blue hoodie and a white baseball cap at a rakish angle – he who had never heard of Babe Ruth in his life. His jaw seemed to be working around a piece of half-day old gum. And why not? He’d watched telly for hours as countless football managers with an IQ the size of a pinhead chewed frantically on the side-line between roaring some timely expletive to the even bigger morons on the pitch. They were all his heroes. Why was it, the teacher wondered – and not for the first time – that kids who joined the school late in the year always seemed to be delinquents with ASBOs? Then he answered his own question – they were probably the children of a parent (never two, of course) on the run from the ever-shortening arm of the law. At least wherever they came from would be a safer place.

He noticed the kid at the back, the Chav With No Name, slide his right arm sideways. That settled it, he thought – it was the paper-flicking season again and he was reaching for his elastic band. He’d wait before he struck, biding his time,
letting the Chav hang himself. There’d be no warning shot, no barked defence, ‘Stop. Armed educator’. But he was to be disappointed. Dom Creddle, the lad next to the Chav, caught the boy’s arm and hissed, ‘No, mate. That’s Mad Max’s kid. He’ll have yer.’

The Chav frowned, unimpressed. ‘But he’s a baby. Still wearing bloody nappies.’

‘Even so,’ Creddle warned solemnly. ‘Don’t mess. It runs in the family, madness. Don’t mess. Don’t…’

But it was too late. The elastic band had barely cleared the desktop when Mad Max’s kid sent the board-marker hissing through the air. It scythed past Dale’s ear with the speed of an Exocet, whistling past the waist of Tall Chloe – I said she was tall, didn’t I? – and took the head of the Chav off his shoulders, as well as the smirk off his face. There was blood everywhere, spattering over the desk and down the wall. And the screaming started…

 

Mad Max woke up with a start. God, he hadn’t done that before. Fallen asleep in his own office. For the briefest of seconds he expected to see little Nolan saunter in through his door, tossing a bloody board-marker in his hand and grinning, his nappy dangling between his legs.

‘Got another one for you, Daddy!’

Maxwell chuckled. How unlikely was all that? Little Nolan was only ten months old; he still found walking a tad of a challenge, still less sorting out shitheads in a History lesson. Maxwell checked his watch. Half past four. Time to go home – the radio jingle of his childhood echoed faintly through the cavernous recesses of his brain. He downed the last of his
coffee, toyed with taking home a pile of books to mark, thought better of it and made for the door.

An apparition in green stopped him.

‘You’ll never guess what they’ve bleedin’ well gone an’ done now.’

Maxwell hesitated. Was that it? Was that all he was going to get? This was Mrs B, the Lady Who Cleaned for him, both here, at the chalkface that was Leighford High, and at his
chez lui
along leafy Columbine, to the south west. Usually, Mrs B spoke in a torrent, spitting out statements like a Gatling gun, if that wasn’t lobbing too many metaphors into the
suet-pudding
of conversation.

‘Er…what?’ was his rather lame response.

‘Only appointed a new Head Caretaker, haven’t they? I mean, what’s the point? And she’s a real bastard, so they say. What’s all that about? Sending a woman to do a man’s job? I don’t know what was wrong with old Doc Martin, meself. But then, what do I know?’

That was more like it. Maxwell swilled his cup under the tap in the corner and gave as good as he got. ‘Yes, I heard. Well, new brooms and all that. Yes, I’d heard that too. Something to do with equal opportunities, I suppose. Neither do I. Quite a lot, Mrs B, if I’m any judge.’

Yes, Peter ‘Mad Max’ Maxwell was a judge all right. He’d been judging kids’ essays, their behaviour and the great mysteries of life now for more years than even Mrs B had bristles in her brush. He used to be jury and executioner, too, before the world had gone mad and they’d created some EU regulations against such things. He’d been at Leighford, man and boy, for nearly four centuries and nothing ever fazed him. Even so, he
was sorry to see old ‘Betty’ Martin go, especially as no one knew the bloke’s first name. And his replacement wasn’t quite a Head Caretaker; she was a Premises Manager.
Plus ça change
.

‘You goin’ out tonight?’ Mrs B was rummaging in the corner, rustling her black bag in time-honoured tradition and longing for a fag on this no-smoking site.

‘No, no,’ Maxwell told her, hauling up his battered Gladstone. ‘Lesson preparation, Mrs B. Mr Diamond checks, you know. He wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t prepare my lessons for the next day.’

Mrs B paused in mid-rummage. She was gagging for that fag now and her sciatica was giving her gyp, but she wouldn’t show any weakness in front of Maxwell – he was mad, after all, and that was a proven fact.
And
he was her employer – wouldn’t do to let him think she couldn’t cope. For a moment she looked at him oddly, then her grey old face broadened into a toothless grin. ‘Yer, right,’ she croaked.

He winked at her and was gone.

He left the office bright with the trappings of his obsession, the film legends of yesteryear. Nikolai Cherkassov stared down at him under the rim of his steel helmet, like a poor man’s Charlton Heston, in
Alexander Nevsky
. Tyrone Power, Alice Faye and Don Ameche grinned like three toothpaste ads in
In Old Chicago
. Whoever painted the United Artists’ posters, he really wasn’t very good. And Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day looked suitably frantic over the kidnap of their son in
The Man Who Knew Too Much
– nobody on Leighford High’s staff, that was for sure. Then, he left reality behind and strutted his stuff down the corridors of make-believe, past that ghastly…thing…Year 8 had painted last Activities Week,
on beyond Healthy Schools posters and exam notices without end, their reminders that mobile phones were not allowed or the Exam Board would personally come and cut your bum off, four thousand free hours or not.

Maxwell was glad of the fresh air as he strode across the car park. Ben Holton, the Head of Science, was still on the premises, his crumpled Volvo straddling two spaces. With a bit of luck he’d be in a lab somewhere feeding some hapless Year Seven kid to his locusts. Maxwell recognised the gleaming Audi of James ‘Legs’ Diamond, the Worst Headmaster in History. He’d be pinching some pointless initiative from a website somewhere to try and con parents that he knew what he was doing. For a brief, ignoble moment, Peter Maxwell toyed with keying the silver metal as he walked past. Then uprightness got the better of him, he remembered he used to be a public schoolboy and he just kicked some broken glass under the wheel. Well, it was a health hazard. Surely the Premises Manageress would approve.

He lashed his briefcase behind the saddle of White Surrey, his faithful charger-turned-bike, one of those coursers that changed the course of history. The original Surrey had been Richard III’s horse at Bosworth – and just
look
what happened to him. Out of his pocket came the cycle-clips, officer’s undress, and in a flash he’d hooked them round his trousers and was pedalling like a thing possessed out of the school gates and into legend.

 

All right, so the South Coast wasn’t what it had been. There was a time when mad old George III had swum off Brighthelmstone while the band, up to their waists in water, played ‘God Save the King’. A time when ‘Prinnie’ had doffed
his hat to the swells along the Steyne; when Kaiser Bill raced his gleaming yacht through the glittering waters of the Solent; and a much older time when William the Bastard had come ashore at Pevensey, looking for road signs to Hastings and just reading ‘Normans, go home’ everywhere. But somehow, all that was so…elsewhere. ‘Here in Leighford,’ read the Tourist Board signs of Maxwell’s imagination, ‘Nothing Happened At All.’

It was approaching the height of the season, the sun flashing on car roofs and bonnets, the breeze fluttering the little flags that bedecked the Esplanade. Even as he braced himself for the Flyover, he could hear the mechanical music of the fairground wafting in waves on the sea-salt air. He chuckled to himself as he realised he was slowly turning into Dylan Thomas – slow, black, quick, quick slow. Well, perhaps it needed work. Porkpie hat firmly on his barbed-wire hair, he waved gaily at the motorist who roared past him, bouncing on his car horn and waving a finger that had an altogether different message for him. It was a sad fact that at the dawning of the twenty-first century, nobody except Peter Maxwell thought bike anymore. And he was mad.

And then, Surrey’s tyres were purring down Columbine and all was right with the world. He noticed as he turned onto the pavement, carefully negotiating the doggie-poo as he did so, that Juanita’s car was not in the drive. ‘Drive’ was actually rather a grand term for the space in front of Number 38, but it was what it had said in the Estate Agent’s brief when Maxwell had moved in, so it had to suffice. He wheeled Surrey round the back, through the side gate and hauled off his briefcase, sweeping the hat off in an extravagant gesture.
Shit! Look at that lawn. It was like the Serengeti; yellow and knee high. He could almost smell the wandering herds of wildebeest. He’d have to break off from all that lesson preparation later to become Lawnmower Man. If his hayfever didn’t get him first.

Odd. The back door was open. If Juanita had slipped out with Nolan, surely she’d have locked it? John Cleese, of course, would explain it all by saying she was from Barcelona and would have clipped her around the head, but that wouldn’t do very much for Anglo-Spanish relations, and ever since the Armada, we did have some bridges to build.

‘Hello?’ Maxwell called. ‘Halloooo!’ No reply. The girl must have taken the Wee Lad – so called for his habits – down to the beach. Now, Peter Maxwell didn’t miss a trick. He could have Observed for England. And he noticed, as he reached the kitchen, that the sunblock was still there, along with little Nolan’s towels, sunhat and spade. All right, Maxwell pinged off his cycle clips and reached for the mail, piled on the surface by the kettle; Juanita had taken the boy to the shops. She wouldn’t get much for him, Maxwell mused, remembering the difficulties Mr Bumble had once had with Oliver Twist. Even so, the hat and the sunblock, in weather like this, wouldn’t have come amiss.

Maxwell turned a livid shade of pale at the sight of the Saga holiday offer in the post. With unerring skill, he lobbed it into the bin. ‘Have you been hurt in an accident at work?’ the next missive wanted to know. ‘None of your Goddamn business,’ he growled and the second lob followed the first. ‘Holy Mother of God.’ The third envelope offered the most ghastly knick-knack Peter Maxwell had ever seen – a seven inch
porcelain depiction of Princess Diana to take pride of place on Maxwell’s mantelpiece. Actually, it took pride of place in Maxwell’s rubbish.

He checked the clock. Nearly five. Jacquie would be home in just over an hour. Did he have time? He caught sight of his reflection in the mirror. ‘Go on, Maxwell,’ he snarled in his finest Clint Eastwood impression, the .44 Magnum of his imagination gleaming in his fist. ‘You owe it to yourself to live a little.’ So, he began to make his day. He threw his jacket and bow tie somewhere on the furniture in the lounge as he passed through, then on up the second flight of stairs, past little Nolan’s nursery and into the master bedroom. ‘What a dump!’ he pouted, being Elizabeth Taylor in
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
being Bette Davis in another film nobody could now remember. His wife’s fol de rols were lying on the floor next to her shoes which stood at an impossible angle to each other, like Charlie Chaplin on speed. Then he was up the third flight of stairs to his Inner Sanctum, the War Office, that holy of holies from where only Peter Maxwell returned.

Only Maxwell? Not exactly. ‘Afternoon, Count,’ Maxwell bowed slightly as he caught sight of the cat on the linen basket’s lid. The great black and white stirred himself, but not unduly, looking like a couch potato’s Guinness ad. He and the Master went back a long way, since Count Metternich was a little black and white nothing of feet and fur, endlessly astonished, in the three-second memory span of cats, to find he had a tail somewhere behind him. Maxwell hadn’t quite celebrated his own Millennium then, so some of his hair was still brown and Surrey’s crossbar presented no challenge at all. That, of course, was then – the historian’s mantra. This was now.

BOOK: Maxwell's Point
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